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15 June 2009 @ 09:38 pm
Silversand Clinic, May 2009  
A couple of weeks ago we went on the first of our regular Steve Halfpenny clinics for this year.

Seriously, there are a lot of pictures here, you'll maybe want to go and get a cup of tea while you wait for them to load. If you want to see any of them bigger they are on my Flickr photostream.

Day 1

We started the day with a chat about the last year and the horses we have and the goals we're looking to achieve with them.

One of Steve's themes this time is using the things the horse has to offer to you and avoiding taking things out of the horse that you may want to put back in later- don't shut them down and get them stopped if you're going to need to do high energy work in a little while.

The goals we came out with included Relaxation, confidence, putting theory into practice, straightness, gaits and transitions.

Steve talked a little about some of the recent developments with Parelli and their Horsonality idea and how by labelling a horse you fix expectations for them, he aims to help a horse be well balanced from wherever their starting point is and one that seems one way around can turn out another way around in fairly quickly. If you're expecting a horse to be a certain way you get the idea that it can't change, but horses can change themselves and we can change them. It happens the whole time.

The morning group consisted of Camilla and Ferrum, Hester and Pog, Kerin with Lottie and Zorro and I. The day was all about groundwork and we started out getting the horse with us, ready to transition between gaits from our body cues. Zorro was doing this very well but tending to banana his shoulder in to the circle on the right rein, which Steve saw as actually being the whole horse coming in so that I needed to move his hindfeet a little wider away from me, which also gives the fringe benefit of making it harder for him to kick me, something of a priority after last year's antics.

We moved on to working on tighter control of the feet, using the exercise from last year of moving from forward through a turn on the forehand into backup and then through a turn on the quarters into forward again, trying to get it working in walk and trot. It's still quite hard to keep the momentum such that it looks like a single smooth movement along a straight line- we're getting there but we're not spot on with it yet.

After that we moved on to side pass, pushing the horse out by putting a lot of energy towards their body. Zorro was tending to leave his hind feet behind when we did this and Steve had us working on that, again with a view to not getting kicked and to getting a nice side pass without too much bend in either direction. The trick with Zorro was to start with a little indirect rein on to begin the movement with the hindfeet then to apply the push so that his shoulders would catch up. This exercise was also really good as a way of helping to create a practical distance between the handler and the horse.

The final exercise of the session was taking the horse sideways then around into backup then around into sideways on the other rein, which was fairly challenging.

The afternoon group was Kerry and Olly, Karen and Rui, Karen and Celeb, Becky and Jake and Lou and Small.

They began doing the work on control of the hip and shoulder, making sure they had both. Kerry and her horse were new to this way of working and she had to start out by making sure she was moving the horse rather than vice versa. She had brought him to the clinic because she had a feeling that he had something a little explosive in there and having been checked out very sound from a health point of view, she wanted to have some help working through the behaviour she expected to find there. She was particularly concerned at the way he was tending to want to dash off from the mounting block. Steve did some work with him and sure enough...

Working with Olly, using the flag.

Olly getting a little het up.

And calming back down...

Rui needed to know a bit more about Karen's personal space and both Karens did some work with moving the horse's shoulder as you move towards the hip, using the clockface idea we have discussed in the past.

Becky and Jake have made huge progress since last year and they were showing some nice control in walk, trot and canter. Even at higher energy levels with Steve, Jake seemed a much more confident horse.

Steve and Jake go running...

After being very on his toes the last few times he has come out to clinics, Celeb was much more mellow than he has been in the past this time round.

Small literally didn't put a foot wrong, offering soft walk trot and canter on both reins. He's normally more anxious with a saddle on, but today that wasn't noticeable at all.

Steve went through the backing process with Olly, who had a bit of a hole in his education and could be tough to get on. He tried to bounce out from under Steve once or twice, then he thought it might be more sensible to let the crazy man get on...

Steve starts getting on, Olly is not entirely sure about it...

Olly has to leave- this is why Steve does this work bareback- it's really easy for him to slide off if the horse needs to go.

Moving Olly on quite briskly here, so he learns that there is nothing to be gained from running away when somebody gets on and it's much more comfortable to stay still.

Invisible mounting block!

