Day 4: Light Hands Equitation Steve Halfpenny and the incredible Tipperary clinic 2016

By , July 1, 2016 12:31 pm

Day 4 was another magical day.

We had progressed so much in the 3 days, more than I had ever thought was possible. But I wanted to keep learning, so day 4 was more new things to do!


We started off with trotting circles to get Ozzie moving. After a few minutes of these I decided we should try a trot shoulder in and then after that a trot leg yield… tons of fun was had trotting in various shapes around the field!

The weather was lovely and we were up beside the lake so it all felt really good.

As it was our last day with Steve, I thought maybe we should try something new – piaffe!

I know its probably miles outside of our comfort zone & what we’re ready for, but I do believe everything is possible PLUS when you’ve a genius like Steve standing beside your horse, there’s a great chance you’ll get started on it!

So we tried working in trot, and then slowing down in one place each time on the circle and keeping the energy. But Oz hadn’t really enough energy and kept going back to walk.

We tried trot and then at one place each time I slowed the front legs back to walk but kept the hind legs trotting around, and then trotted off again before we slowly down completely. Better but still the lack of energy was the issue.

Then we tried it in groundwork. We tapped a fetlock while making a ‘click’ sound, and kept at this until Oz lifted his leg, and as he held it up we rubbed higher up his leg. He figured this out really fast, and while he stood still I could get him to do this with both back legs, by using the stick in between both back fetlocks.

Then the next step would be for me to walk backwards and Oz to walk forwards, and each step the hind leg lifts up a lot. We did a few steps! This was so cool. I have a horse who is starting piaffe!!

AFTER A BREAK ……………………

After a break I rode Oz again. This time he was leaning on my hands and a bit pushy. I had wanted to do more HQ in & half passes and walk pirouettes, but they weren’t possible as he was just pushing forwards too much so I abandoned them for a while. Instead I worked on some stuff to get him off my hands.

We started off and walked around, then I stopped his inside front foot, and did a HQ yield around it. Then we rode off again & did it again for a few minutes. The leaning got a bit better, but still was a problem.

Then I remembered the short serpentines we were doing before, so I decided we’ll try them for 5-10 mins and see what effect they have on Oz.

They were great! He started to soften up through his neck, and after a few minutes of this doing small little circles by ourselves away from the others, I was starting to get my nice light horse back, and he stopped pushing through my hands. A very useful exercise!!

We had a little bit of a break them for him to process it & watched the other riders.

Steve at this stage was riding another horse so it was a treat to watch a genius at work πŸ™‚

After this, on the ground near us was a circle made out of a lariat rope. So we played around and did a normal circle, a counter bend circle, and shoulders in around it. That was fun, I hadn’t used 1 circle for lots of manouvres like this before πŸ™‚

We had another break, and I think the 4 days were catching up with me so as we relaxed I had minor brain freeze for a few minutes & I just watched what Steve was up to.

Oz enjoyed the break and was completely mellow and happy standing in the middle of the field, watching other horses work lol.

Then we had a moment. Steve was backing up the horse he was riding on, so I thought great lets do that too & copy him. So I using my weight change I asked Oz to backup from halt…. for some reason into my head popped in 2 things…

  • One from Mark Rashid… about blending with your horse.. I experienced this in his akido workshop in the UK a few years ago. Instead of just trying to move the opposite way to the other person / animal you are with which creates tension, first blend with the animal or person, by accepting their slight movement, blending with it and then offering them a path to redirect it… so I used this with Oz to blend a fraction forward before I offered him an opening backwards…
  • Secondly, Steve mentioned the quote at lunchtime yesterday… Observe, remember, compare… so as I aksed for backwards I tried to observe what my body was actually doing.. and I realised while my upper body was thinking up and backwards, my 2 feet were jammed into the stirrups! So instead I asked for backup and I stopped jamming my weight into the stirrups and tensing my body.
  • We then got some gorgeous backups… with an inside to inside connection, rather than a mechanical pull on the reins or similar. Magic πŸ˜€

    Then we had a rest. At this stage Oz was now getting REALLY focused on what I was asking him to do, and really light and soft.

    After a few minutes my brain started to thaw out properly. I had a think about all of the riding work we had done so far in the 4 days…

    – trots on a circle and playing with shoulder in and leg yields (good progress)
    – leg yields (grand)
    – shoulder in (grand)
    – Hqs in using counter bend on a circle (new)
    – Hqs in and out on a straight line (new)
    – Half pass (new)
    – Walk pirouettes (new)

    So I thought, to wrap up, lets see if (as my brain was 99% full) we can just do a couple of steps of something, get the quality & lightness I’m looking for, and then take a break again.

    So we did a mixture of HQ in, walk pirouettes and half pass, just a few steps & then take a break.

    AMAZING. There was zero leaning. Ozs feet were in my hands. He literally was 110% focused on me and was asking me ‘what foot would you like me to move, and where exactly would YOU like me to move it to? I can move it anywhere for you, just let me know’.

    I was totally blown away.

    At this stage Steve came over to see what I was up to πŸ™‚

    Steve looked pretty happy and said that he had never seen Oz so soft.

    To be honest, I was totally humbled that Oz was offering me SO MUCH that I was getting a bit emotional and was trying hard to hold it together.

    The spectators had noticed Ozs moves as well so I think we were looking good from a distance too.

    I was so happy for 2 reasons…

  • Humbled because Oz was offering me so much – this was a gift.
  • Chuffed because at the start of the session Oz was so leany and pushy, but I fixed it by myself and then at the end of the session we got the best work we’ve ever got in the 11 years I’ve owned him. So happy.

    In the morning session, Steve did great work with 4 riders, here are some of the things they were working on:


    Backup your horse and then turn him. Having this backup in place is critical. It changes your horses balance, makes his front end lighter and easier to turn. Turning like this allows your horse to follow a feel, instead of you having to pull your horse to get a turn, which you don’t want.

    When you are walking with your horse, if you cut in front of your horse, your horse should move out of your way. If you end up being too close your horse…. actually in fact the issue is your horse is too close to you and should have moved out of your space / bubble!

    All horses then did lovely work and used a fence line to ride along and do shoulder in. When you are doing this, look where you are going. Don’t look at the fence line.


    All riders worked on their short serpentines. You need a 90 degree neck bend. Often people need to shorten their reins to get this working properly. Long reins = too tricky to use. The horses ears should stay level. The horse also needs to stay moving forward the whole time.

    Shoulder in along a fence line – gorgeous work done!

    When riding, the moment you feel your horse getting heavy in your hands, leaning forwards or pushing forwards, do not release the reins. Instead, go backwards and do not release until your horse stops leaning forwards. Fixing this forwards leaning then unlocks a WHOLE WORLD of amazing horsemanship and new levels of work you can achieve. Everything becomes softer and lighter.

    Riding exercise:

    – Walk on
    – Stop
    – Backup your horse
    – Your horse needs to be thinking about backing up (this may take a few steps of backing up)
    – ONLY then turn
    – Walk off
    – Repeat
    – Do not drop the reins or release the reins when your horse is pulling on your, feels heavy or is leaning on your hands

    I have no idea how Steve explains everything so well, is so patient and has such a knowledge of horses & horsemanship, but I am eternally grateful that he comes to Ireland every year and teaches us!

    See you next year Steve and Irena.

    We are looking forward to it already.

    Read day 3 of the clinic here

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