Notes from the Charlotte Dujardin Clinic

Part one: Once in a Lifetime

“If you fall, it’s sand, you’ll bounce” – galloping a horse to create forward desire.

“Slap the rider, pat the horse”

Stages of training:

  • First – Leg Yield
  • Second – Shoulder-In
  • Third – Travers


  • Keep VERY straight.
  • When too bendy on one side – straighten. On side that is less bendy – bend more.
  • “He gets stuck because he’s not straight. The inside hind comes inside” (fix with shoulder-fore).


  • Forward/back in canter – allow the forward in the hand. Bring back enough to where the leg is on loose, the hand is on loose, and the rider just sits there without holding. SOFT.
  • When you get the forward, have a loose leg. No clamping. Take leg off.
  • Quality of canter improves just from forward. Create forward and use half-halts to re-balance.  Use forward/back transitions in gait.
  • You want the horse thinking forward.
  • If you have a lazy horse, legs off. A hot horse, legs on.
  • To start work, Charlotte said she starts in canter instead of trot. Then works in trot after that. She said it makes the trot work looser and more supple, and it’s easier to get the engagement.

Stretchy Trot:

  • Aid for stretching is low, wide rein. To pick the horse, hold hands higher and closer together.


  • When too much hand, horse will be abrupt in transitions and fall on forehand.
  • Transitions should look super smooth from canter forward to walk.
  • Hind leg forward!
  • No hands. Hands make horse shut down in transitions. It’s the last step of the transition where the horse was always shutting down (stutter step, or stopped completely).
  • Transitions are so important. Need to be done right.
  • Do LOADS of transitions (correctly).
  • 1,000’s of transitions a ride. Not just a few, not a dozen, thousands a ride.

Leg Yield:

  • Push the rib cage into the other rein.
  • Can also do Leg Yield with counter flexion.
  • When the horse is straight in the leg yield then the horse has to “Push” using his hind to move over. If too bent, the horse falls over and doesn’t get the strength benefit from the exercise.

Leg Yield in Canter:

  • Good to teach horse to move away from leg sideways.
  • The zig zag starter – 6 strides leg yield and 6 strides leg yield back. (broken down its 4 strides over, 1 straight, one change)
    • Easier to do this in leg yield to work out ‘how’ to do it. I believe she meant so rider can learn how to ride the zig zag without complicating it with half-pass.


At 7 years old, the horse should be able to do canter/walk/canter transitions in order to develop the muscles that will help with the sitting work. Transitions will help develop him.

Canter/walk/canter on a circle:

  • Bad transitions: Gait too big for downward trans. Have to set the horse up. Canter has to be small and has to be on the hind leg and balanced.
  • Round with soft hands.
  • Keep energy
  • Allow him to step forward into the walk when transitioning from canter to walk (too much hand causes horse to jerk or not step forward into the walk).
  • Circle 10m helps collect the canter.
  • Exercise: For the canter/walk transition, do a 10m circle along the wall, when coming back toward the wall again, ask for the downward transition. The wall acts like a half-halt, makes the horse back off or shift back. Makes it easier to get correct transition to walk without pulling.
  • You need to have a really good canter/walk/canter transition, where horse is stepping forward into a walk, prior to teaching flying changes.



  • Active! Round and loose in hand. Want to see shoulders turn off the track.
  • Not bent in neck, but flexion in the poll. Move the shoulders not the head and neck.
  • When going to the right “Right Leg, Left Rein” mantra.
  • Should stay in the angle you put him in.
  • Do a test by counter flexing in Shoulder-in (should have a renvers feeling).
  • Mantra for shoulder-In: Inside Leg to Outside Rein. Repeat.
  • Shoulder-In is from the shoulders, not the rein.

Travers in Canter:

  • A test to determine if your horse is supple. If he really bends. Do this before teaching, trying Half-Pass.
  • Weight on inside
  • Inside leg by girth, outside leg pushes hindquarters in.
  • Do forward and back while IN travers (3 times down long side forward/back in HI).
    • Push hip in, then forward/back.
  • If you can collect in canter Travers then it’s getting ready for canter pirouette.
  • Do on 20 meter circle – round on outside. This is thinking pirouette without the massive strain. Way to build up to it.
  • Then move between travers and Shoulder-Fore on 20m circle. Push quarters in and out to teach how to ride between both legs.


Collected Canter:

  • Test it by pushing hands forward. Horse needs to stay in collected canter without rein. Push the hands straight forward, if horse speeds up or quits, then not right.
  • Ask for collection and expect the horse to hold it.
  • Don’t keep nagging/asking with each step.  Ask and expect the horse to hold it until asked for something else.
  • Need to get collection in a soft way.


