August 2016 - USDF Region 7 Clinic with George Williams
Written by Arianna Barzman-Grennan
Sunday, 31 July 2016 18:26

“Enclosing” the horse and inside-to-outside aids were common coaching threads during great weekend of learning and connecting with other riders.

by Arianna Barzman-Grennan

At the end of June, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the USDF Region 7 JR/YR Clinic with George Williams at Starr Vaughn Equestrian Center in Northern California.

The clinic ran for two days and included theory sessions at lunch, hour-long rides the first day and 45-minute rides the second day. The clinic was generously supported by USEF and The Dressage Foundation, and the use of the venue was donated by Michele Vaughn. Many thanks to everyone involved in making this possible! The group of riders was lovely, and it was great to get to meet more people, especially the juniors, in our region.

George Williams works with author Arianna Barzman-Grennan and Romantique. Photo: Anita Barzman

George Williams works with author Arianna Barzman-Grennan and Romantique. Photo: Anita Barzman

The riders at the clinic included a rider at Training Level and a rider at Grand Prix, and then a mix of others in between. Getting to see the wide range of rides was very helpful, and there were still constants in ideas across the different levels of work. Overall George was very focused on using the correct aids and getting the correct response. This meant the rider using her aids correctly and then the horse responding correctly and promptly.

More specifically, George had certain things he preferred, such as using the whip at the walk but less at the trot and canter—again, the horse needs to respond to the correct aids. The reasoning behind that was that the horse can get muddled at the walk if the rider simply keeps nudging with their legs, while the whip can provide a quick, clear correction. At the trot and canter, however, the whip can be less helpful if it brings too much of a correction, and so the leg aids are preferable.

Inside To Outside

There was a strong focus on having the horse moving from the inside leg to the outside rein, and as the rides progressed the rationale behind this became clear (in addition to the fact that it’s how we generate correct bend).

One of the pairs, Eva Larsen riding Laffran Sponti, worked a lot on cleaning up their changes, and George emphasized that inside to outside set of aids in preparing for the change. He had Eva working on a half 10-meter circle figure eight, and to get a cleaner change the idea was that she would set up Laffran Sponti by pushing him toward the new outside rein and then using that rein to half-halt while she gave the aid for the change.

Another pair, Annie Ray and Calvin Klein, were working at about Third Level and focusing in part on the quality of the canter. George had them do a lot of transitions within the gait (forward and back) to build the horse’s hind-end strength (and also his confidence). Here George stressed that in this work, the inside leg becomes the driving aid asking the horse to move forward again, so it is crucial that the horse respond correctly and promptly when the aid is given.

I was lucky enough to get to take a horse that I have shown during the summer for a few years now, a Haflinger mare named Romantique of Lilac Farms. Called “Teake” for short, she is working on smoothing out Second Level work after a successful First Level show season last year.

In our rides with George we focused a great deal on Teake’s overall carriage and balance. Teake’s trot work smoothed out and was nicely consistent by our second ride, and we focused more on the canter, specifically the simple changes that are introduced in Second Level. Teake is naturally built so that sitting and keeping connection at the canter is more difficult for her, so helping create that balance and keeping it in transitions was part of the work we did on the second day. We worked on counter canter and simple changes on a figure eight made of 10-meter circles side-by-side. The latter exercise was very helpful because it gave a specific space within which I could ask for both the down and the up transitions, and the shape of the exercise helped with Teake’s balance.

A favorite phrase that came up many times was that George would ask us to “enclose” the horse with our aids (for example: inside leg to outside rein). This idea is very apt to describe the process of putting a horse together. One of the moments that this really clicked for me was in the trot work during my first ride. George had asked me to ride a 10-meter circle, and he said that I should feel that I was enlarging the circle from the inside leg, but also that I was always able to turn (close the circle in) from my outside aids, thereby keeping Romantique connected and on the aids, and naturally generating more collection by bringing her inside hind more under her body through the shape of the circle. Here the very process of using the aids should make the horse more balanced and the aids should indeed enclose the horse, making the horse more through and promoting eventual collection.

Interesting Lunch Lectures

The theory lectures at lunch were also very helpful in terms of making sure everyone was on the same page. They provided an excellent chance to bring up ideas from the first few rides of the day and then explain them so that people could look for specific things in the next few rides.

The first day focused on the training scale and its specific components. From bottom to top it is rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection. Each term also has more specification, and each one becomes newly important at every stage of the horse’s training. George also pointed out that even as the horse moves higher up the scale, the things below will also get better and better, i.e. that the scale is cyclical and as the horse moves up the levels of the training scale, the lower levels get reinforced by the more advanced training.

Questions about the scale ranged from questions about the specific terms (what exactly is rhythm?) to their place on the scale itself (what is the difference between the straightness we ask of a young horse compared to the term on the scale?).

The second day’s lunch lecture focused on aids and how we can use aids and exercises to help the horse. There was, again, an emphasis on using the correct aids to get a correct response, and George also pointed out how important it is to keep things simple. He used a story about one of his horses whose changes had been tricky to get and he then kept using complicated aids when the simpler aids would have done just fine.

Especially if the goal is to train the horse up the levels, the most basic things need to be basic and simple so that when things get more difficult it is easy to ask for things.

In this lecture George quizzed us on aids for specific movements and asked about which aids would (or should) get which response. At the end of lunch, the talk expanded to allow time for questions.

Showing came up, and George had lots of good advice. He pointed out that even if you as a rider have things you want to achieve and therefore need certain scores, it is much better to focus on the moment and ride what you have. Getting caught up in what you think you need to accomplish is a surefire way to make it much more difficult for yourself. He was also very honest about nerves and ways to work with getting nervous.

His point was that everyone gets nervous (and if they say they don’t, they’re lying), so it just comes down to how you deal with it. Attempting to ignore the nerves can actually be worse in the long run, and as he pointed out, adrenaline can actually help, as long as the rider is in control. He also advocated talking to a sports psychologist to help develop strategies for competitions.

The clinic really focused on helping us as riders, and auditors, parents and trainers, see the bigger picture. Riders and auditors also had lots of opportunities to talk about other things, and that generated really nice opportunities to talk about things like horse travel, big shows and other related topics. In a state as large as California, within a region as expansive as ours, it always makes me happy to see riders connecting. At shows we are so often self-absorbed and focused only on our own competition that we don’t connect much there. Clinics like this can be such a good opportunity to connect, not only with the clinician or other trainers, but also with the other riders.


Author Arianna Barzman-Grennan is going into her fourth and final year at UC Davis as an English and History major. She has shown successfully through Prix St. Georges and is a USDF Bronze and Silver medalist. She spends free time enjoying her retired horse, Cabo, riding friends’ horses, and volunteering with CANTER in Davis, working with Thoroughbreds to re-home them after their careers on the track. The horse she rode at the clinic, Romantique of Lilac Farms, is a 10-year-old Haflinger mare. Romantique is owned by Carol Kvingedal and in training with Summer Hensley and Marie Roussel at Webb Ranch in the Bay Area. Arianna can be reached by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .