Clinic Report  

By Beth Anne Doblado (hosted by the Martins and the Doblados at Rancho Doblado, Alpine, CA, October 11-14, 2001.


With great anticipation, folks were calling the week before Harry arrived, asking what his clinic format would be. We hadn’t hosted Harry before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Well, we soon learned that Harry has no format. The student’s questions, the horse’s needs and the rider’s abilities would determine it. Harry strongly encouraged folks to ask questions. When we didn’t have any, he came up with some for us to think about. The clock was a guide for the day, but by no means a measure of a lesson. If your lesson with your horse lasted a half hour, but huge changes took place, than it was best if you and your horse end on a good note and soak on it. Another horse and rider may need more time to learn. But the time is not the point—the change is.


The first day of a clinic is usually full of information. Perceptive teachers give nervous riders and their horses plenty of time to settle by filling in. Harry was no exception. He began by offering each horse and rider individual time in the round pen and as they prepared he talked horsey philosophy. He asked each rider what we wanted to work on and encouraged us to show him what we normally do at home. Harry gave us honest, helpful feedback on our groundwork, our riding and our horses. With students he demonstrated how to prepare our horses, from cinch-iness found in saddling to groundwork transitions at liberty. Still others practiced their groundwork, and Harry showed us how guiding the horse’s hindquarters and front end with the lead rope would translate to our riding. Some rode their horses and this led to discussion on impulsion, bend in the horse’s body and soft responses. On his sorrel horse, Sandy, Harry showed us what it means when the reins connect to the feet and how to prepare our horses for collection.


Many of us didn’t have a bend in our horses when we traveled in a circle or changed directions. This tied in to a main theme of the weekend: how important it is to teach your horse to travel in an arc with a soft bend through his body, from poll to sacrum. Can you encourage your horse to travel on this arc with all four legs reaching equally? This is preparation for collection. Harry encouraged us to mean what we say, be clear and fair to our horses. Don’t nag your horse. Get the change you are asking for and then see how little it takes to get it again. Harry is both a generous and clear teacher. As he instructs he rides to demonstrate for everyone what he is teaching, an example of horse and rider moving together as partners.


The first day in the round pen, riders were honest about their struggles with their horses and they came prepared with goals in mind for the weekend. This honesty pays off big time in getting straight to the heart of the matter with the horse. The rewards are not only reaped by the rider, but all those who witness the change in the horse and rider over the course of the clinic.


The second day began with some demonstrations on hands and reins with Harry as the “rider” and Robert as the “horse”. Harry picked up the reins, a 20-foot  line that “horse” Robert held in his hands, and gently but firmly asked Robert to whoa. Robert felt the stop in Harry’s hands and immediately brought his feet to stop, backing up off the pressure. Harry’s hands never moved—Harry never pulled. This is how it should be. We ought to be as fair and firm as a fencepost is, then our horses will learn not to push on us. Then Robert the “horse” pushed on Harry through the stop and Harry showed us all how to stay steady and stick with the horse, until the horse finds the release. Your hands must stop where you asked for the stop. This led to talk about bits, with folks asking Harry’s opinions on snaffles, bit function, curb gaits, and why the bit doesn’t stop the horse.


The third day Harry gave us another fabulous demonstration on collection. Harry showed us what it looks like when a rider begins to teach a horse to collect himself. The horse first begins to soften at the requests of the reins, when the horse begins to connect the reins to the feet, and then gives to the bit clear through his whole body.


To the casual observer, it appeared that Harry was just stopping and backing his horse. But to the student, we began to see how Harry was picking up his reins and asking for the horse to get soft, clear through. If the horse couldn’t get soft going forward then Harry would wait on him, allowing him to stop and back up in order to get soft. Each time the horse softens clear through the he finds release both inside himself and from Harry. If the rider didn’t want to wait on the horse, he might add leg to drive the horse forward. With leg, the rider would run the risk of the horse dividing himself and bunching up. The horse might give his poll and maybe the top of his neck to the reins, but he may not learn to let loose and lift at the base of his neck. Even worse, he might brace his body as he drives forward into pressure. Harry showed us what each of these looks like from observing the muscle response in the horse’ s neck. The horse must learn to turn off his topline, lift at the base of the neck, soften and rock back all to the cue of your rein. Eventually he will learn how to carry this soft response to your reins when he goes forward at the walk, and then in and out 0f the trot, canter, etc. Harry showed us the results of this work on his horse, Sandy, who carries Harry and is prepared for anything.

Harry asked some revealing questions designed, no doubt, to encourage us to take stock. Questions such as” Where are your seat bones in the turn? Are you leaning? What stride did you begin to prepare your stop? Did you wait until your horse was soft clear through? Was your circle round? Are you using both reins the same way at the same time? When you pick up a rein are you getting a change each and every  time? Old habits are hard to break, but change will come with time and practice!


On the fourth day, Harry broke out his toys: a pedestal, some ½ tires, a tarp was drug in and from two trees we hung a big plastic sheet that flapped in the wind. Suddenly, the arena was a big playground. With each of these toys, Harry encouraged us to incorporate the exercises we had learned connecting reins to hindquarters, getting the life up in the horses and riding it, directing the feet, etc. Harry opened the afternoon up to whatever folks wanted to do. Duster and I dragged the tarp. Shawn began teaching  Noche how to hobble. Peggy continued to show Tiger how to bow. We had horses perched on pedestals, colts learning to face their flapping plastic fears as the riders controlled their hindquarters and invited them to move their feet. Riders directed their horse’s feet through pits of tires and over poles. Harry showed once again how he teaches his horses to pick him up off the fence. The mood in and outside the arena was one of encouragement, admiration and support. I just don’t think you could ask for much more in a clinic setting. We rode off into the afternoon sun with Harry, riders taking a break from the arena to enjoy a trail ride together as a perfect end to a great weekend.

© Harry Whitney 2018     Website by Sage Canyon Studio