Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mark Hanna, The Horse Listener

The Horse Listener - author Mark Hanna is on the verge of releasing his new book Easily and Effortlessly: The Horse Listener Resurrected. Mark writes, “I seek to influence the youth and as many horsemen and future horsemen who will listen to my message.”

Mark shares his passion for the Arabian horse as he provides insight to horsemanship, being an equestrian, caring for horses, and life in general…

Welcome Mark!

GM: What is the premise for your new book Easily and Effortlessly: The Horse Listener Resurrected?  

MH: I first want to explain the concept of a "horse listener".  We have been told of the importance of becoming a "horse whisperer".  Mankind has been blessed with its partnership with the horse, whether it has been voluntary or involuntary.  This equine partnership has helped civilize mankind in the world.  On his back and through his utility we have extended our reach and industry.  A horse is a living and thinking creature that has recently been proved to have extensive emotions and can read the emotions of the creatures around them.  The horse "whispers" in our ears and it is our responsibility to "listen".  Man, as a predator, has especially dominated the horse's life and history by using many methods of control.  The horse is a "prey" animal and thus has instincts of survival to protect himself from the "predator".  The predator has instincts that has allowed him to survive.  There is a clash of these two instincts that tend to raise its ugly head when these two instincts interact. 

There seems to be two schools of thought in dealing with the horse.  One is based on dominance to break the spirit of the horse and force him to comply with our demands.  The other is to understand the nature of the horse and work with him to elicit a spirit of cooperation.  Without getting into the nuance of the utilization of dominance of the one school of thought, I have come to understand that there is a benefit of both man and horse when we embark in the latter school of thought. 

My book is a culmination of years of experience with the two schools of thought and the conflicts that the mingling of the two in my life had affected me.

GM: When did you first begin riding? Were you a self-taught rider?

MH: My first experience with a horse was in Inglewood, California when I was ten years old.  I lived three blocks from Hollywood Park Racetrack.  My sister took me to the morning work outs.  My previous reading of the Black Stallion series and the appearance of the thundering hooves on the track suddenly appearing out of the mist of the coastal fogs along with the smells and ambiance of the stable surroundings had a very strong influence on my future.  I was a city boy, but the move to Northern California of our family would launch me into a quest to fulfill my dreams of being with a horse.

I was a city boy with a love of horses that was deep inside of me.  I had come to understand I had a promising aptitude for riding.  During an episode of riding a rental horse, my wrangler challenged me to the old cup of hot coffee test while trotting.  I passed that test with not a drop spilled.  My sister came through again connecting me with local horse owners who needed chores done in exchange with use of their horses. I would ride my bike thirty miles down a steep winding road down to the canyons below to these horses for the weekend where my mother would come and take me home while I would enthusiastically share my experiences with her.  I would fall off of that feisty mare many times and get right back up, I told her.  My mother met a young woman, Mrs. Young, who had been raised in the East with riding school education based on the English model.  She arranged for me to work for her five days a week.  I was in high school with an ADD personality.  Among my many exploits, horses dominated.  

My experience there taught me the husbandry of the horse.  I would ride her big buckskin as often as possible, but still did not have anything but an aptitude for riding with no lessons.  I joined my local 4-H club and was the only boy in my club.  I ate up everything they taught.  During my sophomore year, I saw a travelogue film of Catalina Island with a mention of the Wrigley El Rancho Escondido Arabian horse ranch in its interior.  Mrs. Young had a chestnut Arabian gelding I fell in love with.  Wayne Newton also had a promotional film about Arabian horses that sparked my interest, I knew that was the breed of horse I would pursue.  

My best friend lived on Catalina Island during the summers.  His father was an employee of the Catalina Island Company.  I told my mother I was going to visit him, and somehow traveled 500 miles and across the channel to the Island showing up on my friend's front porch.  I asked his father to take me out to the ranch in the interior which had to be accomplished with a card key.  During our visit to the Arabian horse ranch, I opened my mouth and asked about summer employment.  That opened me up to the next four summers of employment on the horse ranch bearing the Arabian horse of my dreams.  I started at the bottom and was introduced to the many aspects of ranch life including cattle roundups and roping.

The experience on Catalina Island launched me into a quest to be involved with the Arabian Horse.  1969 was the start of the rapid popularity of the Arabian horse.  I sought to maximize my exposure by joining a major horse transportation company that specialized in the hauling of Arabian horses; many horses seen and many horse ranches visited in a short period of time.  This experience along with working for many Arabian horse ranches throughout the country gave me a good foundation.  My dreams came true when I was able to start my own Arabian breeding farm in Oregon.  A big connection from my time on the road led me to Germany and my leasing and eventual purchase of an Arabian stallion named Shahwan.  During my time in Germany, the influence of the Spanish-Egyptian cross led me to breed the ingredients of this cross.  In order to compete and market my horses, I learned and developed halter training.  I raised my horses with love, but still did not understand the concept of developing a willing partner based on cooperation.  My horses in the past were ruled by dominance and along with the love I had for the Arabian horse, I used dominance to get my way with them.  I loved my horses and started to learn body language by living among my horses for so long.  I would experience short periods of cooperation different than my use of dominance.  The horses were willing to work with me.  Natural Horsemanship was not the rage, but there were old masters out there I had not had contact with.  The halter showmanship of the Arabian horse had developed a use of intimidation and the exploitation of the "fight and flight" instinct of the horse to bring out the supposed natural beauty of the Arabian horse.  I was determined to compete with the big halter trainers and emulated their tactics with my training.  

I raised from a foal, a magnificent Arabian stallion *Zalamero.  During my training, I was caught off guard by his instinct of self-preservation where he brutally attacked me by biting me on my shoulder, lifting me up and throwing me down.  My natural reaction while I still had his lead was to beat him up with my whip.  Suddenly I had a big epiphany.  I loved this colt and was administering this terrible technique on him.  His only way to protect himself was to attack me.  I stopped myself, with tears flowing, I hugged him as we both cried in each other’s arms.  He loved me as I loved him. Never again would I use those tactics.  

After a long period of reconciliation, my beloved stallion and I would go on without abuse to win without intimidation.  My whole understanding had changed.  I had embarked on a new road to understanding.  My importation of my Shahwan to the USA and my exportation of *Zalamero to Germany changed my course of horsemanship drastically.  No more halter, I had left that aspect of industry in place of the performance horse.  Sport Horse was now my focus.  My *Shahwan GASB when imported had been included in the Trakehner horse registry as the first Arabian stallion in the USA to be an approved improvement sire.  Shahwan in Germany was known as Germany's finest bred stallion in 100 years.  He had become German National Champion; almost World Champion Arabian stallion and the highest scoring Arabian stallion to take the performance test in Germany.  I came to know Shahwan as my soulmate.  My new contacts with horsemen of similar philosophy, soon to be known as Natural Horsemanship, and my willing temperament in Shahwan guided me to learn of another way.  My mind was opening up to the deep understanding of the horse based on their nature.  I was starting to get there.  

Shahwan and Mark
Unfortunate events would eventually lead me to the loss of most of the important and special things of my life.  I lost my special stallion Shahwan, my ranch, dispersal of my horses, my marriage and my son.  Forced to live in and drive my truck for four years, I sunk into a deep depression.  Jesus Christ ultimately had a great influence in making me into a different person.  I put Christ first in my life now.  Horses were hopefully in my future again.  I accepted whatever he had in his will.  With my whole spirit changed, and many dark aspects of my life gone, I had started to gain a spiritual understanding of the horse.  

A Shahwan daughter, wild right from the start, challenged me to apply this new found knowledge.  I was likely led by the spirit of my soulmate Shahwan that summer as I brought this beautiful three-year-old filly along.  Along the way, I found I had an ability to see pictures of the thoughts that the horses were sending to me.  I learned to send them my thoughts back in pictures.  This would revolutionize my understanding and ability to communicate with my equine partners.  

Now as to being a "horse listener".  I have lived with horses for forty years before this time and my ability to read body language was well developed.  I now was able to read the mind of the horse in pictures.  I have many experiences that have changed the attitude of the horses I work with by utilizing this gift I had been given by God after my redemption.

My book was inspired by the spirits of my two most influential personages in my life.  Shahwan and my dear friend Maria.  They pushed me to write this book with their continual inspiration.  I believe in God who created all that we see.  We were with each other before we came to earth in spirit, horse and human and creature.  Our desire to come down together to experience the world together, horse and human was strong in this book.  But, the ability to do so is not that easy.  I have melted together myself as the person I had become in my life along with a person who I wanted to be and the lessons I could teach myself along the way.  My new self would have a hand in redeeming the old self.  The old self would teach how to respect and partner with the horse and avoid the pitfalls along the way by use of the wrong way.  Other characters would tell the story of the old self explaining why he had exiled himself into the truck and his history involving his love of the Arabian horse and his soulmate Shahwan.  Together, they would bring together both worlds by understanding.  Opposition results in meaningful lessons learned.  As long as they had the light of Christ and would heed that feeling, they would prosper.  Continuing to learn and apply this new found knowledge, both parties departed into an adventure of equine partnership.  Civilizing a wild three-year-old Shahwan filly together, they followed destiny into the desert of the middle east.  Out of Egypt, they would find the ingredients of their future breeding program.  An exciting cliff hanger would leave the reader to desire to share in their future adventures.

I am a self-taught rider along with sporadic dressage lessons.  I have developed an understanding in balance and softness in my lessons leading up to mounting my equine partner.  I have been hired to judge many schooling shows where I use this knowledge to help my fellow horsemen.  This partnership starts at conception of your first horse and the learning you impart to her.  Then on to the next generation at conception.  My breeding stock is chosen by temperament along with character and ability to learn.  Athletic ability is paramount.  This is a starting point.  My foals have instinctive learning that the mares pass on to them at birth like their instinct to survive when they are born passed on in their nerve endings at birth.  I have been greatly influenced by the Parelli principles of learning by a lateral approach.  Building a foundation on the ground before you attempt to mount.  My horses are motivated to learn by a curious attitude and by having fun.  Never a bored horse.  Build on what they learn but never push too hard or force or become angry.  Trust and respect built from the start with never ending learning.  My mentors from afar are the phenomenal founders of "Cavalia", Frederic' Pignon and Magali Delgado.  I strive to follow their "Golden Principles of training".  My learning never stops as I continue to learn from my horses.

I have been blessed to have been able to freeze semen from my soulmate stallion *Shahwan GASB.  This semen is reserved in the future for a replacement to be produced for his sire Shahwan.  I now own an Arabian mare HMA Cazsmira by Versace who came into my life unexpectedly after six years being horseless.  Her grandams breeder blessed me with a breeding of Cazsmira to their wonderful stallion Sharif El Shaklan resulting in her beautiful daughter HMA Cazshablanca.  I am in the process of breeding these two to Shahwan who is a German Marbach stallion.  Cazsha's sire has three tail female lines to Marbach.  I am hoping for a filly from Caz and a colt from Cazsha.   It has been my dream to replace Shahwan with his son to continue his legacy.  

GM: How has your position as former Equine Director of the Arivaca Boys Ranch, Arizona, impacted your riding skills, listening skills, and horsemanship?  

MH: Arivaca Boys Ranch was an experience that helped me understand how the horse and the skills from natural horsemanship help the boys with their confidence.  The boys would be given a wild horse and along with their training of natural horsemanship, they would learn that cooperation, not force, would yield results.  They would then ride their new partners on a final ride in the White mountains of Arizona.  An abused horse is not unlike a boy with problems.  You need to use similar skills to bring out the trust in both of them. We are continually using our predator tendencies to gain control.  Learning both natures of prey and predator, the boy will learn that the horse will cooperate willingly.  An aha moment was a very distinct thing and changed these boys forever. The boys will take these lessons home with them when they graduate.  Parelli teaching aids were donated to the ranch and I devoured them.  I applied them liberally with the boys and taught my own horse Caz using the levels.  She excelled as I did also.  I continue to use Parelli level training along with my philosophy.  I believe that my skills help people come together with their horses.  A person becomes stuck with inflexible learning.   The nature of the horse must be understood.  How a horse reacts to their surroundings and circumstances affects how well they learn.  The learning process of horse and rider is endless.   I fill in the spaces when a rider or horseman is stuck so they can progress.

GM: Describe the perfect horse and the perfect place to ride...

MH: My perfect horse is of course the Arabian Horse.  But considering his contribution to most of the light breeds of horses in the world, He is the oldest breed of horse in the world.  I am spiritually connected to this proverbial horse.  Breeding horses is continual because of genetic degradation.  Man has influenced the Arabian horse by choosing him for his ability to partner with him.  They chose him by genetic strength demonstrated by his harsh environment he lived in.  For thousands of years, he helped the Bedouin survive.  He was revered for his resilience and loyalty.  I obviously consider my soulmate Shahwan as the perfect Arabian horse among the thousands of his other progenitors.  But because he is in concert with so many other fine stallions I could not own at one time.  I will always pursue the finest horse as my quest as long as I live.  I am blessed by the horse that God has given me the privilege to be with.  When Shahwan died, I thanked God for his time with me and gave him back to God where he came from.  That gave me peace back into my life as I still grieve, but I have hope for the future in his future Shahwan son.

My perfect place to ride is in Bidwell Park, in Chico, California.  Difficult trails, easy trails with swimming holes to cool off in.  When I was a youth, I lived and boarded my horses adjacent to this fine place.

GM: What does the future hold for you in regards to horses and educating riders on proper horsemanship?

MH: I am dedicating the rest of my life to educating the youth and beginning rider that there is a sensitive creature that they are dealing with under their saddle.  Their steed only wants to survive.  Understanding the nature of this powerful individual and dealing with their own nature will help them with their own lives also.  The horse and rider will continue to progress with no plateaus with this understanding.  I want to help people who have reached a roadblock with their horses. Every discipline of horsemanship is affected by these roadblocks.  From beginner to advanced rider, this knowledge will help them.

I want to become a partner with my horse who has given to us so much in their history.  I want to make them happy that they are with us.  We have taken them out of their wild environment and it is our treatise with them to provide for them a safe environment relieved of stress.  The horses bring happiness into my life and I cannot imagine myself without them.  Like a coach, I want to help the horse excel in all areas he has aptitude in. Horsemanship is the journey we are undertake by learning all aspects of horsemanship from masters before us and striving to become a master to pass on these things to our future horseman.

I feel like my new book will be very pivotal in people’s lives and in their growth with horses.  As well as the lessons learned, it is an adventure.  

Connect with Mark Hanna "The Horse Listener"

"My treasures neither clink nor glitter,
but gleam in the sun & neigh in the night."
--Arabian proverb

Gina McKnight is an author and freelance writer from USA.


Unknown said...

A very good and informative article indeed. It helps me a lot to enhance my knowledge, I really like the way the writer presented his views.

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Chuck said...

Thank you for sharing Mark's Information. Have known this fine horseman for 40 years. said...

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