Monday, June 8, 2020

auditing Doug Payne x2

Way back in January, in more innocent times, all we had to worry about was surviving a few brief cold snaps while looking forward to what would surely be an epic and wonderful spring season.

Ah, to be so young and naive again....

Ahem, anyway. One such cold January weekend was used to audit a clinic with Doug Payne at Oldfields School.

what do you call a fat brontosaurus?!? and omfg that mane, dear lord
I've been following Doug as a rider since discovering his early helmet cam videos with voice-over analysis. He's a very systematic methodical guy which appeals to my way of thinking.

Turns out, that might not just be coincidence either lol since we went to the same college. Tho he went for engineering and I was in the math program. But still... lots of similarities in process and problem solving etc.

And he has a knack for using that same way of thinking to set up exercises and programs for his horses. Considering his operation for producing top horse after top horse from scratch runs like a well oiled machine... Well, ya know, I'm always eager to hear what he has to say haha.

1) trot poles; 2) placing poles 7' from takeoff and landing of low wide oxer; 3) vertical some bending distance away, roughly three strides; 4) set of three cross rails at 9' gently bending bounce distances; 4) short turn to vertical out of corner
This particular clinic was a little interesting from an auditor's perspective, since most riders would be doing two days and I was only there for the first. It struck me that basically all the groups seemed to do the same exercises and jump heights stayed pretty low. Tho, after listening in on a zoom classroom session with him last week (spoilers), I think I understand why now.

Anyway. The biggest takeaways for me were the exercises themselves, which I dutifully recorded in my handy little notebook for all our viewing pleasure. It's worth noting that everything can be ridden in both directions.

detail of just the placing cavaletti and oxer, looping off both leads
These exercises had a lot to do with footwork and correctness in the space between fences. Particularly, there was a shit ton of turning lol. And Doug wanted the turning done well from the shoulders, with the neck staying straight.

The trot poles and placing cavaletti are all intended to help the horse use himself better. Tho Doug also suggested placing random odds and ends (even rocks lol) on the landing side just to keep horses looking where they're going haha.

turn quickly after execise
Over fences (starting with the trot poles to the cavaletti - oxer - cavaletti set up that we'll see repeated this entire post), Doug wanted to see waiting strides -- even trot steps if needed, rather than some big move up to a spot. In other words, he wanted patience in the warm up, and then to see riders land from that grid and immediately execute a tight neat turn to circle back around.

The point was that being patient (vs in a rush) to the fences allowed more accurate turns -- again, accomplished with the horse's neck straight, not over-bent. He repeatedly reminded riders that they should see the outside cheekpiece buckle of the bridle even while turning.

Tho I should note - being patient does not mean shutting down the canter here. He still wanted horses covering ground and moving forward -- but just no rushing and no big moves.

full course at bottom, and additional details of sub-exercises
These same concepts were basically repeated as instructions again and again and again as riders worked through the various component pieces of the course set, before putting it all together.

- Patient to the fence
- Accurate turns
- Straightness in the horse's neck

doug got on one of the horses (twice) for a demo ride!
for this horse in particular, he wanted to work through some lateral suppleness stuff

The exercises themselves seemed really well suited to allowing the rider to keep focusing on those key concepts, while also keeping the horse plenty busy with his footwork, track, and balance. As an auditor, that was definitely my biggest takeaway.

I liked that there are so many individual elements that can be practiced, and that the whole thing isn't really measured out like crazy. Seems easy enough to set some of this stuff up (tho ya know... I haven't.... yet lol).

that's a charlie horse!!
Obviously January was a very long time ago tho, so maybe it seems weird to be posting about this now. But!! Last week, Oldfields had Doug back as a guest again -- except this time for a virtual classroom session that was open to the public! So obviously I signed up!

And wouldn't ya know it, some of his source material for the session was the very same exact video of his jump school with Quiberon that I had used as inspiration to get back into jumping with Charlie after quarantine. He also had a couple different days of footage from one of his veteran campaigners, Quantum Leap.

happy things at the barn are getting back to normal
Doug said his real intent with the warm up flatwork is that the horse must be through, able to adjust forward and back, do some lateral stuff, and counter canter. Counter canter in particular he begins basically as soon as the horse can hold it.

Especially for the baby horses, Doug said it's important to not get upset or anything if they make a mistake. But rather, he just has a definite "Do Not Pass Go" repercussion (not punishment) to convey when a horse gives the wrong answer, then tries again. There's some examples of this in the video below.

The jumping exercises start the same exact way as at the Oldfields clinic: with placing poles set 7' on landing and takeoff from a low wide oxer. The horses loop through a few times off each lead, with the radius of their turns on landing decreasing with experience.

still dealing with schedule appts tho, which means sometimes we end up sitting out our ride bc it's pouring cats and dogs out there
Doug was adamant about this warm up tho: once it's good, leave it. Esp for the younger guys, he's looking for the horses to put forth their maximum effort and try their hardest. Said he'd rather have a really stringent set of criteria for that effort -- but then as soon as the horses meet or exceed that criteria, you're done.

