Steve Halfpenny June 2017 – Superstar Oz and 4yo Matilda young horse starting

By , July 2, 2017 1:22 pm

“When you reach down the reins it feels like you are reaching for their mind.” Steve Halfpenny

Here is my clinic report from Steve in Tipp in June 2017. Anything that doesn’t make sense is 100% my fault. Steve was an incredible teacher, so patient and his insight into horses is incredible. This clinic was amazing for at least 4 reasons.

Oz and I made a lot of progress. Having a full 4 day clinic meant we got so much done. At the end of day 3 my head was full.  I thought, if the clinic stopped now I’d be 100% happy with all we had achieved. Then day 4 started and Steve threw lots of new exercises at me, and Oz and I went up another few levels. It was superb. A lot of this was to do with me observing a lot more how Oz is using his body.

– This was my first clinic ever, that for every single session (we had 8 sessions, 2 a day), Oz was completely relaxed, happy and chilled. It only took 10 years of patience! What a horse. This was like 10 Christmas’s in one day for me.

Matilda, my unstarted 4yo, who I had been doing a fair bit of groundwork and preparation work with, including sitting on her bareback a few times, did her first clinic with Steve. Each day Steve worked with her in a short session in the morning. I had never actually seen Steve progress with a young horse over 6-8 sessions like this, and it was just humbling to watch how he worked with her mind, through the process of getting her to follow a feel, become more confident, riding bareback, getting used to the saddle and bridle and riding in the saddle. It was literally a masterclass in how to bring on a young horse. Every session Matilda was waiting for her turn at the entrance of the paddock. She was so relaxed in the arena. She was at her happiest hanging out with Steve as he taught the sessions.

– We had the best riders and visitors! Thank you for making the event so enjoyable! Not only that, we formed a dressage team, and we won the June 2017 Light Hands Dressage World Championship.


Here are my notes with Ozzie, and my observations on Steve working with Matilda. If you would like to ride in the next clinic in Tipperary with Steve, please email me for more info chocolatelabhelp AT


Steve did a few short sessions with Matilda each day. Every day there were big improvements and more was becoming available each day.


Day 1:

Steve upped the energy, and worked with Matilda to get her feeling comfortable with flags flapping and moving around fast, ropes being throw all around, and high energy stuff. When Matilda chose to stay with Steve, the high energy stopped. She figured this out very quickly.

Matilda tends to be a little braced, and so her body can be quite straight. Something to be worked on.

In about 5 mins on the first day, Steve was sitting on Matilda bareback. He got on and off twice. He got her used to dismounting with a bit more energy than I had been doing. In each session on the ground, he would rub the top of her head and her ears, and put his fingers into her mouth. This was to get her used to the bridle being put on in the future if needs be.


In the next session, it was groundwork with Matilda, and practising asking her to move her hind quarters. This was something she wasn’t sure about so it was great practise.

Day 2:

More groundwork getting used to high energy with the flag. When you are riding if something surprises her, you want her to be confident and not scared! Steve rode her bareback with 1 rein in walk, and there was more relaxation there today. She is quite independent, and today she was letting Steve into her mind more, compared to yesterday.

Steve used Matilda to demo some groundwork work for the other riders. He asked her to do shoulder in and she walked towards him. This was amazing! She was really listening and focused. Next onto backup circles… ask your horse to do a circle backwards, by pushing the head to the outside of the circle and asking the outside fore to step out of the circle. Matilda had a big difference in the size of her circles in both directions. One medium size, one huge sized as she worked to figure out how to take a step over with her inside hind leg.

Her softness and lightness and bend, in groundwork circles is just phenomenal, much better than Oz!

Matilda wore the saddle in groundwork walk today.

Steve rode Matilda bareback again. Standing still, ask your horse for lateral flexion. Then ask the fore leg (same side as the neck is turned to) to take a step to the side. You don’t want the horse to move his other foreleg and cross his legs over as this means he was unbalanced or leaning / heavy. Matilda was super at this.

Matilda got her teeth done by Maria the equine dentist, and enjoyed it!

