Julio Borba Clinic - Portuguese School of Equestrian Art

I had heard on the grapevine from a super-critical friend that Julio “was worth having a look at” so off I went to Claytown Farm in deepest Devon. The clinic was hosted by Jenny Rolfe who has written some very interesting articles in the Spanish Horse magazine. She has a couple of nice Spanish horses and one of them was being worked as we arrived. Julio does quite a lot of work in hand, mostly in leg yield which he then takes on into the ridden work either with the riders or with Julio himself. He explained the importance of body language and position when working the horse from the ground, and insisted that horses stay out on the rein and are not allowed to turn in when they halt. This is often a problem with horses trained in Spain where they tend to twirl them at speed one way then flick the rein or whip to twirl them around in the opposite direction. It was refreshing to hear that “classical” horsemanship and good old BHS rules were in agreement on this point.

Most of his ridden exercises were also standard BHS schooling – serpentines and loops, leg yield from the centre line to the track , decrease – increase the circles, shoulder in to half pass, rein back to trot, increase and decrease the pace/stride. However, he used the exercises in a much looser way, encouraging the horses to free the necks and stretch though their top lines. He frequently asked riders to yield their outside hand forward to allow the horse to bend rather than the usual pull on the inside rein that is seen all too often. He also used counter flexions which he explained were easier and more natural for the horse. (A horse in the field will turn with his head to the outside than to the inside). This had nothing to do with hauling the horses head around, merely allowing it to free its neck so that it could move more easily. He used this for canter strike offs and counter canter but as a correction to help a horse. It worked especially well with horses that bent too much to the inside and therefore blocked the inside hind leg.

So what was different?

Julio often apologised for his lack of English but although he was sometimes a little difficult to hear, the way he expressed himself was crystal clear.

  • “Big problems small circles; little problems, big circles”
  • “You can only earn respect; you can demand submission”
  • “Feel the quarters step sideways through your hips”
  • “Hands without legs; legs without hands”
  • “There is no magic; it is daily work”
  • “The best way to get a horse to concentrate on the work is the work itself”
  • “Piaffe is between trot and rein back”
  • “Only do sitting trot if it is fantastic; if not do rising”
  • “If things go wrong, stop – correct everything you need to, then continue”
  • “The reins must be stretched”
  • “Teach half pass in canter” (rather than in walk or trot) – “it teaches the horse what the outside leg means”
  • “A foal is born knowing how to do everything; the rider must make it easy and calm”

He also rode with the same clarity and it was a joy to watch. His seat was exemplary and his pupils would do well to copy it. Unfortunately, he made few rider corrections and while he demonstrated working the various horses through their problems in a very direct manner, the riders struggled to do the same. One of the big differences was the level of energy he expected from the horse. As soon as he took the reins he asked, and got impulsion and therefore the leg yield exercises became instantly more effective in suppling and engaging the horses. Without this energy, a rider tends to ends up using too much rein and a nagging leg which serves no purpose.

“An aid that does not get an effect merely serves to dull the horse “ – (Erik Herbermann).

So is he “worth having a look at”? Definitely, but that is another story!

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