October 27, 2008 | | Comments 0

Interview with Mark Rashid

Mark Rashid

Mark Rashid

Written by: Mary Knetter

When you think of martial arts, the image of a man dressed in chaps, boots and a cowboy hat doesn’t exactly come to mind. But Mark Rashid isn’t your typical martial artist. He’s a horse trainer and student of aikido who, with a unique combination of patience and insight, teaches riders to use many of the same techniques used in the martial arts.

Getting Started

Mark Rashid learned about the concepts of martial arts by working with a riding student who happened to teach martial arts. His student noticed that many of the ideas he was trying to teach related to the teachings of martial arts. So after two years of studying and nearly ten years of training, Rashid became a second degree black belt in aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts that focuses on controlling body energy by staying centered, entering into opposing energy, blending with opposing energy and using circular movement. In Japanese, “aikido” means “the way of harmony.”

Mark Rashid’s Five Principles

Rashid teaches that the five principles of softness–consistency, dependability, trust, peace of mind and softness–also apply to many of the things we try to achieve with our horses. “The more consistent you are, the more dependable you are,” he said, pointing out that one principle is reached by achieving the one before. “The more dependable you are, the more trustworthy you are; the more trustworthy you are, the more peace of mind you’ll have.”


According to Rashid, softness and lightness are not the same concept. Lightness, he points out, works from the outside and only works as long as everything is going well. When the horse is introduced to something new, lightness goes away. Softness, on the other hand, works from the inside and works all of the time. “Some trainers will tell you that softness is riding with a big loop in your rein,” he said. “That’s not softness, that’s riding with a big loop in your rein.”

How to Get Softness

Mark Rashid says that horses are traditionally taught to lean into pressure with contact, but that concept is incorrect. “When somebody pulls you, you want to pull back,” he said. “When somebody pushes you, you want to push back.” That pulling and pushing goes through the rider’s entire body, directly affecting the same muscles in the horse. Instead, ask your horse for softness through rein contact without pulling and giving the horse a release by moving toward the pressure. “The horse looks for you to soften,” he said. “The horse will offer you something really small. And if you don’t release, they’re just going to continue bracing.”

Softness Leads to Collection

Rashid defines collection as “teaching the horse to relax, because they’re already tight” and that collection can only come from a horse that is relaxed. In other words, collection comes from softness in the muscles. Rashid said that to work on collection, start by backing your horse. “You can do a lot of work just backing,” he said. “The key here is we need to use pressure without pulling.” In using pressure to ask a horse to back, you will feel your horse brace, soften up and then let go. “We want to wait until he does that,” Rashid said, adding that for the horse it is a release of the brace.


Mark Rashid also points out that the majority of collection comes from the rider. Using the theory of a balance point, he says that between horse and rider, the two should be at a balance point value of 10 and both need to be active in the partnership. “If we aren’t present, there’s no reason for them to pay attention,” he said. Ideally, you and your horse should each have a balance plane value of five, but if the horse’s energy moves up or down, your energy needs to increase or decrease to create a balance and allow the horse to relax. “The tighter you are, the tighter the horse will be,” Rashid said. “A muscle has to have a corresponding muscle to relax.”


“Breathing is the only function of the body we don’t need to control,” said Rashid, but adds that breathing is very important because we can control it. “Breathing is the only function that affects the rest of the body.” He goes on to say that breathing affects the chemical responses in the brain and directly affects the breathing and mind of the horse. “If his mind is gone, you can’t teach,” he said, demonstrating that breathing from deep within the chest encourages the horse to take that same deep breath, resulting in more control over the horse’s body. Rashid adds that regular breathing throughout the ride allows the two of you to become in sync, especially when asking your horse to do something. “If you breathe out when you stop, he’ll stop better,” he said. “If you breathe out when you turn, he’ll turn better.”

Study the Martial Arts

Rashid said that martial arts can help you become a better rider. “Martial arts made a big difference,” said Mark Rashid. “It put me in a different place internally and externally. I’m also asking more from the horse.” However, such activities can be dangerous, even deadly, when the speed is increased. He points out that other activities like ballroom dancing can be beneficial if you’re looking for a way to achieve the self-control and harmony you want with your horse. When looking for a martial arts program to help build your horsemanship skills, Rashid suggests doing some research before you start and spend some time with the instructor to see what they do and then decide if it’s right for you.

For More Information About Mark Rashid

For more information about Mark Rashid, his training and a complete list of his books, DVDs and clinic schedule, visit his website at

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