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Category: Clinic Recaps

Clinic Recap: Sally Collins @ Burkwood

Clinic Recap: Sally Collins @ Burkwood

Sally Collins is something of a local legend. She’s been a pro for over forty years, is a USEF licensed hunters/equitation judge, and previously held the position of president of the WSHJA. TrainerM, LJO, and InstructorA all lesson with her semi-regularly. The other day I was admiring a horse’s flying changesβ€”guess who put those on? And who judged the IHSA show back in February? And who was doling out advice on the sidelines at the hunter derby I photographed in June? That’s right, Sally Collins.

I’ve never taken a lesson with Sally Collins. She’s a serious, traditional lady, and I’m not a very serious, traditional rider. She’s got a good eye and a blunt way of doling out advice. She’s the type of person that once she starts to teach, the whole ring becomes her arenaβ€”high expectations, good work ethic required.

I’ve def been chewed out by Sally for my jerkwad horse interrupting one of her lessons with his antics πŸ™„

The first rider of the day was training for the Zone 9 Maclay Regionals. She was jumping big fences and Sally was really digging down into the nitty gritty of her performance. The second rider was a six year old that just wanted to have fun bombing around on her pony, Buzz Buzz. Talk about a big difference!


I’m not going to lie, Sally Collins is intimidating. I’ve only ever seen her teach incredibly talented, experienced riders, so a part of me just assumed that she always demanded excellence. When the kids started riding, though, an unexpectedly soft side of Sally Collins came out.

“Imagine yourself succeeding,” Sally told a very nervous young rider. “Picture yourself jumping over it. You’re much better at this than you think you are.”

My biggest takeaway from the clinic was actually something that InstructorA said (that she may or may not have heard from Sally Collins)! She used the phrase “rhythm is balance, pace is distance”β€”the idea that you can use the rhythm of the horse to help you balance, while the pace that you set helps you find your distance. Rhythm and balance working in harmony is what allows the horse and rider to work as a team.

By the end of the day, I was kicking myself for not taking InstructorA up on her offer to haul Raglan in for the clinic. I had this picture built up in my head that I wasn’t a good enough rider to lesson under Sally Collins, that she would make me feel out of shape and incompetent, but after watching her teach so many riders of differing skill levels, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to ride, too. You would think by now I’d have learned that it’s always better to say yes when opportunity strikes!

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (REPOST)

Clinic Recap: Daniel Stewart @ Belmore Equestrian (REPOST)

Last summer I tagged along with InstructorA and my former show buddy (TeakO) to watch them ride in a clinic with Olympic Coach Daniel Stewart. The posts for that clinic got obliterated when I rebranded, but I’ve been thinking back on the clinic lately so I decided to put together this recap repost.

A note: in my original posts I explained the games the riders played in detail. One year later, I’m more interested in the stuff that I still think about than the specifics of every round. I’ve left out a lotβ€”mental chunking, overloading, pushing for failure, carthartic laughter, athletic acronyms, analysis paralysis, etc. There was a fitness bootcamp portion, too. I hated it. Sorry if you were super interested in any of that. πŸ˜…


A little bit about Daniel Stewart: he’s been a successful international trainer and instructor for over 25 years and has coached riders on several US Equestrian Teams at World Championships, the World Equestrian Games, and the Olympics. On top of teaching thousands of students a year in his annual summer clinic tour, he also runs an online academy, is an expert in equestrian sport psychology for the USEA, USPC, and USHJA, and has written several books on equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness, including Pressure Proof Your Riding, Ride Right with Daniel Stewart, and Focus and Fitness in 52.

InstructorA, who works full time during the week and used to teach lessons for Ready to Ride on the weekends, brought Kody, her nine-year-old Anglo-Arab gelding. TeakO, a teenager rider with dreams of working in the equine industry, brought Teak, her six-year-old Arabian gelding.

The horses spent the weekend in the temporary stalls at Rainbow Meadow Farm.

Meanwhile, us humans found a home away from home with Nora at Marcon Farm.

The clinic itself was held at Belmore Equestrian. Belmore is a small place with a very nice 126′ by 200′ outdoor arena (gorgeous footing 😍). I liked how intimate the setting for the clinic was. Most of the horses at Belmore were big draft/TB crossesβ€”LOVE THEMβ€”and a lot of the young riders were from the Belmore Equestrian IEA Team. Everyone was friendly and we appreciated their hospitality so much.

Coach Stewart places a big emphasis on getting a rider’s inner greatness out by matching the great physical with the great mental. This clinic was designed to focus on the mental aspect of the rider. On both days the set up in the arena was straightforward, but the exercises required the riders to put together their own courses on the fly while meeting strict requirements. Coach Stewart’s ultimate goal was to cause “stress-induced amnesia” (forcing the rider to be forgetful under pressure).

“Survival is the brain’s #1 job, but the brain isn’t always right. People under stress fight, flight, or freeze. The brain doesn’t know enough to turn off that safety feature.”

The key to succeeding in Coach Stewart’s game was finding the “Goldilocks Zone”β€”a mindset where “you’re neither too lethargic nor too anxious; too confident nor too worried; too fearful nor not fearful enough”.Β For InstructorA and TeakO, who have high energy horses, finding their Goldilocks Zone required them to focus on “thinking calm” and “landing lazy”. Coach called TeakO out for being too aggressive and suggested that instead of trying so hard, she “try softer” instead.

“It’s our job to make the horse his best. Whatever you want in your horse, you must first create in yourself.”

Finding the Goldilocks Zone starts with getting yourself into a Flow State. My best rides have always happened in the Flow Stateβ€”my mind goes blank and instead of overthinking my sense of feel takes over. Ever count the rhythm of your canter as you ride? Sometimes the Flow State happens naturally, but many successful athletes use a Cadence to help push themselves into the Flow State.

Coach Stewart also lauded the importance of happiness. Our survival mechanisms know that focusing on the negatives (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 so that we can perform better.

“This is our happy place. You can’t be upset in your happy place. You’re 34% better at what you do when you’re happy.”

On top of that, Coach also asked us to expand our idea of what a teammate looks like. He wanted to address a common misconception that most riders have: that equestrian sports are a solo activity! He talked about the unseen team behind every horse and rider pairβ€”the diligent trainer, the strategic farrier, the supportive parent, the hardworking stall cleaner, the caring veterinarian, etc. Coach Stewart was adamant that even the people that we compete against should be considered part of our team.

“Everybody you learn from is a teammate, even your opponents. Learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t live long enough to make them all.”

The idea of finding a Power Posture really stuck with me, too. When we get nervous, we have a tendency to get small and closed off, which isn’t helpful coming up to a jump! I’ve been putting in the effort to open up through my chest, straighten my spine, and lift my chin when I’m off balanceβ€”I find my Power Posture!


There’s a lot of things that I learned at the Daniel Stewart clinic that I still carry with me today! But as much as I enjoyed being able to audit his clinic, InstructorA felt truly transformed by the experience. She loved it so much that she’s been looking for an opportunity to ride with him againβ€”and since I’ve got a giant horse of my own now, she’s been trying to convince me that I should participate rather than audit.

But, if I’m being honest… as an amateur that’s already prone to anxiety and self-criticism, I just don’t want to put myself through that kind of torture! Of course, I wouldn’t say no to auditing again. 😁

Clinic Recap: Jesse Shaw @ KW

Clinic Recap: Jesse Shaw @ KW

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 trainingβ€”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 thingsβ€”probably the things you spend hours and hours just working on, where I would never spend one second working onβ€”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 departuresβ€”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!

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