Dominique Barbier Clinic
October 4 - 6, 2013
Spirit Horse Center, Brainerd MN
by Jennie Hakes, participant
This was a 3-day clinic. My Zangersheide mare, Colinda Z, and I participated on the second and third days. It was a wonderful escape on a rainy weekend.
If you are versed in the German method of dressage, as most of us are in the area, please open your mind as you read this. I must admit I had to make an effort to grasp the French method of “lightness,” but it did not take long to see how the lightness could be possible.
Barbier had a vast background in horses - show-jumping, eventing, steeplechasing, and dressage - before studying for two years with the legendary Mestre Nuno Oliveira in Portugal, where he had an epiphany about a different way of working with the horse. (Note: the photo at the right was not taken at this clinic.)
A pre-requisite for participants was to read Barbier's book "Dressage for the New Age." Lucky for me I had bought this book quite a few years ago.
An excellent description of a typical three-day Barbier clinic can be found here
. This was the format we followed.
Eight horse/rider pairs participated. All the riders were women (where are you, men?). I had my doubts about how we could fit 16 sessions in per day (eight in the morning and eight in the afternoon), let alone have time for lunch, but it worked.
Barbier worked the horse for about a half hour each morning, and the rider worked the horse again under Dominique’s supervision for another half hour in the afternoon. Once a rider understood what to do, for her next session she could start warming up the horse on the longe while the previous horse was being ridden.
It is important to understand that this clinic was not about competitive dressage. We did not practice movements or parts of tests. The purpose was to establish a relationship with your horse where he could find his own balance without pushing or pulling or other interference from the rider. If you have this, you will have everything, according to Dominique. "Descente de main et descente de jambe." - relaxing of the hands and relaxing of the legs. The half-pass will be easy, the flying changes will be easy, the piaffe and passage will be easy. It was heady stuff for this group of lower-level riders and horses. With only a couple of days, we were only able to scratch the surface of what was possible.
In all work, the first aid was mentally communicating to the horse a picture of what you wanted him to do. This was extremely important, as animals communicate in pictures. We were to keep that in mind in all our training. For example, to establish rhythm, we were to think of the rhythm we wanted first. If a horse was too fast, think him slower, if he was too slow, think him faster.
Each of the sessions consisted of three parts: 1) longing, 2) work in hand, and 3) riding, always in that order.