Tuesday, May 29, 2018

5/21/2018 - Alfredo Hernandez Clinic

Both Jenj (here, here, here, and I know there's more but these were easy to find) and Megan have ridden with Alfredo, enjoyed it, and blogged about it. I was STOKED to find out he was coming to a barn a mere 4 hours from me for a 3 day clinic 5/21-23. I wanted to learn his methods for piaffe/passage, he was here on the east coast, and he wasn't stupidly far from me. Jenj described his cool way of getting changes on a horse, which I recreated at home and bam, Penn had changes. I needed to take a turn with him.

Lots of learning happened!

I messaged the trainer organizing it and tried to sign up for 2 of the 3 days. All was well until I asked work for the time off... and they told me no. I could have the first day (a Monday) but not the second day because of an outage test that was being conducted. I had to make a deicison at that point- do I make a crazy plan of drive down Monday, ride, drive home, go to work Tuesday, or do I skip out?

I went, duhhhhhhh!

I got up at 4:30am Monday, met two ladies at the barn who were coming with me to audit, and we were on the road at 7:05am. Alfredo's flights got messed up, so the clinic was shuffled from noon to 6:30pm, no lunch break. We were excited to get there in time to see the first few rides, one of which was a GP horse.

We actually got to see majority of the clinic (I only missed part of the rides before and after me)- we were there for the beginning and stayed until the end... meaning I dropped Penn off at midnight, and got myself home by 1am Tuesday morning, showered, and got way too little sleep for a Tuesday in the office. It was totally worth it, majority of the horses were FEI level horses, or aspiring, and several of the riders were ones I knew about and have seen go at shows.


Some of the things he covered with the other riders:
  • No hanging on the reins for balance. He made a rider with a "lazy" horse who couldn't be ridden without two whips ride without any whips. He got after the rider to stop hanging on the reins and to sit better (on the back of the pelvis) and to collect the canter using the middle of the thigh. Her horse was beautifully forward with tons of jump in the canter, of which I was quite envious! He made her do her PSG tempi changes on the wall while holding the reins at the buckle, each direction. She struggled, but she did it and she had beautiful smooth changes.
  • He does not advocate riding with a whip because that is not the kind of rider he is building. He is going to treat you like you want to ride in CDIs and guess what's not allowed? A whip. They aren't allowed at championships either.
  • To help with getting the changes: trot around the ring, go down the longside and go from shoulder in to renvers to travers to leg yield with the nose on the wall. Continue to flip between those in that order on the long wall until it is smooth as butter. Go to canter, half pass in (more of a haunches in) on the circle, then leg yield out, repeat. On one of the leg yields out, ask for the new lead.
  • Half pass corner to corner on the diagonal, but before you get to the corner make the haunches lead the half pass, and do a turn on the forehand into the same half pass back down the same diagonal.
  • Open the inside hand instead of pulling it back.
There was also a huge lesson in being tactful. The first 3 lessons were a trainer, her student, then the trainer and one of her GP horses. Both riders had a little attitude, but the student opened up to Alfredo's ideas and ended up with all of the auditors applauding her efforts and finished a very good lesson.

Sunday night, all scrubbed up and clean for the clinic!

The trainer... is not one I want to ride with. I saw her compete a few years ago and was impressed with her canter work but not her trotwork- it was irregular and tense.... and now I know why. She would tell Alfredo how it is, threw her own trainer (who was there watching and hosting the clinic) under the bus, and basically went off about how her GP horse was a huge ass and how he took years to learn things because he was so uncooperative and was prone to rearing. Alfredo immediately told her to pretty much simmer the fuck down because her body language was so aggressive and that she rides this horse very differently than her first horse (he did not use that language,I'm creatively paraphrasing). He tried to tell her in every way imaginable that the reason the horse had a rearing problem is because she has an anger problem (short of outright yelling that at her). He had to tell her to give the horse a moment to think about the piaffe/passage transition and to stop hitting the horse with the whip when he didn't respond immediately. The trainer rode angry and defensive, but eventually she opened her inside hand when the horse would get stuck and the horse would think and move forward instead of rearing.

Alfredo asked to see the trainer and the host trainer work on the piaffe/passage, which the trainer said "it took me 2 months to undo what [the hosting trainer] did", and about 15 seconds into it, Alfredo ripped her off the horse. He was warned, "That horse will rear and run you over" as he set the gelding up in a side rein and prepared to work him in hand. He simply said, "We'll see" and got to work making the horse do a turn on the forehand in hand. The horse's eye immediately softened and got right to work for him. He settled him on the wall and worked him through a few rearing threats with beautiful timing/pressure/release, and don't you know it, that horse piaffed without running anyone over.

Moral of the story? Be fucking nice to your horse. No emotions. Let them think. GP Trainer got that in my head already, but it was nice to see a horse that is wound so tight relax because Alfredo was simply unemotional with it. I learned later that he almost dismissed the trainer from lesson for being so disrespectful to both him and the horse.

Tacked up, waiting for my lesson. Penn decided to rest his face on the wall for the 10 min we stood there.

On to happier things, like my lesson! I'll admit, after watching the lessons before me, I was extremely anxious.

I told him Penn and I finished my bronze medal last year, we're working on making third better, Penn can sometimes be bolty in the changes, but I really wanted to learn how to do the in hand piaffe/passage work. I also told him that Penn had SI injections about a month ago and is getting back into full work. He asked how many days of the clinic I was riding, I said just the one day... he wasn't happy. He told me outright there's a limited amount he can get done in one day because he's getting to know you and the horse, and you can only cover so much in  45 min and you can only push something so far in one day. I told him I understood completely and knew that coming in, and we'd do what we could.

