Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sinead Halpin & Tik Maynard Clinic Write Up

I had the good fortune to audit a clinic put on by Sinead and her husband Tik this past weekend. They taught at separate arenas in the same facility. I managed to catch several sessions with each and I'll write them up separately.
this is a video still from a video i took, so i'm stealing it
First, Sinead:

She is great. 

Oh you wanted more?

Ok here's what I love about Sinead: she has an amazing ability to read a horse and rider in about 3.5 seconds and then give them very specific feedback on how to improve. She's kind, encouraging, and dead on. I saw nary a tear or a frown and lots of people had ground breaking experiences even in long-term partnerships with established squabbles. I never saw a horse look overfaced or a rider look afraid and I saw lots of good riders get better. If I had a horse that jumped, 10/10 I would ride with her no questions asked. 

Things I did not love about Sinead: um.... really reaching here, but I generally avoided standing next to her because she's freaking gorgeous and I'm just a dumpy old adult ammy who didn't need any contrast there. She was mega nice though and even took a selfie with us after the end of a long day teaching. 
apologies to Alyssa's face
And Tik:

Going in to this clinic, I heard Tik was doing some sort of groundwork thing (?) and I'd watched his winning freestyle from last year's Thoroughbred makeover competition. It was cool, but presented me the same basic problem that I see in most things like that: it has no utility. I don't want to ride around with no bridle. I'm not competing in the "follow the leader" olympics, and frankly, I don't have a horse that would excel in the makeover context so like... good for you? 
i both staged and took this photo, so i stole it from lindsey
But. Give the man a chance, right? 

I attended his lecture Friday evening before the riding started. When I arrived, he was talking about Pat Parelli and Clinton Anderson and Tom Dorrance and Jonathan Fields and again, good for them and they are certainly capable of affecting good change with horses, but all of those people live(d) in the western world, and so ultimately what they're getting horses to do is not something I'm super interested in. Besides, while I've never so much as dabbled in the natural horsemanship/western world, I have come up around a bevy of excellent horsemen in the english world. So? 

But here's the thing: when I attended the Mustang Makeover this summer, I realized that all these 100-days-off-the-range horses were doing something my horse simply was not capable of. He couldn't stay with me for a simple dressage test at a show with minimal distractions and here these semi-broke feral horses with no history in front of crowds performed well. I wanted something from that, but again, I have no interest in riding my horse into the back of a truck or shooting guns off his back or riding over a teeter totter (all actually things that happened). Like... nice idea, but not super useful to me. 
did want this horse. Alyssa said no. Bank account sided with her.
And then Tik moved on from talking about the showmen of the natural horsemanship world and said something that gave him my 100% full attention. It was along the lines of "If I had to quit riding tomorrow, but could still work with horses from the ground, that would ok because I'm less interested in technique and more interested in the philosophy of how a horse learns." 

BAM. Hello. Now we're speaking a language I want to learn. 

He went on to explain a simple progression: As horse lovers, we start by learning riding technique from our trainers. Then we try to incorporate theory. As we improve and ride on our own, we develop instinct to deal with situations. Many people stall out there, which is fine but the next step is the philosophy of training. Asking no longer "how", but now "why" and understanding how to motivate horses. 

After all, as he pointed out, "People tend to confuse motivation with intelligence. Your horse isn't stupid. He's just not interested in trying for you." And also, "The better communicator you are, the less motivating you have to do." 
tell me more
The next morning was all that and more. 

As he worked with different people and their horses, he continued the conversation. He talked about always starting from a point of success for the horse--catch them doing something right, if you will. He explained using your body language to communicate with horses. This wasn't super new information to me until he added the part about where you place your line of direction. 
excellent paint graphic by me
It made so much sense--he was having handlers do #6 to get their horses to back away from them with progressively less stimuli, but then when he asked them to walk up and pet their horses, the animals shied away. Why? Because horses aren't afraid of predators. They're afraid of predatory behavior. When the handlers learned to use #5 to approach their horse and arc their line of direction so it was not through the horse, they stood solid. (Also changing body language obv). 