It was also lovely to meet Barbara who makes the Haylo hay feeders.

Day 3:

Matilda had never trotted or cantered with the saddle on, so this was this morning session. Steve used a Manolo Mendez cavasson & long rope. Walk and trot were ok, canter she thought was all a bit weird. Steve made sure to run along with her. This was really important as he said if he pulled her off balance it would only panic her. So he moved with her and let the arena walls help her to turn if she was pushing out through the outside shoulder.

Also then, after each little saddle exercise, he asked her to move her hind away, and walk into him for a rest. So he is getting her to find comfort with him, rather than trying to pull away from him. Sometimes she came in half way, and then changed her mind and walked off again, so it was back to the start of the exercise. So fascinating to watch.


Demo some groundwork with Matilda for the other riders. First up, it was to ask Matilda to bend towards you on a circle, and then ask her to step away a little, and keep the original bend, while doing a counter arc on a new circle.  Steve was walking at her shoulder, asking her inside shoulder to move away from him to create a nice neck bend.

Riding – Matilda couldn’t figure out how to move her hindquarters. So Steve rode her one handed with a bamboo. If he asked her to move her hindquarters with his leg, and she didn’t, he touched her inside hind leg with the bamboo.

It was really windy today and Matilda was as cool as a cucumber.

I did some groundwork with Matilda – circles and leading and shoulder out. She is amazingly light and soft on the ground. Her follow a feel is better than Ozzie’s. Steve remarked that if you started a horse without too much consideration for this stuff, fixing everything to be able to put this lightness and softness back in to a horse, could take quite a while. It’s so interesting to be working with a clean slate.


Matilda was hanging back a bit when you lead her. So in this session, Steve had a lariat around her hind quarters, which is used to ask her to move forwards if she didn’t follow a feel.

Because she is braced when you ride her, she needs more work asking for bend through her body. Steve suggested it would be good to introduce a bit as this is an easier tool to work with for these type of exercises, instead of a halter. So we will move onto the bit, and when ready, her hackamore is waiting.

Day 4:

Steve did groundwork trot & canter again in a cavasson, with Matilda wearing a saddle. She was relaxed walk & trot but still not 100% in canter.

Today she was much more confident again to walk further around the arena. She is quite independent, so you have to make sure at least one ear is on me when I ride her.

As Steve rode her in walk this morning, he kept her moving. Forwards first, then direct her. pick up one rein to ask the inside foot to step to the side a little, and backup with a touch on the HQ if needed.

Ride up and down the fence line, and to turn, ask her to bend her neck and look at the fence, and then move her hindquarters so she is looking out of the arena. Then ask the inside fore to step sideways to walk along the fence the opposite direction. Repeat a few times.

Matilda was relaxed throughout, and did some sighs and licks and chews. Steve did a fair bit of rubbing her neck, scratching her neck and telling her she is great.

Use one rein at a time.

For backup, at halt, use one rein at a time to change her balance left and right, then when she thinks backwards, do nothing.

At halt, lateral flexion and then run her head.


We put the bridle on. She mouthed it for maybe 10 or 20 seconds, and then it was over. No issues.

I rode her in walk in the saddle this morning.

She was very relaxed and chilled when I got up and rode around.

When riding, its like half a passenger exercise. The most important thing is to keep moving. I let her go where she wants in general, but I gently work on directing the feet. Forwards first, then direction afterwards. Then at halt, I asked for lateral flexion. This is good on the ground, but pretty bad in the saddle. So lots of good homework to do.

Later Matilda had an Alexander technique session, as she watched the rest of the riders work in the arena. She completely zoned out and enjoyed the rest.


  • Backwards circles, inside hind foot to step in and aiming for equal sized circles both directions
  • Walk, trot and canter with the saddle on, me to run with her and let the sides of the arena help her to turn. Do not pull her as it will frighten her.
  • Lateral flexion in halter and with the bit
  • Move the hind quarters
  • Same groundwork as Ozzie
  • When leading, I should be at her shoulder, she shouldn’t be lagging behind me.


