Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Melanie Smith Taylor Clinic

I went up to one of the bigger A circuit barns on Saturday to audit the Melanie Smith Taylor clinic.  It was a two day clinic, with three groups (2'6", 3', 3'6") but I was only able to go for the early groups on Saturday.  Based on the schedule I should have been able to watch the 2'6" and most of the 3' groups, but the first session ran long and I had to leave before the 3' started.
There were 7-8 riders in the first group,  a couple pony kids, a few teenagers, and the rest adult ammys.  The first thing Melanie said as they were coming in to start the clinic was she wanted them to stand in a circle around her and let go of the reins; let the horse stand on the buckle. Having contact while stopped is unnecessary; "pressure without purpose". She also wanted them to lightly bump the horse if their heads were turning or they were looking outside the circle.  She wanted them tuned in to their rider, or centered as she called it.

Melanie had them go out on the rail walking on a loose rein and ran the riders through a series of stretches. Dropping stirrups, one hand reaching up over their heads (ride long and tall), arms out to the side, lifting one leg off the saddle, then both legs off to help feel their seat bones.  Next was some walk-halt transitions, trying to do 5 steps walk, halt, 3 steps walk, halt etc..... Melanie really wanted the horses paying attention to their riders, again focusing on centering the horse. She had them do the same thing in their trot and canter work as well.

During the 45 minutes that the group spent of flat work I noticed a majority of them either picked up the wrong diagonal or the wrong lead many times.  One girl, maybe 13ish?, (who was obviously incredibly nervous and over-horsed) never picked up the correct diagonal, and never checked it.  Her trainer was standing at the rail and would whisper to her as she rode by, and eventually Melanie started telling her to change.  Melanie also had to announce to the whole group that making sure you have the correct canter lead was more important than getting it at a certain spot.  In my mind, if you are jumping 2'6" and shelling out $400 to ride with an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup winner you should be able to get the right diagonal and leads.  It really surprised me how something that is so basic seemed to be so overlooked. /Rant over/

So deceptively simple
For their first jumping exercise Melanie had the group trot in to a line of crossrails with placing poles and a set of cones halfway between the jumps.  To continue the theme of precise transitions and having the horse tuned into you, the group was to trot the first jump, walk between the cones, then trot the second jump and halt on a straight line. Simple, right?  Almost all of the riders had trouble, either not being able to walk between the cones, horses going sideways, not stopping on a straight line, and quite a few had refusals. Some of my favorite quotes came from this exercise. "Do you want to ride in the Olympics one day?  Then you need to ride this, today, like an Olympian. These simple exercises are the basics you need to learn now in order to use later." And  "she's [the mare] is trying very hard for you, but she can't jump the standard. You have to direct her at the center and give her the confidence to do it." The mare was petering out to the base of the jump and drifting sideways, not dirty stopping but the girl (the one who can't find her diagonal) was doing nothing to help the horse.
Sorry for the crappy phone pics
After the riders somewhat got the exercise Melanie had them move onto what she called "the hourglass". They started with the same outside line, then trotted a diagonal crossrail, came back to a trot and did some raised ground poles in the center of the ring, then trotted out over the red crossrail oxer.  They continued onto the little white gait, back to the trot over the raised poles again, then a bending line to a far crossrail oxer. The more advanced riders of the group were to canter in, trot the poles, then canter the oxers.

During this exercise two girls fell off, one twice at the same fence, and I counted three instances of crying (one fall related). Melanie was getting slightly frustrated, but was still kind and encouraging to the riders.  She was happy if they took a circle to collect their horse, or if they asked to come back and do something over. Her main focus with this exercise was to get the job done, ie the transitions, then smooth it out. "Do as much as necessary, but as little as possible." I really liked watching this part, and wished I could have seen the more advanced group do it.  You could really see how some of the riders thought out their rides and how the horses had to think through it too. A few riders really got it, while most had trouble getting the canter to the second jump in the lines. One woman in particular had some very nice rounds and make it look super easy. I would highly recommend watching or riding in one of Melanie's clinics if you ever have the opportunity!


  1. She's on my list of people I'd love to clinic with! Surprised as you are at the lack of preparedness of the riders. Thanks for the recap!

  2. Awesome recap! I watched a George Morris clinic once with some seriously underprepared riders as well. On one hand, like you mention, it's shocking they didn't prepare better and signed up for such a clinic, on the other it's lovely to see most clinicians still get it done and are still encouraging - because that means I don't need to be quite as terrified of making mistakes in front of them lol

  3. That's crazy! I think that would be super frustrating as a clinician.

  4. that exercise sounds really wonderful - like something i might try setting up at home haha. kinda a bummer that it wasn't a particularly inspiring group to watch tho