When it comes to auditing clinics, I’ve got pretty high expectations. The last clinic I went to was the Daniel Stewart clinic back in July (short version: it was beyond fantastic) and the one before that was Charlotte Dujardin’s MasterClass. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but 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’s funny, he’s charming, he’s handsome—oh, and he’s a pretty damn good rider, too. 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.
Jesse came early on Sunday morning to ride a couple of the ponies before the clinic started. He took a spin on Shiloh and Scooby to assess where there training was at and get a feel for their gaits in hopes of giving their young riders some tips for how to move forward with their horses.
Jesse was quick to find places where the horses were “protective”. For Shiloh he really stressed leveling out the horse’s shoulders by “tickling his face”, which prevented him from diving through his corners. Scooby, on the other hand, felt like he had all the right gears installed but he wasn’t being an active participant, so Jesse focused on getting more flexion and engagement out of him.
As he rode, Jesse really stressed the importance of working on one thing at a time. If he was focusing on the horse’s bend, he didn’t mind if the horse’s speed or headset wavered.
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.
You have to get yourself out of the equation and go, “What do I really want?” and be willing to take the time to get it.
Once Jesse was done riding the girls brought their horses out into the arena. Jesse nabbed himself a coffee from the breakfast bar our barn so graciously provided (coffee! hot chocolate! orange juice! muffins! scones! fruit!) and then found a spot in the middle of the arena so that he could watch them warm up.
From there he gathered everyone together and one by one they went through and talked about their goals and what they wanted to work on. Jesse split the riders into three groups based on their levels of experience. All three groups would be working on the same principles (shaping the horse, having follow through, finding differences between the left and right track, establishing rhythm and forward), but they would be riding separately so that everyone could use our limited space to their advantage.
Most of the riders switched into snaffle bits for the clinic, so one of the first things Jesse talked about while the first group rode 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. He encouraged them to lift their hands higher and 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. (Side note: Rags did awesome and I’ll have a post about him at some point in the near future, I promise.) 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. I’d bore myself trying to write up Jesse’s showmanship tips (short version: present your horse, make your quartering super clean, and practice practice practice), so here, have a GIF instead:
Once everyone was tacked up again, Jesse had everyone ride out on the rail of the arena. The second riding part was shorter than the first, so Jesse encouraged everyone to revisit the idea of shaping up the horse. He also coached a couple of the riders on 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 because it’s not rhythmic. 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 before reverting back to old habits.
Jesse wrapped up the clinic by gathering the riders and asking each of them to tell the group what they’d improved on during the clinic. He answered a couple of questions and then hopped on one last horse to show the rider another exercise she could do at the lope with her gelding (establishing a circle, then changing directions and picking up the lope—the same tactic TrainerM taught me when Ezhno was having trouble with his leads, since it puts the horse’s hip in the right position for the lope).
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!