That's more like it.

Under saddle Small was bracing on the outside, not wanting to offer control of his head. Steve had Lou asking for flexion with a short ask-release, so that he would do it of his own accord, rather than pulling him into shape. This has the secondary benefit that he will bend when he does by lengthening the outside of the neck rather than by compressing the inside. She needed to make sure that he was never leaning on her hand but once she got that he was working beautifully.

Steve shows sleepsy_mouse a bit of timing on the rein.

Steve illustrates the bend he is looking for, Small and sleepsy_mouse demonstrate.

At the end of the day, Steve and Jake.

Day 2

We started on Friday by picking up on the work from the day before, doing the forward, turning, back turning loose and forward again pattern to get the horses listening and working on getting it good in walk and trot from the ground and then on the saddle. With Zorro I had the perrenial problem of just not having as much impulsion as I needed, particularly when we were going into the disengage and back-up- I was getting a lovely stop, but no real stepping under so I was needing to push us on into the turn. It seemed a little to me as though Zorro was less with me than he has been in the past, his focus on our surroundings ( we were working in the field so we had more space than usual ) and less on the work we were doing. One thing I was really noticing was that when you are going from backup to a turn on the hindquarters this really is just a case of letting go of the outside rein and the horse just smoothly rolls around- very simple and it feels great to be sat on.

Small meanwhile, having swapped to the advancing group after his storming performance the day before, was absolutely stunning again, working softly, bending beautifully and basically offering everything he was asked for.

We worked on an exercise involving Steve putting his lariat down in a circle on the floor and then asking the horses in turn to go around it bent to the inside ( which worked well because they want to keep their eyes on the rope ) and then turning around the forehand to go around it the other way. Small absolutely excelled himself in this, getting it working perfectly in walk and trot. The other advantage of working like this on the hillside is that it is an opportunity to work on the regularity of the pace, making sure that it stays even at all gradients which is useful for a whole lot of reasons.

Small on the circle.

Zorro and I riding around the rope.

Everyone else looks awesome in chinks, I look like I'm wearing a farriers apron. What is up with that?

Lottie reminds everyone that she has a difficult side. It doesn't look like Kerin is wearing a farriers apron, you'll notice.

After lunch, Ferrum was getting very het up about the other horses leaving, so Camilla took him out for a bit of a walk in hand and then had to do some quite brisk work to get him paying attention at all, which provided some rather excellent photo opportunities.

In the afternoon they got started with Steve riding Olly and just getting some of the basics working with him from the saddle, particularly focussing on teaching him to stop nicely with his feet and mind in the same place, rather than trying to pull away in every direction ( for a while he was moving his feet in alternate pairs on the spot, like a somewhat wan piaffe as he tried to work out what Steve wanted him to do ) but once he got it he started to look a lot more like a riding horse.

Olly under saddle.

Girl and pony among the buttercups.

Karen and Rui

Talking Pog through their riding work.

I realise this is very like the picture a moment ago, but Rui is so handsome and Karen is such a beautiful rider I thought it was worth repeating...

They worked on the same disengage-backup-turn on the haunches-forward patterns that we worked on in the morning and then moved on to using the long rope to develop a bend by building up from Steve walking alongside them to having the rider carry it and let the end of the rope drag along the ground, which the horse will tend to yield away from, giving the rider a good opportunity to get a feel for shoulder-in and lateral work without having to master the correct cues for them.

Jake is a little unsure at first...

...but quickly gets the idea.

By this point Jake and Becky and Pog and Hester were the only riders still working so while one of them dragged the rope, the other worked on following the end of it and trying to get to the point where the horse could cross the moving rope. Pog was fascinated by the shiny metal honda ( for non-horsey folks, this is the runner on the end of the rope that closes or opens the loop when you are roping ) sliding along the ground, but he wasn't going to go too close to it as it was clearly going to leap up and lunge at his feet at any point.

Pog is fascinated by the rope...

...but mistrustful...

...eventually he crossed it.

Catching up when the rope went off more quickly...

"Oh no, The Pog does not approve of this!"

Fascinated by the rope- the task here was to turn until it was alongside the horse's shoulder and then turn back...

