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Clinic Recap: Jesse Shaw @ KW

Clinic Recap: Jesse Shaw @ KW

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 handsomeoh, 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 trainingand 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 thingsprobably the things you spend hours and hours just working on, where I would never spend one second working onall 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 departuresbut 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 lopethe 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!

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day Two)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Day Two)

Day two of the Daniel Stewart clinic almost didn’t happen… Coach Stewart went out for a jog Sunday afternoon and was almost hit by a train, LOL! Apparently where he’s from trains are almost nonexistent and when he went for a jog on the tracks he didn’t expect to actually encounter one (fun fact: 13 people were killed by trains in Washington state last year). Luckily, he took his headphones out at just the right moment and was able to get off of the tracks…

Anyways, prepare for adorable barn cat pictures, because I forgot to take pics Monday morning. 😉

Coach’s Introduction

After telling us his train story, Coach launched right into his opening speech. He wanted to address a common misconception that most riders have: that equestrian sports are a solo activity! He talked a lot about the unseen team behind every horse and rider pairthe diligent trainer, the strategic farrier, the supportive parent, the hardworking stall cleaner, the caring veterinarian, etc. In reality, equestrian sports are a team activity. Being able to communicate with your fellow team members is a key part of being successful.

Coach Stewart told us the story of a young girl who was taking virtual coaching sessions with him. Despite having a great horse at a fancy barn, she wasn’t progressing as well as she should have been. Everything appeared to be in good shape… until Coach asked her trainer if she had friends at the stable.

“Of course not,” her trainer said, affronted.

“Barns that separate and create competition are no good,” he told us.

The ideas of teamwork and friendship led right back to one of his main points from Day One’s seminar: we perform better when we’re happy! On top of that, Coach also asked us to expand our idea of what a teammate looks like.

“Everybody you learn from is a teammate, even your opponents.”

With that thought in mind, Coach Stewart explained Day Two’s game: Cracking Codes! Riders were told to set aside the changes and links they had been working with on Day One. Instead they would be competing in teams of two, with their goal being to systematically discover the two numbers that he would write on his piece of paper before each game began. Each rider would be given a number of jumps and an optimum time (plus they had to count up to all of their jumps), then the first two fences they went over would be counted as guesses towards the code.

Confused? IMO, this game was more complex than the Chain Link Fence. It was hard to keep the numbers straight, especially if you were without pen and paper like the riders were.

Here’s an example of cracking a code in four rounds:

Rider #1 starts her course with fences 2 and 4. Coach tells her “nothing”neither of those numbers are in the code. Rider #2 knows it can’t be 2 or 4, so she starts her course with 3 and 1. Coach tells her “one in”one of the numbers is in the code and in the correct place. Rider #1 has to narrow down which number (3 or 1) is correct, so she starts with 3 and 5. Coach tells her “one out”one of the numbers is in the code, but not in the right order. Rider #2 knows that both 1 and 5 are out of order, so she does 5 and 1.

Coach tells her that both numbers are correct and she’s cracked the code!

Now do that without a spreadsheet while cantering a course of jumps without going over/under optimum timeand don’t forget to count down to every jump, too. 😛

The penalty for picking up faults? MORE SIT-UPS, OF COURSE. 8 to 10 faults would earn the team 50 sit-ups and 11 or more faults would add 100 sit-ups to their total (with all of the sit-ups to be done after their session was complete), BUT 3 or less faults would remove all of the team’s potential sit-ups. Of course, the team that cracked the most codes was relieved of their punishment, which put more pressure on the participants to play the game to the best of their abilities.

Day Two was all about TEAMWORK.


I’m going to be real with you guys, by the time Day Two kicked into gear my brain was fried. I got the concept of the game, but my execution left something to be desired. Apparently the Show Buddy was in the same boat, though, because once she and her partner started riding, it was pretty clear that they didn’t get how Cracking Codes was supposed to be played. Their courses looked good, but their guesses were far off the mark, to the point where Coach Stewart heavily criticized their teamwork.

