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Hilda Donahue Clinic


Mary Elliott riding Rowan

Mary Elliott riding Rowan

Mary Elliott with Hilda Donahue

Tara Haubrich riding Maximum Zip (Max) with Hilda Donahue

Tara Haubrich riding Maximum Zip (Max) with Hilda Donahue

Tara Haubrich riding Maximum Zip (Max)
Article & photos by Nancy Brannon

On October 16-17, 2021, Hilda Donahue was back in the mid-south for a two-day dressage and jumping clinic at Cindy Marsh’s Winterpast Farm south of Oakland, Tenn. Dressage lessons with 14 riders started at 7 a.m. on Saturday, finishing just before Marsh’s Open House beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Sunday’s jumping clinic, with show jumping and cross country, saw 17 riders coming for instruction. Donahue emphasized that the jumping builds on the flat work done the previous day, and that the horse’s jumping is only as good as the dressage work done in preparation.

Cindy Marsh commented on the clinic:
“Once again we had a fabulous clinic with Hilda. The weather was glorious and everyone had a great time and learned a lot.
“Unfortunately, only one WTPC member participated as a rider. The majority of the participants were local area eventers, along with folks from Mississippi. WTPC members the Slaughters did a lot to help with the clinic! And I provided the facility. Next year she will be returning as a fundraiser for Scarlett’s Promise Foundation.”

While she tailors instruction to the horse’s and rider’s individual needs, Donahue has a repertoire of exercises that she gives riders to help their horses improve movement and gaits. “It’s like taking hour horse to the gym. You know your horse doesn’t get up in the morning and do yoga,” she quipped. Donahue’s theme is to not rush things and to keep the horse relaxed.

With one rider, she recommended a figure eight, with some leg yielding, change of bend, and counter bend. It wasn’t long before the horse’s movement improved, stepping under more with his hind end and rounding, particularly rounding down in the trot and relaxing.

With one rider she helped get the horse straight and supple coming down the center line. If the horse was not balanced and supple, she recommended aborting the center line and riding a ten meter circle before attempting the center line a second time.

Donahue explained that the small circle can prepare the horse for the correct turn onto the center line, but warned to “never be excessive” in the number of ten meter circles before going down the center line.

Donahue said, “There’s a reason why every dressage test begins and ends with coming down the center line. Most horses tend to be crooked, like a car out of alignment. The horse, like to car, might go OK for a short while, but over the long haul, the crookedness will take its toll. Straightness, or lack thereof, is the reason for the trip down the center line.”

Straightness is evenness between right and left. It not only applies when riding on straight lines, but also on bending lines and in lateral work. The job of dressage riders and trainers is always to make the horse as equal laterally as possible.

About the instructor: Hilda Donahue is founder and owner of Ashmore Equestrian Center in Apopka, Florida, a British Horse Society approved facility.  She is originally from Dublin, Ireland and moved to Florida after college to be a working student for Olympic rider Ann Hardaway. She is a four-star Eventing rider as well as an FEI Endurance rider.

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