Our First Clinic

At long last, I’m finally typing up my thoughts about our clinic with Will Simpson last month!

There’s Francis trying to snuggle with Will! PC – Phelps Media Group

This was a one-day clinic where each group had 4-5 riders and about 90 minutes with Will to work on the flat and over fences. They started with the 3’6″ group, moved on to the 3’3″ group (which was mine!), took a lunch break and then had the 3′ and 2’6″ groups in the afternoon.

He had all of the groups do similar exercises on the flat, and I found this part really useful. Starting at the walk and eventually moving up to the canter, he has us establish a nice forward pace on a very loose rein, then add a bit of leg and a bit of hand to encourage a release over the poll. The instant the horse gives, you release the hands. Nothing groundbreaking in itself, but his explanation of the timing and aids definitely helped it click into place for me. He even got on Frankie to demonstrate!

Not a big deal at all, just my horse being ridden by an Olympian.
Francis: “Oh crap oh crap this isn’t my mom, he actually knows what he’s doing, this means work, MAHM COME GET ME”

For a horse that struggles with the concept and execution of self-carriage (or more accurately, a rider that struggles with the right way to ask for this), I’ve found this exercise to be extremely helpful in every ride since. I’m able to remind Frankie to soften and give, allow him a release when he gets it right, and decide how frequently and for how long I ask for it. Not only am I getting a rounder horse up into the bridle, but I’m able to ask for a more productive stretch once we’re warmed up.

You can even watch Will work with him on these exercises!

The next exercise he had us all do was a figure-8 over a pole at the walk, making sure to step over it with the inside front leg first. It was simply a very tight turn, eyes locked on the pole, and adjusting your track by moving left or right to get the perfect spot. I was a bit nervous about this since I am regularly a clueless monkey up top, but this actually worked pretty well. It was great practice for getting your eyes on an obstacle and keeping them there while making adjustments as necessary. He said he loves this exercise because it’s a great chance to practice precision and finding a spot without pounding the horse or stressing them out – they have no idea if they got it wrong since they’re just walking over a pole on the ground, so it’s easy to go try again.

Francisco had those thinking ears on

The last big flat exercise he had us work on was cantering small circle-big circle-small circle. The way he had us do it was to pick up the canter on a very small circle to really encourage the horse to rock back and power up into the new gait, establish the canter on a larger circle, and then ask for the walk transition on a very small circle by using the turn to let them balance themselves into the downwards. I did like this a lot for Frankie – anything that puts the onus on him to balance and propel himself is very helpful and keeps his brain engaged. He caught on to this delightfully quickly and I really liked how the small circle discouraged him from “plopping” down into the walk.

The actual most perfect Frankfurter be-boppin’ around

Then we moved on to some over fences work. The main exercise Will had our group do was coming to a small jump off a short left hand turn. His order of operations was: (1) lock eyes on the jump as soon as reasonably possible (2) use an opening rein to establish the bend towards the jump, then release the bend to allow flexibility in the track (3) actually jump the jump.

The hardest part for me was keeping my eyes on the jump for that long. Will really drilled it into us that once you look at the jump, you should not be looking away – that gives your brain the chance to get distracted and lose the spot. It definitely took some practice to not let my eyes wander off #easilydistracted and I noticed a difference when I was able to stay super focused on the jump. I found it interesting that he seemed to like a bigger flowier distance even to the little jump we were doing. For small jumps I usually try to put Frankie a bit at the base to encourage a better effort and I had to adjust to leave a bit further out for the spot Will wanted us to get.

This is why I like a closer spot for small jumps – when we’re any further out, he’s comfortable cantering over it. And apparently taking a quick nap.

We moved on to doing 2 jumps on a circle, putting our eyes on the next fence while we were still over the previous one. Continuing to use the opening correcting rein to give us options on the track. It was interesting and certainly effective.

It was the brown end jump and the tan RF jump (that was set smaller for our exercise). Bit of a circle of death in a good way.

And that was our session. Some good takeaways – nothing truly groundbreaking, but clearly communicated and good practice applying those concepts.


There were several other exercises set up in the ring. There was a series of 8 bounces to encourage self-propulsion, and there was a gymnastic set up with 4 oxers each set one stride apart. I was really pumped to give those a go with our new skills. But then we broke for lunch and didn’t get to do either of them. Every other group got to do every exercise except for ours. Other groups ran over their allotted time to be able to do them while ours ended a bit early. I’m definitely salty about that. I’m not sure of the reason for it and I assume there is a logical one, but logically I also paid the same amount of money and would have liked the same opportunity to go through all the exercises.

You can read about all the exercises here: https://www.phelpssports.com/five-essential-exercises-olympic-gold-medalist-will-simpson/

You can also watch the 3’6″ group on USEF on demand here (complete with AT on her baby horse that she’s brought along from the ground up!): https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2019rutledge/?cl=b

I will say that the venue itself and the way the clinic was run was wonderful. The farm is stunningly beautiful, the ring had great footing, there were snacks and water and a few little vendors set up, and I even got a swag bag! Frankie got some treats and I got a customized wine glass with the date and the clinician’s name on it. Not gonna lie, it made my hoarder heart want to go back and clinic there again just so I can collect a set. The host did a truly fantastic job of making me feel welcome and supported as a rider there, there were plenty of opportunities for auditors to ask questions, and you can’t beat the location.