We warmed up with the leg yield on the diagonal exercise, trotted briefly, and moved on to in hand piaffe work! I told him I wanted to learn how he worked it, because I've had hit or miss lessons with it and I'm unable to reproduce the results on my own consistently. He told me flat out, "This horse is ready to piaffe." Ok, awesome. He asked to see how I asked for it, I sucked at it, and he immediately said, "I can see why the horse bolts through you in changes. We can fix that here." Ok, that's even better.

He started by putting the outside side rein on and looping the reins over the head and through the bit (outside rein over the head like a lunge line, and through the inside bit ring) so that way he had both sides of the mouth right there in his hand. Then he asked Penn to move his hindquarters in a leg yield/turn on the forehand by tapping him rather smartly with the whip on the fleshy part above the gaskin. He always gave a light tap to start with, then a sharp tap if the horse didn't respond. If the horse moved away, he'd immediately stop applying pressure for a moment before asking again. He did that until the horse was reaching the inside hind leg under him and moving to the outside rein without pulling on his hand at all. The cue to stop moving was when he'd put the whip vertically up against the shoulder/neck parallel to the slope of the shoulder.

The bridle set up was like this (picture taken after the fact).

He then took that leg yield to the wall, and used a specific clucking noise (aka, start developing different clucks now), in a trot rhythm while tapping the same spot above the gaskin with the whip with the same gentle/sharp intensity. Penn was confused by what he wanted, and reared a few times (we'll call it levade, lol), before figuring out he was supposed to trot in place.

Alfredo did a few rounds of it, before handing Penn to me to walk once around the ring (the horse works when Alfredo is there, the rider gets to be "the good guy" and walk the horse on a long rein).

Alfredo took him back and asked for piaffe, which was very nice, and then said, "You want to try? Let's see what you learned from watching."

I have to say, I missed the part with the leg yield turn on the forehand and the reasoning behind it. He explained it to me, and off I went. I sucked at it. He took Penn back from me to show me again, and then had me try again, and then schooled me on the ask gently once, then ask sharply. I didn't get anything magical, but I learned a lot on the timing of things. If Penn went to bolt through me, I was to immediately put him on the leg yield/turn on the forehand until he was light in my hand again. I didn't get the excellent response Alfredo got, but it was apparently sufficient because he eventually said, "Ok, that is enough of this for one day. Get on and let's look at the changes."

Penn's best piaffe of the session.

We went back to the trot after the piaffe work, and Penn was immediately more uphill and forward. Alfredo wanted his head a good bit lower with much more contact than I do, but we did it because that's what we were told to do and I am here to learn. Off to the canter!

The first thing he did was encourage me to follow the canter better. GP Trainer has been after me for a long time to sit into the canter and it has been a struggle. He wanted me to pull my pelvis up and down with the motion of the canter, which really forced me to absorb the motion in my core. Thinking about it that way made me realize I completely seize up in my seat when I ask for anything in canter that's not a circle (like half pass, leg yield, flying changes etc).

It took me a while to work out what he was telling me to do with the canter after that. The other riders mostly stuck to the circle and leg yielded and half passed on it, so when he said circle, go to the rail, and leg yield... I tried leg yielding down the rail. Wrong. We had a few communication issues to work out, and then I finally understood he wanted me to leg yield from the corner to X in canter. He then sprung the change on me, and bam, Penn did is very nicely!

The leg yield kept him very straight so I could simply ask for the new lead. I got the one change, and Alfredo said walk... and I couldn't get Penn stopped on the CC. He got bolty and did another flying change. Alfredo immediately said, back to canter! If he's going to run through you, he's going to keep cantering.

He had me repeat the leg yields and changes until we had clean changes, and multiple changes! Penn did his first real set of multiple changes, just two on a long side, but I was super happy!

I would advise anyone who wants to ride with Alfredo to audit him first, to make sure you like his style. He is... quirky. Between quirky, a thick accent, and sometimes he didn't quite finish the instructions, made him difficult to ride for. Once I understood what he wanted, I did it immediately, which made him very happy. That's not to say I didn't enjoy my lesson, because I did enjoy it.

In short, Alfredo is intense and extremely demanding as a clinician. But again, he is building you as if you want to be a CDI rider. He is not someone I would host at home barn, because he's more expensive than most people would do, and he's much more intense than most people I know would be happy with. He is supposed to come back to this host barn every 8 to 10 weeks, so we'll see if I ride again!


  1. That does sound intense and demanding - but fair and awesome! Glad you were able to make it even for just the day!!

  2. I feel exhausted just reading your recap! I have to say I really like you attitude about the clinic and being a student. If only more people though that way!

  3. I'm glad you got to ride with him, Penn looks great! I definitely also recommend auditing first like you said, he can be really intense. I don't think TC will ever be the right horse to ride with him, but I definitely learned a lot from him on Rico and will be applying all the in hand work with TC later on!

  4. I think you described him well! I have audited his clinics before and I'm not sure if I'd ride with him...but he can make some really cool changes with a horse and rider.

  5. How freaking awesome! And hell yes to him getting on that shithead trainer for being unfair to the horse. Go, Alfredo! I'd love to audit a clinic of his one day to see his teaching style in person. I love what I've read from you and others about him, though I don't know that I'd ever ride with him as my goals don't align.