Getting inside my lovely horses head, at Isi Brenners amazing clinic – May 2015

By , May 12, 2015 10:29 am

This weekend Isi Brenner was over from Germany for a 3 day clinic. I met Isi about five years ago at Steve Halfpennys horsemanship centre in South Australia. She was one of those phenomenal horse riders that just had an uncanny way with horses. And her breath of knowledge about horsemanship, training, equipment, (as she proved at this clinic) is vast. Last autumn I visited her in Germany to watch a Jeff Sanders clinic at her yard and managed to persuade her to run her first international clinic in Ireland!

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I have a lovely horse called Ozzie. He’s a sensitive soul with a pretty fast brain! One of the main things I wanted to get some insights was who to make him happier mentally and emotionally. He’s pretty good on the ground, and at halt in riding, but when we go faster he can get tense and nervous. Then we also can get head shaking, foot stamping, head scratching and he can look away to block out what’s going on.

So I wanted to make him feel more relaxed at higher speeds and was looking forward to seeing how Isi could help us. Instead of Ozzie feeling he had to do all those random moves to try and block out or get rid of feeling under pressure, I wanted Oz to be able to deal with a little pressure and not let it affect him as much emotionally.


On day 1, Isi had him figured out in about 1 second! She reckoned he was sensitive inside himself. So at the start he might be half asleep and not paying attention, but once you asked him to focus, then he went quickly to the other end of the scale of being worried and nervous. So he has quite a small sweet spot, in between half asleep and then totally awake and worried. And he moves very quickly between half asleep to the other extreme of being nevous and unhappy with dealing with pressure.

This completely made sense. Some days I go out and I have a quiet little horse who’s chilled out, and it’s very relaxing but he is a little asleep when I ride! And some days I go out to a high energy, head tossing, foot stamping, galloping around horse who looks like he’s eaten three bags of oats. What happens around him has a BIG influence on him. Often in sunny hot weather = horse is relaxed. And in cold windy weather, or in places with distractions = Oz is jumping around and a handful to work with.

This was all brilliant as somehow Isi had hit on the cause of the problems, and figured out my little horse. Now it was time to try a few things to see how we could help him.

Groundwork with circles and yields in and out.

Oz was unbalanced and falling in on circles. In faster gaits it got worse as he was tense, so we were losing softness and got more falling in. So here was where we started:


– Walk beside Oz’s shoulder on a circle.
– Slow the front feet down a fraction.
– Ask the ribs to move out in time with the outside hind foot. (I was having problems putting myself in the right place, so when I focused on moving out the shoulders in my ind this worked better)
– If horse doesn’t move out (is not listening) get effective once
– When horse has moved out, then use a direct rein, while I do not lift my hand, to ask inside fore to step back into me.
– If hind end doesn’t move out at much, correct it
– Repeat a few times, then change to the other rein. Now I can push the shoulders out (to fix the leaning in issue on circles) and also ask the shoulders to come in (in case Oz decides to escape through the outside shoulder).
– Once we get good at this, do it again but with a longer rein. See if Oz will keep the bend on the circle by himself.
– When we get good after a few sessions, then do this around some obstacles.
– This is really good to get oz to focus more on me, rather than everywhere else. Sometimes he was bending in,and looking in, but still you could see his mind was 5% still not quite there… but a big improvement. As we did more we got more focus on me and much less distraction. This was a brilliant slow exercise to connect with my horse mentally and to prepare his body for softness.

Oz got this really quick with Isi. It took me a bit longer as I kept standing a little too far back (which caused a different response), but I got it in the end!

Then we did the same when riding.


– Looking for end on the circle with Oz not being distracted.
– I have to use my inside rein a little forwards to get the band. I have a bad habit of pulling it back instead which I am fixing.
– If needed, move HQ to get the HQ to catchup when he yields outwards.

One thing Isi said is that I need to release a lot faster. Oz has a tiny sweet spot so if I correct seomthing but then don’t release immediately and hold on for a fraction of a second longer, then Oz goes too far the opposite way and then it develops into this big long path of correcting things, not releasing fast enough going too far the other way and then fixing that as well. So I need to really concentrate a lot more and release a lot faster with my hands and my legs when I ride Oz. He is only doing what I’m telling him! I also need to keep my hands together more.

On a circle, my weight should be on my inside seat bone and my shoulders should be level. This is more tricky that it sounds. A good tip is to lift up outside leg a little, so you get the same result without your shoulders moving.