  • Bridle on while I ride her in a halter
  • Walk with forwards, then try to direct the feet, only 1 rein at a time.
  • Halt and lateral flexion, put rein in my other hand and then rub her head. We need to soften the brace in her body. This is not an issue in the groundwork, where she is much better.
  • Do not let Matilda zone me out. I need one ear on me when I am riding.  Be busy all the time, ask her to do things.
  • Walk along the fence line, bend neck, move HQ out. Change direction and do it again.
  • Keep her moving forwards and only stop if I ask her to bend her neck softly.
  • Lots of scratches and rubs.
  • Matilda needs to listen to me and not zone out.



We started with groundwork. My strategy was to do as much as possible in the scary corner, in walk and also moving up the exercises into trot. Might as well fix the spooky corner stuff while we are doing everything else if we can!

Oz doesn’t bend as much through his body on the right rein. When doing a circle to the right his body isn’t really on the same bend as the circle. He is better on the left. At lot of this was observation, and then based on what I learn working to support Oz better. It was very useful.

Steve did a little groundwork as well. I tend to not be as effective as I need to be!

Steve asked Oz to trot and then got a fast trot, then put the bamboo in front of Oz and slowed it down again, all in the space of a few steps. So I need to get more effective as well as it’s much more clear and less confusing for the horse. A good lesson.

Shoulder out along the fence line. Be observant of the bend in your horses body and your horses neck. Oz was over bending his neck and under bending his body. When you notice it, then you can fix it.

We worked on the groundwork serpentines Steve had been doing at the London clinic. Get a nice bend on a circle, and then walk towards the hind WHILE asking the inside fore to step to me. I had been forgetting about asking the inside fore to follow a feel!

Then as the horse turns and walks past you, push out their body to get a bend on the new circle. This push part is the bit that most people miss out on. Keep your feet walking forwards (or at least your body walking towards the horse) throughout.

We did some super groundwork trots in the scary corner.

It seemed like Oz was being calm and confident, and not feeling unsure or scared……….!

More shoulder out along the fence line. Oz was rushing and so had too much neck bend, so my job was to rub his hindquarters to relax him and slow his feet down as a result.

When riding, to ask the inside hind to step under (the path to collection), twist your hip a little as the inside hind is about to step under. This is genius. In trot, if you sit when the outside fore is coming down, then as you rise in trot, also twist your hip a little to ask the inside hind to step under.


When I rode Oz, Steve said I was working too hard with my body. So he gave me a bamboo to carry instead. This was brilliant! Oz falling out the outside shoulder? No problem, just put the bamboo outside his outside shoulder.

Oz falling in? Use bamboo in time with the inside foot to ask the shoulders to move out.

Circles a bit more like eggs? Just use the bamboo as a pretend wall on the outside of the circle and we get immediate improvements while not messing up my posture too much!

I am totally converted to riding with a bamboo, to work on communicating to Oz what I’d like him to move. It is so handy and it’s very easy to hold and direct.

Oz was great again – chilled out, happy, relaxed and willing to do anything I asked of him. And it was only day 1. usually this is the last day!

DAY 2:

We are back up in our new home in the scary corner. In groundwork, ask for a trot and get it immediately. Got it. When I raise my energy Oz raises his. Very cool.  On the circles, especially on the right rein, ask for the neck bend at the same time I push the inside fore out a little. There should be a bend throughout Oz’s whole body. This is definitely improving.

We went riding then. Off we did some nice relaxed trots. This was changed so much since Tanja helped us at the last clinic. Now Oz is free and relaxed moving into a trot, and there is softness and much less brace in his body.  Super.

On to ridden serpentines with the bamboo to help us. Oz finds it easy to step over with his near fore (as if he is going back on his easy rein, the left rein) and finds it more tricky to step over with his off fore.

Steve saw a big reason why this Oz… Oz wasn’t looking where he was going! Especially when he was stepping out iwth his off fore. So Steve did a little asking oz to move his front feet in a circle around his back feet, also while looking where he was going.

