by Sandra Adair

The weather was ideal for auditing a clinic, and as we watched Michelle Gibson teach, we understood how she had become an Olympic star and a highly respected and sought after instructor and trainer. One thing that really stands out in my mind is how much was accomplished in 45 minutes! I found myself repeatedly thinking about how great the ride was and who was next, and it was usually only half way through the lesson!! Most clinics I’ve attended as a rider or audited, it seems that the first day was spent getting to know the horse and rider and watching the gaits and movements to get an idea of what work needed to be done. The real work started the next day. Not so with Michelle. Even the warm-up was work in progress! Shoulder-fore and shoulder-in, half pass (even the lower level horses!), lengthenings, working on rhythm and balance, especially in the corners. She had everyone use the whole ring, with lots of transitions within the gaits until the horses were relaxed but working with active hind legs. She had the horses soft in front, bendable, flexible, and quick to respond. And that was just the first 15 minutes!! Then she got down to the nitty-gritty work!! As a result, we could see clear progress in every horse the very first day! And a marked improvement the second day!

One thing for sure, Michelle doesn’t miss a thing. I hope that sometime in my life I can develop an eye like she has. She had one rider keep the left flexion all the way through the line of tempis and voila!, the changes became straighter and more forward! She watches the rider as well as the horse. She would do this little bit of magical tweaking, close an inside elbow here, lower a hand there, shift the eyes, turn a shoulder, and all of a sudden everything would look so much better! It would appear effortless! She would adjust something as minor as getting an outside thumb up in order to soften the forearm and wrist for a more elastic contact, to something as complex as the exact timing on the collection and giving in a flying change.

Throughout the weekend, it was obvious that Michelle’s standards were high. She wanted more than effective half halts, she wanted effective and “stretchy” half halts for elastic transitions. She would temporarily give up a lovely, floaty trot that a horse could achieve with its neck low, in order to teach him to keep the throughness as he came more up in his frame. And the elements of the training scale were always the focus, with the movements being training tools rather than an end in themselves. But she was practical as well, giving straightforward and simple advice. If you’re crossing your inside hand over the withers, your inside seat and leg are not doing their job! Get the inside hind a little quicker before you ask for a canter depart from the trot. Don’t get tight and drive in the canter pirouette, but tap with the whip and let the circle getting smaller do the collecting for you.

Then there were all the nuggets: those little tips that give you ah-hah moments. For example, to make a good canter/walk transition, the horse must be up and open in the poll; too round and they’ll dive down. For great medium gaits, collect enough that you could release, then go! To keep your shoulder-in consistent, keep your hands quiet, and your inside leg steady at your horse’s side (not on and off). If you try to supple a horse that is behind your leg, they’ll only suck back more! Go forward and get impulsion first, then you can supple him. To make the transition from piaffe to passage, push to the edge where he wants to trot! In the piaffe, keep “the want and the will” to go forward.

Many thanks to the wonderful riders and talented horses, to Lyndon and Julie, for their commitment
to quality dressage instruction, and to Michelle, for sharing her knowledge and being an inspiration!
(For more information on Michelle or Lyndon, visit and


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