Monday, April 18, 2016

Notes from Janet Foy: Through the Levels

Ok, clinic recap time!! Except - I'm gonna try to manage your expectations a little right off the bat. Namely: this will NOT be my most detailed and thorough recap post ever - I took a lot of notes, sure, but honestly don't think they'll do the clinic justice.

Long story short: If you have an opportunity to audit Janet Foy's Through the Levels series, just do it. Both days.

There is legitimately excellent information to be had for every rider at every level. Ms Foy is witty and gleefully sarcastic; she deftly provides compelling content for auditors as well as riders; and she very clearly loves teaching these clinics.

my notes, folks. here dey is. 
But perhaps most importantly: JF's eye as a judge and trainer is on point. She gave each rider a candid and honest assessment and found new and effective ways for improving everyone's ride. Again - it was abundantly clear that she loves teaching this series, and she obviously has a repertoire of exercises that she purposefully demonstrates throughout the weekend (I say that like I was there both days - alas I was only there for part of one... sorry!).

So while every rider got a lesson tailored to their needs and level - she also provided the audience with a comprehensive and in-depth overview of her most fundamental dressage principals.

my favorite is the center quote: "OMG she's riding GP and she still sucks a little bit!!"
(ed note: rider most definitely DID NOT suck -- but JF has some humor lol)
Ok. Enough jabbering - let's get on with my takeaways. Other bloggers have written extensively about this series and JF before (I'm about 95% sure Britt did an excellent post a while back, and maybe others too? Plus Austen will obvi share her perspective) so I'm going to keep my points to those that stood out specifically to me as a rider.

Point #1

-   Whatever your horse does by nature: Change it. That's training. They carry their neck up? Be able to take it down. Big stride? Make it small. Make the horse rideable. That's dressage.

Point #2:

-   One aid, one answer. Forever and ever amen.

Point #3:

-   "I've not felt one thing in dressage that our brain tells us to do that is right."

Point #4:

-   Ask the horse a question. See what answer she gives then either reward or ask again. 

classy pair!

-   Corners should maintain the engagement created through a movement.
-   It's two straight lines with a turning aid.
-   Walk into corner and horse will turn bc he's not stupid. To improve the corner, ride shoulder fore into halt at the corner. Then apply turning aid and walk out.
-   Repeat at trot. If horse tries to turn before turning aid, quietly halt again then apply turning aids to turn.
-   Do this EVERY CORNER - you must ride every corner the same so that the horse will always trust the aids (again, an aid should have the same one answer always).
-   Don't cut corners, the judge can totally see it (in reference to first level leg yield zig zags)
-   Don't think "leg yield into corner" --> that pushes the horse onto his outside shoulder whereas the corner is supposed to create engagement on the inside hind.
-   Corner can become opportunity to create engagement.


-   Like a snowflake, not like an avalanche.
-   A step forward into halt to balance is acceptable to finish the halt.
-   Halt for salute = three seconds. Halt for rein back = "settled," ie: all four legs still and rider in control. Doesn't require 3 second count.


-   Pulling is bad, m'kay?
-   Just because you're not pulling as hard doesn't mean you're giving.
-   You can take 100% as long as you give 100% back (quickly!).
-   Inside rein does not come back. It opens.
-   "I'm not going to let go of this; I'm a terrier" -- re: pulling, ironically

developing young horse (i think)
Stretchy Trot 

-   Remember stretch circle should still have bend and a half halt
-   Nose should go between point of shoulder and knee, but is dependent on the horse's conformation
-   If nose goes too low, the horse loses range of motion in shoulder
-   Ultimately the horse must release his back. The location of the head and neck is secondary to this point.
-   Look for "hair gone wild" in the mane - bouncing all over the place. That indicates a relaxed muscle and topline in the stretch.
-   As always, outside rein in charge of frame, inside in charge of bend.

so much fancy!!
Mediums (trot + canter)

-   First ride the corner, then the turn, then a half halt, then the medium. Transition down from medium must happen before horse's nose reaches the letter.
-   Make transitions down from mediums/extensions count.
-   Go and come back; get in and out faster.
-   Think of the "pendulum swing" between extended and collected, and seek multiple 'swings' down a single long side or diagonal - or through figures of eight ridden across the entire arena.
-   Don't go so far into the medium while schooling that the horse gets stiff. The horse must stay supple. Go just far enough to get the medium while maintaining supple, then collect again. Rinse repeat.
-   Too much hand in bringing back to collected and the horse goes on the forehand.
-   Horse must lengthen in front of seat, but keep hind legs underneath the seat.
-   Use whip to 'tickle' for activity behind.
-   You can only extend as much as you can collect.

