It was slightly surprising to find Sinead Halpin teaching a full two days of lower level eventers this weekend at Antebellum Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, as in just a couple of weeks time I’m hoping to see her cutting a swathe through the Rolex Kentucky track at the Kentucky Horse Park just a few miles away, and I thought she’d have far more important things to do.
Not at all, she reassured me, the basics that she’s so keen to ingrain on the students here are the same that she’ll be trying to finesse in the final few days with Manoir De Carneville next week as she puts the finishing touches on her test, does her final gallop, cross country school and jump lesson. In fact, she went on, it’s almost a relief to escape for a couple of days, especially as one of the days was Tate’s scheduled day off anyway.
Most of the lessons were groups of four, concentrating on grids and jumping exercises the first day, and building up to course work on the second day, although Sinead also taught a few private dressage lessons as well.
To wit, it was all about the quality of the canter, rideability and organisation before the jump. There was nothing revolutionary — just proper, old-fashioned horsemanship, lots of great exercises and pole work, and Sinead’s eagle eye for detail and endless patience, tact and humour to dispense her advice.
Sinead was vigilant with riders about their position and pointed out little adjustments that made a big difference: keeping their shoulders open and facing the direction of the jump or the turn away from the jump, using their core and not arching their backs.
Balance, forward, being in control — your horse reacting to your leg, but also to a half halt, thinking of cantering on the spot, or a downward transition to trot before picking up canter again if he was getting too onward bound.
Sinead probably didn’t tell the riders anything they hadn’t heard before but she maybe told them in a different way, or phrased it so that it became more applicable and easier to remember.
For one horse that was getting excited about the fence, she told her rider to make sure that her aids were strong enough to be louder than the ‘volume’ of the jump, so that the horse heard her, and not the jump, that the rider must always be heard first. Thus if you need to turn the volume of your aids up temporarily to make your point, then do so, and then turn them down again once the horse hears you so you’re not constantly ‘shouting’ at him and then he tunes you out and no longer hears you.
Everyone I talked to not only learned a lot and enjoyed the lessons but were bowled over by how approachable and lovely Sinead is, and they can’t wait for her to return already, not just for that particular horse show looming on the horizon, but to teach them again as soon as possible!
Let’s hope both happen, and both are just as successful as this trip. Many thanks to Daina Kaugars for organising the clinic and letting me sit in for a little while, to Antebellum Farm for hosting, and of course to Sinead for her time and patience as always. Go Team SHE at Rolex Kentucky!