I wish I could say that tSB and her partner made a comeback, but the other team trounced them. But while it was sad that team SEC didn’t represent in Group One, I was super happy to see that Pilot and his rider made huge improvements! They were so much more confident, it was amazing to see someone make so much growth after only one session with Coach Stewart.

Honest moment: I don’t remember Group Two. 😳

Group Three, on the other hand, was unique. Coach Stewart let both riders (there were only two in Group Three on Day Two) play the Cracking Codes game once to get warmed up (while counting to their jumps, of course), then this happened:

Coach brought all of the auditors into the arena, split us into two groups, and teamed us up with one of the riders! With all of us together the game became both easier and harder. We had more people to help remember numbers (which was nice after Coach got both teams in trouble for using phones 😆 ), but we also had more people shouting out ideas.

We ended up confusing each other, to the point that not a single one of us heard Coach give a ten second warning when it was Instructor A’s turn to ride. The other team stole a point out from under us. We were furious! But Coach challenged us to rise above our anger and use the tools we’d built the night before to get back into our Goldilocks Zone, and Instructor A found her rhythm so that she could come back with a last minute victory, tying up the game and saving us all from doing sit-ups. 😎


With the riding portion complete, we moved onto the

Fitness Bootcamp

(Fitness isn’t really my forte and I didn’t take pictures, so enjoy a cute picture of Instructor A hugging Kody’s handsome face and a pic of Mrs. Potts, a Belmore pony that was on a diet.)

Coach Stewart sat us all down in the tent for a brief break before we really got into the “bootcamp” part of Day Two. He talked about how equestrian athletes aren’t really recognized because they don’t have an “ALSO”. Soccer players don’t just play soccer, they also run drills. Football players don’t just play football, they spend hours tackling dummies. Equestrians need an “also”!

“We focus so much on taking good care of our horse that we forget to take care of ourselves,” he said. “If we want to be treated like athletes, we have to act like athletes.”

But working out isn’t enough. If we want to truly become better riders, the exercises we do have to have what’s called “sport specificity”—they have to look like our sport! That’s why all of Coach Stewarts exercises 1.) resemble horseback riding (especially the two point), 2.) overload the muscles specifically used in riding, and 3.) are pliametric (involve jumping).

Coach Stewart took us out to the back of the barn, where he had a circuit of thirteen exercises set up for us. One of them simulated leg yielding a horse, one of them had you twist your hips like you were doing flying lead changes, one of them put you on a board that balanced on a tennis ball (in two point, of course), one of them used a resistance band to simulate going over a jump, etc. Even the wall sits were in two point!

All of them, unfortunately, made the joints in my knees and feet feel like they were threatening to disintegrate into ash, so I wouldn’t recommend them for someone whose family has a predisposition for early onset arthritis. 🙁

At the very end of the day, we all gathered back under the tent and took a P21a pledge to live the next 21 days focusing on our health and happiness by looking into our lives and finding behaviors that don’t belong (battling for the closest parking spots, drinking soda pop, eating any and all junk food that ends with the letter ‘o’).

“Ask yourself: ‘Would I let my horse eat this before a clinic?'” Coach Stewart advised. “We have to treat ourselves the way we treat our horses.”

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Seminar & Homework)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (Seminar & Homework)

Day one wasn’t over once the last horse was untacked, though. We still had Coach Stewart’s

Post-Clinic Seminar!

Everyone gathered at the tent that the auditors had been sitting under. Belmore very graciously provided lunch (linner? it was late by that point), so we settled in with food to eat and water to drink while we listened to Coach Stewart speak.

Here’s an overview of some of the stuff that Coach covered:

More on the Goldilocks Zone

Part of the fun of our sport is the challenge! The draw to live in your comfort zone is strong, but when you stay in your comfort zone you don’t learn, you plateau. Likewise, you don’t want to be in the danger zone. That leaves the Goldilocks Zonehaving the right amount of success and the right amount of failure.

Mental Shifting vs. Mental Chunking

Coach also touched back on Mental Shifting (the ability to shift your focus from one thing to another) —and how, despite what he’d told us at the beginning of the day, Mental Shifting is actually a bad thing and we shouldn’t do it!