When I took over again, I used the bamboo and was very aware to encourage Oz to look the way I wanted him to go as I asked for the change in direction.

This got better and better until it nearly became a dance… he became so light in my hands it was fabulous.


Oz was amazing. We started off with a little groundwork. We started with a circle on both reins with a nice bend. Ask the shoulder to step out and look for a soft bend in the neck. Super.

Then we moved onto the serpentine. I stayed focused that Oz was looking where he was going.

Then we rode. Oz literally out performed himself! He was totally calm and confident. Steve was taken aback!! this is not the Oz he knows! All of our clinics with Tanja during the winter have totally paid off. Thanks Tanja!!

We started off riding circles with the bamboo. Oz was superb and trying really hard.

Then I thought lets get onto the fun stuff. So out comes the garrocha. Oz LOVES the garrocha. He sees it like a toy. We did circles with it, did 180 degree turns with it, did full 360 degree turns with it, I carried it around, so much fun! Oz loved it all.

When we were turning Oz’s head under the garrocha, Steve said I shouldn’t be working for the turn, instead Oz should do it himself. For this, I needed to use my hip to encourage Oz’s inside hind to step under, then the turn just flowed beautifully without me doing much else. Magic.

Then Steve set up a block with a lariat attached to it. The goal was to circle around the block and let the lariat wrap up around it, then change direction under the lariat, and unwind it from the block, and coil it back up as we rode around. So much fun! Oz loved this too as did I. And the more I did the more my posture improved.

Then Steve set up 3 blocks very close to each other and we had to do very small serpentines through them. Brilliant. Steve then suggested we could try to do backwards serpentines through them, if he made them bigger. Before they could be made bigger off Oz and I went and we did them! What a horse!

An absolutely amazing afternoon.

Speechless with my lovely horse. 🙂


Steve demoed the groundwork serpentines again. As he did this, I noticed that while he was walking around the whole time, he was staying in the same arena in the arena. Then it dawned on me that the horse was basically moving in a figure of 8 the whole time. You ask the inside fore to come to you, then as the horse passed you so walk towards him to push his ribs away from you and get the new bend. So for the horse at least it’s a figure of 8. Aha! The penny dropped.

Two things to remember – I have to walk the whole time and not stop, and Oz has to look where he is going. This was starting to get much better.

Steve reckoned Oz had improved a lot since day 1 which was great.

We did some riding then. Figure of 8 serpentines, where were much better ridden after the groundwork we had done. I have to keep my weight on the inside. The bamboo is very useful, to get a good bend in the body. With the serpentines, the most important thing for Oz is to get this good bend through the body, before I ask for anything else. If this takes a while, that’s fine. Manolo had Steve walking the full length of an arena doing this!

Only when the bend is nice, should I ask for the inside leg.


A good exercise to help out a horse with a scary area. Figure out how far away from the scary area you have to be for your horse to be relaxed. maybe 1 step, maybe 10 steps! End up with your horse on the boundary of where they are confident and are just starting to feel un-confident. The horse will tell you this as he won’t want to go past this area.

In a line parallel to the scary area, walk along it, move the hind, then move the front and come back again the opposite direction. Do this for a few minutes. You are just on the boundary, you are not IN the scary area! What you will find is having this scary area will really help your horse to step the inside fore sideways each time he changes direction. So you are both working on a useful manouvre PLUS playing with the edge of the scary area! You are making the scary area work for you 🙂

Another thing you can do is just ride around, and each time ride o the boundary of the scary area, but not directly into the scary area. After a while you may notice that the boundary moves a little bit closer to the previously scary area. It’s the horses decision.

Also working harder in the normal areas, and resting nearer the scary area is good too.

I also tried out fixing things using association. I remembered an old Philip Nye story (Tasmanian horse legend, trainer of the horse ‘Magic’). He used to have a bucket of food in the middle of his arena to enourage his stallion to lick and chew and relax.