Both pairs did really well at this exercise, working in walk, trot and a little canter and both managing to cross the moving rope on the ground by the end of the session. At one point Pog got a tiny bit anxious about dragging the rope and set off a little rapidly so Hester dropped the lariat, which proceded to get caught on her stirrup and continue dragging behind them. Happily she managed to shift it before they reached the fence at the side of the field, which Pog would probably have cleared very neatly, and calm was rapidly restored.

Pog, anxious about the rope and deciding to leave.

Pog's turn to lead.

Invisible mounting block in action again. Pog does his happy face.

Day 3

Now I'm writing this up mostly as a record of the work we did and the things we learned, but I'm going to digress a tiny bit into my own journey here because by the end of day two I was feeling a little bit dislocated. After the last six months I have developed a whole lot in what I can do with a horse and how I ride and I think that to a degree I was feeling a tiny bit lost. In the past I've talked about this in terms of rooms, you think you're in a pretty big space and then you open a door and go through it and find that what you thought was a big room was only a tiny corner in a much larger space and then as you start to learn your way around and just when you're starting to get it you notice another door...

I think I had gone through another door into a room that seemed so vast relative to my previous experience that I was feeling lost there because I wasn't even sure where the edges might be and through that ( and possibly a lot of stress about much of the rest of life ) I had rather lost touch with what I want to be doing and where I want for us to end up. I mentioned this to Steve and he just said "you've got to work out what you want to achieve with all this" and of course he was right and that simple reminder to step back and think through what I want to do and start looking at some new goals for myself was really useful. I may be getting better at this but I still have to be told to do things I know I need to do from time to time.

So the morning group began with work around ropes, swinging them and finding how much energy and movement around them the horse can tolerate, beginning by doing a bit of work with the ropes and then moving on to asking them to use more of the energy range, taking things slow and then speeding up, building transitions and confidence. Relaxation was the key to all this work- with Jake, Becky was needing to help Jake back up without pushing and Steve talked about this as being like driving a car- you need the car to be in reverse before you can go backwards and you need to have the horse's mind ready to go back before you ask their feet to.

Celebrity had been anxious about the corner of the school that looks out over the valley on the monday of the clinic so Karen was working to get him feeling alright with being there. Steve suggested that she stay between him and the scary thing at first because that way if he spooked he wouldn't tread on her.

Predictably, considering his behaviour thus far in the clinic, Celeb went straight into the corner without looking at it twice.

With Rui, Karen needed to do some work at a greater distance, rather than staying close to his shoulder. Steve did some truly impressive high energy work with him that really showed his iberian agility off....

Just look at that trot stride!

Notice that even coming into a high-speed disengagement here, he hasn't taken the slack out of the rope. Whenever possible Steve wants to work with some slack in the rope. If the rope is straight you're pulling on the horse. Sometimes you might need to, but if you have the choice it's good to avoid it.

Everybody else watching.

Karen picks up where Steve left off.

Because he was trained quite traditionally at the start ( he is only five, so hopefully there's not too much of this to work through ) Rui tends to feel he needs to tense up and box himself into an outline rather than stretching forward and softening. As they worked on he started to show a bit more of that feel.

They rode to continue with the groundwork, working to get the horse prepared and balanced ahead of each different activity.

Karen and Celeb

Karen French and Rui.

Both Karens were very pleased with their boys and finished up after a fairly short riding session so towards the end Steve was focussing more on Pog and Hester and Jake and Becky, helping to develop softness and flexion in the horses and to work them away from leaning on the rider's hand, which both were inclined to do to some degree.

Rui knows what to do when his work is finished...

...and what to do when his rolling is finished.

In the afternoon we did more work on building flexion and ( in my case ) impulsion.

Camilla and Ferrum practicing for when they become models.

Kerin and Lottie were offering some beautiful work, Kerin having realised that Lottie had found the place where Kerin would back down and was using it to avoid being challenged. With Steve to support her she was able to work through that point and find some of the beautiful things that Lottie can offer when she is feeling a little more willing.

Lottie remembering that she actually is a riding horse.

Zorro and I getting warmed up...

... saddled up ...

... and going forward.

Still not allowed to drop those hindquarters in towards me.