Instead we, as riders, should be doing what’s called Mental Chunking. Mental Chunking is the process of practicing a task so many times that four different steps become one. For example, when you’re first learning to put on a bridle you have to remember all of the different steps and pieces, but when you’ve chunked that information together it simply becomes “bridle the horse”.

Overloading & Push to Failure

The technique known as Overloading is when athletes intentionally make their training sessions harder so that the competition feels easy (for example, a runner that trains with ankle weights and then takes them off for the big race).

Part of Overloading is practicing the idea of Push to Failure. Like a man lifting weights, it’s important to push ourselves so hard that sometimes we fail—because mistakes are what make us stronger!

Ducking the Ducks & Quieting the Caveman

Coach told us the story of a high level competitor that was riding her cross country course when she was hit in the chest by a duck. Physically she was fine, but she was so shaken up that she withdrew from the competition!

Ducking the ducks is all about keeping your focus even when your brain is trying to psych itself out. Our brains are built to focus on the negatives. The survival mechanisms we’ve inherited from our ancestors know that focusing on trouble, problems, and danger is what keeps us safe, but it also makes it impossible to be happy in our happy place. It’s our job to silence that inner caveman.

Carthartic (Strategic) Laughter

Always laugh, even if you have to fake it. Children laugh more than adults, that’s part of why they’re happier. Laughter forces the body to release endorphins that can increase your happiness.

Athletic Anthems & Athletic Acronyms

Positive affirmation sentences aren’t as cool as positive affirmation songs! Musical motivation can pump us up, calm us down, and make us happier.

Athletic Acronyms are a form of Mental Chunking. They remind us of a bigger concept. (Example: BLAST – Breathe, laugh, and smile today.)

Finding a Flow State with Targeting & Cadences

A rider’s goal should be to always ride in their Goldilocks Zone. Part of that is getting your mind into a focused and positive Flow State (remember all those times I talked about doing a flow warmup with Ezhno and zoning out?).

The easiest way into a Flow State is through Targeting. Targeting is when an athlete focuses on rhythmical sounds (think sneakers hitting pavement, the whirring of a bike chain, or, even better, the hoofbeats of the perfect canter).

When there’s nothing to target (or you can’t hear the thing you usually target), you have the option of building a Cadence. A lot of us already use cadences in our riding (ever count the rhythm of you canter?), but being aware of cadences and how we use them can make this skill even stronger.

Power Posture

When we get nervous, we have a tendency to get small and closed off. Not helpful coming up to a jump! Make it a habit to get big instead by opening through your chest, straightening your spine, and lifting your chin.

Some final quotes from Coach Stewart’s seminar:

“Love of horse and sport is stronger than rears, tears, or fears.”

“We have to be better than other athletes because we can’t take it out on our equipment.”

“Your success is not determined by one class or clinic. There are no comebacks without setbacks.”


HOMEWORK: Building a Brand

  1.       Find five or six athletic anthems. Take a look at the lyrics of your favorite songs to find a common theme between them, then use those songs to make a pre-ride playlist.
  2.       Make an athletic acronym using five or fewer letters that you can use to boost your spirits in the saddle.
  3.       Chunk all of them together with a common theme to make a “Brand”, then create a logo (something you can put in a saddle pad!) to represent that Brand.
  4.       Think up a series of words that have a rhythm to them to make a Cadence.

Coach told us that tomorrow would be all about teamwork, then dismissed us for the day. We loaded up the horses and made the short trek back to Rainbow Meadow to tuck in the horses for the night. We took some down time in the shade of the trailer (despite my not so subtle suggestion that we go check out the cross country course—next time for sure!).

Once our motivation was back, we all squished into the truck and went to get poster board, markers, and letter stickers, then took our materials with us to dinner at the Rock. After a scrumptious meal (pulled pork, baby), we got started on our homework. Instructor A honed in on a theme of flying, tSB focused on climbing to the top, and I chose the idea of finding clarity in the saddle.

Looking at my poster now, I’m not 100% satisfied with what I came up with, but I do think this is an exercise I’ll do again in the future (possibly alongside a blog redesign???), and I’m still mulling over the stuff Coach Stewart covered in his seminar.