Clinic & Event Reviews

Michael Poulin Clinic Notes

Written by Heather
“This article originally appeared on and is reprinted here with permission.”
Sunday, 09 November 2008

Stacey Hastings Dressage and Finncastle Farms hosted a two-day clinic with Michael Poulin the first weekend of September. Michael is a 1992 Olympic team bronze medallist, FEI “I”-rated dressage judge, successful international competitor, trainer, and instructor and he has been a long-time member of the Board of Directors and Dressage Committee of the American Horse Show Association (now known as United States Equestrian Federation). Michael has trained America’s top international competitors. He was instrumental in the founding of the United States Dressage Federation’s Instructor Certification Program and he is a Certified Examiner for this program.

Michael made the learning experience valuable and engaging for riders and auditors alike. He answered questions and offered explanations to auditors between rides and invited auditors to ask for clarification if they did not understand a concept. Michael was encouraging of all the riders. He stressed the importance of not interfering with the back and neck and emphasized the need to work the horse forward to contact. He helped riders focus on using their hands in a forward manner so that they never pulled back on the rein. He also stressed the importance of building the horse’s confidence and trust, emphasizing clear communication of expectations and generous rewards when the horse responded to an aid.

On Saturday after the rides, Michael delivered a lecture to riders and auditors about the history of dressage. He used videos of the Spanish Riding School and other classics to illustrate how dressage has evolved over the years. In his discussion of the videos, as in the riding lessons, Michael emphasized the importance of an openness in the connection that does not restrict the horse in any way. Riders and auditors all appreciated Michael’s enthusiasm and the energy he took to make the clinic a real learning event for everyone.

Country Ride Saddlery in Mooresville had a booth on Saturday and Pat Girard of Pat Girard Photography took pictures that can be seen on her website.

Future clinics are planned. Visit for more information.

Sharing the Wealth (of Knowledge):

A Winter Clinic in NC with Stacey Hastings:
By Jeanne Karver

The rumble of powerful engines alerted me to the small caravan of horse trailers rolling down the driveway of my ordinarily calm farm indicating an exciting beginning to the first clinic held at the new barn at Karver’s Creek Farm in Summerfield. The three clean white pickups towed a proud assortment of matching trailers, each carrying very handsome cargo. These are a few of the horses that don’t winter in Florida but still have motivated and serious dressage enthusiast riders. They are employed with the job of toiling in the arctic air so that by March, the dawn of the next show season, they trot in unison with their strong Floridian peers.

Stacey’s small sedan arrived timely, amongst the caravan. It looked like a pony in a Clydesdale wagon line. It is an important task for those of us who stick around, to bond together to keep our education out of hibernation. We are very fortunate to have Stacey stay in NC during these winter months. She is successful at Grand Prix, USDF certified at the highest level and she is an “L” graduate with distinction.

There were six rides. The first, Donna Kelly, has worked with Stacey over the years. For the rest of us, Stacey is new. Donna is our current NCDCTA vice president, professional instructor, and owner of Jake, a gorgeous black, 6 year old gelding. Donna sums up her session with Stacey, “A horse can use different evasive measures to interrupt the connection riders seek to establish and maintain, but the evasiveness begins in the hind legs and that is where a rider has to concentrate to correct connection problems. Stacey wanted my horse quicker off my leg when I used driving aids and not to become inactive behind in downward transitions. My horse is young and powerful and he uses that power against me when I ask him for more activity. Stacey was not about perfection, but making progress which we achieved through transitions within and between gaits and the use of lateral work.”

My personal interpretation of the request for Donna’s horse to be quicker off the leg is this: It is about clarity of the driving aid. Stacey did not want the horse to quicken the tempo from the leg, but rather that the horse eliminates all hesitation, questioning, resistance, or mental processing from the leg aid. The horse needs to react like his skin reacts to a landing fly: quickly and confidently. For that to occur, our standards must be very high. Training the horse to respond correctly to the leg aid must be consistent. It must be clear: the horse must go from the leg.

Next I rode Welle, (Vel’ eh) my 9 year old mare. We cantered early in the ride. To energize her we cantered short bursts of medium to collected. We used shoulder in to develop the come back from medium paces. Although I already employed shoulder fore, Stacey wanted quite a bit more. More bend, more angle. “More” was more effective in this case. A short conversation about half passes included the need for keeping tempo, energy and uphill frame. Then Stacey helped us with piaffe. The mare offered passage (and some other acrobatics) then developed several lovely steps of piaffe. We worked toward piaffe long enough to establish clarity for Welle, and moved on. We went forward into medium and collected trot keeping the focus on the high energy level while controlling the balance (uphill vs. flat and long).

Ellen Peebles rode Max, an Oldenburg with a former hunter career. Before beginning her foray into dressage, Ellen had a full career in the US Army. Ellen makes this comment, “She hit the nail on the head, confirming Max’s varied tempo and balance, Max doesn’t really know where to stay in balance. She reminded me several times not to pull back when Max gets too strung out, but ask for more and then half halt, using shoulder in for balance. Lateral work was an important part of my homework assignment to improve Max’s gaits. Stacey was great to ride for. She kept talking, correcting, praising and asking us to do more.”

After lunch, Dana Taylor rode Favorit Girl. At 24 years old, Favie’s personal bio is long and poignant. However, with Dana’s management and resources, Favie’s story is happily ongoing. Favie is as round and robust as a ten year old. Dana is an adult amateur rider, mother, and Detective for the Rockingham County Sherriff’s department. Dana worked on sitting Favie’s bouncy trot with strength and suppleness while keeping the horse’s attention. Dana made this specific comment, “I like her approach about watching the horses’ ears as in indicator of attention and the rider addressing that (losing attention) before it becomes a spook.” Dana successfully prevented the mare from spooking at the neighbor’s cows.

Susan Craft rode Paxton, an Oldenburg that Susan bred, reared, and trained. Susan represents our adult amateurs well, in that she ambitiously balances the need to achieve in her professional career against the time she wants to train and compete on her horses. Paxton is a talented mover but, in the warm up, offered a “dishonest’ trot which had too much float, not enough forward. Stacey asked for his stride to be longer and more active, and for him to stretch his throatlatch open. The lesson continued into lateral work and canter. Throughout the work Stacey wanted Paxton’s medium trot to be on Susan’s mind all the time in order to affect the energy level and length of stride. Keeping the medium gaits just a breath away was quite effective in bringing out the “wow” potential in Paxton’s gaits. Susan sums up her experience: “The clinic with Stacey was great for kicking the winter blues and jump starting our training for 2009.”

I rode Pearl in the last session of the day. Pearl is a white 10 year old Hanoverian mare who had a former career as a broodmare. Pearl needed more reach over her top line and more suppleness in general. She asked us to use long stretches of leg yield (across a whole diagonal) and a longer, lower connection to loosen up her back.

Stacey generalized her thoughts of the day, “I felt that, over all, everyone was on the right track with great attitudes about their training. Several of the horses’ fundamental problems can be solved with better understanding of the driving aids… you have to have the pre-requisites to the half halt and that is that your horse moves forward into a steady contact. Pretty basic, I know. We never get away from the basics.”

It is likely that Stacey will return to Karver’ Creek Farm in Summerfield for another clinic. We welcome auditors and may have room for other participants in the future. Please feel free to contact me for information. [email protected] 336-643-8556