Flying Changes:

  • Need to have a good quality canter/walk/canter BEFORE flying changes.
  • If you don’t have a good canter/walk transitions then you’ll never have a good canter/halt transition.
  • How to teach Flying Change:
    • Doesn’t teach in a wide open area (like diagonal)
    • Uses a figure 8 type exercise at one end.
    • Example of Figure 8
    • This exercise uses the turn off in the corners to keep the horse engaged.
    • Most issues are a straightness issue.


  • Keep the rhythm
  • Shoulders move.
  • Round and loose in the hand
  • Rider has to position the horses body from the body and 2 reins, NOT the inside rein.



  • If pirouette whips around then it’s because horse is not off the riders inside leg..
  • Exercise for pirouette:
    • Half-pass from the corner to X, X down center line in shoulder-fore  (to almost C) , then do 1/2 of a 10 m circle and half-pass back to X.
    • piroutte exercise
    • Make the half of a circle at the end smaller to increase difficulty (mimicking pirouette). Can get it to shoulder-fore down center, with large pirouette to end up at quarter line.
    • Always do different sizes so the horse can’t anticipate and rush.
    • Need to be able to come down the center line and not have the horse take over control in anticipation of pirouette.


  • The short side and the corner set up the next movement. A bad short side and corner leads to a bad movement.
  • Short side is used to collect, activate, re-balance the horse.
  • A horse at PSG should be able to collect on the spot. Shouldn’t need several strides to achieve it.
  • Working Pirouette:
    • Hip in and do smaller and larger circles in traverse
  • Rider hips to rider hands
  • Keep the energy. Keep the work easy in order to keep the horse keen.
  • ALWAYS outside straighter.
  • Always do hard side first. Otherwise, have to do hard side after horse is already a bit more tired if doing it second.
  • The leg is NOT there to keep him going. That’s the horse’s job.
  • Activate the canter. Have to go forward in order to be able to collect.
  • When the horse is strong, make that correction and then SOFTEN.
  • Charlotte does stretch work and transitions dedicated days.


  • Charlotte said she thinks all lazy horses should be police horses.
  • Short  reins.
  • Bum down – horse has to be in front of leg.
  • Keep the rider’s upper body soft. The movement flows through the upper body.
  • Let the horse make mistakes and then correct. Pat the horse for effort.
  • Difference in what it takes for a horse to “sit” or to “push” i.e. passage is push. Horse is usually better in one than the other.
  • The horse was jumping into a canter when asked for a more forward trot. Charlotte said “she canters because she’s on the forehand”. The horse couldn’t go forward, so broke into canter which is easier than actually pushing from behind to go forward.

Once in a Lifetime

I do occasional volunteer work for the USDF Region 2 Director (few hours a month, not much).  It makes me feel like I’m still a part of the dressage community. Makes me feel like I’m contributing in some small way.

Anyway, a month or so ago the organizer for the Charlotte Dujardin clinic approached the Region 2 Director about advertising for the clinic at the end of September.  I happened to see that the organizer was offering free tickets in exchange, so I may have pressured the Director to follow up on that.

Totally altruistic! 😉

No really, I had good intentions. The plan was to give them away to the people who volunteered to help out at the Region 2 Championship show. Unfortunately we didn’t get the tickets in time.

Then we tried to give them away to people who would volunteer to work the Annual Convention.

No takers.

So there we were… sitting on four free tickets, for an event in just a few days.




The Region 2 Director asked if I wanted two of the tickets.




But I’m broke. Capital B – Broke.

I don’t think I can afford the gas down there. It’s a 5 hour drive. The clinic doesn’t end until after 9pm. It’s a 5 hour drive back. I can’t afford lodging. I can’t afford gas… I can’t afford this. I shouldn’t go! 

I decided instead that I would ask one of the up-and-coming, local, dressage trainers that I really admire if she’d like the tickets. I emailed her and waited.

As SOON as I hit send.. my heart sank. I immediately regretted it. I was depressed. The whole world sucked. My life sucked. I hated everyone.  [insert extreme self-pity here]

Ha! I didn’t realize how badly I had wanted to go until I realized I couldn’t go…

And of course, the lady responded in less than an hour. Yes, she’d love to go. She’s thrilled. Great opportunity, etc…

Of course she wanted them.

I couldn’t go…

[extreme sad face]



BUT, she only needed one ticket. Not two….


No way!!!!

Now the whole world is a magical place! I’m ecstatic! There are rainbows and unicorns dotting the fields. I’m on cloud nine!!

