Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sinead Halpin Clinic - Part Two

Hello Friends of AWIP!  Hope this finds you well and not succumbing to the February Blahs.  Part two of my Sinead Halpin clinic recap was originally posted on Horse Junkies United, but for ease of use, if you haven't seen it there (And why ever not? There's a TON of great stuff there!) I'm making it available for you here.  :)

Part One of this clinic recap discussed the Five Rider Responsibilities (1. Direction, 2. Speed, 3. Rhythm, 4.Balance, and 5. Distance/Timing) and left off with the riders coming down a line of crossrails and either testing their control of Direction and Speed by riding a bending line to a set of flower boxes, or working on the rider’s balance and Rhythm by coming around the corner and riding a straight line over another set of flower boxes.

The next part of the exercise had the riders really focusing on Direction by incorporating all 3 crossrails – the first one, the offset one on the quarterline, and the last one (formerly the second element of the line).

Sinead encouraged the riders to show the horse which way to go by using an opening rein and by pushing him over with the outside rein against the neck. The riders were told to think of this as an exercise in “Line over Speed.”

By the way, just as an aside, when I say Sinead encouraged, I mean she ENCOURAGED. Sinead is an immensely positive and enthusiastic instructor. Her excitement when a rider achieves a goal is palpable. Her enthusiasm and humor contributed to extremely relaxed riders, which, to my way of thinking, makes learning easier and promotes retention.

Finally, Sinead asked the riders to put all the learning and the Rider Responsibilities together.

This meant an exercise that consisted of coming into the first crossrail at a trot and cantering the second two crossrails, and coming back to a trot through the corners to test the horse’s ability to listen (Speed). The riders then came back up the angled flower boxes and continued up the bending line to the crossrail line, then around the far end and down the long side to the double crossrails.

This course tested the riders ability to set the Direction of travel, tell the horse which Speed to travel at, maintain a selected Rhythm and stay in Balance, and finally, Timing.

Although it was a very small course, it required a lot of precision, and it was immediately apparent that if something went wrong early in the course (ie. the rider lost the horse’s shoulders or could not maintain Speed) it was going to be apparent later on in the course unless fixed immediately.

I found it easy to make the connection to my own experiences in show jumping. I’ve ridden many a round where a small bobble in the early part of the course (maybe I didn’t balance her up enough to get the lead change quickly enough) resulted in things getting strung out and a rail down.

Sinead made certain that each rider and horse combination finished the exercise and the clinic on a positive not, and then recapped each rider’s takeaways with them, along with suggestions for future practice.

Just for fun, I’m going to recap a few of my favorite Sinead-isms:

Pongo telling Sinead he'd be great
as her next Rolex ride.
1. “Survival is always the number one expectation!” As someone with fear issues, I can related to this. This was said amidst much laughter, and the context here was a discussion on timing — why you needed to fix little problems as they crop up because they would turn into bigger problems later on course. We were all having a bit of a giggle as Sinead was telling a rider she needed to spend less time congratulating herself for making it over the fence in one piece, and more time recovering and dealing with any issues. Seems most adult ammies can relate to this “I made it!” behavior.

2. “The worst thing you can do 3 strides before the fence is take the horse’s attention away from the fence. When you’re rounding the turn, you should already be in your rhythm, not still having a conversation with your horse.”  I am sooooooo guilty of this I am hanging my head in shame as I write this.  Bad Amy, BAD!

3. “The only way to practice WHOA is to GO.”

4. “Be a lowlife. You have to lower your balance through your hips and into your heels.”

5. “Stop focusing on the front rail of that fence and just focus on your rhythm and the horse’s breath.” This was said to a rider whose horse was an audible blower, and Sinead was telling her to use that as a tool to establish and maintain a rhythm to the fence.

6. “Pick a rhythm, and then relax into it.”

7. “Sometimes when you’re schooling just jump a jump, and then flat, then jump another jump, and then flat again. Do this until a jump isn’t a big deal. Some riders and horses tend to carry baggage from fences 1 & 2 around the course. This will help that.” I love this one, as I am a veritable Bag Lady when it comes to carrying baggage around a course, and need to get jumping to the point where it’s a non-event.

If you are ever lucky enough to come across the opportunity to take a clinic with Sinead Halpin, DO IT! You will come out feeling positive about yourself, your riding, and your horse, and with a good plan for going forward. Additionally, if you’re in the NYC metro area, you might want to keep abreast of the goings on at Bow Brickhill Stables, as they frequently host clinics with guest clinicians like Peter & Mark Leone, Jimmy Torano, and Frank Madden. Head rider/trainer Tik Maynard ( a native of Vancouver, Canada and currently long listed for the Canadian eventing team) also offers Winter Training Sessions on a regular basis.


  1. Peter Leone is one of the clinicians at Equine Affaire that Miranda applied to be included in. Crossing our fingers that he likes our little Paint and my little girl (who is not little at all, but still....)
    Regarding point 4; I was just pondering that after my lesson. Thinking about what happens to your center of gravity when you ski, and realizing that I have to think of the horse and I as one. The center of gravity will therefore be very low in my body, and so that will make me carry myself differently. Here is to hoping that all my theories will help me be a better rider. :P

  2. I think that the more we think about our riding, the better we'll get. I mean, the great ones think long and hard about this sport, right??

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