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Clinic Report

Work In Hand with Isabelle Gladstone
Pine Lodge School of Classical Equitation, Norfolk
by Fiona Wilson


Isabelle Gladstone held a clinic on the 9th of February at the Pine Lodge School of Classical Equitation, Pine Loke near Norwich. The subject was work in hand and with a variety of horses, she demonstrated how to establish Spanish Walk, Piaffe and Passage from the ground. Participants were also able to ‘have a go’, practicing her techniques which could then be applied to their own horses.

Isabelle spent the last 7 years training in Spain, 4 of which were under Don Alvaro Domecq from the Spanish Riding School in Jerez. She is a student of the Classical school, and has a certificate in Haute Ecole and the fundamental training in Equestrian Art. The clinic was a fabulous opportunity to gain an insight into the methods of such accomplished trainers and to learn skills applicable to any type of horse.

Warm Up

With Pine Lodge’s yard full of Lusitano horses – mares and stallions – at various stages of training, Isabelle had a good selection to work with and we were able to see how each movement should look.

Each horse was lunged as a warm up. Isabelle explained how in Spain, the horses would be brought in towards the trainer rather than stopping them out on the circle, and how lungeing was a very relaxed affair for the trainer, who might even swing the rope around his head. (I use ‘his’ in an educated way, as all the trainers Isabelle worked with were male with the exception of Isabelle!). The older horses wore side reins, while the youngsters went without to allow them to stretch and move more freely.

Establishing basic obedience and discipline

After warm up, Isabelle led each horse around the outside of the school, making sure it followed her lead, walking exactly beside her. The horses wore Sereto nosebands and received a sharp tug if they tried to move too far ahead, or a tap with a whip if they lagged behind.

Isabelle emphasised the importance of the horse learning to respect the trainer’s space. She told us how important it was for the trainer to stand their ground when the horse invades the trainer’s space, either by kicking out or barging. Moving back away from the horse in reaction means they learn how to escape the trainer by moving them, and this can quickly escalate to the horse aiming kicks at the trainer. Isabelle described how in Spain she was trained to overcome her natural instinct to move away with a fellow trainer standing behind her, and pushing her back into the horse whenever it pushed into her! As Isabelle is a very slight 5’2”, this was initially quite nerve wracking for her. It was obviously good training, however, as it was noticeable how much respect the horse’s gave her and she maintained this level of respect by short sharp reminders whenever they came too close.

Isabelle showed us how, when working with the hindquarters, the trainer should stand directly opposite rather than diagonally behind the hind legs, as the latter position would allow the horse to reach with a kick. When training from the side, the trainer stands close to the horse’s chest, and when leading in front, the trainer walks backwards facing the horse.

Isabelle’s positive and confident attitude with the horses was striking, and she also held herself very tall and proudly. This gave the horses no doubt as to who was in charge. Her quiet determination and persistence achieved good results with all the horses.

A Good Stretch or ‘The Goat’

This exercise encourages the horse to really stretch its top line as well as learning to bring his hind feet well under him. The ‘experts’ can touch their front feet with their hind feet, and look like charging ‘goats’, hence the name.

To achieve this, the horse’s head is held low between its forelegs, so the nose nearly touches the ground, and the hind legs are tapped alternately to encourage their progressively forward movement until the trainer is satisfied with the amount of stretch. This is an excellent exercise for older arthritic horses or those with very sipped backs, as well as younger horses.

The Spanish Walk

In the Spanish walk, the side reins are removed and the horse’s head held high to allow the front legs to lift without fear of catching its head.


Training starts in the stable, Isabelle explained, where the horse is asked to lift their foreleg. Isabelle referred to the forelegs as ‘arms’ and the front feet as ‘hands’, which is a nice way of differentiating between the fore and hind legs. Lifting the ‘arms’ is achieved by applying pressure with the trainer’s own hand behind the ‘arm’. Less actual pressure can gradually be applied as the horse starts to understand what is required. If done every day, perhaps when picking out the feet, the horse will quickly learn to lift its ‘arm’ forwards at a click and command from the trainer. What is done on one side should be done to the other.

When the horse is lifting both ‘arms’ in the stable, training progresses in the school with the horse asked to lift each ‘arm’ in turn by a tap on the knee with a stick. In Spain, a thick strong stick is used rather than flimsy schooling whips. The horse is asked to hold the ‘hand’ higher and in the air for longer by tapping under the knee. The exact spot for the tapping varies with each horse – each will have a sensitive spot and this may be as low as the pastern. It is helpful to have a second trainer to hold the horse, facing him.

