Today, my barn, RainbowRidge Equestrian Center in Ringoes, NJ hosted a clinic with Bridget Hay, who, along with her mother, Barbara Hay, operate the farm, give lessons, and provide training to dressage and event horses. Bridget is an up-and-coming, world-class trainer who has worked with most of the big names in dressage from Lars Petersen to Scott Hassler to Anne Gribbons. She has trained more than one horse from their first ride up into the FEI levels, and this year won the GAIG/USDF Region 8 Open Intermediate I Championship with her homebred gelding, Fitzhessen.
Since this is my home base, there was no question that I would participate. I don’t know if I was at an advantage or disadvantage because Bridget rides my horse once a week, but I was prepared to work hard – and boy, did I!
Bridget’s focus was mainly on the horse, but that didn’t mean she neglected the rider. Throughout the day, her comments to riders were in relation to how their position affected the way the horse went. For example, one girl constantly curled her left wrist inward, and in response, her horse kept his head up and his back hollow. Because this was how they always went at home, the girl didn’t realize that it was her wrist that was inhibiting him from relaxing into the contact. Bridget got her to keep her wrist straight and pointed out the change in her horse, so that when she rode on her own in the future, she could have a sign (a raised head) when she cocked her wrist, and another sign (a relaxed head) when she didn’t.
An exercise that Bridget taught a number of riders involved a 20-meter circle at A. She had the riders half-halt around the closed side of the circle (if tracking right it would be roughly from F to K) and then sending the horse forward on the open side (from K, across the centerline and back to F). It taught the horse to listen to the rider, as well as to push from behind.
With me, she had me get my slug of a horse in front of my leg. Through the half-halts, I needed to tap with the whip to motivate his hind legs, and then when I sent him forward, he needed to surge ahead instead of wimpily moving off. She also had me leg yield in the trot and canter to help him get his inside hind leg under him and into my outside rein. I had never leg yielded at the canter before, so that was exciting for me.
With every rider there was a transformation, generally from a strung out horse with a rider who was either crooked or ineffective to a cohesive pair who rode confidently forward, on the bit and pushing from behind. Every lesson was about improving the basics, but isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?