Beautiful work in a high energy environment at the Tanja Penders Masterclass

By , September 12, 2016 3:00 pm

We have just finished a 3 day clinic with Tanja Penders from Light Hands Equitation in Germany who flew in to teach us.

Tanja is excellent at reading and understanding horses. For every horse & rider, she put a lot of thought into teaching them the exact ideas and movements that would help the most in their journey – which was specific to each horse & rider. She really cared about how she could help everyone as much as she could over the weekend.

She also has a gift as a natural teacher. She makes learning really easy, relaxed and enjoyable for both horse & rider.

During the clinic there were a few riders who were trying to figure out various ‘schemes’ on how to keep her in Ireland for longer!

There were many highlights from the clinic, and I’ll followup with my more detailed report on Oz. But I have to talk about the weather conditions and how the horses felt over the weekend.

If you ask Steve Halfpenny what is one of the most important factors in horsemanship, he will say ‘relaxation’.

Without a relaxed horse, you’re not going to be able to achieve much of value.

With a relaxed horse, everything is possible.

Day 1: The weather was awful. Rainy, wet, a bit windy, basically ugh. We were doing private lessons all day up in the middle of the field. Traditionally day 1 of clinics is where the horses might be a little anxious. They are away from home, its a new place, and now they were away from the other horses and there was wet & windy weather, and often you can get high energy & emotions.

This clinic was different. Every horse here was mellow and relaxed on day 1. It was wonderful to see. The horses were listening, happy, chilled and enjoying their time with their rider & Tanja. A lot of this work comes back to the riders, many who have been to a few of these Light Hands clinics and have improved so much – even since our last clinic with Tanja back in the spring. The riders with Tanja’s guidance & help were able to create a situation in challenging conditions where their horses felt safe and relaxed.

That is wonderful horsemanship in my book. Tanja remarked that she was really impressed with all horses and riders and how they performed with the weather.

Day 2: Saturday was a nice sunny day, and everyone did a great job in good weather. At the end of the day, we got everyone out again to practise their homework. A few things were really special… Everyone helped everyone.

If you needed a gate opened, someone to hold your horse, a chat, a rest & a piece of cake, there was always someone ready to help you. Being with a group of people on the same journey as you, who are kind & totally supportive makes learning much easier and more fun. Thank you to everyone for your generosity & kindness.

Day 3: We had a hurricane!! It was crazy windy. We were nearly all blown away. As the day progressed the wind got stronger. Again all the horses were worked in the middle of a large field, away from other horses, in high winds. Yet again every single horse was relaxed and mellow and felt safe with their riders. It was beautiful to watch.

There was more lovely work done today, from the beginning of HQs in, short serpentines, cantering, softness, circles with lovely bend and no reins, relaxation… just really nice work from all partnerships and every horse was a very relaxed and happy horse. This lightness, softness and relaxation is just not what you normally see at events – the ones I end up at anyway.

Huge thanks to Tanja who was so generous with her time & knowledge this weekend.

Coming next – the writeup of how I got on with Ozzie each day – its got a lot of stuff in it so stay tuned!


First I wrote a little of what Mandy & Hamish were doing on day 1 & 2.

DAY 1 Groundwork:

Circle in walk and ask Hamish to step his inside hind under, then walk across the middle of the circle and change direction. Watch out that Hamish doesn’t do a HQ yield when you ask hi to step his inside fore towards the middle of the circle.

DAY 1 Riding:

When Hamish is walking a circle on the right rein, he looks out. So shorten the inside rein and ask the inside hind leg to step under, and keep forwards. Keep moving.

On the left rein on a circle, Hamish can fall in sometimes. Shorten the inside rein and push him out to make the circle a little bigger again.

If a horse is heavy, don’t pull or push him to the outside. Instead you need to change his balance. Ask each front foot individually (in time with the footfall) to step out.

Hamish can tend to stop, you need to keep him moving.

