When the Trainer Becomes the Student: How Caitlyn Shiels is Learning to Become a Clinician for All Levels

Caitlyn Shiels is not going to let her recent hip injury keep her from teaching and empowering other riders while she’s out of the saddle. Caitlyn is headed to Courtney Fromm’s Old Seoul Equestrian in West Bend, Wisconsin, in late November to teach a three-day clinic to riders and horses of all levels, something she believes sets her apart as a clinician in the hunter/jumper world. Having taught a few clinics in the past, Caitlyn looks forward to this being the first of many clinics she will teach as head trainer of True North Stables.

Caitlyn Shiels schooling Michelle Durpetti. Photo by Fine Art Horses.

The structure of the upcoming clinic will be unique in that Caitlyn’s assistant, Cody Wooten, will ride each of the clients’ horses on the first day, with the riders observing, so Cody and Caitlyn can analyze together how best to instruct each rider on the second day according to each horse’s needs. “Obviously you can’t fix everything in a weekend, but I think this format is going to help the riders tremendously,” Caitlyn said. “The riders will be able to watch and listen while Cody communicates to me what each horse needs.  Then I will translate that into actionable items the riders can work on to strengthen their bond with the horse and to improve their relationship over time.” 

Training rides are an essential part of the business structure at True North, and Caitlyn’s aim for this portion of the clinic, aside from identifying each horse’s strengths and weaknesses, is to highlight how important professional training rides are for a horse’s overall career. “Training rides almost always happen when the client is not there,” Caitlyn said. “Courtney is having her students attend this portion of the clinic so they can observe us getting to know their horses and they can, in turn, see the value of training rides firsthand. They can listen to our dialogue regarding each horse and learn so much from seeing Cody get to know the horses and advise on methods for their continuous improvement.”

Prior to Caitlyn’s injury, she would have been riding on day one, but she has no concerns with the shift in responsibility, because she and Cody ride in a very similar manner and have no trouble communicating about the horses and what they need. 

The second day of the clinic will be a mounted flatwork session, incorporating exercises such as trot rails, canter rails, and grids that emphasize lengthening and shortening. The third day will begin with a short flatwork session to warm up, then the riders will jump courses and put into practice everything they learned in the first two days.

Caitlyn Shiels schooling Michelle Durpetti. Photo by Fine Art Horses.

Caitlyn takes pride in being able and eager to teach riders at all skill levels. It doesn’t matter if a rider is jumping Grands Prix or just enjoying flatwork with no desire to jump. Caitlyn believes that every teaching opportunity is also a learning opportunity for herself. “I always want to be in tune with riders’ goals and I love being a part of achieving them,” she said. “When I start the clinic, I’ll ask what the riders want to learn then hopefully through the weekend, we conquer some of their objectives. For longer-term goals, I can give them homework to keep practicing after the clinic.”

Old Seoul Equestrian head trainer Courtney Fromm is looking forward to having Caitlyn return to her farm for the second time. “Caitlyn’s enthusiasm for teaching riders who want to learn at every level is my favorite thing about her as a clinician and as a trainer,” Courtney said. “I think she excels at breaking it down to the individual person’s level and helping identify the strengths and weaknesses of each rider and each horse.”

Caitlyn believes all riders can benefit from a new perspective, especially considering every rider has a different learning style. “I’m probably going to say a lot of the things Courtney says daily, but I’m a new voice, so I hope to translate her words in ways that may resonate differently,” she said. “This is only the beginning of what I hope will be many clinics to come, and I know I still have a lot to learn. As a clinician, I want to be in tune with every rider and really give it my all for everyone.”

Read more about Caitlyn’s operation at True North Stables and contact her for future clinic opportunities here

Words by Tori Bilas / Jump Media.