Yeah… I guess it meant more to me then I thought it did.

So, I’m going. It’s still a 10 hour round trip drive for basically a 4 hour clinic. It still means I’ll have to sleep in my car or drive home through the night. It still means we probably won’t be able to eat for a month (I could stand to lose weight anyway). But….

I GET TO GO TO THE Charlotte Dujardin clinic on Friday!!

Something like this is once in a lifetime for me.

[Eminem’s Lose Yourself theme music  playing in the background]

Free tickets, a location I can drive to within a day, AND I already had the day off from work.  It’s fate! Haha

So, Yay! Woo Hoo!





I went to two different clinics this weekend.  

The first clinic was a western dressage clinic. Quite interesting to hear about the differences in tack and attire.  There was a lecture by an r judge (I think little r). The fundamentals stressed were similar to regular dressage.  They had demo rides of the tests while the judge explained what they were looking for and what we were looking at.  There were some astonishingly great movers in that clinic. 

The whole atmosphere was laid back.  People laughed and clapped,  and there was an overall sense of comradery. I was almost a convert by the end.  If only I didn’t hate western saddles so much. 

It was very well run and I had a lot of fun,  even if I did freeze solid. 

Oh,  did you know bitless is allowed in western dressage?  Now my neighbor has no excuse not to try it.  Haha  

The second clinic I went to was a normal dressage clinic.  I had asked the owner a month ago if I could audit. She had sent me “all” the  info,  but neglected to mention that there was a cost to audit.  They approached me two rides in and said it was $20 for all day,  or $5 per ride.  I was already on the hook for $10 by then,  so i paid for the whole day.   I was a little taken aback by the situation. Nothing posted anywhere.  No one by the door. They acted like I snuck in and tried to “steal”  something from them. Why is it so difficult for people to post/share this information up front? 

The ladies sitting next to me were friendly.  The clinician was good.  I was freezing.  Several riders appeared to have never heard of the idea of moving away from leg pressure.  It was interesting to see how the clinician helped the rider and horse without the rider ever needing to actually move the horse off an inside leg aid.  Some really nice moving horses.  Appeared to be mainly students of the barn owner riding in the clinic. 

I got some great ideas for Joy’s training that I think will help her with her tension.  A lot of hot,  nervous horses in the clinic,  which is what I expect joy will be like when I take her somewhere.  So hopefully this gives me a few more tools to use. 

There was a heavy draft horse working toward flying changes,  and it was quite interesting to see how different the horse looked when truly energized and rider controlled the energy.  It went from plow horse to more of a second level looking horse in seconds.  Quite neat.  

During a break,  I walked up to the barn owner and clinician and asked if they were going to have any more clinics this year. The barn is near my house and I thought he’d be a great clinician to take Joy to.  But when I asked if they would be having another clinic this year all they did was shrug.  Literally shrugged. And then they ignored me.  So I walked away.

Screw it. I’ll find someone else to ride with. 

Maybe these clinics are only for her students.  Apparently the details are hush hush,  because no one except the Arab people sitting next to me would talk to me (they didn’t know either). 

I found it ironic the difference in atmosphere between the two clinics though.  I’m normally the first person trying to sell the “dressage people are friendly! ” speil,  but that second clinic sure didn’t feel like it to me.  I felt like an interloper who got caught stealing the tip jar or soemthing.  

USDF Platinum Performance JR/Yg Clinic

I audited the USDF Platinum Performance Jr/YG Clinic yesterday. I had high expectations for the level or riding and quality of the horses, but this blew my mind. These were fantastic riders! The horses were the best I’ve seen in MI in a long time (granted, I don’t get out much).  But… Wow. I wish I rode as well as those young riders rode.

The clinician, Charlotte Bredahl-Baker, focused on the basics for every rider/horse. I watched 6 rides, and the overall theme was developing more bend through the body. That seemed to be a consistent problem with each horse/rider pair.

I thought it was ironic (and timely), because the last year Ava was competing that was my focus, and with Joy that’s been my main focus <– since I got it wrong on Ava until the last 6 months of training.  So to see how developing more bend increased the quality of the gaits in these horses was really eye-opening to me.  It was also really educational to see the nuances of really good bend versus decent bend. It was very apparent in the half-pass, because you could see the horse struggle to bend around the riders leg . I could also see it in varying degree’s in the shoulder-in and haunches-in, but at first what I first thought was “enough bend” became “not good bend” as soon as Charlotte had the rider supple the horse up enough for “Good Bend”.   Which ultimately made a HUGE difference in the quality and bend of the half-pass. You could see the overall quality of the gaits and the movements increase significantly. It was really neat to see.

