Frederic Pignon & Magali Delgado Clinic

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!

This entry was posted on April 4, 2016, in Maia, Training.

Using food in your training

There is much controversy over the use of food in the training of horses. Some people use food for everything. Others refuse to ever use food.

I have found that like most things involving horses, there are no hard and fast rules.  It really depends on the horse and the situation. Food works well in some cases for some horses, not so well for other horses. Some horses are highly food motivated. However caution must be used to ensure that the horse does not become pushy or disrespectful. This can lead to a loss of control and can quickly become dangerous. Some horses simply are more picky eaters and aren’t as motivated by food. These horses may prefer a good scratch or a kind word rather than food as a reward.

There are some cases where food can be useful.


Horses spending a large amount of their time eating. This is a great time to bond with your horse because an eating horse is generally a content horse. By spending time with your horse when he is most relaxed, he will begin to associate you with these good feelings and he will learn to trust you and enjoy being around you. It is important to spend time with your horse other than when you are riding him. It is during this time, when you have no particular goal in mind other than to simply enjoy the presence of your horse, that a true relationship is built. I will often stand with my horses while they are grazing or eating their hay. Horses often do this with each other as a way of bonding. Think of it like going out to dinner with a friend or loved one. You get to spend time with that person while sharing in a good meal and the relationship gets strengthened.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a method of training a horse to perform specific movements using positive reinforcement. The horse is given a cue and when he performs the desired behavior the handler makes a noise with a clicker and then gives the horse a treat. The sound of the clicker helps the horse to quickly identify what the correct behavior was. When done correctly, clicker training can be highly effective in trick training and target training. However caution must be used. When done incorrectly it can lead to horses that are pushy, difficult to handle, disrespectful, and even dangerous. If you are unfamiliar with clicker training, it is important to work with a knowledgeable trainer to help you get started.

To re-direct the horse’s attention

In certain cases food can be used to refocus a horses attention on the handler. I have recently been working with my horse, Maia, who is extremely fearful of any kind of noise when she is in the arena. She will become so fearful that she will switch into instinctive, “run away” mode. When this happens her brain turns off and her instincts take over and it can be very difficult to get her to calm down again. However this horse is also very food motivated. By giving her food during times when she is fearful, I can redirect her attention back to me and keep her from going into panic mode. When a horse is panicking, they are unable to learn anything. By keeping her thinking about what is going on, I have slowly been able to show her that things really aren’t as scary as she once thought.

I have another horse in training with me who is extremely girthy due to previous rough handling and will bite and kick while being saddled. One thing that has greatly helped this horse is to allow him to eat his hay while I am saddling him. This takes his mind off of the saddling process and his fear that he is going to be handled roughly. Having food available makes saddling a more pleasant experience for him and he now tolerates girthing without a problem.

Food, especially when given from the hand, should always be used with a specific purpose in mind. When treats are given indiscriminately it creates spoiled, disrespectful horses. The horse should never be allowed to beg or push you with his nose or body to get you to give him a treat. A horse that invades your space does not respect you as his leader. It is also important to note that you must be careful to ensure that your horse does not become dependent on food. If the only way you can get your horse to behave is to give him treats then you need to reassess your training.  Food should always be used in moderation and with care.  If you decide to use food in your training, take the time to learn how to do it properly. This will save you from having trouble in the future. When in doubt, get help from a knowledgeable trainer who can work with you and your horse.

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!


This entry was posted on March 16, 2015, in Maia, Training.

Liberty work- adding distractions

Recently I talked about how my client, Stephanie, and I had brought our two horses, Punch and Maia, together to do liberty with them together in the arena. Adding distractions such as other horses or food is a great way to test out your liberty skills and see where you still need to make improvements. Both horses had established a solid foundation of liberty work on their own so now it was time to challenge them a little more.

We allowed the two horses time to meet and get comfortable with each other on their own terms loose in the indoor arena. After a few minutes it was time to test out our liberty skills. I called Maia and she came right over to me. This is the desired response- a horse that is obedient even with the distraction of another horse. I had worked with Maia with various distractions before so she had learned how to keep her focus on me.

Punch had other ideas.  He continued to follow Maia around and refused to leave her when Stephanie asked him to. This shows that there is still some weakness in their partnership. Punch has not fully decided to allow her to be leader in every aspect of his life. He is perfectly fine following her when there are no other distractions, but as soon as he finds something more interesting he attempts to take over the role of leader.

Stephanie needed to reestablish her leadership role. She did this by driving Punch away from Maia and toward the opposite end of the arena where he would be away from the thing (Maia) he wanted. By asking him to move away, Stephanie was stating that she was in charge and Punch needed to listen to her or he would have to go stand by himself. Punch initially reacted by defiantly running off and attempting to circle around to get past Stephanie and back to Maia. Each time he did, Stephanie simply moved him away again back towards the other end of the arena so he was once again by himself.

