Friday 7 July 2017

Expensive Exposure - Clinic Review Part I

This week I rode in a three day clinic with three time Canadian Olympian Eventer Robin Hahn.

First group of the day with Robin

I hadn't ever ridden or audited with Robin before, but clinics are few and far between in these parts and I knew the organizer so I figured it was worth trying it out and signing up for a flat group. 

I ended up being placed in the "Advanced Flat" group with three other riders. I felt a bit nervous about that, since I don't think a training level pair who recently rediscovered how to canter really counts as "advanced". It worked out in the end though, as the only other flat group, "Beginner Flat" really was full of beginners, and I fit in decently with the other intermediate riders in my group. 

The clinic was only about a 40 minute haul away. I had the option of using a pen there, but it was a hot week and Kachina is better at drinking at home so I elected to haul her back and forth each day instead. 

Day One/Auditing/General Thoughts

On Day One my ride time was scheduled for late evening so I drove out in my car sans horse to watch (and be jump crew for) the morning groups. Watching the first sessions made me glad that it was a three day clinic because he did need a while to get familiar with the riders and horses. It seemed like the few riders who had ridden with him previously got more meaningful suggestions early on.

Some riders seeking shade during a jumping session

Robin has a very different teaching style from recent clinicians I've been too. His approach (especially on day one) seems to be to tell you what exercise to do, then get everyone to do it a few times and single out one good thing and/or one bad thing from each run-through. I can see how this would be a good system for some riders, providing feedback and encouragement in a way that isn't too overwhelming (and in fact I heard from a few riders who absolutely love his approach). However, it means there is a lot he isn't saying, and that was driving me crazy. I get that you can't fix everything at once, I really do, but personally I prefer a clinician to tell me "first focus on A and B, and then once that's confirmed you will add in these other components to work on improving C, D and E", rather than them just ignoring C to E completely. Give me the whole story so I know how a step fits into the bigger picture. Basically, I saw some pretty glaring issues that weren't being talked about at all because they weren't the first thing on the list.

Another difference was that I generally like riding with clinicians who are very rider-centric i.e. they look first to how the rider's position and aids need to be fixed with the theory that that will impact the horse's way of going positively. Robin was more focused on getting the horse to do a certain exercise, and even said a few times to use whatever aids you need to to make it happen. I'm also used to trainers who see where the riders are at and then choose exercises to meet that. Robin seemed to decide on an exercise in advance and then find a way to modify it or change the focus so that everyone could get something out of it (I actually thought this part was pretty cool).

This line of bounces was used as an exercise by almost every group on day one

While his way of teaching was different than I generally like, I did like his approach to training. Through the course of Day One I pieced together that he really likes horses to be soft and light, and his answer to a lot of things is to get the horse to relax by unlocking them laterally. Rarely pull on both reins, instead use one rein and get them to bend and soften. This is the type of work that really works for Kachina. He also is very strict about forward, and is a proponent of using a stick when you need it instead of kicking harder or using spurs (though stick should always be behind the leg, and shouldn't be a punishment, just an aid that they can see and hear as well as feel). The forward message makes sense to me, but it's not an issue that comes up with Miss Kachina.

Day One - My Ride

My first ride was more than a little disappointing. There was nowhere on property to warm up other than the main ring, and my group didn't get to go in until 10 minutes after our start time. Kachina does best with long slow warm-ups, especially in new places, because it's about getting her comfortable and relaxed, not actually just warm. The arena was filled with lots to look at including a full course of jumps, a speaker system, and yellow caution tape on one end where they had taped off some fallen branches (Kachina was much more wary about the tape than the branches). Kachina was certainly very looky and a bit up.

I love big dogs and the clinic location was home to this awesome,
massive, and very friendly Great Pyrenees

We started our warm-up but it wasn't too long until Robin started instructing. It was a group lesson but he took turns giving us individual instruction and I was first up. He got me to do a few circles and figure 8s at the trot at one end. Kachina was still a bit suspicious of the yellow flappy stuff but this went quite well considering, so Robin didn't have much to say. He then got us to canter. Well Kachina's tension and lack of warm-up showed and to say our canter wasn't great is an understatement. I thought she was cross-firing but I later saw from a small bit of video that she was just cantering laterally instead. It didn't look great but it felt even worse. We tried to canter three times to the left and it was the same each time. Afterwards I realized that based on this evidence, Robin probably just thought my horse had a crappy canter (at the time I was surprised that he was kind of glossing over the fact that it wasn't a true canter and just telling me that we needed more practice).

Yep, I know this looks bad, trust me I felt its terribleness
Thank god that this isn't actually her normal canter

Robin sent me down to the other end to work by myself for a bit while he took turns with the other three riders. Down on our own I did lots of trot figures with Kachina and got her nicely relaxed and focused. I then cantered her both directions. It wasn't our best canter, but at least it was true. I then walked her back up to join the rest of the group. I never did get any more one-on-one instruction from Robin, and a confusion with the time meant we ended 20 minutes early. The late start plus the early finish resulted in our 90 minute session being cut down to less than an hour. I didn't feel like I learned a single thing from Day One, but it was still good for me and Kachina to go to a new environment, work through some tension and get some good trot and canter work. As per the title of this post, it was essentially some expensive exposure. 

However, despite the poor lesson, I had seen from the morning groups that he takes a while to get into the swing of things with a new pair so I was hopeful that days two and three would improve. 


  1. Sounds like a bit of an unfortunate start, but hopefully days 2 and 3 were better! That's really crappy that you paid for 90 minutes and actually got less than an hour though :( but like you said, always useful for you to get Kachina to a new place and end on a good note!

  2. Aww, too bad day 1 wasn't better structured. Fingers crossed days 2 and 3 were good!

  3. ugh i feel your frustration. it can be such a gamble riding with an unknown clinician. i've had overwhelmingly positive experiences, and..... experiences that were less so. here's hoping you've got more useful takeaways from the rest of the rides!