I also picked up a good exercise for the very start of introducing the idea of counter-canter to a young/green horse. Mainly, it’s used to get the horse to think about re-balancing itself in the canter when crossing the diagonal. You don’t actually counter-canter at all at this point, but it makes the horse assume that a diagonal means “re-balance”. Which was an area I had significant issues with Ava when I first introduced counter-canter, because Ava would get so nervous about making it around the corner in counter-canter that she’d rush the diagonal and lose her balance. Anyway, the whole point was to canter (say left lead) on the correct lead around the short side and then start across the diagonal. At the first quarter line, do a 15m circle and once you were back at the quarter line (where you started) go back to the wall on your right.



I’m excited about this because this is something I can start with Joy long before I even need to think about introducing the counter-canter. And this exercise is adaptable.  You could ease into the shallow canter serpentine once the horse is easily doing this exercise, or you could up the difficulty level of this exercise by placing the circle at X instead of the quarter line, or you could add in transitions or leg yields to solve different problems, or pretty much mix and match whatever is needed prior to ever asking for a single step of counter-canter. And by the time you do ask for counter-canter the rider will have the ability to regulate the horse’s tempo/speed, and the horse will have the balance needed to be successful at it.

Another thing that Charlotte had the riders work on is lengthening the frame prior to asking for the lengthen, or medium, with the horse. She stressed you wouldn’t do this in competition, but for training purposes it puts the horse in the correct frame prior to the lengthen/medium. Of course not a single rider had an issue with achieving this (because they’re freaking talented), so I don’t think I can replicate this on my own at home. I’ll have to see if my trainer can help me with this next year.  Hopefully we’ll be ready for lengthening’s by next spring.

Overall, it was a neat clinic. Charlotte talked a bit about her background, and the horses that she’s trained. She’s a very likable person, down to earth with a good sense of humor.  She’s one I would definitely ride with if the opportunity ever came up.

Oh, one last thought. The last rider I watched had this cute grey horse. It wasn’t a horse you’d normally go “Wow” over, but this girl rode him so beautifully, and so tactfully, that it was poetry in motion.  It was really neat to see.

Watching the Catherine Haddad Staller Clinic

I went to watch the Catherine Haddad Staller clinic this morning. I had desperately wanted to ride in it, but in hind-sight I’m very glad they didn’t pick me. It sounded as if the riders had all ridden with Catherine at least twice in the past, so at this point they were simply fine tuning their riding.  In that situation it’s sometimes hard to be the newcomer who is picked apart with that first ride under a new clinician.

Anyway, I was surprised by how funny  Ms. Haddad-Staller was.  It was usually a subtle humor, but enough to send a ripple of laughter through the crowd. However, at one point one of the barn dogs made it into the center of the arena and was excitedly staring at Catherine. Mid-instruction Catherine bent down and said, “What is it boy? Did little Timmy fall in the well?”  Then immediately carried on with the instruction.

Catherine has a very clear way of explaining concepts and is a fantastic instructor. She is definitely a good clinician to audit if you ever get a chance.

I watched one rider who was struggling with changes in some combination of strides (Either 3’s or 4’s). They worked a bit on single changes, a few 3’s, but the horse looked hollow/braced. After a bit, Catherine got on and  schooled the horse for a bit. It was quite the lovely picture when Catherine was finished. Very round, over the back, and flowing. Such a transformation. It was neat to watch.  Catherine had explained that the main issue had been the horse was allowed to move his head/neck too much randomly and it was not only throwing the horse off balance some, but also allowing the horse to escape using itself correctly. So as soon as the head/neck became a fixed point, and the horse was ridden from behind, everything fell into place. The before picture was a flabby, short-strided, lateral mover with some meh gaits. The end result was a round power house with huge, ground covering gaits.

One of the big things Catherine was stating was to ride the hind legs. That the riders job was to ride the back end. She was saying that being able to feel what’s behind the saddle was what separated the men from the boys.  She repeated it several times, “Ride what you can’t see” (meaning everything behind the saddle).20141003_094431

The other thing she said was “ride them expressively forward. The horse should be allowed to express themselves through movement. Teach them from the start that this is where they can move freely forward with joy”. I liked that idea a lot.

And last, riders were having issues with going from rising trot to sitting trot. The horse would be beautifully forward and round, but the second they started to sit the trot the back would hollow and the head would come up. Catherine was saying that you have to sit on him with a “going” seat. The horse shouldn’t change frame or speed when you sit the trot. You should have absolutely no change.

This is just a short clip of one rider at the clinic. This is just to give an idea of the quality of horse/rider and the instruction. All of the horses were amazing movers.

