Last weekend we had the incredible opportunity to attend a clinic in Aiken, SC with the stars of the equestrian theatrical show, Cavalia. Frederic Pignon is famous for his liberty training, working several stallions at once, all at complete freedom. Magali Delgado is known for her success at the highest levels of dressage all while maintaining a harmonious relationship with her horses. She combined the beauty of theatrical performance with the precision of competitive dressage.
Magali worked with horses and riders of all different levels but her main focus throughout the clinic was showing the horse how to achieve a relaxed state of mind during all of the work whether it was simply walking around the arena or performing a passage or canter pirouette. She discussed how horses often carry tension in their jaws, neck, and withers which translates to a tight back and stiff movement. She emphasized the importance of stretching the horse before, during, and after a workout. She gave each rider different stretching exercises to help their individual horses based on the need of the horse. She always started by stretching the horse before moving on to the more difficult collected work. She also emphasized the importance of going slow and not pushing the horse past what he is comfortable with both physically and mentally. It takes longer to train a horse this way but as Magali said, “if you take your time, you will not waste your time.” If you give the horse the time it needs to develop, you will always have a horse that is happy and willing to do what you ask of it.
Frederic emphasized precision and clarity in your work with the horse. Problems often develop because of confusion. You need to make sure the horse understands what you want. Confusion causes the horse to doubt and doubt causes the horse to want to get away and not want to work with you. Frederic worked several horses at liberty and it was easy to see how every movement of his body or cue from the whip was very precise in order to show the horse exactly what he wanted. Frederic moved fluidly around the horses, like a dancer, and soon the horses were drawn to him and began to dance with him. Frederic spoke of the importance of the horse’s state of mind and how we want our horses to be relaxed and comfortable yet also focused, attentive, and ready to respond to what we ask of them.
I had the incredible privilege of riding Maia with Magali. Maia is a highly sensitive, nervous horse and this clinic what a lot for her to handle. A 16 hour trailer ride to a strange barn, strange arena, people all around watching, sound system, other horses being worked nearby, and dogs wandering around were just some of the things she had to deal with. As expected she started out very tense and jumpy. Magali had us start by walking on straight lines rather than circles, explaining that Maia needed to be straight in her body in order to relax. We worked on teaching her to stretch her neck down on a loose rein. Magali emphasized the importance of sitting deep in the saddle and being confident about our purpose and direction, allowing Maia to build her confidence in me. It took some time but by the end of the lesson she was able to walk and trot with her neck stretched down on a loose rein. She was completely focused and relaxed which for this usually distracted, worried mare was a big accomplishment. The second day we worked on more of the same however we also had torrential rain to deal with. Maia took it in stride and was even more relaxed than the previous day. Magali also spoke of the importance of believing in yourself and believing in your horse. Your attitude toward your horse and the ride is so important. If you have a negative attitude you will most likely encounter problems and have a bad experience. If you have a positive attitude you will encounter much fewer problems and the ones that you do have you will be able to work through in a positive way. This was a fantastic experience for Maia and I know that her confidence has increased because of it.
The whole weekend educational and inspiring. It was also confirmation that we are doing things the right way as we continue to approach our training with the horse’s best interest in mind.
Click HERE to see some photos from the clinic.
To learn more about how to develop a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about classical dressage and liberty training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!