Hilda Donahue Clinic

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Article & photos by Nancy Brannon

West Tennessee Pony Club welcomed Hilda Donahue to the Slaughter’s Crossridge Farm, Collierville, Tenn., for a two-day clinic June 13-14, 2020. Hilda spent Saturday working with clinic participants on Dressage, and Sunday was jumping day. There were about 18 clinic participants, nine of which were Pony Clubbers.

District Commissioner (DC) Cindy Marsh commented, “We all had an amazing weekend with Hilda Donahue! The weather was glorious and nowhere near as hot as it could have been in June in Memphis. Hilda was her typical amazing and tough, but fair, self, always finding a positive way to work through anything riders and horses may throw at her. Her love for horses and riders shines like a beacon and her unfettered desire to impart knowledge without holding anything back is a breath of fresh air! Everyone had a lot of fun and came away with some great information and homework for later.” Marsh said the feedback she received all weekend was so positive that she has made arrangements for another clinic with Donahue on September 26-27.

Hilda Donahue is an eventer at the four-star level, as well as an FEI Endurance rider. She is originally from Dublin, Ireland, and moved to Florida after college to be a working student for Olympic rider Ann Hardaway Taylor. After that, Hilda returned to school to earn an MBA at Stetson University. Now she owns and operates Ashmore Equestrian Center in Apopka, Florida, north of Orlando. Ashmore is a British Horse Society approved facility.

At the WTPC clinic, Donahue worked with Cora Halla (15), WTPC’s newest member, on Titan. Hilda likes to first check that the rider’s position is correct, and she explains how to “set him (the horse) up for success.” She taught several exercises to help the rider and horse connect into the working gaits, balance in the turns, and to engage the horse’s hindquarters. She had Cora ride serpentines of three loops at working trot, with transition to a few strides of walk before each change of bend. She also had Cora ride a figure eight, at trot and at canter, with trot transitions for the lead change.

If the horse tends to drop in on the turns, exercises in flexion and counter flexion can help keep the horse more balanced in the bend. The best time for a rider to send the horse forward into the working trot is to give the aids as the inside hind leg engages – when the rider is in the sit part of the riding trot. Donahue explained creating energy in the hind legs and then containing it in front (with the rein aids).

Replying to questions about tack, specifically drop noseband, Hilda says she likes to keep things simple, so if the horse is not opening the mouth, there’s no need for the drop noseband.

Advice to a novice on riding dressage tests: “Do everything to look the part.” Any unnecessary pieces of tack, e.g., keepers on the reins for running martingale, can affect the judging. So, “lose the rein keepers for dressage,” she advised. She likes to give the horse a bit of sugar when she mounts; it helps the horse salivate, she said.

Like most clinicians, Donahue tailors lessons to meet the needs of the specific rider and horse. “What would you like help with today?” is her opening question at the beginning of a lesson.

In general, she “looks for a horse that is happy and working.” She emphasizes finding the right balance. And she wants to make sure that when the rider asks the horse a “question,” that rider knows that the horse knows the “answer.” “Set the horse up for success,” she emphasizes. And she advises ending the riding session wishing that you had done more rather than regretting that you did more.

Find more information about Ashmore at ashmoreequestriancenter.com.

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