But this wasn't a how-to of simple natural horsemanship techniques. He summed it up very well when he used the term "thinking laterally". Humans tend to think in linear terms. This, then that. Horses don't usually. So if you try this, but don't get to that, you need to be mentally flexible and think laterally. What are other approaches? How can you break this down in steps that your horse will understand? 

There was another exercise--asking a horse to trot in a small circle around it's handler, keeping it's shoulder about 4' away. The lead line was short enough to encourage that, then the handler held a stick at hip height to keep the horse from encroaching on the space. This was a moment of truth for a lot of pairs. The exercise itself wasn't really the point--there is no prize for trotting tiny circles. The exercise was 1) to highlight problem areas in handling and 2) to teach the horse how to learn. 
Problem areas were simply--many handlers gave ground to the horse and back up, allowing the horse to push them around the space. Horses frequently overreacted to the sight/feel of the stick. Most of the horses had one side that was ok and then had meltdowns about the other side. 
we tried it later at home
There was so much going on here--the handler needed to be very, very clear with their body language what they wanted the horse to do. It was critical that they kept stepping towards the horse. This made the circle bigger so it wasn't hard on the horses, but it also established who was pushing who out of whose space. They had to really figure out their line of direction--obviously if you push straight into the horse, it blows sideways (if it's even listening to you), so you needed to establish your space and step in the direction you wanted to go.

As the horses learned, Tik emphasized that at the beginning, there needed to be no right or wrong answer. First they just needed to be rewarded (with a release of pressure/break/treat/whatever) for trying, then gradually you could introduce a harder answer and an easier answer. Basically, don't punish the try especially as the horse begins to learn. You want them to work with you, not fear you. 
basically the bible for this horse omg
This exercise also introduced the idea of the same stimuli meaning multiple things. He'd alternate holding the stick at steady hip height to keep the horse away and setting it on the horse's back/neck/withers and asking the horse to ignore it. Again, a question of communication and trust. 

As Tik explained it, he's not doing groundwork for groundwork's sake. What he wants is to work with a horse until he gets what he calls "the look"--not just licking and chewing, but the horse giving him an intelligent look saying "we're here together. What are we doing next?"

If you never do groundwork again after that moment, that's fine. You always need to feel like you can get that expression if you need to though--that's what tells us the horse is mentally with us. That trust is what everything else is built on. It's not about the follow-the-leader olympics--it's about becoming the leader that your horse looks to so that you can progress together.
plus adorable
What I loved most about learning from Tik Maynard as a clinician was his emphasis on learning how a horse learns and then using lateral thinking to teach the horse in a way he can understand. As an under saddle clinician, he was fine, but his abilities to understand the way a horse thinks and encourage his students to be mentally flexible was where he really shone. 

I didn't sign up for this clinic because I thought it was all jumping, but now that I've watched, let me assure you, Courage will be first in line for a session with Tik next time we get a chance. 

PS He also highly recommended books by Mark Rashid, who is basically my horse training idol, so that was awesome.

PPS I apologize if this is drivel--my mind is still pretty blown and I'm severely sleep deprived while writing it.


  1. This sounds mind-blowingly amazing. Tik and Sinead are in my neck of the woods, and while I've met Sinead a few times (and omg you want to hate her because she is so talented and lovely, but so nice so you can't), I've never gotten to see her or her hubby teach. Now they are definitely on my list of trainers to work with!

    1. Jealous!! It's a lot harder to get people to come to Idaho.

  2. Courage is so stinkin handsome in that rope halter and his white polos lol. Seriously sounds like an incredible double whammy clinic tho. I still remember the first time someone pointed out when I backed up or gave ground to Isabel when she would encroach on my space. It was a real eye opener! Learning about how all that body language adds up in our communications with the horses is definitely critical.

    1. He's basically the best looking horse ever. ;-)

      And yeah--I think a lot of it is really subtle and it was amazing how many horses are way more "trained" than mine but then couldn't do the simplest stuff on the ground.

  3. I love Sinead! And would love to audit Tik. I've been dying to hear more about this clinic since I saw things on Instagram. So jealous!

