Debbie McDonald Shares Wisdom at Colorado Clinic

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It’s not often that Colorado riders have the opportunity to train with one of the nation’s most beloved and accomplished equestrians. However, that’s exactly what happened during the first weekend of May when Olympic medalist Debbie McDonald coached riders during a two-day clinic hosted by Nutrena at Cañon Ridge Farm in Castle Rock.  Professionals, amateurs and young riders began their experience with an intimate dinner at Grant and Sharon Schneidman’s home. There the riders got to know Debbie personally as she openly shared stories of her partnership with Brentina, as well as her experiences as an international rider. “Because of Debbie’s stature in the equestrian community, it would have been understandable for the riders to be intimidated by her,” said Kristen Allen, Nutrena Consultant, who organized the clinic. “But she’s really warm and friendly and the dinner was a huge success.” Kristin also presented the riders with their keepsake saddle pads during the evening.

The real work began the next day as nearly 100 auditors arrived to watch Debbie put the riders through their paces. Debbie focused on providing classical advice that got to the root of an issue and quickly made a noticeable difference.

Jenny Baldwin rode Nora Heinrich’s 10-year-old Dutch gelding Alexander. The pair worked on throughness over the back and into contact. “Even though he’s hot, I need to keep my leg on and ride him forward,” Jenny observed after her lesson. One exercise that she found particularly helpful was working the haunches-in at the walk.

Junior rider Morgan Heinrichs rode her 10-year-old Oldenburg mare Royal Mirage. Although Morgan was excited to work with Debbie, she felt the butterflies. “I was really nervous because she’s been one of my idols,” she said.  Among the work, was riding the counter lead on a circle and not allowing a flying change so that the mare was really listening. It was also critical that Morgan was extremely clear with her aids. She commented,  “The work helped me push her to her potential and be really clear about what I’m asking.”

It was this same level of control that Sarah Dodge worked on with her Grand Prix horse Lorenzo. Debbie asked her to ride the flying changes with Lorenzo’s neck a little deeper, but when Sarah attempted to move the neck, Lorenzo offered a flying change. “His mistakes are out of overachieving,” Debbie explained, “You need to be able to change the neck position and not get a flying change.” For Sarah, “It was really good work. She gave me just the right push. Debbie’s really good about sizing up the temperament of the horse and how to work best with it.”

All in all eight riders had the opportunity of a lifetime with Debbie, who generously signed autographs for riders and auditors alike. “Debbie genuinely cares about this sport and wants to help it in any way she can,” said Brad Vercimak, Nutrena Territory Manager.  Brad and Debbie developed a nutrition program for Brentina and all of the horses at River Grove Farm. “She cares passionately about her horses. They always come first.”

For Kristen the clinic was an opportunity to bring one of the sport’s luminaries to Colorado. “Education is extremely important to Nutrena,” she says. “Our goal is to give riders in all disciplines access to great trainers. We are fortunate to partner with some of the greatest ambassadors in our sport and we try to make them available for those who love to learn.” Other upcoming educational events include a clinic with Nutrena-sponsored Olympic medalist Gina Miles in June, and a clinic with Leslie Howard in the fall. Both clinics will take place at The Colorado Horse Park. Learn more at