DAY 2 Riding:

Mandy (like me) has to relax her upper body, don’t lean forward and be effective as homework. Hamish was working on bending to a stop. Count how many steps this takes. Today it was 2 or 3 steps. Tanja remarked that Hamish is very nice. He has nice softeness in his neck, and that Hamish has good balance.

Next up is what I was doing on the 3 days of the clinic with Ozzie

DAY 1 Groundwork:

We worked on softness on a circle. I had the lead rope not too long & I had a bamboo. On the circle I asked Ozs inside hind foot to step under. Then I asked the inside fore to step towards the middle of the circle. I had to remember that Oz had to keep moving forwards and not slow down, and also that the inside front did move in BUT the hindquarters were not to disengage! Oz got a bit more stuck on the left rein. The goal is a brilliant follow the feel. So on a circle, get the inside hind to step under, ask for the inside fore to take a step or two in, then ask the inside fore to go back out on the circle, and Oz has to keep the same rhythm. Also on a circle, get the inside hind to step under, ask for the inside fore to take a step to the middle of the circle, walk past me and then go back out on the circle in the other direction. This was great fun to play with, but tricky to keep the forwards & not blow out the HQ! Great homework.

When Oz decides he wants to bite the lead rope (in groundwork) I just annoy him a little by tapping his neck with the end of a stick until he drops it. Problem solved. We agreed that Oz was really smart, really sensitive, always talking and asking questions (which we expects me to answer) and has an emotional side. 100% spot on.

DAY 1 Riding:

On a circle, again ask Oz to step under with his inside hind. Then ask inside fore to step towards the middle of the circle, do NOT slow down, do NOT blow out the hind, walk across centre of circle, change bend & seat weight & out again on circle in the other direction. My posture needs longer reins, flat back, hands touching the front of the saddle approx, and to stop tipping forwards.

DAY 1 Nice to know:

During our groundwork, Tanja remarked that Oz was very patient. HUGE compliment!

At the mounting block, Oz repositioned himself so he was in the perfect place. Tanja remarked that Oz was really trying to help me.

Today when riding we were on our own, in the middle of a field, with a few horses doing high energy stuff in paddocks and with machinery & commotion going on nearby. It was wet & windy. Traditionally on days like this Oz is really emotional. It can feel like I’m trying to ride a bomb (not good). Today I was so focused on listening to Tanja and working on our exercises, that it wasn’t until Tanja remarked that Oz was being really good, with all of the distractions, and that many other horses would be jumping about, that I realised how far Oz & I have come. Oz was a little distracted, but he wasn’t at all emotional at all. Just relaxed & interested. I was so happy with this ๐Ÿ™‚

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DAY 1 More groundwork:

Tanja wanted to work on higher energy things with Oz, as this is one thing we have to get better at. Higher energy can cause Oz to get emotional, stop listening and take & take over. If I can get Oz more relaxed with high energy we will have a lot more available to us.

Tanja was so cool – she started off doing in hand walk to canter transitions with Oz. So walk in hand, one stride of canter, back to walk again. Oz was getting really focused and really connected to her energy. Tanja though wasn’t going faster to get the higher energy, she was at the same speed just with more energy. That’s hard to wrap my mind around. I took over and we worked on walk to trot transitions, in hand with my hand on the knot under the rope halter. I had the bamboo. We were looking for nice (immediate) walk to trot transitions and i had to raise my energy BUT not walk any faster! Walk a few steps, trot a few, walk a few, etc.

Two things to improve… if Oz does a head shakes from walk to trot, just bring my hand to my body a little do he doesn’t get a release for it. Then also from trot to walk we don’t want Oz to hollow his back when he gets back to walk. Doing just a few steps (2-3 in each gait) showed improvements in both.

For me, to ask Oz to trot is also follow a feel. I can stretch my hand out to the front a little to ask him to move on. If he started to lean I need to address it. If he is moving in the wanted gait, then I am moving with him with a short and slack rope.

