Articles Written 3
Article Views 3,946

Greta Hallgren


About Greta Hallgren

Latest Articles Written

Clinic Report: Connecting on ‘Connection’ With Matt Brown

Many thanks to Greta Hallgren, USEA Area V Adult Rider Coordinator, for sharing this Matt Brown clinic report from Weatherford, Texas! Have a clinic report to submit? Email it to [email protected].  

Chloe McCombs and Roxie Roccoco. Photo by Elise Marshall.

My first connection with Matt was during his Tai Chi class at the the USEA Convention in New Orleans last December. I wrongly assumed that this was just going to be a fun way to start the day with a little exercise. Little did I know, I was about to make a connection about “connection.”

Matt stood before a group of the nation’s top eventing community and demonstrated the martial arts concept of achieving maximum efficiency with minimum effort. In Tai Chi, the primary practice revolves around redirecting a partner’s energy with little effort.

“When faced with resistance or force, most of us will instinctively resist back, rather than redirect. When we are pushed, our instinct is to push back,” he explained. “With horses, resistance can have its place, but it can be easily over-used, which usually causes the horse to become even more resistant.”

Matt then forced us to pair up (awkward initially for eventers, but necessary) and guided us through an exercise called “push hands.”

Matt showing Sharon White “push hands” at the USEA Convention. Photo by Greta Hallgren.

He explained that “push hands” can help give you more direct feedback on your balance, how much force you’re using, where you’re bracing, etc., all of which you can translate back to your riding.

Light bulbs went on all over the room. “Feel” is a concept that can be very difficult to describe, not to mention teach, but we all felt it in that moment. Even more, we felt the balance and energy that solid “connection” creates.

“Feel is something that, with mental and physical control and awareness, we can all achieve, regardless of our talents,” he said.

Energized by this exercise, I was even more excited that we’d secured Matt to bring his concepts to Area V for a clinic for both our Adult Riders and Young Riders in Weatherford, Texas, later in January.

Lucy Matulich and Sophera CR. Photo by Avery Wagner.

Matt’s day one stadium exercises started with the same discussion in every group. He explained his approach and what he wanted everyone to strive for which ultimately can be boiled down to “empathy.” He also explained his martial arts theory demonstrated in “push hands.”

“Listen to your horse. Where is the horse’s mind? Are they relaxed mentally and physically? Are they balanced? Where are their feet? Is there tension in their body somewhere?” he asked.

“A rider’s responsibilities include line, rhythm and pace. It is not your job to jump the jump. That is the horse’s responsibility.”

Initially, upper levels were asked to canter through cavaletti using only one hand to guide the horse through a tight turn and across the poles. This exercise demonstrated the importance of using your legs and balance, not just your hands when turning. It also kept riders from interfering with a horse’s impulsion through the turn. Other exercises included tight turns in addition to changes of pace without impeding your rhythm or “balanced connection.”

Lower levels were challenged by technical turns, ultimately ending in looking for Matt to indicate which way to turn while they were in the air. This required them to “look” for the next fence and react quickly.

Elise Marshall and Ladies’ Man. Photo by Avery Wagner.

Cross country day continued making the connection of maximum efficiency with minimum effort when he started all levels out with the challenge of of halting from a gallop.

“Most people who fear going fast don’t trust that they can stop,” Matt said. “But you shouldn’t have to fight your horse to slow down.” Matt’s method consisted of staying in the gallop position but using the leverage of your rear end to bring your weight to the back of the saddle and fixing your hands down on the neck. “Don’t lean back!” he shouted often.

This is counterintuitive to how many riders have been taught, but when done correctly, it indeed worked. Matt proved this by by getting on the most resistant horse in each group and bringing them to a halt in only about four strides.

Cross country jumping exercises took off where stadium stopped the day before. In wasn’t long until everyone was jumping through a serpentine of verticals. Upper levels were challenged to cut as many strides between fences as possible by increasing the angle.

Caleb McCombs and Simon Slick. Photo by Elise Marshall.

When a horse became confused at what it was being asked to do, Matt explained his theory on how to handle it.

“Try not to let yourself or your horse get it wrong in the same way three times in a row,” he said.

When horses balked or stopped at a fence, riders were asked to back up while he made the fence easier by taking one side down. Riders then proceeded over the fence as many times as needed to make the horse comfortable again. Then, Matt recreated the question and the horses answered it every time.

