Clinic Report: Nona Garson, July 26 and 27

Recently, I had the absolute delight of getting to audit a clinic co-hosted by my old trainer Megan. It’s always a treat to see Megan, since she’s known me for so long now. When Megan was a junior, she trained with Nona Garson, so she provided a unique insight on Nona’s methods to me (which really enriched my auditing experience). I wish I had gotten to ride in it, because I’m more of a kinesthetic learner, but seeing as I haven’t ridden in several months (or jumped in over a year), that probably wouldn’t have been a great idea. Also, I’m still trying to scrape together money to pay a super speeder ticket, oops. Not a fun time, y’all.

Photo © Ariel Harper — I adore this pair! The horse’s name is “There’s the Silver Lining.” Also, can we talk about this girl’s heels?

Some very brief notes on Nona:

  • She’s freakin tough, y’all. Oh my god.
  • She has high expectations, as she should.
  • She doesn’t like Georgia heat, which is actual torture.
  • She says some very insightful things and some very funny things.

The clinic ran from 7:00 Am-5:00 Pm for two days. Your favorite blogger is not a morning person. It didn’t help that I had been to three doctors on Monday and was subjected to vaccines, scratch tests, and blood draws. Spoonie life is no fun. I was able to show up for the afternoon portions and watch the more novice riders and greener horses, which was excellent. Skill wise, it was about where I would be. There was nothing to leave me starstruck with the riders jumping huge fences like my trainer Megan was earlier in the morning––though I am sad that I missed her ride because I wanted to watch her sale horse go around, who looks incredibly fun.

© Ariel Harper –– This horse was a saint. I’d like five of him.

I really did see some great riding. What wasn’t necessarily great, I saw riders who really and truly tried their hearts out in an impressive way. It’s never easy riding for a new trainer since they don’t know what you’ve struggled with, so I did feel bad for these girls in a slight way. Some of the riders got extremely frustrated but pushed themselves to keep going. Some of the horses got very confused or misinterpreted rider signals but kept trying. Nona had wise words for each of them.

© Ariel Harper –– Hi I’m obsessed with this horse. His name is Wasabi.

One of the concepts she hammered on again and again is one that is near and dear to my heart: “talk to her.” In the span of two hours, I heard her use this phrase no less than ten times. Riders got themselves so coiled up with stress or were so abrupt with their mounts that things got a little wibbly wobbly and turns grew harder or distances got fuzzier. Nona’s strategy of talking to the horse is really a brilliant and often overlooked one. Talking requires breathing, and breathing relieves stress. Think about it: how many activities can a person do without breathing? Technically, none. They tell me that oxygen stuff is pretty important to one’s longevity. In addition to the whole breathing thing, the talking is another way of communicating with the horse. (What a concept: talking is communication!) When your leg or your hands or your seat are not cutting it anymore, talking is one more way to get the horse to listen to you. They are animals and can just as frustrated as we can. Sometimes, all you need is a “hey, it’s cool”to settle your nerves. It’s beneficial to horse and rider.

The way that Nona reminds a rider to release over the fences is by telling them to “balance up.” This is where she wants the riders to place their palms on the horse’s neck, as opposed to their knuckles, for better control and balance. This keeps riders from laying on their horse’s necks, which only makes their job harder. Yes, they’re thousand pound animals and we’re far from, but still… You try jumping with ten percent of your body weight laying on your spine! It’s not easy! This pulls rails or makes distances weird and messes with a horse’s bascule.

© Ariel Harper — Saint horse again. I love his expression. He’s so sweet ❤

An exercise that she used for every group was halting in the corner after a jump. This is a great exercise because it helps remind riders to use the arena!! Especially in jumpers, it’s so common to see horses and riders diving around corners and neglecting all this space that gives them time to collect their horses or themselves and reset the pace and rhythm. Why would anyone waste those precious moments? The halt in the corner also gives control and focus. It’s a clear goal, and one can never drill the basics too often because they are the foundation of what makes a solid rider.

Overall, the clinic was exceptionally educational. I would love to audit or ride in one of her clinics again. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to do just that (because hooooo boy was that riding fee hefty). Until then, I’ll be wasting away in Ammy-land or grad school. Shannondale Farm was the host facility––holy crap, it was beautiful. All photography at the clinic, as well as in this post, is copyrighted to Ariel Harper Photography, and you should follow her stuff because it’s amazing.


  1. I think in Jumper use of the arena is often forgotten as a time saver. But in Hunters and Eq I do my best to really use my corners to set me up for the next questions!


    1. I had a trainer tell me once that sprinting around can hurt your time. But you’re right: using your corners makes a huge difference in the rest of your trip.


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