Friday, March 30, 2012

Bernie Traurig Clinic Report Part One: "Don't Be Afraid to Get Effective in the Tack!"

Like many equestrians, I'm am a learning junkie.  I possess books and DVDs galore, numerous magazine subscriptions, and a plethora of live and video-on-demand subscriptions.  One of my go-to subscriptions is, an online compilation of equestrian educational videos for the jumping disciplines.  The videos are presented by Bernie Traurig, the site's founder, and other leading lights from the industry, such as Will Simpson, Gina Miles, Missy Clark, Debbie McDonald, and Denny Emerson (to name only a few).  Bernie has reached the top of the sport in Hunters, Show Jumping, and Dressage, and as junior he took top honors in both the AHSA (now USEF) and the ASPCA Maclay finals.

Bernie's detailed descriptions make the information on the videos easily understandable for novice riders and detailed enough for more advanced riders as well. The use of tools such as slow motion, still photos, voice-overs and graphics make these videos as understandable as a football game covered by John Madden and his telestrator.  Think of X's and O's diagrammed out equestrian style -- an absolute epiphany when describing how to ride a bending line!

Yep, I'm a fan, so when I had the opportunity to audit his clinic at USHJA Board of Directors member Mary Babick's beautiful Knightsbridge Farm in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, you can bet I was jumping on that opportunity!  Note -- Mary and Knightsbridge recently hosted Joe Fargis as well (my reports can be accessed here and here).  I'm thinking Mary needs to start marketing these clinics as "The Legends at Knightsbridge Clinic Series." Just saying, Mary. ;)

Bernie started each session by bringing each rider forward so he could look at their tack, examine their bits, and assess their position in the three point and two point seats.  He made adjustments where necessary, tweaking positions, adjusting cavessons (no buckles on the jawbone, please!) and evangelizing about the necessity of a deep heel and long calf for effective leg position and communication. Bernie punctuated this point by telling one rider she had daylight between her horse's side and her calf;  he then placed his fingers between the rider's leg and the horse and asked her to "mold her lower legs" to his fingers. He suggested starting each ride in the two point at a walk for as many minutes as you can without losing position (grab mane so you don't use the horse's mouth for balance) and at one point hopped up on a riser (using Mary as his assistant!) to demonstrate calf and ankle stretches he does on a daily basis.

I learned so much just from this intro portion of the two sessions I watched.  Bernie shared so many of his thoughts on details such as form, correctly fitting tack, and proper bitting ("Your horse will tell you if he loves it.  If he's not happy, change!")  One horse in the first session, described as strong by his rider, went through three bit changes in during the ride: He started out in a corkscrew snaffle, made a change to a twisted D ring, then downgraded again to a rubber D ring.  The horse went from going in a rushed, tense and inverted manner to moving out in a much happier, relaxed and controllable fashion.

One point Bernie mentioned was the correlation between lack of heel depth and stronger bits.  He spoke of how, in the downward transitions, one should always sink into the heel and set the leg before sinking one's seat into the saddle, and once that's done, THEN you should take the mouth.  Without the strength and leverage that comes from deep heel and braced position, people tend to rely on harsher bits to control the horse.

One horse was bitted with a curved D ring, which Bernie said he felt was actually harsher on the horse's mouth than its producer's claim.  The horse wearing it did tend to go in a balled up fashion, with his head down low, so Bernie recommended switching to a rubber D the next day. (Sadly, I was only able to attend the 2 sessions on Day One, so didn't see how that worked out.) 

One horse got a complete wardrobe change: Bernie downgraded his bit to a rubber D and changed his figure 8 cavesson to a regular one.  He even went a step further and had the rider use a driving rein ( Achenbach style - holding the reins between the thumb and forefinger).  These changes resulted in the horse changing from being behind the bit and leg and inverted into a much more relaxed, forward horse.  The driving rein allowed the rider's elbows/arms to follow the horse more, and that combined with the softer bit and cavesson did the trick. 

Other informative things I took away from the intro section of the session:

1) Bernie is not a fan of fuzzy girths. He feels the bulky fleece places the lower leg too far back and impedes proper communication.  For horses that need fleece, he suggested using the slip on kind and cutting it so it doesn't interfere with the rider's leg, or trimming the extraneous outer fleece on the nylon web-type girths.

2) Bernie is a stickler about the proper way to adjust your stirrups or girth while on the horse.  He asked the riders in each session I watched to show him how they did it, and if memory serves, only one or two were able to do it correctly.  He then showed us all the proper way. (Hint -- your feet stay in the stirrups! Note to self -- must practice this!)

I watched two sessions and took ten pages of notes, so this review will be coming to you in several parts.  Please bear with me!  In the meantime, if you can, check out or consider ordering the DVD, The American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System


  1. George Morris is the same about doing things properly, mounting, adjusting stirrups and girth etc. Before participating in his clinic last November my trainer had me practice practice practice, because even though she taught me correctly, I have gotten lazy!

  2. I just love reading your clinic posts. Feels as though I was there meeting your eyes with an "did you hear that? Omg!!" Moment. Thanks for virtually letting me go with you.