Transitions in Walk

-   Pick up inside rein first in transition from free walk to medium walk
-   Maintain the inside bend and get the horse "leg yield-able" and THEN pick up outside rein and medium walk

hands on teaching!
Test Strategy (accuracy + points)

-   What are your movements that are going to be a 6 no matter what?
-   Where are the places you can actually really make a difference?
-   Don't leave easy points on the table. Imagine each point is worth $65,000.
-   Circle geometry!!!!! Do not ride a 24m oval!!!
-   Geometry is the single easiest and FREE lesson to learn - you should not be giving away points there.
-   First half of circle is always too big (falling out) and second is always too small (falling in).
-   Know where the points of the circle lie!

Half Halts

-   Must have bend BEFORE movement - to prepare for movement
-   Riding half halt to half halt = riding preparation of movement through to finishing the movement

JF referred to Pig as a 'red headed mare gelding'.... #accurate
Contact / Connection / Application of aids / Position

-   Horse in front of leg, behind hand, and under seat. Test by letting go of reins.
-   Contact should be like cheese cloth - allowing some forward energy - but not like Swiss cheese. And not like a brick wall.
-   Seat takes over for hands and leg as you go up the levels. Hands create shape, legs are the rebar that hold the shape we pour cement into. The seat handles forward and back, it opens and closes.
-   Stop and pat as soon as the right answer is given. DO NOT STOP if the horse makes a mistake. You can only stop if he's running away with you."
-   Body back; hands forward.
-   "Stay in your position and give him a place to come to"
-   Take away impulsion to get submission if needed. 
-   Moving up the levels, we're changing balance from stability to mobility.
-   Quality is more important than accuracy. 
-   Look UP. 

moar fancy ponies!!!!

-   "Good Boy, Alpo!!"
-   "Line of travel is sacred"
-   "You're a grand prix rider, you're not in Kansas anymore."
-   "You divorce your husbands but won't sell your horses. I don't get this."
-   "I see this bit {a baucher} and automatically know the rider can't get the horse on the bit."
-   "It's been tried by millions and hasn't worked yet!" re: leaning back
-   "He can be your little lamb 23hrs a day. The other hour he is your love slave."


  1. That quote for Pig is pretty much the most accurate thing ever! Sounds like an awesome clinic.

    1. ha right? it was definitely a lot of fun - wish i could have been there for the whole weekend!

  2. Fantastic write up! Bummed I missed out on being there in person, but so glad I can still learn second-hand!

    1. i'm still bummed you couldn't make it there in person too!! :( next time for sure!

  3. "Like a snowflake, not like an avalanche". Thats us, 100%. A big bay avalanche.

    1. ha yup - tho i prefer to refer to my own horse's version of this as a cascading waterfall.... same, uh, effect tho haha

  4. Darn!!!! I wish I could have gone this weekend. I couldn't with work... not that you'd have wanted to see me anyway, I was sick as a dog too.

    That mare gelding quote is perfect for Pig.

    Also, that baucher bit quote is so spot on for 99% of the people I know who use one!

    1. aw it would have been great to see you there! hope you're feeling better tho! and yea all her observations were prettttttty keen haha

  5. Next time I ride, I'll definitely be telling Gavin he's my love slave. Hahahaha! I have clinic envy! It sounds awesome.

    1. ha i thought that was the funniest comment! she really was adamant about it tho - mentioning it often. for that one little part of the day when we're actually in the saddle, the horse has to know we mean business

  6. LOL I love that baucher quote as we talked about putting a student's horse in it this weekend and... yah it's for that reason. This sounds like such an amazing clinic to audit! I definitely want to find out if/when she's coming out here and drop everything to go see it.

