A System for Finesse, Bits, Connection and The Project – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic

The clinic is now over, but I will still write a post for each day. This is day 3 of the first clinic and the next post will be day 1 of the second clinic – half way point already! This was a day where all the pieces started falling into place. There were so many great topics today and fantastic questions that got us thinking about all sorts of aspects of natural horsemanship. So let’s get started…

A System for Finesse / Riding with Contact

Something I have struggled with for a while whilst going through Levels 1-4, is Finesse. It seems to be more or less a matter of picking up a soft feel and simply riding patterns. Although it doesn’t work like that when you are on the horse. Mikey has a great way of explaining finesse and a great program to give you. For all he Savvys except Finesse, I found it very clear to figure out what the plan was and what I should be learning from the levels. I did not find this transparency for Finesse – and that is exactly what Mikey gives you. A road map:

Friendly Game with the mouth.


Extend the neck (“Action-Reaction”)



Although the Friendly Game with the mouth and the rounding should come first and last respectively, the steps in between may change order depending on the horse you have. The first aid should be the demi-arrêt, an upward aid, for safety reasons, since a lifted head leads to a halt. After that, if you have a horse that tends to carry it’s head too high and hollow its back extend the neck should come next. If you have a horse that is stuck to the ground, stick to demi-arrêt to teach the horse to carry itself.

Now roundness, is a skill. You don’t actually practice this. If you did all the steps before and your horse is soft and supple, you ask to lift the head and he will round by himself. If he doesn’t, hold the outside rein and lift the inside, this closes the poll and is the last thing you should do.

I won’t talk about the bend here, because Mikey taught me that in the second clinic. I’ll add something about it in one of the next posts.

One thing in particular I love about this system, is that it de-mystifies dressage for me. I used to think that manoeuvres such as half pass at the canter, pirouettes and other high dressage movements were impossible for me to learn in my life time. Those five points listed above, show you exactly how to get there! No one said it was easy and of course you have to put in the work, but it is entirely possible.

Single vs. Double Jointed Bits

Single jointed bits are clearer. They only collapse in the nutcracker fashion, if you pull straight back on them. If you lift and add pressure upwards, they do not collapse.

Double jointed bits don’t collapse either way. They were made so that instead of us learning to ride properly, we can just use this bit and not hurt the horse. That still doesn’t make the communication clear and those kinds of shortcuts usually carry consequences.

Ideally, you would use a snaffle bit until the horse is schooled and ready for the double bridle and then use that for the more difficult movements.

A thicker bit is nicer. A thin bit is like someone handing you a knife. You can take it, but you will be very careful about how you do that and maybe even a bit hesitant. If you know the Parelli bridles, you may have noticed that the snaffle on the country bridle is very thin. Here it is not so important because the country bridle is designed for trail rides and being able to tie your horse to a tree without having any pressure go in the mouth if he should pull on it. Since you are only ever using one rein at a time and you have slobbers which tell the horse way ahead of time that pressure is coming, it is not as necessary to have a thick bit.


Over the entire six days of the two clinics, one of the things Mikey talked most about is that you should only be talking to your horse if he is listening. If he is not listening, wait – however you may exercise that waiting period. This made me realise that before I started studying with Chris and Sarah, I hadn’t actually had a dialog with a horse. It was much more just me getting better and better at bossing it around. Even if you are playing in Level 4, by simply doing the tasks, all you are doing is giving orders. You have just gotten much better at giving them. With the Project that Mikey teaches, you can get the real connection. The one that every child dreams of when they dream of horses.

We saw this a lot in the clinics with the higher level horses. The humans would ask for something simple like a touch it, or a transition. Being a higher level, the horse knew what was expected and knew the task, but didn’t do it. Now you can give two responses – you can either add more pressure and get stronger, or you can patiently wait for example whilst walking a circle, until the horse is connected and then ask him for something. The latter is much nicer. Getting stronger will usually lead to trouble and you playing the horse’s game, instead of the other way around.

If the technique gets your horse into trouble, don’t use it.

Mind you, you will have days where the horse connects.

The Project

Step 1: Send your horse to the object.

Steph 2: Send your horse past the object (in front or behind).

Step 3: Do the exercise

More on this in posts from the second clinic.

Brilliant Questions of the Day
Why should the horses head be up when you are backing him?

A lot of people get taught that when a horse backs, they should tuck their nose in, go down and be round. That is usually not what you want and here is why. The weight of the horse is distributed 60% on the forehand and 40% on the hindquarters. Why is this? Because the forehand has a neck and a head hanging on it, whereas the hindquarters don’t. That is the natural  distribution of weight at a halt for a horse. When you are backing your horse all that weight of the front end needs to come off it and move backwards.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 20.37.09

Mikey had this great analogy of a chain link. Imagine the hindquarters and forequarters are individual elements of a chain link and the horse as a whole is the chain. If you wanted the chain link to move backwards, you would be much more successful pulling it back on the back end. You would not be successful if you tried to push the beginning of the chain link back. It would bunch up and would not be straight, never mind the fact that it won’t be moving back very far at all. It’s similar for the horse. You don’t want your horse to push it’s front end back into it’s hind end and get all bunched up. You want the hind end to pull the front end backwards, and to do that you first have to lift the extra weight off the front end. That is why the head should be up and not low and round. Since backing is a two beat gait, the weight will be 50/50 during the back up if done properly. As you and your horse progress to higher levels, there is no question that at some point you want your horse to be round in the back up, but not down. (Image source: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/链钢-6524841.jpg)

Why are you [Mikey] telling us to put our weight in the outside stirrup to widen our circle, when Pat taught us in Level 2 to push with the inside leg?

I thought this was a brilliant question! I myself have thought about this very often. Mikey’s answer was just as brilliant. He said most of what Pat teaches us in the four levels are power positions. Including the leg aids. Let’s stick to the example of the question. You are on a circle and want to widen it. You first ask politely by naturally sitting a little on the inside of the circle and placing more weight in your outside stirrup than the inside. Now, if your horse chooses to not respond to this, THEN you can push with your inside leg. All of this would be too much information for someone starting to study Level 2 and since Level 2 is about Safety – that is what Pat teaches you. How interesting!

Why is this inside flexion so important on a circle? Why do we always want that?

First of all, Mikey made the point that you don’t necessarily always want inside flexion on a circle and then went on to explain when you would want inside flexion or outside flexion on a circle. When you and your horse are competent and as close to even as possible in your bodies you want inside flexion – that’s the goal. However, when you are correcting the natural crookedness of a horse, you want the outside bend on a circle.

Let’s say the horse is naturally crooked to the right, so the long side of the horse is the left and the short side is the right. This will automatically place more weight on the right shoulder. This in turn will cause your horse to have a tendency of making big circles to the left, because the strong shoulder is now on the outside and a tendency of making small circles to the right, because the strong shoulder is now on the inside and the horse will be falling in with that.

So if you are wanting to correct natural crookedness you can ride the circle to the left with inside flexion and make it smaller, so the horse has to use his left shoulder more. Your circle to the right should then have outside flexion and be bigger, so again the horse has to put the weight on the left shoulder.

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

  1. CONNECTION, MYTHS, BALANCE – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  2. RIDING WITH CONTACT AND REIN AIDS – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic
  3. A SYSTEM FOR FINESSE, BITS, CONNECTION AND THE PROJECT – Michael Wanzenried 5* Clinic (you are here)
  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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