And from there, it was immediately on to full height courses. Like you saw in the video last week, Doug was also pretty explicit in getting it done well and then being done. You can ask the horse for a fair bit -- but if they do it, leave it.

This obviously begs the question (for me, at least) of conditioning. If you're only ever schooling your horse 12min at a time, how do they ever get fit? 

but what is that i see?!? why, charlie's pony mane has been hacked to pieces!!!
He said they usually do two days of jumping per week. One day presents them with something mentally challenging but physically easy -- like all those low but complicated exercises from Day 1 of the Oldfields clinic. Then another day that is the opposite -- physically demanding but maybe mentally easier. Like some bigger fences in more basic course work or gymnastics.

This, for me, might be a model I try to be better about adopting.

Additionally, Doug's event horses do some conditioning work outside the arena twice a week, and some flat schools.

i blame mikey <3
Doug also talked about introducing different specialty elements of coursework early in a horse's development -- like skinnies or angled fences in very small versions like ground poles etc.

Then, when the footage switched to Quantum Leap (9yo who has won at Advanced and is qualified for Tokyo 2021... along with Doug's other top horses Vandiver and Starr Witness lol...), he spent some time discussing what changes for the more schooled horse.

For instance, he said an experienced horse should be able to have a cruise control. That the horse could maintain indefinitely whatever gear or shape you have him in. And possibly most interesting -- the horse had a big ol' miss at the very first exercise, that same pole-oxer-pole configuration. And Doug just left it at there. Since I guess the horse should be experienced enough to recognize the mistake and sharpen up after that?

Otherwise the course work was mostly similar, tho the more experienced horses are required to have slightly quicker thinking with angled fences etc.

5yo Quiberon jump school w/ voiceover

In terms of distances in related lines, Doug sets his combinations just a little short (like a 22' one stride), and will often put small distracting things on takeoff and landing sides to get the horses more patient in the air to process their feet and landing.

For related lines, he likes some a little long, some a little short, some set on a perfect half stride that you should decide before you arrive what you want. And especially, he said he likes going back and forth between waiting and forward from one line to the next.

The idea is that the horse can shorten and remain active -- like with a forward line to the pole-oxer-pole that will require the horses to continue stepping with his hind leg to the base of the fence (vs sorta getting weak and stabby).

Doug's biggest takeaways on setting exercises for horses were basically:

- One day physically easy but mentally challenging (ex: cavaletti, footwork, etc)
- One day physically demanding but mentally straight forward (ex: full height fences)
- Stringent criteria for how the work should be executed (ex: patient to fence; accurate turns; turning through shoulder, not neck), and be done when the horse does well
- Every jump school with each horse, do something that makes you think it's a little tricky or unconventional, or makes you slightly uneasy. Push yourself. That's the benefit of schooling - you can be more creative and take more risks, bc you have the time to fix it. Push the envelope.


For me, personally, looking into getting back into a rhythm again with a horse who... definitely pretty much knows his job at this point, this is all really timely material for me. I want to set Charlie up for success and keep him sharp, fit, and schooled. But.... I also don't want to run him off his feet or sour him. Lots of good food for thought here!


  1. This sounds really cool! I'm not an engineer or the best at math, but I am a super logical thinker, and I am really loving how methodically Doug sets everything up. It looked like it was perfect to audit!

    1. yea agreed - and actually i'm really glad i did the zoom classroom too bc initially i wasn't actually super impressed with the january clinic. like... sure it was cool to watch, but i wasn't really sure what i was taking away other than the exercises. except after listening in on the zoom classroom last week it all made a lot more sense how each piece fits into the overall system. thus the belated write up LOL

  2. I'm intrigued at him performing an exercise on a more experienced horse, the horse not getting it right, and then him moving on anyway. It seems to go against the "set strict goals and stop when you reach them" idea.

    1. yea that was really interesting to me too.... my post was already feeling long tho so i didn't go further into it, but in my notes, he talked about "warning but not protecting" the horse when things aren't turning up quite right, and allowing the horse to make that mistake. with the young horse, you have to sorta explain to them their mistake, but i guess theoretically the very experienced horse will already understand it? and i think the point of that particular pole-oxer-pole exercise was also about getting the horse looking and paying attention and reacting to where his feet are going. so in that context.... the horse making a mistake and having to deal with it actually is within the intent of the exercise.

      i also know from my own approach to warming up at a horse show, often if the horse knocks or clobbers a rail during warm up i will sometimes finish with that feeling before going into the ring for the round, since sometimes a mistake like that is perfect for sharpening a horse up.

  3. Ooohh, love this! Perfect motivation to get back to it. I really appreciate the videos with feedback/voiceover from the rider.

    1. ditto -- this has really helped me sorta figure out my plan for the next little while and given me a model example to follow

  4. It's really great you got to audit again and then get a further explanation on why things were set up at the previous clinic! These look like great exercises.

    1. this second audit opportunity was really useful bc it helped me better understand the first session... cause otherwise i kinda just didn't get much from it (as evidenced by not ever writing about it LOL)


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