Once transitions are going good, add in a leg yield while trotting. I also have to stop trying so hard, tensing up my body and stop thinking as much. I just have to walk along and just kind of assume Oz will come along beside me, without me trying too much to micromanage the whole situation and creating tension in my body as my brain whirls…

DAY 2 Groundwork:

We started off doing the circle, hind under, inside leg moving towards the middle of the circle. Much better today, better forwards and the HQ were not blowing out as much.

Then we moved onto in hand trot transitions. Ask Oz to move from halt to trot. I am to step forwards and walk straight, NOT to walk sideways into him. If Oz pushes into me, I am to have the stick ready to block him.

This is tricky on the right rein, Oz is more emotional.

I have to smile & relax!! I am not to cluck like a chicken! ๐Ÿ˜€

I am also to walk slowly with my energy up. Trot a few steps, then I say ‘WHOA’. Then I close my fingers, Oz to stop, backup and move the weight from his forequarters to his hindquarters.

If Oz rushes in trot, I have to ask him to halt and backup again.

So a few steps trot, backup, a few steps trot, backup. This was getting better. After halt, his first step forward with a front leg was at walk, but the next step with his front leg was in trot.

If Oz decides he has to jump around in trot, I am not to react, just pretend it didn’t happen and gently ask him to continue on trotting like I normally would. This was really good as I was doing too much.


During the day I did 2 x 10 min homework sessions with Oz while the other lessons were going on. I worked on in hand trots, especially on Oz emotional side. Both sessions saw good improvements. One thing was really interesting. 1/10 times, when I let Oz go he will be a bit hyper and may gallop off after 30 seconds of being loose (it’s not an immediate thing). So I didn’t do something right as you are really supposed to release when the horse is mentally and physically relaxed, so I had released when he was mentally not relaxed (as he waited for a minute then took off at a gallop). But it can be hard as Oz can do everything I ask, and make the effort to hold it together while we are working but need to let off some steam after. I asked Tanja about it. When we are done, from looking at Oz I can tell if he will chilled after I let him go, or if he will take off. Tanja said that if it looked like he had emotional / mental tension, instead I am to just walk him around for a few minutes untiI can tell that he is more emotionally relaxed, before I take off the halter. This is small thing but really important so its on my todo list from now on.

DAY 2 Groundwork cont:

I have to be more relaxed and smile. Our in-hand backup to trots are much more relaxed on both reins after the little homework sessions I did with Oz. I am not to walk fast. My first step is not to be large or fast. Oz is not head shaking any more, and the emotions are much reduced on the tricky rein. Oz is pushing a little. When Tanja works wiht Oz I can see him pushing from a distance. But I find it tricker to see the push when I am working with him. But he is pushing! This is why sideways is a little tricky because the forwards push is blocking it. I have to think of Oz looking like a Spanish horse with weight on his hindquarters.

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DAY 2 Riding:

In our riding, Oz was like a slow moving train. In walk we were ok, in trot there was so much pushing, and no option for lightness or trotting. Tanja rode him and she said ‘interesting’ a few times!! However, he wasn’t at all emotional so that was very good.

Anyway, no point trying much light or softness mvts in trot today as he was a lump, so it was back to walk and time to fix stuff, and encourage him to stop being heavy. He did this on the last day of Steve’s clinic too. We played with lots of stuff… 10-9-8 forwards & backwards, walk the line, HQ yields, inside hind under, turns, light backups on a loose rein, our forwards & backwards got really good… Oz began to listen to me more and tune back in. Tanja was working with someone else at this stage as I pottered away with Oz in the background. Tanja was keeping an eye on me from a distance and said we did some really nice work! Definite improvement anyway. We got some nice trots and I have to remember my posture.

DAY 3 Riding:

Walk, relax my lower back and aim for a really forwards walk. The difference between a normal walk and a forwards walk, is whether my lower back is tense or not. If its not tense and I think about the barrel swinging, we get this huge walk from Oz.

