As we are approaching our favorite time of year, riding season, I thought I would share with you some of my observations on horse clinics. I have had the fortunate opportunity to experience some of the best horseman and horsewomen teach in a clinic setting. I have watched clinics, ridden in clinics, sponsored clinics and taught clinics, so I have multiple perspectives to draw upon.
Most clinics can run anywhere from a single day to multiple days and the formats can vary as well. Generally they can include group sessions and/or individual sessions or some combination of both. One isn’t any better than another, they are just different. The differences allow you to learn things in a little different light; you may find one style suits your learning style better than others. If you focus on the positives you can learn something from most clinics. If auditing, bring a notepad to take notes as most clinicians will not let you video and some may not let you take pictures.
An overwhelming majority of clinic instructors that I have watched are very knowledgeable and have a genuine passion for what they teach. They generally relay a lot of information in a short period of time and it generally tends to overload people, especially if it is your first clinic. You might want to audit (just watch) a clinic before you ride in one to learn more about the clinician and his/her teaching style. Whether sitting on your horse or in a lawn chair on the side of the arena, you will do a fair bit of watching other riders work with their horses. The benefit of being on your horse is that you get to try what you just saw immediately with feedback from the clinician. That always helps me cement an idea or newly learned skill.
Which horse to bring? You may have multiple issues in different horses but I would encourage a careful assessment to try and bring the horse that is going to allow you the opportunity to get the most out of the clinic. Fit the horse to the setting; don’t bring an un-started colt to an advanced horsemanship clinic. If you are bringing a problem horse, let the clinician or sponsor know in advance, make sure you can get the horse to the clinic with a minimum of difficulty. Is it going to take you three hours to get them into the trailer the morning of the clinic? How does your horse behave in the company of other horses? Can you be safe? You will be in proximity of numerous horses of various temperaments so pay attention to your surroundings. Is there a mare in heat? Is somebody riding a stallion? If your horse is a kicker make sure and put a red ribbon in the tail, stallions should have a yellow ribbon placed in their tails. You are responsible for the safety of you and your horse, it is very important to be aware of your situation and surroundings.
What are your goals? Most clinicians are going to ask you what you want to accomplish during the clinic. A good clinician will tailor instruction to help you meet those goals. Give it some thought prior to the morning of the clinic to avoid the ‘deer in the headlights’ look during the initial discussion in front of the crowd. If you are like me, you want to get the most out of these clinics so a little mental preparation will go a long way. Keep in mind that you will have the opportunity to learn a great deal from watching others work with their horses so I would encourage you to pay attention to the other participant’s sessions with the clinician. Don’t just take your turn and disappear when you are done with yours. If you need a break, be respectful of others and quietly excuse yourself.
Bring the tack that you always use when working with your horse. This is not the time to try out the new saddle or new bit. If you have questions on saddle fit, this is something you can ask the clinician about. You should also wear comfortable clothing. If you and your horse are both comfortable, learning can be optimized.
Some clinicians will also offer the opportunity to re-cap the day and discuss at the end of the session or day, or both. Take the time to participate in these discussions, learn from watching others and ask questions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you are there to learn and if you struggle with something keep asking for clarification. Don’t assume that everyone else understands it, more than likely they are struggling with it as well. Be prepared for the clinician to point out areas of opportunity for you to work on, you may be aware of these, or it might be a blind spot for you. Every horseman or horsewoman has areas to improve upon, this is why we go to these events, to learn.
The benefits of gathering at horse clinics are numerous; I have met a lot of wonderful people and made many lifelong friends. Most of all you should enjoy yourself, cherish the time spent with your horse, we don’t get enough of that.
Thanks for reading