I was a little disappointed in that my body sabotaged me by making my back hurt immensely soon after arriving at the clinic. It got so bad that I left after only 3 hours. I had tried standing for a while, but whether I sat or stood it hurt terribly. So I quietly snuck out the back and went home before the lunch break.

Oh, interesting conversation with a fellow auditor though. Apparently she rode with Catherine last year, and Catherine had suggested she ride without stirrups to improve her seat.  My fellow auditor was saying that she’d been told it would take one full year to improve her seat with no stirrups. She said the first month was terrible and she wanted to quit. By the second month it was better. She said it’s been one year now and she rides like she’s glued on the horse.  I was impressed. I’ve made it three days with no stirrups before and given up. A full month?!  And here was this regular, normal looking (she didn’t appear to look crazy), woman who’s been riding stirrup-less for a full year now. She’s my new hero. The sheer will power and perseverance that must’ve taken is mind-boggling.

** I’m tempted to try it… my seat could really use a lot of work. Anyone want to try it with me?

Overview of the Clinic

The clinic went well. Ava loaded in the trailer easily and quickly (huge success considering last October I spent 4 hours trying to load her and never did succeed).  I had plenty of time to braid and let Ava settle in.

I’m not sure I’ve really chewed through the whole lesson and come to any conclusions yet. Overall, it was good. The clinician was focused on responsiveness to light aids, on precision of riding transitions (where horse didn’t alter the frame), and in creating relaxation in the jaw. All done with lightness and super quiet aids. He showed me a technique of doing a delayed downward transition where you slow the speed (not the tempo… if that’s the right word) until you are almost walking and then walk. If the horse dives on the forehand, throws their head up, jigs, whatever.. then immediately go back to working trot and re-establish the hind leg to bit and over their back connection. Over time you make the transition to walk longer and longer (through slowing the speed) to develop the horse’s carrying power behind. Obviously you wouldn’t do this in a show environment, only for developing better transitions. And we worked on making quiet, seamless transitions from walk to trot with the utmost lightest aids. There was a lot of focus on perfecting the transitions and quality of the gaits. Donnelly Clinic May 3 2014It was actually pretty basic stuff, but definitely great information and tools that can be applied to all riders and horses.

He loved my horse, but who doesn’t?  He was impressed I could vary her speed through my seat, and he was impressed my horse was responsive to the aids.

At one point he yells out “Man, this girl can ride!” And my trainer shouts out “I told you she can ride.”  Which embarrassed the heck out of me because the other riders, my friends, were watching. In essence they both said everyone else was mediocre… How would you feel if you’d been in the audience and heard that exchange?

I realized during the clinic that the holes I had had last year, were the same holes nearly every single other rider in the clinic had. Their horse’s were relaxed and rhythmic, but there wasn’t any energy, no impulsion, no power behind what they were doing. The horses were behind the leg. The rider would put their leg on and didn’t get much of a response. (except for the event rider). Or, they might get a quick response but the horse kind of lolly gagged around the arena at quarter power. Because of that, the horses were not developing the carrying strength, nor developing the power, they’d need in order to move up the levels successfully. Most everyone’s lesson involved just getting the horse to go forward when asked lightly and to sustain that forward energy without requiring the rider to continually ask. And the other common issue was getting the horse round, on the bit, over the back.

Overall, it was good. I’m not sure that I really felt it was worth the amount it cost, but I’m poor and $300 for 2 lessons is a LOT of money to me. Maybe if money weren’t so tight it’d be different.

Oh… last thing, I promise. Okay, so if you read earlier posts about trailering then you’d know how much angst and animosity trailering has been causing me the past few years.  I knew getting Ava on the trailer afterthe clinic was going to be tough. That is normally the time I get the most resistance from her. I led her to the trailer and we aren’t even close to it and she’s putting the brakes on already. ugh.  So I do the whole “You will lunge hard right here by the trailer, or you can get on it!”  So we lunged. Tried again. Nope. Not even getting near the door.  Lunged. Tried again.. maybe, but still not going on. Lunged. Tried again… and on she went. Just like that. Really only took about 15 minutes tops. But the best thing was I didn’t need ANYONE else to help me. No beating her with whips, no weird lunge line contraptions, no begging or pleading, no abuse, no needing 4 other people to help. Just me and a regular lead rope. It was AWESOME!!!!! I was so happy.

Dreading a Clinic, or Watch as I Make a Fool of Myself

I’m riding in a clinic today and tomorrow with a trainer from another state.

I don’t know his training style or really much about him other than he labled himself classical. The irony of the situation is not lost on me.