    1. yesssss definitely go see her if you can! she was hilarious!! and so full of insights. she was very serious about holding the rider accountable - esp as they go further up the levels - but was also able to be kind and effective about it

  7. What awesome takeaways and quotes, thanks for sharing!!!

    1. ha she is supremely quotable - it's almost unfortunate to know that i'm leaving out tons of zingers... but i'm sure Austen will be there to fill the gaps soon!

  8. Always appreciate reading your clinic recaps :) I'm not a dressag-er but a lot of this applies to basic good engaged riding and is great food for thought no matter the discipline. And totally laughed out loud at "I'm not going to let go of this; I'm a terrier"- witness to this first hand since my parents have a JRT that just does not quit.

    1. definitely - that's exactly right, even if you're not a dressage rider, all these philosophies absolutely still apply. i think that's what i liked best about JF - it essentially just boils down to good horsemanship and a thinking, effective rider.

  9. Great quotes! I totally stalk her on youtube and I love what she has to say. Such a cool opportunity to see her in person.

    1. oh man i was so happy to get to see her in person - she's hilarious!

  10. Jealous of all you got to learn/watch, even if it is dressage ;)

    1. Ha don't like - you secretly love the dressage too ;P

  11. Great recap!! Thank you so much for posting this! Also ... "He can be your little lamb 23hrs a day. The other hour he is your love slave." is amazing.

    1. Glad you liked it!! I thought the "love slave" analogy was hilarious too lol. And apt.

  12. I love watching her clinics on youtube. Sounds like she was totally amazing in person. Lots of great stuff there!

    1. she was WONDERFUL in person - i really loved how fluid and complete her teaching style was. it was clear she remembered every single topic she had covered throughout the two day session; like it was a very well-developed curriculum. obvi peppered with all sorts of zingers haha

  13. "You can only extend as muc has you can collect" LOVE THIS.

    1. i do too!! i've heard it before - but really loved the way she turned that somewhat vague concept into a very real, tangible and accessible exercise.

  14. I was reading this thinking "I love this. I love this. I love this." but there was too much love and I just ended up archiving the entire thing. One for the favourites. Thank you for sharing, also love how you sectioned it out <3

    1. yay so glad it's helpful!!! i had kinda wanted to give more of a narrative (there were some stories that could be told from the day haha) but ultimately it's these little details and pointers i'll be revisiting again and again...

  15. So many amazing quotes and takeaways, thank you! I'm save ing this post so I can refer back to it often :)

    1. she was definitely full of great insights - i took so many notes and even so, i missed so much!!

  16. Bahahaha her quotes at the end killed me, she sounds like such a fab clinician to audit!

  17. Sounds like a really good clinic. I always love all of your take aways. It always makes me wish i was more dressage educated.

    1. ha it makes me wish *i* was more dressage educated too... only one way to get there tho!!

  18. Oh how I wish this clinic had been a weekend I could have made it!! Sounds amazing. The snowflake/avalanche note made me grin coming from my patrol background and the final quote made me snort a little.

    Must find a clinic to audit!

    1. lolz there was much snorting among the audience too :) and yesssss you totally need to get up this way for a fun weekend of clinics and all things horse shenanigan related!!

  19. This is great. I'm in love with the last quote. I audited her clinic last year and also produced a bajlillion notes- but somehow we both got different things from her, and I found your notes really interesting. Thanks for posting!

    1. i loved reading your post last year too and definitely thought it was super interesting how every rider seems to take away something slightly different. i haven't had a chance to read Austen's posts on the clinic yet (soon!) but feel fairly confident that her recap will be yet another entirely different perspective. gotta love it!

  20. "You divorce your husbands, but you won't sell your horses. I don't get this." That's so perfect. haha. Even as a hunter/jumper there are a lot of good takeaways here! If I was going to audit a dressage clinic, this definitely sounds like one that would be worth while and not too over my head.

  21. "...the other hour he is your love slave." Still laughing at this one, but great perspective. Love all the notes, now to apply them...


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