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Sinead Halpin Clinic
On what could have possibly been the last beautiful autumn weekend before winter, 24 riders gathered at River Glen Equestrian Park, just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee for a two-day clinic with Sinead Halpin. Riders from starter to intermediate were challenged through gymnastic exercises on Saturday and cross-country questions on Sunday. A true test of any clinician is to be able to challenge a diverse group of riders and horses. Sinead was able to outline five essential areas of training needed to be successful at any level, two of which were speed and direction. Whether riders were accomplished eventers on three-year olds, or new eventers on accomplished horses, every horse and rider pair found an area of weakness within the same exercise.
Day One – Gymnastics
On Saturday, riders were tested on their speed and direction through a series of gymnastic exercises that required elasticity and accuracy. In the lower levels, speed and direction were the focus. Riders needed to maintain a steady pace in order to execute the direction of the forward motion. Riders commonly found themselves with either the correct speed, or the correct direction, but not both. They would either be too fast to negotiate the turns, or be able to turn, but have inaccurate distances. Sinead helped the riders identify these weaknesses, and gave them tools to correct the issues at hand.
The upper level groups worked over the same series of exercises. What was a question of speed and direction in the lower divisions, turned into identifying the different types of canters you need to ride your line. These groups started out with the same warm-up as the lower-level groups, and progressed to riding a series of fences where they had to change their step based on requirements given by Sinead. A distance of four, five, or six strides were all possible on a bending line and were determined by the speed and length of the canter.
Day 2 – Cross-Country
On Sunday, the lower levels learned about finding their balance in the three positions while out on cross-country:
Cruising, Prep (aka neutral), and Sitting C. The riders in these groups learned to find a comfortable balance in the cruising position – up and off their horses’ backs. After they acquired their balance, the riders applied these positions over cross-country obstacles. With this new balance, riders were able to find the security they needed to jump confidently. Sinead also emphasized the building blocks of cross-county to create confidence for horse and rider. By building a solid foundation for the green rider or horse, they are able to meet new challenges with more relaxation and “not sweating the small stuff.”
This theory of keeping things calm, relaxed, and confident was extended to the upper level groups. For example, every upper level rider jumped the beginner novice ditch. They jumped it repeatedly until the horse essentially took a canter stride over it rather than “jumping” it. Sinead did not have riders add any complexity to the exercise (bigger ditches, adding related fences) until horse and rider were confident and relaxed over the small ditch. For some riders, they culminated this exercise by going through the training coffin. Other riders did the training, preliminary, and finally the intermediate coffin, but riders did not move on until the exercise at hand was soft, confident, and relaxed.
Sinead was an absolute professional, giving constructive criticism with a warm, positive and patient teaching style. Because she provided individualized instruction, every rider was able to improve through the weekend. Everyone came away with things to think about and a big smile on their faces. Thank you to Bill Graves for offering River Glen as the host site for the weekend – the grounds were the perfect place to hold the clinic. Thank you to Crossroads Dressage and Combined Training Society, to the many volunteers who helped set up jumps, and, especially, to our smiling, helpful friend Dave McAdoo. Finally, a huge thank you to Sinead for a great weekend!
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