Connection, Myths, Balance – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

Thanks to Sarah and Chris, Michael Wanzenried 5* is here in Kildare, Ireland, to teach two 3 day clinics back to back. Being a working student with Chris and Sarah, I am lucky enough to go to the clinic every day and spectate all day. Since a last minute rider spot opened up, I will even be riding in the second clinic – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I want to use this opportunity to share the experience and knowledge I gain from Mikey. Here are my impressions from the first day: Connection, Myths Corrected, Level Tasks and the Importance of Balance. Enjoy 🙂


The higher the level of the horse and human, the harder it is to get connected.

When horses weren’t connected to me, I used to just think “Oh, I’m not good enough in my skills yet, but when I reach Level 4 and have more skills, that won’t happen anymore.” I could not have been more wrong! 😛 The higher the level of the horse and human, the harder it is to get connected, because now the horse wants to know how much you know. The seven games are second nature to both horse and human and your horse does everything you ask but nothing with any sort of good quality. Maybe you can even do some fancy looking things for shows and demos, but you are not the center of your horse’s universe. As long as you don’t have that ultimate connection, you will not get a proper walk, trot or canter, or etc. They will do their best to get you to do more than they are – so, do less! Go to neutral (driving game at the walk on a circle or something similar) and wait for them to ask you a question. Be adamant that they participate.

We got onto this topic of connection because even the high Level (Level 5) horses were reacting to the change of environment. Then the question came up whether or not they are not confident in the environment. What I interpreted and got from Mikey’s answer was that with the higher level horses, the change in environment should not bother them much, or only shortly. Horses are not afraid of you, sticks, etc. They can kill you fairly easily, or a mountain lion for that matter. What they are afraid of is direct line thinking. “We are going into this arena and we are going to do this and that because we paid to take a lesson with Mikey.” – That is what they are afraid of, no matter how high your level.

Myths Corrected

In the theory session we talked quite a bit about myths when it comes to riding with contact. One myth for example is that you can bend the ribs. You cannot.

The only thing on a horse that you can bend, is it’s neck.

Another is that the hindquarters are to go under the horse if it is engaged and active, which it is almost always supposed to be when riding with contact.

Pretty much the only time the hindquarters truly go under the horse is during Piaffe.

That the back should come up is yet another myth. The horse doesn’t really lift the back in that sense. The back naturally comes up and also goes back down stride by stride. People tend to believe however that the horse will lift it’s back and stay there.

Horses lift and keep their back up in two situations only, when they poo and when they’re about to buck – you don’t really want that. What the back is supposed to do however, is move freely up and down.

Levels Tasks

The Levels tasks are all there to teach you something. Mainly there are they’re so you can figure something out. Most of the tasks in Level 1 and 2 are there to teach you some sort of power position or safety aspects. Getting to Level 3 and 4, most tasks teach you more about the psychology of the horse. Take this task for example: Can you back you horse to the end of your 45 foot rope, using phase 1 and 2? Try this…it doesn’t work quality! So how do you achieve this task? Why would Pat give it to us, if it doesn’t work? Because it does work…if the horse knows what it is backing towards. That means you need to start making a game out of it. Get your horse to back up to a cone for example. Then you do that from further away. Then you replace the cone somewhere else, etc. When the horse really understands that it is to back to the cone, you can then back your horse easily on the 45 foot rope using phase 1 or 2.

The Importance of Balance

The balance of the horse is an extensive topic. How we got onto it was by watching the space just behind the flank of a horse. The muscles there should look like a loaf of bread, not a string – Mikey was saying. As the hind foot hits the ground and pushes out, you could see a string appear on some horses, whilst on others you could not. When you do see a string, that tells you that the horse is overstretched and falling to catch it’s weight. This is the same if you were to stand on your two feet and then tipped your upper body forward. At some point your feet will move to catch your weight. Now if you do this every step and end up in a sort of a rigid run, almost as if you are tripping – that is what the horse feels like when it is overstretched. So what you really want, is the loaf of bread behind the flank and not a string! If the horse is overstretched, that means you are walking too fast, so slow it down.

These were the most important concepts that hit home with me. Can’t wait to find out what Day 2 will bring.


Other posts from the Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic February 2016 | Ireland

  1. CONNECTION, MYTHS, BALANCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (you are here)
  2. RIDING WITH CONTACT AND REIN AIDS – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  5. THE PROJECT, FINESSE, RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  6. LEADERSHIP AND RIDER EXPERIENCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)
  7. LOOKING BACK – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (coming soon…)

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