Every so often I will run into someone who expresses the opinion that clinics are a waste of time. They will talk about the money they have thrown away to ride with this big name trainer or that big name trainer only to come away having not learned a single thing. They ultimately conclude that their money is best spent somewhere else and that they can do a better job training their horse on their own. While clinics are designed to be more of a survey course than replacement for weekly lessons, I do think they are very educational for horse and rider and you can learn something from every experience you have with an instructor or fellow rider, if you know how to be a good student. I recently heard wise words from a fellow clinician that enjoys learning from other horsemen. “I always go into a clinic with an empty cup. That way nothing gets in the way of putting stuff into it.” So, if want to get the most out of your clinic experience, here is how to do it!
1: Do your research. Before attending a clinic get a working knowledge of the clinician and the discipline that you will be participating in. I am all for stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something you’ve never done before. That’s how we learn and grow and it’s definitely the best thing about a clinic. Most clinics are meant to introduce a broad topic to a group of riders of varying experiences and skills. It is helpful, though to have a vague idea of what you may be learning. This allows you to have a reasonable expectation for the basic skill set you will need to be using in the clinic and the level of physical fitness your horse (and you) may need in order to participate fully. The clinic host should have all that information for you so that you can be thoroughly prepared.
2. Prepare your horse for the clinic. This goes along with doing your research. Be as prepared as you can before attending a 2+ day clinic. If you haven’t ridden in the past 2 months, spending 2 days in the saddle is going to be uncomfortable for both you and your horse. This will limit your ability to participate and neither horse or rider concentrate and learn well when they are unprepared, sore, and distracted. This preparation also allows you to be sure that your horse is healthy and sound. Be sure that your vaccinations are up to date and that you are in compliance with any requirements for the facility you will be visiting. If this is a riding clinic, make sure your horse’s feet have been attended to so that sore feet, loose shoes or long toes don’t side line you before the clinic is over.
3. Listen without interrupting and without giving excuses. As an instructor as well as a participant, this a big one for me. When given instruction by a professional do your absolute best to comply. If it is something that is difficult for you or is stretching your ability, a good instructor will see that and will help you through it. If you spend the majority of your instruction time explaining in great deal why you are unable to execute whatever instruction has been given you will waste time, which is always at a premium in a clinic setting. If you are scared, nervous or believe it is beyond your ability, definitely express that, but remember you are at the clinic to try new things. This may be the time to conquer those fears. A good clinician will keep you safe and will see your fears and your horse’s issues and physical limitations quickly. We watch every horse that comes into the arena and it takes us about 3 minutes to identify the horse and rider pairs we need to keep an eye on. Safety is number one, always, we definitely want everybody to be safe but allow us to help you through it by doing more listening and less talking.
4. Be ready on time. Unless directed otherwise, be tacked up, warmed up and ready for instruction when the clinic is scheduled to start. If the clinic starts at 9 am, we are there ready to teach at 9 am. If people are still lunging, doing ground work, tacking up and wandering in to begin warm up we are forced to wait until everyone is ready to begin, losing valuable time. Ultimately it’s your time that you are wasting, but have respect for the clinician and other participants by making sure you are ready to go at the designated start time.
5. Ask questions while attempting to avoid the large back story. Horse people love to share. Ask any horse person to tell you about their horse and they will wax rhapsodically until interrupted or out of breath. I have had clients give me a 2 month history on a 2 hour old laceration going back to why the horse was moved into the pen that caused the trauma. None of that is relevant to the question, “when did this happen?” In the interest of time, attempt to whittle the story down to only the pertinent information that will give context to your question. If you are asking how to do a one rein stop, we don’t need to hear about the time you were out of control on a narrow trail with one foot out of the stirrup and a cloud of bees on your tail. Those stories are best saved for meet and greets, lunch time sharing or wrap up chats. Believe me, I want to hear that story, but be sensitive to whether the story adds context to the learning currently taking place.
6. Have respect for your fellow participants. We are all on our own journey. That has been one of the toughest lessons for me to learn as a horseman with a deep drive to learn and grow. You may have lofty goals of precision maneuvers and flying lead changes but the lady next to you on her 25 year old draft cross may just be looking for a way to get her horse to stop when she wants it to. Everybody has their own path, goals and journey and as long as it all leads to better partnership with your horse in the end, I’m all for it. Both participants deserve equal time and attention from the clinician.
7. Have an open mind. I usually have a little speech that I share on the first day with folks that are taking my clinics. What I say may not jive with what your trainer says. It may be different than how you have heard it explained by other horsemen. You may ultimately find not all of it helps you with your horse. That is 100% okay. All I ask is that you give it a try for the time that we are together and if it doesn’t work and you don’t like it, you never have to do it again. There is more than one way to do everything that we do with horses. This is an art form more than a science and we all must find our own brush. Every clinician is doing their best to share with you the brushes that work for them. If they end up not working for you, fantastic. That’s something learned in and of itself. But, you won’t know if you don’t try. You may be surprised at what works for you in the end.
8. If there is specific tack suggested for the clinic, do your best to comply. Now, by no means do we expect you to show up in brand new tack for every intro clinic that you attend. But, if in your research you learn there is a preference for a specific tack item and you have the ability to bring that item, I highly recommend you bring it. Ultimately my preference is that you come in tack that both you and your horse and comfortable and confident in, but sometimes different tack choices make different exercises more easily understood for the horse. If your desire to ride one handed in reins and a romel interferes with my ability to teach you and your horse lateral bend we are both going to be dissatisfied with the clinic experience.
9. Watch and learn. This is a big one, especially for the types of clinics that we teach. Unfortunately in most clinic settings there is a good deal of standing around and waiting your turn for individual instruction. You have two options during that time. You can work independently on something that was instructed upon earlier in the day, or you can watch your fellow participant be instructed. Both activities can be benefial depending on your goals and the format of the clinic. What isn’t helpful is chatting with your neighbor, checking your phone or sitting in the shade. When I ride in a clinic I learn the most from watching the instruction of the other riders. I can give my entire attention to what is happening without trying to listen, ride, and concentrate like I do during my turn. I can put myself in that rider’s shoes and watch how the instructor attempts to help with a problem I may be experiencing now or will experience in the future. Watching your fellow riders is instrumental to your growth AND helps keep the clinician from repeating instructions over and over again for the same rider mistake! Especially if there is a pattern to be ridden.
Taking a clinic is an excellent opportunity for you to try new things, meet new people and spend a fabulous couple of days with your horse. It opens you up to new ways of looking at things and it’s usually a great experience in socialization for your horse. It’s also generally cheaper than a horse show! I have had clinics I LOVED and clinics that weren’t so hot and one that changed my life forever. I have learned something valuable at every one. Get out there and let yourself explore and learn. Empty your cup. Who knows where it might take you! Happy Trails!