In the afternoon, Isi said it’d be good to work on Oz feeling more comfortable when he was moving. I have definitely created a pattern with Oz where the only place he really associates a rest and relaxation is at halt. When he wants a rest after doing some work, it’s straight back to halt and then huge yawns and licks and chews. But he rarely does all this relaxation stuff when he’s moving. So we need to fix that. If we do fix this so he’s really relaxed in walk, trot and canter, it will totally change our riding!

So we did it in such a beautiful and simple way.


– I asked Oz to walk around in a circle. Then I walked towards his hindquarters. At the start, he felt the pressure and wouldn’t let me touch his HQ, instead he would move his HQ away in a HQ yield to get rid of the pressure. But very quickly, I had him walking on a circle, as I walked beside his hindquarters rubbing his rump as he walked. WHAT a change!! After a few seconds while he still was walking, he started yawning, licking and chewing, and releasing the tension he was feeling mentally. Sometimes he’d try and halt, but I asked him to move on again. He was starting to relax, instead of holding it all inside him, until he stopped and then releasing it. Yay! We did this on both reins and it was great. Crazy to see such an instant change in how he was feeling emotionally from something as simple as rubbing him while he moved. As this was going on, as we were fixing the cause of the problem, we were also getting less head shaking, less foot stamping, less looking away distracted, etc.

Next up was seeing if we can do exactly the same thing when I rode him.


– Ride in circles, inside hand holding the reins, and outside hand rubbing Oz’s shoulder the whole time. He really started to relax as well. Again when he’d start to yawn or click and chew sometimes he’d also try and stop, but I asked him to staying at walk. Got a big difference here in a few minutes, while he was walking we were now getting the physical relaxation, which was a result of him relaxing mentally and learning that yes he could move and relax at the same time! He didn’t have to wait until halt to have a big yawn!

This was a HUGE mental leap for my little horse!

Isi said there was very fine balance with Oz, between doing enough to get his attention, and notdoing too much to get him nervous.

It was at this stage that Isi looked at Ozzie’s near front leg, which he was sort of resting on its toe, and she asked he does he always do that. I hadn’t noticed it before. But I suddenly got pretty nervous. A horse resting a front foot is not normal and not a sign of anything good as far as I knew. What was wrong with my little horse? Did he had tendon issues? Or something else? Aagggh!!

It also poured rain for most of Friday so we ended up huddled in the horsebox! But I think it shows the dedication (or madness) of everyone there πŸ™‚

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This morning Isi suggested we continue to work on helping Oz feel more comfortable at faster speeds. It sounded perfect to me. Changing this would completely improve my horse riding.


– Trot Oz in circles until he relaxes and starts to lick and chew while trotting. Change directions every so often to make sure he’s thinking. We started to see changes in Oz while doing this. At the start he looked tense, tight and was leaning in. After a minute or three, the trot was getting a little slower, and we started to see a few licks and chews.


– We repeated some groundwork exercises from yesterday.
– Walking in circles and pushing Oz out, then asking him to come back in.
– Walk in a circle both directions while I rub his rump

Isi said Oz gets his shoulders stuck when he turns, and only moves them after I ask him to. Also he is quite unbalanced.

To teach Oz we don’t want all the head shaking and braceness, Isi also said I could ask him to lower his head, then keep his head low (if he wanted to put it up) by having one hand on the side of the noseband. At the same time then rub his face gently. This was really good. When you rub his face sometimes he can push his nose up in the air against your hand.

Also when doing circles in groundwork, I need to be aware of where the circle is! Currently I’m drifting around with Oz cos I’m not aware of it!

We tried out the new hackamore on Ozzie. It fit thank God! I need to be waaaay more subtle with my reins from now on and it was great to get started with Isis help!

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On Saturday afternoon, it was time for a little demo. Isi showed us how to correctly bridle a horse. You never push the bit into a horses mouth. You just set it up and then let the horse pick it up himself. She spent 9 minutes (someone had a watch!) with a lovely black horse, being patient and just waiting for him to be ready for the bit. This was beautiful to watch. We ended up with a very happy bridled horse. The rider remarked that it was only now that she realised that she had been doing things far too quickly for her horse.

Is also did a mounting block short session which was great. Then it was onto some serious stuff that had been worrying Isi – Saddle fit.

