When I heard that BarnOwnerK was bringing in her trainer, Jesse Shaw, for a clinic at KW, I knew I had to attend! Jesse Shaw is young (barely thirty!) and very charismatic. He specializes in producing ponies for the Pacific Northwest’s color breed crowd (APHA, PtHA, and ApHC). Every horse that comes out of his barn leaves with impeccable performance training—and a price tag that’s no less than five figures.
Priorities. If you work on the things that actually matter, then the other little things—probably the things you spend hours and hours just working on, where I would never spend one second working on—all those little things will fall into place. So if you work on just a couple of major pieces, all those other things that you want so badly will just kind of happen. But we’re not going to get caught up on the little things.
Jesse came early to ride a couple of the horses before the clinic started, then he nabbed himself a coffee from the breakfast bar (coffee! hot chocolate! orange juice! muffins! scones! fruit!) and found a spot in the middle of the arena so that he could watch them warm up. Most of the riders switched into snaffle bits for the clinic, so the first thing Jesse talked about was the idea of a snaffle acting as “training wheels”. He reminded all of the riders that when you’re riding with training wheels it’s okay for things to get a little sloppy and encouraged them to lift their hands higher/spread them wider than they normally would.
The first portion of the clinic was focused on a concept that Jesse called “shaping the horse up”. Jesse wanted the shape of the horse to be bent so that the rider could see a hint of the horse’s inside eye; the horse’s spine, he said, should align with the circle that the horse is traveling. When training he typically starts with a lot of circles to establish that shape, then moves onto counter-bending and figure 8’s as the horse begins to soften and lift through its shoulders and back.
As the riders developed their feel for the shape of their horses, Jesse encouraged them to ask themselves whether or not they were happy with the amount of effort they were getting from their horses.
“If you were in a class right now, would you like it?”
When the riders were happy with how their horses were shaping up Jesse told them to “pat them and tell them they’re pretty”. If they weren’t satisfied, he coached them through using a wiggle of their inside rein and a little extra inside leg to increase the horse’s bend.
As the exercise grew more complex, one of the young riders complained that her horse was sluggish with his lope departures—but Jesse turned her thinking around by explaining that a lot of preparation goes into asking a horse for the lope and his lope transitions always take a long time to develop. Whenever the rider felt like she was asking for the lope and being ignored, Jesse had her turn her gelding into a turn on the forehand by bumping his hip off of her outside leg/spur, then push him straight forward and ask again.
The clinic broke for lunch around noon. BarnOwnerK ordered pizza and while everyone chowed down I excused myself to ride my pony. Everyone spent about an hour eating, gossiping, and talking shop, then Jesse sent all of the students to prepare their horses for an hour of showmanship practice. I’m not a huge showmanship fan, so I spent most of the showmanship time chatting with the other auditors.
The second riding part involved a method of “vibrating the bit” in the horses mouth to soften them up and encourage them to relax down into the contact. I wasn’t super sold on the idea of jiggling the bit so vigorously in the horses mouth (I’m still not; I don’t really get how such rapid movements translates into proper contact with the horse). According to him, moving the bit so quickly prevents the horse from pulling against the contact. Jesse seemed to sense that some of his young students were equally dubious because he stressed the idea of sticking with the technique for a couple of weeks.
I didn’t have any major takeaways from the clinic (outside of a massive respect for clinicians that can teach seven students of incredibly varying skill levels all in the same arena at the same time). A lot of concepts that Jesse covered were things that I’m already familiar with. My favorite thing he said was probably the idea of working on major pieces of a horses training instead of focusing on smaller, more granular things.
BarnOwnerK said that she’ll probably have Jesse out again. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll ride Ezhno and see if I can glean more knowledge from the saddle than I did from the sidelines!