As Oz associated the corner with noise, windy, and construction men appearing randomly and surprising him, I decided to teach him to associate the corner with something different. A tub of food! You have never seen a Connemara march so fast into a scary corner 🙂

Also on this – Steve said that instead of not being that effective, if when doing stuff with Oz in the (not so scary anymore) corner, I was more effective, Oz would forget about that corner pretty quick.

DAY 4:

“When you reach down the reins it feels like you are reaching for their mind.”

“Be a millimetre away from a change in balance”

“You are trying to get it to weigh nothing.”

We started off with some groundwork. I walk very close to Oz, with a short rein. His neck is to be bent around me, ideally with his head low (as he holds some tension in the top of his neck, which we want to encourage him to release). I will push the inside shoulder out to get the bend through the body.

Then we did groundwork in walk, shoulder out to hindquarters in down the fence line. Brilliant!

Then Steve said what about trot shoulder out to hindquarters in down the fence line! We got half of it, but missed the hindquarters in in trot as I wasn’t helping Oz very much! Lol. Good for homework. Oz was great – really listening and soft and trying really hard.

We rode then, and did straight lines with shoulder out, hindquarters out, hindquarters in then shoulder in. Fun!

More riding with the bamboo to help us.

I asked Steve for help with the walk pirouette. Happily Steve rode Oz! This was amazing. I had glimpses of an amazing Spanish horse as Steve & Oz worked together. Oz looked a million dollars 🙂

In walk pirouette,  the shoulders move around all the time, and I need to keep my outside leg on the whole time, but the hind does less steps. I worked on doing this around a block which was a challenge but great homework.


In the afternoon we worked on more ridden hindquarters in, focusing on Oz being relaxed throughout. I used the bamboo again to help us out. Oz tended to worry a little bit and then push on my hands / lean, so we worked through this, rewarding relaxation and softness.

Also practised hindquarters in around a block. More great homework!

To help Oz with the bend on the circle, then Steve got us doing a circle with a 90 degree bend in Oz’s neck (well, heading that way)!, while asking the inside shoulder not to fall in. Easier on the left rein, trickier on the right rein as expected.

Also while on a circle with a nice bend, ask Oz for a step or two of counter bend (keep original bend but ask the feet to move in a new direction). Steve rode Oz and did this – wow.


  • Be effective
  • More time spent in the scary corner, which isn’t really that scary anymore.
  • Circle both directions, with bend through the neck and body. Trickier on the right rein.
  • Observe neck bend in all manouvres. Too much or too little?
  • Serpentines. Think figure of 8 for Oz. Oz to look where he is going. Remember to ask the inside fore to follow a feel. Use the bamboo.
  • Shoulder out along fence line with neck not overbent. If rushing, rub hindquarters to slow down.
  • Trot shoulder out to HQ in down the fence line.


  • Don’t mess up my posture, use a bamboo to help instead
  • On circles, twist my hip a little to ask inside hind to step under
  • Same in trot, sit with outside fore and twist hip a little when I rise
  • Use the bamboo to help circles on both reins.
  • Serpentines. Take time getting a nice bend through body, Then ask inside hind to step under by twisting my hip, then ask inside fore to step over.
  • Play with garrocha, Oz to do the turns himself after I twist my hip.
  • Tie lariat to a block and circle around it.
  • Backwards serpentines through blocks.
  • If Oz is scared, use it for good! Do a few exercises on the boundary line.
  • Walk very close to Oz on a circle, short rein, Oz’s inside foot to be right beside mine, Oz’s neck to be bent around me and ask his shoulder to step out for bend through is body. Especially on right rein. Ask for head to lower. Only Oz himself can decide to release the tension in the top of is neck.
  • Walk pirouette around a block
  • Walk circle with 90 degree bend and not falling in
  • Hindquarters in without Oz pushing on my hands. I need him to be relaxed and not heavy.
  • Turn on forehand using HQ in around block.

What a great clinic. I learned so much, which is why this report is so long!

Steve will be coming back soon.

If you would like to ride in the next clinic in Tipperary with Steve, please email me for more info chocolatelabhelp AT

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