Moving on to true cross country fences, lower levels were encouraged to increase their gallop and jump out of stride with their newfound trust that had enough control to stop. Upper levels moved on to banks and ditches where Matt connected more dots by recreating some of the turning challenges everyone practiced the day before.

Stephanie Reimers and Hank. Photo by Elise Marshall.

Undoubtedly, mistakes were made by riders of all levels over the weekend. But Matt connected making mistakes to the learning process.

“Use mistakes to learn. Notice them but don’t put judgement on them,” he encouraged. “None of us enjoy making mistakes, but be careful in thinking that a mistake means anything more than the fact that you’re learning.”

Overall, feedback from clinic participants referred back to Matt’s presence as a horseman and instructor which coincidently mirrors balance and connection.

“He embodies the yin and yang of riding and teaching,” one rider said. “He’s passionate, but peaceful. He’s driven, but empathetic. He’s incredibly deep, but is capable of simplifying the concept. I connected with him immediately.”

Pickin and Grinnin’: Richard Picken Clinic Report

Many thanks to Greta Hallgren, Area V Adult Rider Coordinator, for submitting this report from the 2018 Area V Adult Riders Summer Clinic, which took place June 2-3 and featured U.S. eventing’s show jumping wondercoach Richard Picken. Have a clinic report to share? Email it to [email protected].

Photo by Harley Cozeworth.

I’m smiling because without realizing it, Richard Picken has coined a future event horse’s name while coaching the Area V Adult Riders Summer Clinic. I’m sure you’ll agree, “Jammy Dodger” is the perfect show name for an upper level eventing star.

Not only would this horse be good a getting out of sticky situations, he would be named after a delicious raspberry jam filled cookie, like the ones Richard enjoyed as a child growing up in England. I discovered this while feeding him over the course of two days we spent at Buck Branch Farm in Wilmer, Texas, home of Rebecca Brown, Advanced event rider and USEA ICP Level III certified instructor.

Over the course of the clinic, I also learned that Richard and his twin sister were literally born in the business of show jumping. I mean literally. Like on the way to a show that their mom, also a show jumper, was traveling to.

So, it’s only fitting that Richard is currently one of the top show jumping coaches in the United States and is the particular favorite of eventing’s superstars like Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin and Will Coleman.

Which is why Area V Adult Riders ranging from Beginner Novice to Advanced levels flocked to Texas in the first weekend in June and braved a heat index of 107 degrees to be able to ride under his coaching.

Photo by Harley Cozeworth.

Day One

On day one of the clinic, Richard set up exercises that encouraged horses and riders to practice the skills necessary for successful showjumping rounds. Things like adjustability, correct pace and the ability to move off your leg were the themes of the day.

“When warming up, I like to get right to it,” he said. “Don’t waste time just cantering around. Make every moment count.”

Lots of time was spent getting to know each horse and rider combination and focusing on the details. He watched everyone individually, coaching them through lengthening and shortening both their horses’ trot and canter strides and then through lateral movements. It was at this point that he also took away everyone’s spurs if they were using them.

“I don’t use spurs when working at home. I save them for the shows. That way your horse remains reactive to your leg. And in competition, if you need a little boost, you have it.”

Jumping exercises extended these concepts and included trot poles, bounces, tight corners and related distances.

“The key is to establish the correct canter. A powerful canter doesn’t mean fast,” he clarified. “It means working from the hind end. As long as you have the correct canter and you support them with your reins, horses can jump well even out of an off stride.”

Photo by Harley Cozeworth.

Day Two

On day two, Richard set another course that again, addressed the keys of a successful round. (He did let anyone who wanted them have their spurs back.) He first went through his approach to the show jumping warm-up, and discussed how coming off a cross country course the previous day can affect a horse’s jump.

“On cross country, a horse tends to jump longer and flatter. That’s why we want to start the show jump warm-up by encouraging them to get more round over the fences straight away.”

His goal is to also have the horse jump as few fences a possible. For most horses, Richard likes to start with a placing pole and a “rampy” oxer. If the horse jumps that well, he then immediately progresses to a square oxer with no ground line. Lastly, he moves on to a vertical with a ground line.

“I don’t mind if a horse knocks a pole in warm up because that helps wake them up for their round,” Richard adds.

He also stressed the need to remain prepared and reactive to every jump in the round. If you get in short, you will have to move up to make the distance. If you get a long spot, it will affect your canter to the next fence even if you are going around a corner to get there. 

“It all works together,” he adds. “That’s why you always need to work your horses even on the flat to make them adjustable and listening to you.” 