We did circles, asking the hind to step under and the inside shoulder not to push in. Reins in 1 hand, and if Oz is ignoring my asks (inside hind / inside fire) use a stick to back up instead of using more leg and me tensing up.

If Oz wants to look out on the circle, if he gets as far as actually looking out its too late. Instead, as he is thinking of looking out (I can feel the arc in his body changing), I close the fingers on my inside hand and then he doesn’t look out, and then soften the fingers when he relaxed again. Then ask Os to leg yield out, nicely and backup with energy (as little as possible) form the stick if it is needed.

Keep the forwards walk (AKA keep my lower back relaxed so Oz can walk out properly).

Today was really funny – we had a hurricane just about blowing through. Oz was as mellow and relaxed as the day was long. Also – very funny – it has been tricky to get Oz to trot but he’s much better now. However – now that my lower back is relaxed and Oz is doing this huge 18h horse stride out walk, he is also breaking into trot nearly every few steps. So cool. I was the issue obviously not Oz! Very happy.

My homework is to ride with a high energy walk, on a loose rein, WITH NO PUSH, and do all of our lateral exercises with an emotional free Oz. When this is great, then repeat the same in trot and canter, loose rein, WITH NO PUSH, and do all of our lateral exercises with an emotional free Oz. HUGE GOALS just there.

DAY 3 Groundwork:

Really high winds now and Oz was fine in hand in walk and trot. But in canter he was doing a lot of jumping around, bouncing, leaping, getting all emotional (weather + speed +energy), reared up & generally found all the energy hard to handle. Tanja & I had a chat so while Oz was doing all of this stuff the most important ting to work on right now, was to stop Oz getting closer to the person handling him so no one would be kicked etc.

So we went back to a walk, Oz chilled out again (still a hurricane going through!) and Tanja showed me what she wanted me to do.

– Oz to walk in a circle around me. Correct bend. Follow a feel. Head nearest to me, shoulders a little further away & HQ the furthest away was the goal. If all was fine just keep on the circle.
– If Oz shook his head OR took one step towards me with his shoulder OR looks out, I was then to:
– Turn and walk backwards with him (he is still walking around the circle)
– Swing the end of my rope around with energy to ask him to step out
– Keep my arm near Oz straight to stop me getting too close to Oz
– I cannot cluck like a chicken any more
– I have to smile and relax
– If he can’t step out as he is pushing forwards too much, swing rope behind me to block forwards mvt
– If the HQ doesn’t move it, use rope to also ask it to move out
– Once Oz had stepped out with his whole body & was not pushing & on the correct bend again, I turn and walk forwards again
– Oz stays going the same direction the whole time

I was so bad at this to start with. Coordination had completely disappeared. I definitely looked like I had 2 left feet. It was all a bit tricky to do as Tanja had done! Beginning of this = really messy but I suspect fun to watch ๐Ÿ™‚

But by the end I had half got my coordination sorted and could both fix things and see when I had to fix things. Progress. A great exercise to do to keep the lightness and softness in Oz.

We end up in a great place. Happy horse & rider. When Oz was down in the paddock, given all the wind he was galloping about a bit bothered. Up here once we started this circle work, he completely mellowed out. Any time we took a break, Oz stood beside me, in a hurricane, head low, not trying to eat any grass and eyes half closed, just mellow. Tanja said that ‘You know, Oz is more relaxed with you than when he is by himself in the paddock’.

That’s pretty huge.

Two things come to mind after writing this HUGE report:

1. I love my horse ๐Ÿ™‚
2. I cannot believe we got through so much work with Tanja… this has been a massive writeup and I have a lot of homework to do.

Thanks to Tanja for coming over & helping us all so much, and thanks to everyone who came. Without great riders who recognise that education is never ending, these clinics couldn’t happen. If you’d like to ride at a future clinic, you can join our email list.

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