When the horse can hold each ‘hand’ out high and for a reasonable length of time, it is asked to walk forwards by a third trainer tapping the back of the hind legs below the hocks alternately. As the ‘arm’ comes down, the opposite hind leg is tapped to move that leg forwards, and so on.


The aim is for the ‘arm’ to be stretched up and out for a relatively long time so that the walk is long and dramatic. The exercise is excellent for stretching and loosening the shoulder, and for encouraging the horse to really open up in front. It is also good groundwork for the passage.


The horse wears side reins to keep its head and neck in an outline. The horse is held by one trainer at the front, facing the horse and walking backwards. A second trainer at the side encourages ‘bounce’ and forward movement as required, and a third is at the hind legs, tapping each alternately in rhythm. Initially the horse is encouraged to ‘bounce’ with its back legs by tapping the whip rhythmically on the top of its hindquarters. “Bounce” is when the horse jumps both feet off the ground at once. If it bucks and kicks out, this should not be discouraged unless aimed at the trainer, when it should be dealt with sharply, as this can form the basis of capriole later in its training.

The horse should always be moving forwards, if only slightly, but never backwards. A steady rhythm should be kept throughout. With a nervous horse it is especially important to keep the rhythm constant so as not to surprise it.

Isabella commented that stallions could be ‘told’ what to do, and indeed should be, while mares had to be asked, as they are more likely to fight back. She also said that the Iberian horses were quite compliant, as well as being built for this type of work. Her preference was for Spanish horses, but she didn’t believe there was a distinct difference in temperament between the Lusitanos and Spanish horses. Thoroughbreds tended to fight back and be less compliant. Training is best started as early as possible, with Spanish walk. However, older horses that had been spoilt and not taught discipline were much harder to train.


Passage simply combines piaffe and Spanish walk training, with one trainer tapping the forelegs and a second tapping the hind legs as required to encourage higher elevation. Piaffe and passage should look like the horse is stepping on hot coals, with high dramatic elevation and quick changes. Each diagonal pair works together.

One trainer can work alone on these movements if they can tie the horse between two poles, as used by the Spanish Riding School. Otherwise, at least two are required.

Overcoming Confusion in an Older Horse

Isabella worked with trained Lusitano stallions 11 year old Infinito, 8 year old Mafioso and 10 year old schoolmaster Justiciero as well as a 4 year old mare Perolla. It was 11 year old visiting stallion, Homero who gave her the biggest challenge.

He was disciplined, Isabelle said, but very confused as he had had no formal training of this nature before. He resisted her by backing up along the wall of the school. Isabelle calmly walked with him, holding his head and facing him, until he realised forwards was better and there was no escaping Isabelle.

Her persistence achieved a few steps of piaffe, but Isabelle continued to work him as he had done these out of panic, without really understanding what he had done. It was necessary to reinforce the lesson before he could rest. She was satisfied when he repeated the action calmly. The improvement in his trot was noticeable when this work was completed.

The Benefits of Work In Hand

All of these exercises encourage suppleness and gymnastic strength, building the right muscles to enable the horse to carry the rider correctly in an outline with a round back and hind legs stepping well underneath. In this way the exercises are suitable for all types and stages of horses and will improve the ridden work.

Isabelle emphasised the importance of praise when the correct result was achieved, by relieving the pressure and with a pat and kind words. Only with a very sensitive or nervous horse would she use sugar lumps during a session, although she might give these as a treat on their return to the stable.

Over lunch we were treated to a video of Isabelle riding Don Alvaro Domecq’s own horse (complete with authentic bull-fighting scar on his near hindquarters). Several other horses were being trained at the same time, Isabelle being the only female rider. They would ride for up to 8 hours a day. We saw the horses after work, under their own showers, after which they dried in the hot sun (nice thought in the middle of a cold winter).

Initially, I was taken aback at how hard Isabelle was ‘tapping’ with her stick to achieve the elevation and correct movements. However, as she said, the horses don’t break, and must learn discipline before they can work properly, the way they were bred to. Certainly, the results speak for themselves and the horses returned to their stables sweaty, but calm and not stressed or frothed up. After all, if left to their own devices, they’d be stuffing their faces and what a waste that would be!

For information about forthcoming clinics or lessons on Classically trained Lusitanos, contact Sue Barber at Pine Lodge School of Classical Equitation on 01508 493591 (answer machine and fax only) or mobile 07765 000869.

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