With Zorro I have started to find our impulsion more quickly because he knows I'm not really worried about what he will do when I ask him to go forward but so although we had a few grumpy transitions we were soon moving much more forward than we have for a while, making the most of the relatively spacious environment.

Bad riding anyone? I post this one because I find it pretty funny and I'm also reassured that I don't go fetal so much these days. I don't actually lie back like this the whole time when we're loping, but the camera was just a little slow to catch the buck that Zorro had put into this transition...

Team Hero, available for any heroic activities for which a zebra-print hat is appropriate.

One very simple flexion exercise we built up was just asking the horse to yield to a feel to the left then to a feel to the right without resting, so that when they actually stopped pulling ( and most of them did pull at first ) you just had a smooth swing of the head from left to right. This is a great way of exposing any little braces around the horse's head and neck and helping to release them.

Zorro and I on the bend- there are lots of pics of Hester in the other group and me in this one because we swapped cameras. She's a good photographer so there are some here that I'm really pleased to have.

Steve shows Camilla a way of presenting the rein.

Small is so cute!

We did some reflective work, where you ride opposite one another and try to mirror paces, which is a real pleasure, although tough to do with Ferrum and Camilla as he's a proper dressage warmblood and can drop his trot down pretty much to piaffe, which is harder for a little black cob with stumpy legs.

Lottie and Small working on matching each other across the school.

We moved on to working with ropes and dragging to build up the bend in the horse. This was a very useful exercise although I couldn't persuade my lariat to hold the thing we were supposed to be dragging, it didn't really matter as zorro was actually very ready to yield to the rope we were dragging without anything else on the end of it. People spectating observed that Zorro really picked up when we were working with the rope, showing a lot more elevation in his paces.

Throwing the rope. Zorro likes this as it requires no significant effort on his part.

Camilla, who didn't spend a month in Texas with a world expert on roping, builds a perfect loop and maintains it. This is not fair!

Danish Warmbloods are basically just slightly tall quarter horses.

Zorro and I dragging the rope.

Once again, Camilla looks superfly.

By the end of the session Small and Lou were pretty much dragging the rope as well, which is an enormous step from where he was when he first came to stay a couple of years ago.

Zorro and I ended the afternoon doing some faster work using the length of the school to build up to a proper fast canter and just enjoy going fast. It was brilliant fun!

Day 4

Everyone gets started with their morning chores before the day begins.

The morning group began by working with some of the turning exercises that make a useful preparation for working at liberty, drawing the horse in towards you and then turning them on past you so you change eyes in front of them, getting this process soft and relaxed with no push from the horse.

Pog a bit anxious about working with the flag to start with...

Soon he's much more happy with it.

Celeb, being bless.

The beginnings of liberty work for Pog and Hester.

They then developed up to doing a little bareback riding- a completely new experience for Rui and probably for Celebrity as well. Pog and Hester are clearly old hands as she hopped on and away they dashed. Becky wanted to try a western saddle so she rode Jake a little in mine, which suited him pretty well.

Becky and Jake thinking about doing some bareback...

... in the end they settled for him being a cow horse for the day.

Karen French and Rui...

... afterwards Rui had his roll and then stayed down and Karen sat with him for a moment. That was a really big turning-loose moment for him.

Karen and Celebrity

Pog's expression suggests he doesn't approve of people who sit on the fence.

Off they go!

They moved on to working around a pole on the ground, asking the horse to move along it and turn at each end and then building up to asking the horse to stand across it and finally to ask the horse to stand along it with two feet on each side, which the horses were quite reluctant to do. Steve spent quite a while riding Pog, who was tending to run away over the pole. For a horse who has done quite a bit of jumping in his past life as a school horse, he was not really that happy to be round poles at all. It was interesting to watch Steve work through this with him. It was also a pleasure watching Hester ride him bareback as she has an impressively unshakeable seat and rides as though fear is something that happens to other people, which is exactly how one really ought to ride, but how very few of us manage to.

Pog unhappy about being asked to stand still near the pole on the ground. Often in situations like this Steve will start working on a certain exercise and then find that the horse is pulling on him or bracing against what he is asking and take a while out to sort that. When he goes back, the exercise usually goes a lot more smoothly.