Eventually Punch realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get back to Maia and that it was no fun to stand at the other end of the arena all by himself. He turned and stood still facing towards Stephanie, respectfully waiting for her to invite him back into the “herd”. Stephanie called him and he came up to her where he received lots of scratches and praise. It is important to remember to reward your horse when he does something well. You want to make being with you a pleasant experience for him.

Punch still hadn’t fully submitted to Stephanie though. After a few seconds of standing with her, he tried to duck around her and get back to Maia. This resulted in him being asked to move away and stand at the other end of the arena again. It took two or three more times of Stephanie moving him away and then calling him back before Punch was ready to accept her leadership and follow her around the arena without trying to get back to Maia.

With consistency and continued practice, Stephanie and Punch will have a much stronger relationship which will improve all of the work they do together.

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!

This entry was posted on November 25, 2014, in Maia, Training.

Proof of Concept: Liberty Training

During a recent training session with one of my clients and her gelding we were able to see first hand why liberty training works so well in establishing a relationship with your horse. The reason is because liberty work mimics the way horses interact with each other so it allows us to communicate with the horse in a way the he understands and therefore is much more willing to do what we ask.

So here’s what happened:

My client, Stephanie, has been working with her Friesian cross, Punch, for a few months doing liberty work with him. In this time he has transformed from a disrespectful trouble maker into a well mannered member of society. He will come when called, walk and stop with her, and has learned to respect personal space.

I’m always up for a challenge so we decided take both Punch and my mare, Maia, into the arena at the same time with the goal being for us to each work our respective horses at liberty at the same time.

Punch- easy going, laid back gelding

Punch- easy going, laid back gelding

The horses had never met each other so we started off by turning them both loose in the indoor arena and stood back to let them interact. What followed was quite interesting. Maia initially completely ignored Punch and walked away from him without any acknowledgement. And Punch followed her. Maia continued to walk around, exploring the arena, and Punch continued to follow right behind her. When Maia stopped, Punch stopped. When Maia turned, Punch turned.  When Maia walked or trotted, Punch followed suit.  Maia eventually allowed Punch a brief greeting, but was quick to end it and continue her exploration of the arena with Punch mimicking her every move. Why is this significant? Maia, by ignoring Punch and walking away from him, had established her leadership and Punch, by following her, was acknowledging that he accepted her leadership and was willing to trust her.  And this all happened within seconds. How? These two horses had never met before. How did they establish their roles so quickly and why was Punch so willing to blindly follow a horse he had never met before?

Horses naturally seek to be around other horses and when they are together it is important to know who the leader is. The leader is responsible for directing the other horses’ movements and keeping them safe. In turn the other horses are responsible for always keeping and eye on the leader so they know when it is time to move and when it is ok to stop. Now here’s the part that might surprise you- horses don’t want to be the leader. Being leader is a huge responsibility and all horses will gladly turn that role over to someone else as long as they know they would be an adequate leader. In the absence of someone they feel fits this requirement they will assume the role of leader in order to protect themselves.

Maia, confident and energetic mare

Maia, confident and energetic mare

So how did Punch know Maia would be a good leader? Her confidence and the strength of her energy.  What the heck does that mean? Each individual horse has a different level of confidence. This creates different energy levels which other horses are able to sense and respond to and in turn determine who is going to be in charge. Maia and Punch have two very different energy and confidence levels. Maia was born and raised on a ranch in South Dakota. She is confident with other horses, can take care of herself and is relatively independent (no horse is truly independent, they all have some desire to be with others). She is also a highly motivated, energetic horse. Punch also is a pretty confident horse. However unlike Maia, he is a very laid back guy and generally not very easily motivated. This means that he will most likely not attempt to take leadership unless he feels it very necessary.

The two horses were able to sense each other’s energy levels immediately. Maia could tell that Punch was too laid back to challenge her so she immediately took leadership by walking away from him and he immediately chose to accept by following her. This happened exceptionally quickly in this case but usually takes longer with the horses greeting each other and perhaps challenging each other to access each other’s energy levels.

So why does any of this matter? When we are working with a horse at liberty we are establishing to them that we are a leader that they can trust. We are asking them to show us respect by coming when called, stopping with us, and walking alongside us. And we are doing it in a way that the horse can understand.  When the horse follows us and mimics our movements he is acknowledging that he has accepted us as leader, just as Punch was doing with Maia. The horse has the choice to leave if he wants, but horses do not want to be by themselves so the more you work with him the more you will find that he really does want to be with you.

Stayed tuned to see what happened when we asked Punch to move away from Maia and to return to his human leader.

To learn more about how to achieve 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!

This entry was posted on November 5, 2014, in Maia, Training.