Frances Carbonnel Horseless Clinic 2013

A Western Dressage Horseless Clinic? By Pat Van Buskirk 1/28/13

On a cold winter weekend in Colorado, in a warm, cozy building complete with kitchen and indoor plumbing, the Western Dressage Association&reg of Colorado held a “horseless” clinic. What on earth do you do at a horseless clinic?

Nancy Miller, Vice President and Clinic Coordinator for WDACO, had some great ideas. Nancy works with Frances Carbonnel, winner of the 2011 USDF Gold Medal with her Iberian horse, and knew that Frances has a lovely way of showing riders how their imbalances and actions can adversely affect their horse.

Frances conducted the first clinic of the day, entitled Rider Feel From The Horse’s Perspective, and we had been instructed to bring an exercise ball and lead rope. The goal was to increase our awareness of how our weight and seat affect our horse and by the end of the morning, we all had a very different viewpoint about how we use our bodies.


On hands and knees, half of us became “horses”, subject to our rider’s input. Moving our arms up and down, simulating a walk, the riders imposed pressure on our shoulders, mid-back and pelvis. What a chore it is to “walk” when someone is pushing down on your shoulders! The riders then squeezed our mid-sections, simulating tightly squeezed legs or a too tight girth. Try this with a partner – it’s difficult to breathe, much less move your shoulders. And it makes you a little testy.

Frances continued her exercises to demonstrate the difference between a balanced and unbalanced rider, showing us how to find our centers and use our core. She was teaching us to be “useful, not forceful.”

One of the most enlightening exercises was the lope simulation. We placed the lead rope under our buttocks, at the top of the thigh, leaning slightly back into the rope. Our partners were instructed to pull gently as Frances counted out the “lope” – one-two-three, one-two-three. On three, our partner pulled as we tilted our lower pelvis forward, moving with the “horse”. What a wonderful demonstration of using your body correctly at the lope!


After a break for lunch, Dr. Ray Goddard talked about what our posture says about us – in and out of the saddle. He showed how old injuries affect our postural alignment and control, and what we are doing every day that impacts our riding effectiveness. We went through a postural alignment test, first through a volunteer and Dr. Goddard, then with our partners and input from the doctor.

Barb Garrison of Cowgirl Class, LLC, was back by popular demand as our third presenter of the day. Barb shared her knowledge of proper bit fitting and how it affects the performance of the horse. Barb demonstrated how to properly measure a horse’s mouth with the use of a wooden dowel. She suggested marking the corners of the mouth, then measuring the dowel, going to the next ¼” bit size.

This was a great day enjoyed by all. Reviewing photos after the clinic showed everyone smiling, laughing and generally enjoying themselves. Would we rather be riding? Of course! But what great fun and education in a comfortable environment during a cold Colorado day!

Look for more of these informative clinics on Some comments from the clinic:

“I love Frances….she is just fun to listen to!  She explains the whys and wherefores of why we need to do things correctly.”

“Frances provided very good insight into what our poor horses go through with us less then perfect riders.”

“Wow! What an exciting and informative clinic! Francis Carbonnel was wonderful. Learned new positions and cause and effect info.”

“I am looking for a bit and this was very timely.  It showed me how much I don’t know about bitting.”

Pat Van Buskirk  serves as the Technical and Website Manager on the Board of Directors for the Western Dressage Association® Colorado Affiliate. She is an avid horse enthusiast and has been writing for various horse and auto magazines since 1994. ©2013 Pat Van Buskirk. For reprint permission, please contact