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At cut a long story short, 100% of our saddles, on 6 horses did not fit. And many horses were a little sore in their backs. And yes, a lot of the saddles had been checked previously by saddle fitters or professionals, so we the riders, thought we had done our best and our saddles were fine. They were not fine at all!!! GGrr I was so angry. It was total disaster. You can read the full story here.

The physio had to be called for 2 horses (thank you Emma Robertson!) and that was the end of most of our saddles. We came to the agreement that before anyone hosts ANY clinic, horsemanship or any sort, jumping, cross county, whatever, the first thing everyone should done on day one, is to line up all horses and get their saddle fit checked. BEFORE they ride their horses.

Isi checked my saddle that evening too so it was too narrow. Oz was sore along the front of the saddle, his shoulders were really tight and the weird front leg resting could be to relieve the pressure on the shoulder which was most sore. GGggrrrrrr again!!!

So that we the end of the riding. Instead I videoed Isi putting my hackamore on (its a bit complicated) and she also taught me where the last rib on Ozzie was so I can check in future if a saddle is too long on him. We built on our groundwork (getting a TON more relaxed while he moved!) and we also worked on haltering Oz. This was great as I was having problems putting on a halter without Oz trying to bite it. Isi had a plan that worked really quick, and now Oz is deciding to lower and soften his neck, and allow me to put on the halter and there is minimal biting. In another few days it should be gone completely. This was brilliant as I was a bit stuck on it. I didn’t want oz to try & bite the hackamore as it was pretty expensive!

A brilliant day. And a few annoyed people about the saddle stuff. But THANK GOD Isi came over so we know now and can fix it.


Today was really windy & a bit wet. Historically Oz should have been on his toes. Instead something strange happened.

I haltered Oz, like Isi showed me and waited until I got the halter on, with Oz accepting it and not trying to bite it.

Then we walked in walk to the arena with a quiet comfortable mellow horse, focused and soft.

– There was no head shaking!
– There was no foot stamping!
– There was no looking away distracted!
– There was no vigorous rubbing his head on his leg!
– Despite a noise & busy environment, my little horse was as cool and relaxed as custard!!!
– This was a monumental leap for my horse!

Then Oz showed us even more. It was still blowing a gale. Inside the arena, Isi asked me to do a few things with Oz. We rolled through about 4 or 5 GW exercises in few minutes, and each one Oz was foot perfect and mentally perfect!

No joke!!

– Head down and relaxed when asked – perfect
– Soft backup on a circle both ways – perfect
– Soft in walk with no head shaking – perfect
– Walk in hand with shoulder out and in from the tiniest cue – perfect!

Isi and I started laughing.

Honestly, I was blown away. I had a relaxed, soft, listening, focused, unworried,confident happy horse, in quite a challenging environment!!

Happy was an understatement πŸ™‚ This change was priceless as before all this issues were really holding both of us back.

The trot in circles was a lot better again than yesterday in terms of Oz not rushing as much and being more relaxed, but there was still a good opportunity for more improvement here.

So Isi suggested I do the falling leaf pattern at walk, with me walking very slowly, and then the same at trot, again with me walking really slowly.

This was genius. At the start Oz was running off into trot. After a few minutes, we were getting a lot slower and more relaxed trot. Again it was crazy (good) to see how much he was changing so fast.

The physio came out so Oz will be fine, he needs a few days off and then I’ll focus on groundwork for a while. When / if I do get a saddle that fits in a few weeks, I’ll get Emma back up again to check him & give the all clear.


Isi blew me away. My goal going into this clinic was to work on stuff to help my horses mental state. It wasn’t going to be about what moves I wanted to do, or what patterns I wanted to learn.

I just wanted to figure out how to make my horse feel better, especially when I rode him.

Isi got straight to EXACTLY the reasons Oz was having trouble, and the exercises we worked on were actually quite simple and it was nice my brain hadn’t exploded by the end of it. Sometimes learning new stuff if its complicated can take a lot out of me!

So I was incredibly happy. And my horse is much happier.

I couldn’t have asked for more.

Thank you to all my friends who came to the clinic to ride. It was a lot of fun (even in the rain) and you were all inspiring and amazing to spend a little time with.

Lastly thanks to Isi – for her kindness and patience, incredible horsemanship gift (its hard to describe any other way) and all the effort she put in with each horse and rider to help them where they needed it. Can’t wait for Isi to return again πŸ™‚

Great news: Isi is going to come back for another clinic in September 4 – 6. Priority will be given to those who rode at her first clinic. If you’d like to express interest, email me at

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