Is there anything better than a beautiful barn in Virginia in the fall? I think not.

I also had a great time with my friends that went, and of course I enjoy any opportunity to try new things with my favorite beast.

The sweetest bay boys were happy to chill on the trailer while the other folks rode. Frankie loves Vinnie, and Vinnie solidly tolerates Frankie.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Francis making some sort of funny face.

So overall thoughts: I’m kinda eh on it. It was fine. There were some interesting takeaways that I’ve found useful in the month since the clinic. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy for the novelty of riding with an Olympian if I had paid less for it. As is, I’m not thrilled that my group got less to do, and ultimately that colors my view. That being said, I’m already looking for the next clinician I want to ride with at that venue because the overall experience of participating there and the atmosphere was A+. Clinician was a decent 6/10, venue and experience were a solid 11/10.



13 thoughts on “Our First Clinic

  1. Stacie Seidman 11/13/2019 / 11:38 am

    It sounds kind of… beneath your level of riding. Like this sounds as though it would have been the right amount of things for the 3′ and under groups. I don’t blame you for feeling disappointed. You paid all that money to go and literally only jump two fences. (Repeatedly… but just two jumps.)
    My opinion on clinics in general is that it’s fun to go and get some new (yet very educated) eyes on you and your horse. They may see something your trainer doesn’t, or has gotten so used to they don’t notice any more. And/or they may have better wording to help you understand a concept. But I’ve never walked away from a clinic experience feeling like I gained some great new knowledge. I think they’re wonderful, but for what they can cost, I’m not sure they’re always worth it.


    • hellomylivia 11/13/2019 / 11:40 am

      I’d definitely agree with you – it was frustrating to be in a “more advanced” group that then did even less than the groups that were theoretically at a lower level. This only is my second clinic ever, but so far I’m having a similar outlook – useful to have a new way of approaching things to see if it helps click, but nothing groundbreaking. I wouldn’t mind continuing to clinic if I have the spare funds, but I won’t divert any from our regular training and showing budget!


  2. Tracy 11/13/2019 / 11:55 am

    I haven’t done very many clinics, but for me, they’re generally not THAT great. I’m not good at changing my riding on the fly, so I feel like I “miss” a lot of the aha! moments that riders talk about getting. I DO like auditing clinics a lot though, because I take the exercises home and try them — like that one about doing upward and downward transitions on a smaller circle and then establishing pace on a larger circle is one I’m going to try!!


    • hellomylivia 11/14/2019 / 12:00 pm

      I really liked that exercise, especially for a horse that tends to rely on me a lot for balance! It put the ball back in his court so to speak.


  3. carey 11/13/2019 / 12:40 pm

    I would have been bummed not to get to do all the exercises, too. Glad overall it was a nice experience. I wish there were more clinic opportunities near me….you’d think there would be with so many big names living in San Diego…


    • hellomylivia 11/14/2019 / 12:01 pm

      It certainly wasn’t a negative experience, so there’s that at least! I’m surprised you don’t get more people hosting clinics around you too.


  4. Abby F 11/13/2019 / 4:18 pm

    That’s kind of a bummer as I know those clinics are NOT cheap. I watched the videos on USEF from the other group (the one your AT rode in). I’ve watched most of the clinics at Rutledge via USEF and I watched the McLain Ward clinic in person. One of these days, I’d love to do a clinic at Rutledge. The facility is lovely. The clinicians that I’ve been most impressed with are McLain (obviously because McLain) and Peter Wylde. I would LOVE to clinic with Peter Wylde. Not sure I’m at the level to clinic with McLain. Also, the Stacia Madden clinic that was just at Rutledge looked awesome. Will Simpson seems super nice, but I expected a bit more substance.


    • hellomylivia 11/14/2019 / 12:02 pm

      I absolutely loved Rutledge, the people and facilities were top notch! I heard fantastic things about the Stacia Madden clinic, my friend participated and had a great experience. Agreed that Will was definitely kind and supportive of all the different levels of horse and rider, I just hoped for a bit more of a push.


  5. Abby F 11/13/2019 / 4:29 pm

    Wanted to add that I also found it interesting that he prefers a gappier distance. In the McLain and Kent Farrington clinics that I watched, they both encouraged the patient, waiting to the base distance. Different strokes for different folks, but interesting!


    • hellomylivia 11/14/2019 / 12:03 pm

      I was surprised too! Collection and sitting down has always been tough for Frankie so I’ll pretty much always use the small jumps as a chance to reinforce that, but he really wanted us to open up more. If nothing else, it gave me practice adjusting my eye on the fly!


  6. eventerinprogress 11/13/2019 / 7:27 pm

    That’s incredibly disappointing, I would be pretty bummed out too.

    I’ve had clinics that have made me feel invincible and clinics that have shattered me. It usually comes down to the clinician, so hopefully next time you’ll leave feeling more satisfied.


    • hellomylivia 11/14/2019 / 12:04 pm

      I’ll say that I’m definitely somewhere in the middle – it may not have been the most positive experience, but it certainly wasn’t negative. I left with a few new techniques to try, but I do wish I had gotten to pressure test them a bit with him first.

      Liked by 1 person

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