I haven’t had a lesson in 6 months. I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up embarresed at some point. I would’ve liked a couple lessons first, so I could at least work on something more than “sit up” and “stop curling into the fetal position!”.

Plus, I’m out of shape so I’m a bit worried how long I’ll last. $150 for one stupid lesson. I better be in shape enough to at least get a solid 30 minutes of work in. Otherwise I’ll be kicking my own behind afterward.

I’m not ready for show season, clinics, etc. I was rather enjoying the winter break. Summer kind of snuck up on me. Although, it’s only 45 degree’s so I’ not quite sure that qualifies as summer yet.

I’ll update you on how this clinic went afterward. At the moment I’m concerned my horse will kick the clinician. My main goal is to not let that happen. My secondary goal is to get the horse loaded with the least amount of fuss. We’ll see…

USDF Adult Clinic

I audited the first day of the USDF Adult Clinic, featuring Hilda Gurney. That was interesting.  I drove an hour and a half each way, and paid $45 dollars to watch this clinic…

Warning: This post is depressing and relatively negative. So, you may want to skip it. I promise to be more optimistic and upbeat on the next post.

In order to ride in the USDF Adult Clinics you have to go through a selection process. You send in a video of you demonstrating the movements of the level you are claiming you’re at, along with instructor references, a written statement from your trainer describing the riders abilities and history, and a list of clinicians you’ve ridden with in the past, PLUS scores earned at what competitions. The selection committee is supposed to have three different people view the video submissions and pick the top riders. The ones they all agree on get selected for the clinic. There’s a long 2 page document detailing the selection process and guidelines for it. It’s supposed to be very thorough to ensure that the riders are capable enough to demonstrate an independent seat, can give correct aids, and can incorporate the instruction into the riding immediately so that the auditor can see the difference put into practice right then.

What really happened… and leave it to my region to end up with this… smh.

Before we even start watching anyone ride, they give us a hand out on basics for horse and rider. You know, like what is rhythm, what is balance, what the basics of dressage are and the corresponding pyramid levels.

The first lady is riding a horse she had been training for the past two years because she “wanted to bring her along correctly” and she “wasn’t rushing the training”.  In reality, the horse wouldn’t accept contact with the bit, curled under when the reins were used, traveled heavily on her forehand, and was so unbalanced at the canter that Hilda expressed concern for the riders safety (strongly expressed concern).  On the plus side, we got to watch Hilda transform this horse into moderately level balance at the end of a 45 minute session. The quality of the gaits improved, the contact improved (not great, but at least was there more than it wasn’t), and the horse could make it once around the ring at the canter without looking like she was going to skid sideways and fall down. So that was nice…

The second rider rode a plain jane looking draft cross. If you saw it in a field you’d never give it a second glance as a dressage prospect. As introduction, the lady told us she’s riding Second. The lady warmed up the horse, and the draft drug itself around on the forehand with the most pathetic gaits. The lesson started and the rider was yanking and jerking the bit. Hilda kept asking her to shorten her inside rein, and every time Hilda asked, the lady jerked her hand backward or downward hard. Finally Hilda stops the woman and reams her out for it (Thank God). The lady finally stops yanking after the little “come to Jesus” moment Hilda has with her, and Hilda gets the lady to shorten her reins and actually start riding the horse. The transformation was amazing! That horse could really MOVE. Wow! I bet if he were ridden correctly consistently he’d have some serious suspension in his trot. His canter was to die for once he was off the forehand. Absolutely beautiful horse that has serious dressage potential, assuming the rider can learn how to ride.

Hilda refers to the hand out and specifically goes over what independent seat means and how important it is… again.

The third horse and rider come out. This one is a professional rider. I was really looking forward to seeing some good riding (finally). She was on a really cute, well-built, long-legged QH that she’d had since he was super young. The rider told us that she’d done all his training. He was 14 now and competing at Third (or Fourth, I can’t remember now). The minute they start the lesson, horse is dragging itself around on the forehand really badly, absolutely no suspension in any of the gaits (not even the canter). Not only that, but the rider is seriously sawing on the horse’s mouth. I don’t think Hilda saw that while the horse was warming up because Hilda was facing us trying to explain to one auditor why having the head too low was causing the draft so many problems. Hilda starts the lesson with the pro rider and is working on getting the horse more up in front, more forward, and carrying itself more correctly. She’s trying to convey the concept of softening the poll to the rider and is referring to the horse’s head/neck as “a broomstick” because it’s so stiff. This is when the rider decides to saw on her horse’s mouth right in front of Hilda. Who immediately gave a tongue lashing to the lady. After that the lesson went pretty well as the lady gradually was able to get the horse more engaged and moving forward correctly. Hilda also helped by getting the horse straighter (it looked like a crab cantering), and getting the withers up so that the hind end had some place to go (instead of sideways).