Steve looks pretty happy about something here...

In the afternoon we began with the same exercise on the ground- can the horse stand along a pole with one front and one hind foot on each side. It was a good opportunity to use the idea of simple pressure and release, making it a bit more high energy when the horse moved away from the pole and calmer when they moved towards it and then calmer when they put a foot across it and so on. Zorro, of course, was determined to balance with both feet on the pole.It didn't take too long for us to get our horses to stand nicely along their poles...

Oh yeah, the Z-meister can stand along a poll. In fact for the rest of the day he thought standing along a poll might be a good way to get a rest.

This little pony came to us terrified of schools and anything related to jumping. It was a big deal for him to go near this pole at all.

Then we moved on to long lining, which Steve was doing off the halter using two lead ropes.

The aim of the exercise was to build on the shoulder-in type work that we have been doing all weekend and start to develop some hindquarters-in, moving from a softening bend to an empowering one. This was particularly hard with Zorro who couldn't imagine he would ever want to go forward ( sideways? yes, backwards? yes, forward? no! ) until Steve explained it in fairly strong terms. Once he did Steve was able to get some nice work from him, but I'm not sure that I was quite able to get the same. There were a few moments that felt alright but I don't know that we actually quite got it.

Steve shows sleepsy_mouse where she needs to be.

"Zorro, please go forward."

"Does that look like forward to you, Zorro?"

Zorro goes forward, not sure I could get that bend, though...

We saddled up and tried going back to standing along the poles, which most of the horses sussed very quickly having got the idea that standing along the pole was a comfortable place ( in fact Zorro had to dive over to a pole every time we went past one on the long lines ) and just waiting there. It sounds like an abstract exercise but of course this same approach can be used for almost anything.

Having got it on the ground, it was pretty easy from the saddle.

A good try from Lottie.

Small braves a pole too. Another big try from a small horse.

We then went on to working on getting the hindquarters-in ( or travers/renvers ) bend from the saddle, which as well as being a useful way to build impulsion and to get control of the hind feet is also a great build up to lead changes and more technical movements such as pirouettes or spins later on. The exercise we started with was to come along the side of the school, move to shoulder-in as we approached the corner and then try to maintain the same shape after the corner so we were then moving along the fence with the shoulder parallel to the wall and the hindquarters inside the track.

The feeling is a fairly subtle one when you're on a low-impulsion horse but I think Zorro and I managed to find a little bit of this. Certainly Ferrum and Lottie were looking brilliant with it.

Not entirely sure what is going on here, but you'll be relieved to hear that's the last picture...

I think for everyone it was a very happy clinic, the company was excellent and everyone made clear progress over the four days. I certainly came away with a renewed sense of direction and a feel of how far Zorro and I have come together over the last two years, which genuinely is a long way. We have a couple of months until the next clinic with Steve in which to develop everything we have been working on here.

x-post with glenatron
Penella22penella22 on June 16th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
Sounds like you enjoyed the clinic and learned a lot. :-) I find it interesting to see you guys doing the 2-feet-on-each-side-of-the-pole exercise that was such a big deal at the David Lichman clinic I audited a month ago or so. Must be trendy right now, huh? :P (Sage thought it was a pretty cool exercise and that I was a very clever human being for thinking of it.)

Great photos and Zorro's always good for flying mane shots. Interesting to see the work with the rope dragging too...
glenatronglenatron on June 16th, 2009 10:14 am (UTC)
I'm never sure if Steve is working to a detailed plan or totally winging stuff off the top of his head. I guess he's mostly finding the work that we're ready for.

The interesting thing with the dragging is that it can give you a feeling of what shoulder-in or lateral work should feel like so that you can use that to develop the same feel on a cue.
Cevil_c on June 16th, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
Wow, I remember what was said about Small when Lou first got him about him and poles. How fantastic he is so much better now and was able to seem pretty relaxed around them!

As for the rope work, looks fun! I think Zorro likes anything that involves him standing still.
glenatron: Emo Zorroglenatron on June 16th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
Offering a chance to do nothing gives me a powerful motivator with Zorro, which is always a useful thing to have.

Small has made great leaps over the last couple of years- he found that exercise tough, but he managed it...