Notes from the best clinic I’ve ever attended

I attended the USDF National Symposium with Jan Brink a few weeks ago. I took some notes there, and will post them eventually. But this clinic I went to last year, hosted by the Houston Dressag Society (I think in partnership with USDF) was the best clinic I have ever audited. Ever.  So I thought I would share. Even tho my notes are more than a year old, the wisdom contained in Mr. Clarke’s teaching is timeless.

Stephen Clarke Symposium

5/25/08, Canaan Ranch, Fulshear, TX


General quotes:

“People ask if their horse is collected ‘enough.’  If the horse can do the movements easily, it’s collected enough.  At the end of the day, in most dressage competitions, the winner will be the horse that is the most collected.”


Many people, in an attempt to ‘collect’ the horse more, actually shut it down – by pulling it from front to back…instead, make the hind legs carry the weight for more collection and the movements will be more free and expressive.


“Being above the bit is not a mortal sin. Being behind the bit IS a mortal sin.”  To get a horse that’s behind the bit better, ride with reins in one hand for more steady connection.


“What you make by force, you only keep by force.”


Riders throw away points because they don’t ride clear transitions exactly where the test calls for them.



Extended Walk

Is very similar to ‘free walk’ but with more connection. OK for horse to stretch down a bit – actually encouraged. Judge are looking for freedom through the topline and through steps.  On LONG rein, not LOOSE rein. Difference between free and extended is that you expect horse to stretcher lower and freer stretch in free walk. There is not a LOT of difference between them. But Ex. Walk needs to be on CONTACT. Needs relaxed, ground covering steps.


Watch one front foot – does it ‘wait’ for the rear so they really separate?  Ext walk needs to show a clear 1, 2, 3, 4 beat. You want maximum amount of ground coverage, but also needs connection over the back from the hind legs.  It’s more about relaxation than anything else. Most riders ‘chase’ the horses and make the strides shorter rather than longer.


Walk Pirouettes

Can only be as small as collection allows. Think of a bit of travers when doing them – do half circle in travers ..then the pirouette actually improves the collection.


The movements are not ‘tricks’  – they are training exercises.


Hint: Ask for collection before the exercise and then ride forward _in_ the exercise.


Half Pass

Think a bit of shoulder fore then turn nose, neck and shoulder on the line of travel.


Exercise to prep for canter pirouette:

Make a square at the canter, asking for extreme collection at corners, then ride forward. The degree of collection should almost be that required of canter pirouette.  As always, ask for collection before the exercise, then uphill and forward during the movement. THAT produces brilliance.


Flying change Exercise:

Do a four loop serpentine at canter, ask for a ‘pirouette canter’ at rail, then an up, forward flying change at centerline. Make sure the horse is in font of you enough that you don’t have to hurry.


Changing Direction:

Most important to be able to change horse’s body position before you begin turning. The trot or canter HP zigzag are both just more complex versions of change of direction.  Also, in flying change, make new position with new outside rein BEFORE you make the flying change.


In the canter zigzag, the flying change is the FIRST stride of the NEW direction, NOT the last stride of the old direction. Think HP to right, ride a left shoulder in THEN flying change into the left HP.


Half Pass

In HP, look through he horse’s ears like you’re looking down the barrel of a gun to see where you are going. Make sure you sit in the direction of the bend so you do not interfere with the bend – almost _lean_ that direction – not really, but THINK that so you do not lean the wrong way.  In HP, think more forward than sideways. HP is forward with a bend – not sideways.


Even in young horses, change the bend in HP before starting the opposite direction (prep for canter HP zigzag down the road). Will make it easier when you move up to canter zigzag.



Three things are vital for long-term success:

  • The horse must be 100% in front of the leg
  • The horse must be through its back and supple on both sides
  • The horse must be submissive


Dressage is foremost about the quality of the gaits in all the movements.


Canter Pirouette

In a good CP, hindquarters are lowered and shoulders are elevated. Should maintain 3 beat canter rhythm, but _almost_ become 4 beat because the hind leg of diagonal pair touches ground slightly sooner than the front, but still looking for a regular canter. Size of the CP is important because the smaller size equals greater degree of difficulty. BUT, correct, larger CP is always better than inferior smaller CP. A good CP needs rhythm, balance, consistent, controlled rotation and bend – ideally 6-8 steps with inside hind on the spot or size of dinner plate.

Exercise: Piaffe to canter if you can – if not, think ‘piaffe canter’ – almost in place, then do travers on 8m circle. Control the hind legs, keeping them in place and turning the shoulders around haunches.  Collect the horse in very collected canter BEFORE first step of CP, then you can go more forward after first stride of CP. Don’t go INTO CP and try to collect – it’s too late. But that’s what everyone tries to do. 😉



Piaffe first or passage first?

Mr. Clarke says that horses do passage in nature. They do not do piaffe in nature. Piaffe is therefore more difficult for most horses. It is more natural for a horse to go forward from piaffe to passage than to learn to ‘passage in place’ so he would always teach piaffe first.


There is no or very little suspension in piaffe. There is prolonged moment of suspension in passage.


Correct piaffe – forearm horizontal to cannon bone of the supporting leg, at a height about ½ up the cannon bone. In rear, hind leg raises to fetlock of supporting leg.


If piaffe is too forward, do it on the spot, then have horse just stand in place. Then piaffe on spot, then stand.   When schooling passage, go quicker collected trot to bigger, slower trot, then you get the energy you need for passage.


I take no responsibility for the accuracy of my spelling/dictation/memory, etc! LOL!



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