Janet Foy and Debbie McDonald Clinic Recap: Overall comments, Training and First

Or should I say, the Janet Foy and Chris Hickey Clinic. Unbeknownst to us, Debbie experienced severe vertigo before getting on the plane and was banned from flying, so Chris Hickey (formerly of Hilltop Farm – a la Riverman, Don Principe etc) filled in for her. Certainly it was a dissapointment that Debbie could not be there, but that didn’t mean the day wasn’t exceptionally informational nonetheless.

The clinic was structured around each level, progressing from Training level to Grand Prix with two riders demoing part of their level’s test or movements. Janet spoke mostly from a judge’s point of view, providing scores and their justification as the riders went through the test elements, followed by Chris working on each pair’s weaknesses for a short time.

Because the clinic was so darn long (8:30am – 4pm) there was just too much to capture in one post. So today, let’s look at the more general feedback and Training and First level demos.



  • Janet describes a “red line” for her, where at scores of 5 and 6 there are more problems than good, and where that starts to affect the overall scores of submission, gaits, etc.
  • Horses tend to like the right leg better than the left, and therefore be more submissive in that direction
  • Watch out for “jelly belly”, or the rider absorbing too much of the motion of the horse in their torso
  • The horse MUST be in front of the leg
    • Send the horse forward and back to confirm being in front of the leg
    • Also test how quickly the horse responds to the forward request (sounds familiar to me!)
  • For the horse that evades a more forward trot by cantering, don’t bring them back to the trot, instead send them forward at the canter, so the horse does not learn the escape being forward
  • True dressage is when things look easy, and the relationship is symbiotic
Training Horse checks out the crowd

Training Horse checks out the crowd


  • Stretchy trot: The nose should be between the shoulder and the knee, but not any lower, else the horse be on the forehand
  • Use the geometry of the tests to fix the horse’s problems, often being accurate allows the horse to better be on the aids
  • Even at this level, corners should be obvious, not part of the 20m circles
  • Straightness down the long sides is really represented by shoulder-fore (so the shoulders are in front of the hips)
This lovely creature rode in the First level demo

This lovely creature appeared in the First level demo

First Level

  • Even in the working trot, a lengthening should always be accessible at any moment
  • Don’t bother lengthening the frame in a trot lengthening until the weight is properly on the hind end
  • The canter is truly balanced when it is “10 meter circle-able”, or that the rider could complete a 10 meter circle at any time without the horse losing balance
  • The canter should be 50% pushing power and 50% carrying

Tomorrow, Second thru Fourth level and my overall impressions from the day!

21 thoughts on “Janet Foy and Debbie McDonald Clinic Recap: Overall comments, Training and First

    • It’s definitely tempting to ride front-to-back since visually that’s what we see as a rider. Something I try very hard not to do, and seeing Janet and Chris really emphasizing it was great. The comment about the horse escaping a forward trot by cantering really hit home for me!

    • Thanks! Though I had heard of Hilltop Farm I wasn’t so familiar with Chris, but he ended up being a great clinician who really made improvements with each pair he worked with.

  1. love the point about letting the geometry help bring the horse back into balance. so often when i start losing it in a test i kinda just abandon ship lol… i’ll have to remember that! glad you enjoyed the clinic, even tho Debbie had to cancel

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