dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Clinic Adventures: So Much Learning (and food)

When I wasn't catching up with old friends, meeting new friends and eating a ton of food (really, so very much eating), I actually sat and watched Cindy Ishoy teach a bunch of riders. And I tried to absorb all the knowledge I could. Now I'm going to try to write it out to help me rember and have something to refer back to.

Standard Disclaimer: as always, these are my interpretations of what I saw and heard. If you think it's brilliant then Cindy gets the credit. If you think it's incredibly wrong then it's my fault- I probably misunderstood.
from back in August when the weather was hot

There were a variety of horse breeds and levels. Cindy gave every single one her undivided attention. It seems to me that Cindy does not care if you have a fancy horse or not or if you are the best rider in the universe. She cares if you are willing to work.

The lessons were 45 minutes and each minute was fully used. It's not that there were not breaks, there were. But they were short and then back at it. The work built over the course of the ride as the horse and rider warmed up. I am not sure, given where Carmen and I are right now, whether that would have been good for us or not.  Either way, we were not ready for the clinic and I was happy to audit.

Each ride I watched had the same principles of targeting straightness, forward, rhtyhm etc (i.e., the dressage pyramid). How these were targeted depended on the horse and rider. So one rider might be working on straightness through a serpentine while another through tempi changes. Cindy is so full of little wisdomes that struck a chord with me that I started writing them down. I think that they apply to pretty much any level:

  • don't micro-manage. Nothing pretty comes out of it. In other words, don't try to control every single part of the horse, let them figure it out.
  • Give and let him figure out his balance.  This was said to riders doing legnthens, half passes etc. I interpreted this to mean that we shouldn't use the reins (or heaven forbid the curb, she said a few times to get off of it) to hold them in a frame. The frame comes from self-carriage, which comes from balance. 
  • Don't worry about mistakes. Every GP rider and horse team has made thousands of mistakes. This probably relates to the micro managing above. 
  • There's a gymnastic correction for every mistake. I really liked this idea. Cindy would use shapes and patterns to fix if the horse was losing their balance or contact. Rather than pull or be sharp. Use the exercise to help the horse understand. 
  • It's not strength, it's timing: I think I heard this the first time with a rider working on changes. But it also came up with other maneuvers. It helped me to think that when an aid is not successful is it resistance? confusion? my timing? I suspect that it's often the last one. 
  • Bend - if I heard that once I heard it 1000 times. Along with Outside rein. 
  • Soften inside rein. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Circle going to crap? Pull on the inside rein, it will fix everything! It was also helpful to me to see how letting go made things so much better. 
  • Use shoulder not arm to take back. Using the arm creates too much tension.  It has no give and horses pull against it. Using the shoulder is softer and more fluid. While I don't claim to understand the mechanics of it, I could see the difference. 
  • Don't give away contact when you ask for forward.  This I know and understand. Yet still it's hard to avoid. The idea is to soften but not throw the contact away. 

me, not throwing the contact away.
Evidence that sometimes I can get it right 

Other things I noticed:
  • Cindy made great use of bending exercises: circles, trot loops, serpentines. Many of the horses would try to not engage their hind end and the riders were to keep it together so that the horses pushed from behind. 
  • If the rider struggled in the half-pass she would have them half-pass a few strides then leg yield and then back again. Or vice versa. I don't know why she chose which sequence but it worked- I could see it. 
  • If the horse was escaping through the outside shoulder Cindy had riders move their hands to the 'inside' (Not really inside, they didn't cross the withers). It worked to keep them straight. 
  • A lot of transitions were to be ridden through bend. Which was really really hard. Again it was nice to see that it wasn't just me. 
  • If the half-pass is going wonky, slow the shoulder don't try to speed up the haunches. That upsets the balance. 

There was more. Also lots of food. Sue makes the best baked beans I have ever had. Between the learning and the eating (and thievery) it was money well spent. If you have a chance to audit or ride in one, do  it.


  1. Sounds like a great clinic. Auditing is so useful.

    "Use shoulder not arm to take back. Using the arm creates too much tension. It has no give and horses pull against it. Using the shoulder is softer and more fluid. While I don't claim to understand the mechanics of it, I could see the difference."

    My trainer used to bust me on this all the time. In the summer she would point out that she could see my biceps engaging. "Bent, pointy, heavy elbows" was her mantra. I think the principle might relate to the circle of energy idea. The energy circles from the horse's mouth longitudinally back around the hind end, up and through the rider - the connection being the reins. Stiff arms and too much hand blocks the energy. Mary Wanless has an excellent explanation in her books.

    1. That is blocks the energy makes sense. Shanea too uses the phrase 'heavy elbows'. :)

  2. So many of these points resonate with me. I've heard them all a thousand times from my daughter ( who is a trainer). Especially, soften inside rein and don't cross the wither! Sounds like a great clinic.

  3. Thanks for sharing! I'm really hoping to ride with her one day in the future. I watched her daughter ride in the Carl Hester clinic and she was just a beautiful rider.

    1. I enjoyed the one time I have ridden with her. I really want to again.

  4. Clinics are always fun. Sounds like you picked up quite a bit from this one. Timing is so important. I’m learning that lesson more deeply working with a baby. You have to be fast with your release, or it does amplify quickly and become about strength.

    1. They can be fun! It was great to be able to watch so many rides.

  5. I like the idea of using your shoulder vs hand... I'll have to remember that one!

    1. It's difficult. I am working really hard on it.

  6. Thank you for this, I am bookmarking it for the future :)

  7. what excellent takeaways - thanks so much for sharing! i love the whole "it's not strength, it's timing" thing too. so so so hard in practice, but so so so effective...


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