Richard was fond of asking riders their opinion on how their rounds went before offering his thoughts. When one rider completed her round, he tested her by asking what was wrong with it. He was pleased when she confidently turned to him and said, “Nothing!”

Photo by Harley Cozeworth.

Silver Linings

Silver linings come up often when talking with Richard. He’s attuned to looking for the good in a situation that appears initially to be negative. Like when talk turned towards the heat of the day. He pointed out that the covered arena allowed for a constant breeze that made his teaching bearable. 

Richard’s exercises were challenging to many. We are amateurs after all. But everyone agreed that the silver lining to riding in the excessive heat, was that they were leaving with plenty of constructive “homework.” And as I stood watching as each group as they left the arena, I couldn’t help but notice the grins Richard Picken had put on everyone’s faces.

Clarke Johnstone Clinic Report: This Kiwi Likes Tacos and Texas

We love living (and learning!) vicariously through clinic reports. We are excited to share this one from Area V Adult Rider Coordinator Greta Hallgren, who competes at the Prelim level with her OTTB Elianna. Have a clinic report to share? Email it to [email protected].

Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Elite international eventer, showjumper and 2016 Olympian Clarke Johnstone didn’t know what was in store for him when he agreed to fly all the way from his home in Waikato, New Zealand, to Burleson, Texas, to conduct the winter Area V Adult Rider clinic last month at Tempus

I had no expectations,” Clarke said after his first day with his new students. “I came over not knowing much about Texas or what kind of riders and horses I would encounter, but I was pleased with what I found.”

While enjoying his first crispy taco ever, Clarke expanded on his experiences by describing how his students differ from their Area V counterparts, “Everyone here has been very analytical so far. Back home, we don’t tend to analyze every single detail the same way.”

The details started with individual dressage lessons on the first day. The main point Clarke made to all riders was that every movement needed to be performed with forward impulsion. “I bet you get ‘needs impulsion,’ on your dressage tests often,” Clarke was overheard saying to one student. The student later confirmed he was right.

Hannah Smitherman on Sir Lamb Chop in an individual dressage session. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

The second day plans were revised due to a questionable weather forecast. Instead of show jumping, groups from Beginner Novice to Preliminary headed out to do cross country under sunny skies.

Clarke challenged every group to push themselves and almost every rider reported accomplishing something new. “This was the first time I have ever jumped a skinny on this horse,” one rider reported. “I’m so proud of her!”

One Beginner Novice rider described her experience this way: “The biggest takeaway for me is that I realize now that I am not only a better rider than maybe I thought, but I’m capable of more than I realized.”

Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Show jumping day, the last day, started with stride adjustability exercises and quickly progressed to a fun gymnastic designed to get the horses thinking.

“I use this gymnastic at home a lot,” Clarke, also a grand prix show jumper, noted. “I really like it because it makes horses think about where they land and where the need to take off. It also helps them jump in a nice form.”

The gymnastic Clarke used consisted of a placing pole to a bounce made of a higher crossrail first, with a very low vertical second. After everyone got that down, he then added a much higher, very airy vertical, five strides away. True to his plan, the horses tended towards going down the line in five even steps and jumping the last fence beautifully.

“Pulling is not your friend,” he also advised several riders throughout the day as they progressed to jumping courses. “You’ve got to set them up in the turn and then move confidently towards the fence.”

Greta Hallgren on Elianna in the Prelim show jumping session. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

In addition to challenging riders to push themselves, Clarke also encouraged a riding position that allowed for shorter reins with hands more forward. “I feel this position allows you to make small adjustments and maintain a connection that results in improved communication with your horse.”

To prove his point, check out these videos of his gorgeous four-star cross country and show jumping rides at the Australian International Three-Day Event last November which he led from start to finish.

Outside of his teaching duties, rumor has it that some highlights of Clarke’s Texas adventure included the handling of his first firearm as well as a trip to the culturally iconic Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. But sometimes what exactly happens in Texas, simply stays in Texas.

Ultimately, Area V Adult Riders were honored to have hosted Clarke’s first clinic in the U.S. A group has already planned a trip to the 2018 World Equestrian Games next fall where they plan to cheer on their new Kiwi friend in addition to the U.S. team.

One clinician summed it up best: “Clarke was very generous to take time out of his incredibly busy competition schedule to come halfway across the world to Texas to teach adult amateurs. I bet he’ll be back though. We know how he likes his tacos.”