“Take care of your horsemanship and your horsemanship will take care of you.”

~Pat Parelli


Raiding the Drug Store

Thoughts from the Martin Black clinic Oct 4-7, 2014

This past clinic was the third year for Martin to be at Ladd Farm.  I really look forward to this clinic.  It is usually the last of the clinic season at Ladd Farm. Meaning I can take a deep breath and maybe get a little relief. I can get a little Dopamine buzz going myself. It is also the last shot of concentrated horsemanship that carries me into winter.

Martin talked a good deal about Evidence Based Horsemanship (EBH). A practical and scientific explanation of the chemical responses that occur in the horse’s brain according to what state they are in. Understanding the relationship between the horse’s behaviors and Dopamine release was especially beneficial. Stimulating the Seeking/Curiosity of the horse, and then finding relief, triggers this feel good drug. They do this on their own.  We can tap into this natural process to motivate and develop communication. If you don’t have the EBH book or DVD you can get both here.

I saw this demonstrated over and over again throughout the clinic. While doing Martin’s precision exercises, I realized I need to be ever mindful of where the relief is. Once my horse is seeking, the answer should be clear.  Keep it simple. Just one move one foot. Avoid confusing the horse. If something is not working out, stop and try a different approach. Once they find the answer, provide relief and time to process. Then I can become my horse’s drug dealer.

Martin talked about one way the release of the feel good drug, Dopamine, can be stimulated. It is evidenced when the horse works his jaw.  A cricket on a half breed or spade bit is a sure sign a horse is seeking and getting a good dose of Dopamine. Hear (pun intended) is Diego packing a half breed around. I am not sure if he is desperately looking for the drug store, or if he has found it and raiding it.  His expression does look like he may be a little under the influence.


Martin’s precision exercises are great for building communication skills.  I look forward to working on them over the winter. Most of these can be done in a small space and should be done at slow speed. Learn more about these exercises from Martin http://martinblack.net/martin-black-articles/move-a-single-foot.html


Pivoting on one foot, one foot at a time

I like to check in (not drill) on these turns. Chip away at improving my walk.  Get my timing better on transitions.  All have improved my feel and timing when it is time for stockmanship, or any kind of precision. They build in good muscle memory habits so I don’t have to think about them when we are on a job.

Martin provided many tips for success.  The most important one was to slow down and work toward quality. Speeding up shows us where our holes are so we can slow down and work on them. Every exercise in horsemanship and stockmanship emphasized what was working and what was not. Martin’s way of teaching includes asking us to evaluate for ourselves what is or is not working. A skill we can use all year long.

I haven’t talked much about the stockmanship from this clinic. Besides coming to a clinic at Ladd Farm, Martin has a great library of articles, DVD’s and books for horsemanship, stockmanship, and more. There is no reason to run out of good materials for the super learner this winter. Just hop on over to Martin’s web site.

I am a long way from mastering the exercises of foot placement, transitions or skills of making a bridle horse. I sometimes feel discouraged at what seems to be failure.  I get over zealous and do too much.  Sometimes I don’t know what to do at all. If you get to feeling this way this winter, just listen to these words of encouragement from one of Martin’s articles on his web site.  “You may not always know the right thing to do, and this can be frustrating to an ambitious horse person, but by being patient and satisfied that you are not doing a lot of things wrong, you will do a lot for the horse.” Martin Black

Martin Black Clinic returns: October 8-11, 2015.  Learn more here.

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