  4. i would LOVE to ride with tik. even besides doing his liberty/groundwork stuff he does do some upper level riding. hes like, a genius to me and im really glad how detailed you got in this post!!

  5. Very cool! If I haven't ever read anything my Mark Rashid what would you recommend?

    1. Ha! Everything. I actually read "A Good Horse is Never a Bad Color" as a kid and it made a big impression on me. I just re-read "Whole Heart, Whole Horse" and really enjoyed it again.

      His books aren't how-to manuals and if that's what you're looking for, you'll be disappointed. It's more about learning to think and approach problems in a way that makes sense to a horse.

      Also he's not hawking his personal line of products (at least in his books, no idea about the rest of the world), so that's nice.

    2. Oh and "Horsemanship Through Life" was excellent as well. All hos stuff is very readable and conversational--lots of anecdotes, which sticks with me really well.

    3. Cool! I'll have to check it out!

  6. Tik's teaching sounds very interesting! I have a major disconnect with a lot of the natural horsemanship trainers I encounter, because as you pointed out, I am not competing in the "Follow The Leader" Olympics or riding over a teeter totter. (And don't get me started on things like "The Circle Game"...IT'S CALLED LONGEING, ugh.) But Tik's approach sounds thoughtful and practical!

    1. ugh the circle game. Hilariously, the people who religiously follow these NH people have the worst mannered horses.

      Ti sounds pretty cool though.

    2. Right. A huge hang up for me with the western world is that it seems even the best trainers are trying to reinvent the wheel--they use different names for stuff and think it's mind bending and new, when really, some dude in the 1500s wrote a giant book on it and it's common knowledge in the english world.

      But. As you (and Tik) pointed out, riders frequently get stuck on riding in our world and skip over hugely important stuff about how horses think and see us, and that is actually a big deal.

  7. Love this! Yeah, I actually think people had more aha moments with Tik, and the groundwork than anywhere else. And I'm with you. Groundwork, shmoundwork. But I am SO impressed with people who do the Mustang makeover and it's so interesting to learn about any animal behavior and how to stregthen the bond between yourself and that animal.

    1. Right? There are definitely things to learn here and it's not a magical cure-all, but I'm really excited to apply all this.

  8. I'm sure this isn't the case for everyone, but I've noticed that many equestrians kind of "skip" this part of understanding horses. We go straight to riding, and never really learn how to communicate with them effectively (which starts from the ground). For me, I'm not the most aware of my surroundings, and body language is really tough for me. I need to be TAUGHT these things about horses, I don't just know them or learn them on my own.

    I'll definitely be on the lookout for a Tik clinic in my area -- thank you for sharing!

  9. That sounds like a really cool clinic. I'll have to start following him.

  10. Really interesting- is there any video of the trot circle exercise? I'm trying to imagine it and I don't feel like I quite get it.

    1. Hm yeah I can see why taking a video would have been useful. Lol. There might be some on Lindsey's phone? I'll ask.

  11. This sounds AWESOME. I have always wanted to take some more groundwork lessons because #specialbrain and this has renewed my desire to do so.

  12. One of the things I learned - well, mostly by accident, because I live in an area where affordable English lessons are about as rare as unicorns - was that as much as Western is Not My Thing, the tools and techniques up until you get into the specialized stuff is really, honestly the same thing. It's kind of funny, because there's a certain amount of side-eye that goes on from both sides... but teaching a horse to respond to your seat and legs is still teaching a horse to respond to your seat and legs, no matter what saddle you're in. The practical horsemanship stuff is more of the same - honestly, half of it is just lunging without a whip (and sometimes without a lunge line) and with more of a purpose than tiring a horse out.

  13. I always love reading about groundwork. It's basically life for the babies and super important for my driving animals. And my riding animals too but even more so for the ones that I need to communicate with without actually being on their backs. I always love to read theory about it!

  14. Fantastic write up. Love the way he taught all of those concepts. I've never thought of things with horses as lateral instead of linear but that is so totally spot on.


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