Monday, November 1, 2021

Honoring the Horse’s Learning Process: reflections on a clinic with Martin Black

by Mary Gallagher

We were privileged to host Martin Black for a great clinic last week, in which he stressed his approach to “evidence-based horsemanship” —recognizing the results of our communication in the horse’s immediate response. The participants came with a good foundation in connecting to their horses’ feet, so Martin was able to further refine our understanding and inspire us with his unique insights. He got us out of our comfort zones, challenging what we thought we knew, while giving us tools to communicate more effectively.


Perhaps the most profound insight for all of us was Martin’s instruction to leave the horse alone with his thoughts after performing a task or exercise. That is, no petting and praise—just space to process! What a concept. I think all of us realized with some chagrin that as good as we thought we were at rewarding the right thing with comfort, too often that “comfort” was on human terms: petting, praise, etc. We noticed that when left to themselves, the horses would take time to let whatever we’d just done sink in. The transition to ‘ready for the next thing’ would be really clear—blowing, head down, licking etc.


Brad communicates with his chair...

Martin shared his take on an exercise he likened to floating an inner tube down the river (others teach a similar one called The Barge Exercise). It involved moving our horses feet in a particular sequence in eight directions, moving forward and back around each foot in succession, then changing directions. It was challenging, to say the least: Chairs were needed as props to spare our horses as our human brains wired in the new information!

But Martin stresses practical application, so once we sort of got the idea, we tried it with cows, in a unusual and quite graceful way of both holding our cow and driving the herd at the same time. The cows caught on quite quickly and got in rhythm as we applied our steps in relation to them. That cooperation really showed up as efficiency as we and our horses got in sync, then with the cows.

Another great exercise involved transitions, counting down 54321, with 1 being the signal to trot off; then counting 1 2 3, with 3 being the signal to be back in the walk. 

I could go on, but let me just speak for us all and say it was a fabulous clinic. We so enjoyed it we made arrangements for Martin to return in March—the 16th to the 20th—and we already have sign ups! Please join us!


At this writing there are spaces available in Martin Black's clinic at Freedom Farm March 16-20, 2022. Email Mary Gallagher (marygallagher -at- for more information or to make a deposit to hold your place!


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