Greg Eliel traveled to Apple Lane Farm in Lancaster to teach a clinic from Sept. 7th – 11th to help people become a better partner for their horse. Participants brought an incredible range of horses; from young to old, from experienced to green, and many different breeds including a Morgan, a Friesian, a Peruvian and a Belgian Percheron cross. Greg demonstrated how a horse learns and how to communicate with them. He believes in working with the mind of a horse through feel, timing and balance.
Abby Guinard was initially responsible for bringing Greg to Massachusetts. She decided to host clinics at her own facility, Bunkshere Farm in Leominster, when she wasn’t able to go to his clinics in Maine. That was twelve years ago and the clinic has since moved to the larger Apple Lane Farm owned and operated by Dayna Gant. Greg teaches twice a year in Lancaster and has quite a following. Many riders knew each other and were happy to see each other’s progress, and there were some first timers as well.
The reason Abby likes him so much is because Greg is a better teacher than most. He is much more patient. She likes his approach to the clinic scene: “if you don’t do it right, he says he isn’t teaching it right. Greg takes teaching very seriously and makes sure the rider understands everything. After all, that is why people come to a clinic, they want to learn. And he makes everyone feel welcome.”
The first day, Friday September 7th, Greg held individual lessons to evaluate horse and rider. The participants were grouped into three different levels (horsemanship H1, H1.5 and H2). The Horsemanship H1.5 was added for the first time. This group was for people who were not able to attend all four days. Even though the principles used in each group were generally the same, the different groups were based on the horse’s level.
One of those principles is a pressure release system. That is why most used a rope halter during the lessons. The rope halter gives a clearer signal to the horse than a regular halter, because the pressure is released quicker.
The format of the clinic included two days consisting mostly of groundwork and the last two days focused more on riding. As the first group of five came in on Saturday, he had everyone drive their horse around in a circle on the leadline. One hand drove with the end of the leadline, the other controlled direction. The exercise was meant to evaluate the horse and see whether they were listening and how supple they were.
Greg took time with each rider and horse to explain a technique or suggest a next training exercise. Meanwhile, he had eyes in the back of his head and kept tabs on everyone. He used a microphone so all the auditors could hear what he was telling his students as well.
Ali had brought a small white rescue pony to the clinic. She had worked with Greg many times before and also brought a second horse with which she participated in the H2 group. The little white pony was scared of people approaching it quickly. The horse was her sister’s and they only had owned him for about a year. Greg asked her to use a long stick or whip with a green flag tied to the end to desensitize him while she was driving him around in the circle. At first, the pony didn’t like it very much, but Ali kept steadily at it until he settled down and allowed the scary green flag to touch him all over. Then, Greg wanted her to wave the flag up over her head so that it made a strange rustling noise. Finally, he had her saddle him and work him in the round pen. In the end, she was able to communicate to him to change direction on the circle and having him use his hind end while making the change.
Half way through the first group, Greg was so pleased he said “I have visions of moving ahead pretty fast!” He added barrels and poles and had people lead their horses through and over them. This gave the same exercises more purpose.
Diane was auditing for the third time while her sister was working her palomino. Diane was very impressed with how Greg communicated with the students. “He picks up on subtleties and all are equal as far as their relationship with him. It doesn’t matter whether you are backyard rider or someone with a beautiful facility like this one.” Her sister Debbie had worked with Greg before and everyone could see a big improvement from the last clinic; her horse was moving much better.
Mira needed help with her Peruvian horse Vivo to get her to step over the poles that were lying on the ground. Greg showed her how. Vivo had tried to lean in to Mira so Greg straightened Vivo out, then showed where he wanted her to go by applying pressure on the rope halter and driving with the other hand. As soon as she made a step, he released the pressure as a reward. Quickly she was beginning to understand and walked over the poles without hesitation.
Nancy brought her 9-year old Morgan. He had not been ridden before. Because Nancy had done her homework before coming to the clinic Greg successfully got on him on Friday and every day thereafter.
Susan Goldfischer did exercises with one of Dayna Gant’s horses. The Dutch 19-year old mare had had a foal earlier this year and the foal was not yet weaned. Therefore, she was placed in the pen so they could be close together. When Ali was done with her horse, she helped Susan by keeping the foal occupied so her mom could concentrate on Susan. It was Letida’s first time with Greg and she hadn’t been really worked for two years so this was the perfect opportunity.
Beth’s big draft horse was six years old and part of a driving team. Beth wanted to teach him how to be a better riding horse. It wasn’t easy to find tack for him that would fit, but luckily, she found a saddle for him on Ebay.
Tammy came with her 10-year old gelding, an off the track thoroughbred. She got Charlie when he was three years old. Greg actually used him back then as an example throughout an entire clinic. Tammy’s goal for this clinic was to ride him. She has two other horses and hadn’t ridden Charlie much. He was doing very well with the exercises during the clinic, but at times had small explosions. When it came time for the riders to mount up, Tammy asked Greg to ride him so she could watch. She hoped to ride him herself towards the end of the clinic.
The groundwork helped getting the horse supple and seeing how the horse moved. The mounted work was aimed to feel for that same suppleness and knowing where the horse’s hind legs were at any time. At the next level, this was then used to help straighten and balance the horse.
According to Abby, the clinic went GREAT! Everybody ended up riding their horses, even the ones that hadn’t been ridden before. Tammy rode her Charlie on Sunday already and the following days as well. She even tacked him herself with a very big and heavy western saddle. Nancy ended up riding both Monday and Tuesday too.
Greg will be back next year sometime in June. As soon as the schedule is finalized it can be viewed here.
Dayna breeds, raises and trains Dutch warmbloods at Apple Lane Farm. The horses are bred for soundness, athleticism and temperament. She breeds them for the eventers and hunter jumpers. Currently she has six Judgement ISF offspring. To learn more about Apple Lane Farm visit the website.