My 5 Most Memorable Clinicians at Equine Affaire 2017

A few days ago you were able to read about my first experience at Equine Affaire.  Yesterday I dove deeper into My 7 Most Memorable Vendors, and today I’d love to share my memorable clinicians.

As with yesterday I was unable to see everybody so this is in no way a ranking of “top” presentations.  Of the 13 presentations I DID get to attend these five stood out to me the most.

Margret Henkels: I picked up a book by Margret Henkels a few months ago called Is Your Horse 100%.  I have heard really great things about myofascial release therapy and have even considered getting certified or getting professional training on the subject.  To start I read the book, loved it, then found out she would be at Equine Affaire.  I attended both of her talks Thursday and the end of her third talk Friday evening. I came to Equine Affaire excited to meet Margret and see her work.  The presentations helped to clarify some questions I had after reading.

To start, fascia is a connective tissue consisting of collagen that encases our whole body in three levels.  Henkels refers to it as the white membrane on raw chicken breast that can be difficult to cut sometimes.  This tissue has a high tensile strength and stores information from trauma.  When we undergo stress the damage can be stored in the fascia for many years causing stiffness and pain.  Over time compensations can affect different parts of the body and even our attitude.  Myofascial release therapy is a very non-invasive option using the heat of our hands to “melt” away the tension.

I took interest after learning the simple poll release technique for Blade a year ago; that transformed him into a calmer less anxious horse in the ring.  It was exciting to see Henkels work last weekend in person with two different horses.  The grey was more nervous and guarded but responded very clearly and immediately when she found a spot that he enjoyed.  The bay mare was more accepting of her work and went into very long stillpoints.

Saturday I finally had the chance to meet Margret Henkels at her book signing.  She was very supportive and friendly.  We had a great conversation about how to apply the technique to Blade and how to work through some difficult areas.  Blade can be such a mess I really didn’t know where to start but she was able to point me in a great starting direction.  After so much discouragement trying to help Blade it put the wind back in my sails to have her kindness and guidance.

I wish I could go on but I should absolutely move on to the next clinician.  There will be more talk about myofascial release as I work with Blade but I HIGHLY recommend you grab her book or DVD Is Your Horse 100%.  Find it at

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Chris Irwin:

Chris Irwin is an internationally known trainer and has produced a few books (Dancing With Your Dark Horse, Horses Don’t Lie) and DVDs.  I watched his Thursday afternoon session and was really intrigued by his unique and creative teaching style.  His goal was to help horses relax by earning their trust.

One of the main takeaways from the session was to use the horse’s bend as inside/outside….NOT the direction you’re moving in the ring.  For example, all of the horses had a tendency to counterbend because there was a large crowd of people that could pose a threat.  Chris encouraged the riders to allow this bend and instead of turning around the corner he asked riders to leg yield and give to the counterbend.  Before our eyes we witnessed the horses relax and stay rounded.  Through the course of the clinic riders would begin to straighten the horse and eventually move into the normal inward bend.  This simple exercise really opened my mind.  Irwin was energetic and did a fantastic job of addressing riders and audience alike.

My friend rode her mare in the Saturday’s clinic.  While we were a bit disappointed that the content was nearly identical to the Thursday’s session (just named differently) but it was still great information.  My friend did fantastic and I was able to refresh my notes from Thursday so that I might go home and utilize the concepts on my own.  Check out Chris Irwin’s website at


Sylvia Zerbini

Sylvia Zerbini was working one of her gorgeous stallions Thursday morning when I arrived at Equine Affaire.  I learned that she is a 9th generation circus performer and has been on stage since the age of five.  During Thursday’s demonstration we saw her work with a newer colt to the group.  Two jet black arabians pranced around the arena.  The young colt was clearly agitated by the crowd and wanted to run to safety by Zerbini seemed to maintain her cool.  I was fascinated how the horses responded to the slightest  cues.  Some sounded just like brief grunts, and some french cues were used.  I have begun trying Blade at some simple liberty but Sylvia Zerbini takes liberty to the next level…next 10 levels even.

The next time I saw Zerbini perform was at Fantasia.  She had 10 amazing stallions (I THINK they were all stallions?) cantering around her and following her every cue.  She transformed this style into a true work of art and I was mesmerized.  I would be happy to do liberty with just my one horse!

In Zerbini’s introduction at Fantasia the announcer told us about a scary event that happened with her horses this year.  After escaping Irma the crew took the horses to California for a children’s charity event but soon needed to evacuate from wildfires.  Her temporary structure had collapsed and her horses escaped.  Once Zerbini safely gathered the horses she found that one was missing.  A couple of equines guided her to the collapsed structure where her missing horse was trapped.  Everybody managed to escape the disaster but I can only imagine how stressful it all must have been.  I encourage you to look at her website at Perhaps you’ll find a clinic or performance coming near you!

Van Hargis

Van Hargis is a well known horse trainer, particularly in the western world, but works with horses of all disciplines.  He’s known for developing versatile ranch horses.  The wife of the Billy Cook saddle maker hired him to train her own horse when he was just 12 years old.  He also has several training DVDs and a book titled The Horse is My Friend. 

My friend rode with him in his Friday afternoon session.  Something I could take away from this clinic was paying attention to the placement of each hoof.  I can often feel the movement of the shoulders without issue but had never considered the hind legs.  In my lesson this week I began feeling for the hind legs and tried to work with the total body movement.  You can check out Van’s site at

Kevin Oliver

Kevin runs Snaffle Bit Quarter Horses in Texas and is active in the American Quarter Horse Association as well as other western competitions.  His talk on Saturday focused on bridling the western horse.  Admittedly I hadn’t planned to see this talk but I wanted to stay close-by in the building to watch my friend’s clinic shortly after.  I’m glad I had.

Oliver brought two horses to the ring and showed us how he halters and bridles them.  Rather than coming up under the chin Oliver puts his arm over the neck as seen in the pictures.  The horses were so relaxed under his arm and allowed him to stay there while he spoke.  The horses were stunning and I almost asked him what he fed them.

When I returned home I decided to give it a shot.  I’m a 5’3″ female working with a 16.1 hand thoroughbred gelding.  What could go wrong?  I was surprised because after a couple tries Blade relaxed and stayed under my arm, allowing me to play with his ears and slip on his halter.   The method was quite easy to teach and I think I may try to make it a habit.  You can check out Kevin Oliver’s site at

Your Turn!

If you went to Equine Affaire this year and saw some of the other renowned clinicians I want to hear about them!  I wish I could have seen it all.

Please comment below with your most memorable clinicians from Equine Affaire 2017!

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