Bernie Traurig Clinic

Bernie Traurig Clinic

This past weekend, two riders from my barn rode in the Bernie Traurig Clinic.  I tagged along with my trainer and fellow barn-mates to audit, and had a great Saturday watching the 2’6″-2’9″ group, the 3′-3’3″ group, and the 3’6″+ group. Bernie is a great clinician, and the creator of


The 2’6″-2’9″ group spent a lot of time on some flat exercises that a few riders were having trouble with, so for the purposes of this write-up I’m going to focus on the 3′ and the 3’6″ groups. Also I should note that a) if you’re not into hunter/jumper riding just look at the pictures and move along, and b) I was only able to audit day one which was more on flat work and smaller fences. Day 2 was what he called “horse show courses” which I’m sure was very educational to watch!


Also just a caveat, this is obviously my little amateur mind interpreting Bernie’s clinic.  I don’t want to say these are his absolutes because who knows, maybe I spent too much time texting and missed the entire point of his clinic 😉

Some overall things I made a mental note of:

  • Gentle bits.  Simple tack. No gadgets.  He switched more than one horse from what he considered a harsher bit to a rubber snaffle.
  • Since hunter/jumper riders are a forward seat equitation, with direction you want a response with the rein first then the leg if necessary (for directions and shaping)
  • Don’t use much leg if any when asking for downward transitions and backing – again because it’s forward riding and not dressage


  • Hunter riders should hold the reins at least as far apart as the bit
  • Jumper riders should hold their hands a bit farther apart than hunter riders
  • Pay attention to the line between your horse’s bit and your hands.  If your horse raises his head, raise your hands – don’t lower them
  • Start slow with jumping exercises.  If you have a problem, go slower.  You can always add speed later



All three groups did a ton of flatwork before they were allowed to move onto jumping.  Some exercises that they did (ranked from the lower groups to more advanced) were:

  • Canter roughly 10 strides, walk about 10 strides, canter again
  • Use the leading rein to zig zag at the trot between three poles that were 3 strides apart each
  • Counter canter for about 1/4 – 1/2 of the ring, down transition to a walk, pick up the correct lead canter for 1/4-1/2 of the ring, down transition to a walk, repeat
  • Trot down the long side of the ring asking for lateral movement towards the middle of the ring and then back out again
  • Trot down the long side of the arena doing a shoulder in (said not a staple exercise of his)
  • Trot down the long side of the arena doing a haunches in (said this is a staple exercise he does)
  • Canter 10 strides, Gallop 10 strides, Canter 10 Strides, Gallop 10 etc


Jumping Exercises

Since they weren’t doing full courses, there were only three main jumping exercises the two later groups focused on.


So the idea of the very amazing exercise drawing above is to work on using the leading rein to bring your horse over.  Starting cantering on the left lead, they jumped the small liverpool (2’6″ ish maybe 3′) straight and then as soon as the horse landed he wanted riders to open their outside rein to lead the horse to the outside and then turn right to back to the jump.  It made kind of a squished figure eight.


A big part of this exercise in addition to the leading rein was working on your automatic release.  He called it a “following hand” since he said the term automatic release is more modern than the actual move is itself.  Bernie wanted an auto release over this fence because you could then slide your hand out for the leading rein very effectively.


Most horses figured this out pretty quickly and landed on their leads, but if they didn’t you would do a simple or flying change before you start turning back towards the fence.  All the horses got quiet and soft after doing this a few times.  It was also very slow and methodical.


This twisty turny little course is basically an expansion on the first exercise.  Riders were to use their leading rein to make the turns to each fence.  Also focus was slow and methodical but maintaining very tight turns.  I’d say each turn was 3-4 strides on average?  He got after any rider that went too wide or too fast.


The final jumping exercise of day one started off on right lead.  Riders were to cut through an oxer (aka jump diagonally across it), turn left and then hand gallop to a final oxer.  He said the ideal hand gallop fence was to see your spot as far out as possible, over ride to get the gallop, and then sink back three strides out.  He emphasized “melting” and “sinking” into your horse instead of sitting… even though it’s pretty much the same thing.  He said he liked the term sinking because it kept the motion flowing down your legs instead of just thumping and turning into a driving seat.


My favorite takeaway from auditing the clinic is of course… Bernie loves Thoroughbreds!  What right minded equestrian doesn’t?  🙂

Please do not critique any horses or riders shown in this post.  Some had very difficult horses or were trying new ideas!

20 thoughts on “Bernie Traurig Clinic

  1. I love the expression on the grey in the second to last photo! His eyes and ears are all, “Ooohhh goodness, flowers. Are you sure? I trust you! But omgz flowers!”

  2. Awesome post! I took a clinic with Bernie when I was in college and loved it. Learned a lot. The horses and riders in your photos look super! I especially love the big bay. *drool*.

  3. Love the simple tack/simple bit philosophy- a big believer myself! I had one or two people comment that Wiz needed a different bit after his little run around the course- but that just goes to show how quickly riders are to add a harsher gadget! He wasn’t leaning on the bit at all (in fact, he tucks), and if I was riding half-decently a half-halt with my tummy would have sufficed. And if he’s already chewing on a rubber bit impatiently, the last thing he needs is something harsher to make him more antsy! Not to mention he usually just lopes around like it’s nothing, he was just feeling feisty. But the point is just that it irks me how quickly people are to just add more gadgets and harsher tack!

    LOVELY photos! As always 🙂

  4. That is interesting about not closing your leg in downward transitions.. I have always been taught to support them when going down so that they don’t fall apart.

    WOO HOO TB lover 🙂

    1. I should elaborate on the reins/leg thing. He said this more in earlier classes, and I think it was partially because there were riders that were pulling and pushing at the same time. Also, his idea seemed to be that having your horse listen to the rein before leg taught it obedience.

      In the later group, the girl on the chestnut TB pictured in this blog asked him about this. She said she had to use leg when asking for downward transitions or her horse got upset. Bernie asked her to demonstrate, and she did. He said she wasn’t using too much leg, so I gathered she was supporting her down transition instead of pushing/driving into it like a dressage rider might.

      1. Ah ok that makes sense that a less advanced rider could give mixed signals 🙂

        I actually prefer to close my leg and change my seat/body for a transition with as little hand as possible cause Lordy Henry is heavy enough!! Haha

  5. Rein before leg….*cringe*. Hunter, so interesting, so not totally for me. Can much appreciate it though. Thanks for sharing the clinic!

  6. Him. This sounds like it was interesting and useful but I’ve always been taught to ride more off of the seat and leg than hand. It keeps the horse more quiet and your aids can be more subtle.

    1. Agree. He didn’t say anything about seat, so I really think he meant don’t push with your legs but use your seat/rein? Then again I’m not Bernie and I wasn’t actually riding in the clinic!

  7. That was a great summary! Certainly gives me some things to chew on that I otherwise wouldn’t be doing right now. So thank you! And the diagrams and photos were really illustrative. 🙂

  8. That clinic seems like it was a lot of fun to audit. My trainer uses similar exercises with me and they really help tune up the horses – better transitions, leads, on the bit, etc.

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