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Notes & Thoughts on the February Sue Martin Clinic


There was a great auditor turn out on this cold February weekend. Here,..... is riding...

Our club was treated to a terrific two-day clinic with Sue Martin, made possible by a grant from The Dressage Foundation. The clinic provided an in-depth look at dressage from both the horse and rider’s perspective, through all different levels.


Sue worked seamlessly with horses of all levels, from youngsters just starting to those working at Grand Prix, quickly identifying the most important aspect of training for the particular horse. Equally, she identified for riders key issues that are impacting their riding and was able to communicate effective corrections with results that were obvious to the spectators. Auditors were engaged through the whole clinic and involved in the training process with each pair.  


Mary Duke's smile reflects how rewarding and fun riders found their lessons with Sue.

The following comments are some of the take-aways from a few of the riders and auditors during the clinic:

Judi DeVore:

  • Walk: Collected walk is ready for anything: trot, halt, canter. Medium walk should have 1 footprint over track and extended walk 2 foot over track. If you lose regularity in the collected walk do shoulder fore. Your seat should “follow” in the walk but don’t pump.

  • Pirouette canter: If the horse starts popping their head up and down, make them rounder. Schooling pirouette canter make sure you are adjustable. Should be able to flex left and right and stay straight or move neck lower without disturbing the rhythm. A good pirouette should take 7-8 strides.


  • A useful exercise for all levels of control of the bend: On a circle line make sure horse is bent nose to tail on the line, then take the shoulders in keeping the haunches on the line for a few strides and then take the haunches in for a few strides keeping the shoulders on the line.


  • Canter: If the horse breaks at the canter, immediately go back to walk and restart.  Don’t dribble to walk.  Think low, round, and bent in the canter head-to-tail to get the horse moving over their back.


  • Reins: Make sure the length is maintained where your elbows are just slightly in front of the rib cage. If you have trouble keeping your elbows at your side, turn your wrist out slightly. Keep thumb up when flexing the horse. Wrists should be held with thumbs on top.


  • Bend: Bend gets rid of “hoppy” into the trot and canter.


  • Make every cue mean something. If there is no response, you need to take action immediately.

Karen Harkin:

  • Don't nag with your legs. Get a reaction from the aids. Don't create "white noise" with your aids.

  • Mares don't like leg pressure, so ride with less leg.

  • Rubber band exercise on 20-m circle: slow the trot with your seat, collect or bounce the trot for a few steps, then immediately forward.  Preparation for passage.

  • Walk warm up is important. Gymnasticize the horse's body - lateral work, stretch and pick up, shoulder-in on circle, haunches-in on circle. 

  • Legs should be quicker, not harder, to accelerate the rhythm.  

  • Position was huge! Outside rein low and close to neck; elbow in front of the ribs; whip across the thighs; inside rein creates the bend; outside upper calf against the horse to create the bend. Hips go into the horse's back; pelvis pushes into the saddle.

Cindy Petersen:

What an amazing clinic! Sue was an ideal trainer; she spoke to the rider/horse at the their specific level and capability, and she was honest and provided amazing constructive criticism. 


I had so many great takeaways but here are a few that are right on top:


  • Give your horse time off after a show or clinic - this is something that is individual to each horse and rider depending on age, physical, and mental health.

  • On days off, you can still do very important in hand work; for me this is working at the mounting block, as my mare does very well at home and at my trainers, but she becomes very excited at other areas.

  • Nutrition and exercise as a rider is every bit as important as keeping our horses in shape.

  • There is a variety of techniques and training that can be accomplished out of the saddle in long reining. I'm excited to learn more about this.

  • End on a good note even if you only trained for 15 minutes.

Arlene Rhodes:

I was pleased to see that before each person's ride she reviewed tack fit; the balance of the saddle is often overlooked and can change the whole communication effort with your horse. As each person began to ride, she would address one or two issues until she felt the rider understood what she was saying and the rider was at least making attempts to correct the issue. She often used a one-word reminder for that correction and then she would move on to the next issue to address. She could then quickly remind the rider of the previous issue with that one word. It seemed to help the riders focus on what was going on while putting some long-term changes into muscle memory with that one-word reminder. I was most impressed with her ability to continue to use a variety of words or word pictures to get her teaching across. She kept trying until she saw that the student and horse together understood.


More than one rider stated it was the best lesson they had ever had, and the auditor comments were glowing as well. Everyone was anxious to have her come back and several of the auditors were anxious to ride with her when she does return. If you didn’t get the chance to ride or audit the clinic in February, the next scheduled clinic with Sue is the end of June. Check here for information on how to participate.

A big thank-you to The Dressage Foundation who provided us a grant to make this clinic affordable for both riders and auditors!

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