Clinic Report: Schooling with Sinead Halpin

Erika Adams and Katherine McDonough submitted this glowing report from a clinic with Sinead Halpin last weekend in East Tennessee. Erika is an area trainer who had several students participating, and Katherine made great strides in one of the Training-level groups with her very cool new-ish ride, Red. Thank you, Erika and Katherine, for sharing your experience! If you have a clinic report to share, send it to [email protected].

Sinead looks on as Shannon O'Hatnick and Solar Flare jump a roll top. Photo by Kaylen Moon. Sinead looks on as Shannon O'Hatnick and Solar Flare jump a roll top. Photo by Kaylen Moon.

From Erika and Katherine:

On what could have possibly been the last beautiful autumn weekend before winter, 24 riders gathered at River Glen Equestrian Park just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, for a two-day clinic with Sinead Halpin.

Riders from Starter to Intermediate were challenged through gymnastic exercises on Saturday and cross-country questions on Sunday. A true test of any clinician is to be able to challenge a diverse group of riders and horses.

Sinead was able to outline five essential areas of training needed to be successful at any level, two of which were speed and direction. Whether riders were accomplished eventers on three-year olds, or new eventers on accomplished horses, every horse and rider pair found an area of weakness within the same exercise.


Day One – Gymnastics

On Saturday, riders were tested on their speed and direction through a series of gymnastic exercises that required elasticity and accuracy. In the lower levels, speed and direction were the focus. Riders needed to maintain a steady pace in order to be able to execute the direction of the forward motion.

Riders commonly found themselves with either the correct speed, or the correct direction, but not both. They would either be too fast to negotiate the turns, or be able to turn, but have weak distances. Sinead helped the riders identify these weaknesses, and gave them tools to correct the issues at hand.

Here is Val Gibbons with Dawson’s Creek successfully going through the warm-up portion of the gymnastic exercise. Notice that she accurately puts five strides between the ground rails the cross-rail oxer on the way down but four on the return.

The upper level groups worked over the exact same series of exercises.  What was a question of speed and direction in the lower divisions turned into identifying the different canters you need to ride a line.

These groups started out with the same warm-up as the lower-level groups, and progressed on to riding a series of fences where they had to change their step based on requirements given by Sinead. A distance of four, five or six strides were possible on a bending line and were determined by the canter the rider had.

Here is Katherine McDonough and her horse Irish Red putting five strides in the bending line.

Day 2 – Cross-Country

On Sunday, the lower levels learned about finding their balance in the three positions while out on cross-country: Cruising, Prep (aka neutral), and Sitting C. The riders in these groups learned to find a comfortable balance in the cruising position – up and off their horses’ backs.

After they acquired their balance, the riders applied these positions over cross-country obstacles. With this new balance, riders were able to find the security they needed to jump confidently.

Sinead also put an emphasis on the building blocks of cross-county to create confidence for horse and rider. By building a solid foundation for the green rider or horse, they are able to meet new challenges with more relaxation and “not sweating the small stuff.”

Here is Celsie Abelt with Dorito confidently dropping into the water in a very relaxed way.

This theory of keeping things calm, relaxed and confident was extended to the upper level groups. For example, every upper level rider jumped the Beginner Novice ditch. They jumped it repeatedly until the horse essentially took a canter stride over it rather than “jumping” it.

Sinead did not have riders add any complexity to the exercise (bigger ditches, adding related fences) until horse and rider were confident and relaxed over the small ditch. For some riders, the culmination of this exercise was going through the training coffin.

Other riders did the Training, Prelim and finally the Intermediate coffin, but riders did not move on until the exercise at hand was soft, confident, and relaxed.

Here is Leah Snowden’s first attempt over the Intermediate coffin after applying Sinead’s cross-country building blocks of confidence and relaxation to the smaller coffins.

Sinead was an absolute professional giving constructive criticism with a warm, positive and patient teaching style. Because she provided individualized instruction, every rider was able to improve through the weekend.

Everyone came away with things to think about and a big smile on their face.  A big thank you to Bill Graves for letting River Glen be the host site for the weekend — the grounds were the perfect place to hold the clinic.

Thank you also to Crossroads Dressage and Combined Training Society, thank you to the many volunteers who helped set up jumps, and especially thank you to our smiling, helpful friend Dave McAdoo. And finally, a huge thank you to Sinead for a great weekend! We’ll definitely see you next time!


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