Most of the riders look about in tears at the end of the lesson. It was hard to feel sorry for the ones yanking and sawing on mouths though.


I went outside for most of the fourth rider so I could try and warm up some. Jogging in place looks really stupid in that setting. I made a note to try and not care what others thought.


I was getting pretty disillusioned with the whole clinic at this point, and was contemplating leaving. It was such a long drive and a ton of money in gas and fee’s that I felt like I needed to stay a little longer.

After lunch it starts off with a well built, lovely warmblood and a lady who doesn’t take lessons. That session ends with Hilda strongly encouraging the lady to start taking lessons. I think the lady was near tears. Then another lady with her horse decked out with a double, who’s horse four beat cantered while heavily on the forehand. Hilda immediately had her put a plain snaffle bridle on the horse and then worked on getting them off the forehand and moving forward again. The transformation in the quality of gaits was amazing from before and after. Hilda talked about how introducing the double too soon can really wreck a horse, but she let the lady know that her horse wasn’t beyond repair. I think that lady left near tears too.

Finally, toward the end of the day there were two riders that came out with well trained horses. Both could ride too. It was beautiful to watch them ride, and see how they improved during the lesson. You could tell the basics were there and at that point it came down to the rider having to be more conscious about their body positioning and weight, and expecting more perfection from the horse (instead of allowing an imperfect transition, to make it perfect). With those two riders we were able to get into half-steps, flying changes, and tempi’s. Hilda stressed control after “opening Pandora’s box” of flying changes.  Good to know.

All in all, I’m glad I went. I learned enough to make it worthwhile, I enjoyed my time there, and I got to meet Hilda in person! I tried to take notes, but it was so cold most of the day that the ink in my pen kept freezing. And… did I mention I got to meet Hilda Gurney!! And she is actually a super nice, friendly, person IN person.  So, all in all, I’m glad I went.

No pics as that was against the rules. I would’ve like to have taken some video of before/after on some of the horses, and edit it to show the transformations.

Side note: If I meet one more middle aged woman that just has to ask Hilda a question so that said lady can then talk about her own life for the next 20 minutes… I’m probably going to kick that lady in the shins. Just saying… We’re all glad you came to the clinic to learn, but we’re not here to talk about you. You’d learn more if you closed your mouth and opened your ears.


Last thing… I decided not submit an entry for the clinic because I was so concerned that my riding and my horse’s training were not good enough.  I thought it was going to be  super star riders, with perfect hands and perfect seats, on the best trained horses you’ve ever witnessed. That’s how I imagined it. So at least now, I won’t have any misgivings about sending in an app for it in the future. I can’t be any worse than the worst of what I saw.

p.s. I am extremely glad that the riders in this clinic put themselves out there and did this. Not only so the auditors could learn, but so that they could be better riders/trainers. Anyone who’s willing to lay it all out for the whole world to see gets a kudo’s in my book. I have the highest respect for them for riding in that clinic. I didn’t have the cojones to do it.

Pam Goodrich Clinic – What I Learned Watching Other Riders

There is so much packed into two days that it’s hard to know where to start. I tried to take notes for the rides I watched, but it was so hard to keep up with all the information and watch the riders at the same time.  Here are a few of the tidbits I took home. Hopefully these make sense to you too.

On lengthening the trot: When you come back to working trot, stand in the stirrups one stride before sitting. Push the horse’s butt under first while staying out of the tack so that the horse’s back can lift while he brings his hind legs under. 20130908_091948Then the rider can sit the trot. Do this instead of just slamming the horse down into working trot which causes the horse to fall on it’s forehand. This is especially important for a horse just beginning to learn lengthen. Mainly, don’t interfere with the horse by thinking you have to stay in the tack when beginning to train lengthens.  Also, don’t accept mediocre. If the horse doesn’t come through with his hind legs in the downward transition from lengthen to working, then go forward again. Or try this in trot/walk transitions. Keep out of the tack one stride in the downward. If the horse doesn’t step up and under in the downward,then immediately go back to trot (establish your trot again), then ask for the walk (keep your butt off the saddle a stride). Do this until you get the transition where the horse is stepping up under the rider. Don’t accept less.

When a horse starts anticipating the next movement of an exercise: In this instance the rider was attempting to do simple change of leads across the diagonal. Pam drove home the point that you want a trot that is yours. By that she meant, a trot that you can dictate speed/tempo/rhythm without the horse rushing or anxious because he knows what comes next. In this case, the horse was sort of skipping his hind legs in anticipation of picking up the left lead. When the horse starts to anticipate, then change the plan. Canter across the diagonal and do a 10-15 meter circle at X. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a leg yield from X to the wall. Or canter across the diagonal to X, trot, and do a shoulder in down the center line. But whatever you do, OWN it.  You want a canter that is yours, a trot that is yours. You want the horse to think “What does she want?” instead of I know what she wants. The rider should think “I can do anything  at any time” and the gait your in is YOUR gait, not the gait your horse chose. Change the plan, mix it up, and most of all make sure it is exactly what you want, when you want it.

Simple change across the diagonal: Once you have your horse’s attention and he is listening to your aids, to improve the canter/trot/canter transition you can do a canter to X while thinking about making the downward transition to trot while IN a shoulder-in toward the current lead (so canter on right lead you would think shoulder-fore/shoulder-in right). You land the trot transition in shoulder-in toward the lead you had, then straighten for a stride or two, move the horse to shoulder-in in the opposite direction and ask for canter depart. Eventually, you would get this so that you just slightly think shoulder-fore on the downward, one stride to straighten, think shoulder-fore other direction and clean canter depart.


The horse I was watching had started off very rough on the canter/trot/canter across the diagonal, and by the end… that was the best canter/trot/canter changes I had seen in a long time. Very smooth, balanced, and responsive. This horse had started off barreling through the rider aids, unbalanced, and picking up the canter before the rider had asked for it. It took the rider several minutes of mixing up exercises before the rider truly had the horse listening to her aids. But then it was the shoulder-in’s during the transitions that helped really clean up the transitions and make them appear almost effortless for both horse and rider.  It allows the rider to keep control of the shoulders during the entire exercise, helped set the horse up for a balanced depart, and it regulated the speed of the horse through the transitions. Definitely an exercise I’m going to use in my riding from now on.

The horse that is throwing his shoulder to one side: When the horse throws his shoulder to the right, the rider instinctively wants to pull more on the right rein. Instead of creating more flexion to the right, the rider needs to move the reins to the left and steer the shoulders. Don’t over bend. Don’t use more right rein to pull the nose around. Use the reins toward the left to move the shoulders left. If the horse appears to have a kink in it’s neck during this, you have to get the shoulders of the horse straight in front of the horse before the horse’s neck can stretch out in front of it. The kink is a result of the shoulders and you can’t fix the neck by riding the neck.

This was the best example I’ve seen for the exact problem I have had for ages. And I know I’m not the only one. I see other riders doing the same thing I’ve done. We all pull the nose around while knowing the horse has fallen on one shoulder, but unable to “fix it”. And it never matters which way we flex the horse, the horse is still barreling around on that one shoulder. It’s a very frustrating problem (at least for me it was). If you ever have this problem (let’s assume it’s the right shoulder, and your horse feels like he’s heavy on the right rein, or kind of stiff to the right and heavy on the rein), then take your right hand with rein and move it all the way to where your left hand should be, and your left hand further left. Do a box pattern going left by moving your reins left like that. Put your hands back over the withers when straight. That should give you a feel for moving your horse’s shoulders.  Now when you’re going right, in corners move both hands left to move the shoulders left, then put your hands back over the withers when the shoulders are back under you again. Repeat as often as needed to keep the shoulders in front of you. There are other exercises to help rebuild the horse so it’s traveling more evenly on both shoulders.  I wrote more about it in my post about the first Pam Goodrich clinic here. Or just ask and I’ll do my best to either answer, or find articles that explain it better then I can.

Flexion is not direction: Direction is from the shoulders. Repeat after me, Flexion is not direction.  You steer with the shoulders, not the head.

Stretching the horse at trot: You can only stretch the horse as far down as they can go while still over their back and balanced (and on contact). The point is not to put the head down, the point is to have the horse stretch over it’s back while engaged. The horse I was watching at the time actually widened it’s front legs some to allow it’s head to come down, it’s hind end started trailing behind it. It’s head was low, but the exercise was no longer stretching the muscles in the horse’s back. She equated it to us trying to touch our toes even if we’re not flexible enough to touch our toes. If we can only touch our toes by widening our stance, then we’ve lost the benefit of the stretch. And we shouldn’t force ourselves to touch our toes if we can’t because we could hurt ourselves. So we go to the point where we can reach down, ask for the tiniest bit more, but no more than that. Keep the balance, keep the engagement, keep the contact, keep the roundness over the back. If the horse’s neck flattens then you’ve lost any benefit of the exercise.

Some pictures of other riders at the clinic: