Winter is over and weekend horse events are stacking up like newspapers on the driveway of a newly vacated home. Once the season begins there are more opportunities to DO stuff with your horse than you can handle so decisions must be made. My own clinic schedule is getting full and I will actually ride as a clinic participant for the second time in three months – after a 15 year hiatus.
I’ve already heard a number of clinic horror stories this year and wanted to offer something to the horses and humans who will be hauling out in the coming months. Too many riders pay huge amounts to finish a clinic with a horse that thinks less of the whole riding thing than when it left home. Others leave feeling like failures or totally frustrated. Some lose their love and motivation to keep trying. That is a tragedy for the entire horse community.
Most readers scan articles looking for a reason to stick around for another minute before clicking away to the next intriguing headline. Sadly, I am not known for intriguing headlines. To help you use your time well I’ll cut to the chase and give you the 7 Steps to a Successful Clinic Experience for both you and your horse.
After all, no one pays to ride in a clinic or commits great time and effort hoping for a net-negative experience. If you’re satisfied with the following list, great! If you are looking for a little more, keep reading for a brief expansion on each point.
7 Steps to a Successful Clinic Experience
- Identify a specific goal for attending.
- Properly prepare your equipment.
- Properly prepare your horse.
- Accept responsibility before, during, and after.
- Treat your horse as you do at home (communication, cues, etc.)
- Make it all about your horse.
- Be sure to make the clinic a positive experience for you and your horse.
1. Identify a specific goal.
As a clinician I try to clearly communicate the purpose of each program and what horse and rider combinations would benefit most. Because I teach success with horses using simple gospel principles the basics apply to all. Most of my clinics are based on challenges. Regardless of their expertise, the nature of the challenges usually stymie most riders. After all, if a rider can already do everything she (he) thinks she can, why pay attention to what I have to share?
However, a few clinics come with prerequisites. Major obstacle clinic descriptions include the caveat that I have to see riders demonstrate they can safely walk, trot, and canter in the arena before engaging in the main event.
Generally, the more clinic participants have in common the more each will gain from the experience. Those with fewer skills won’t be left in the dust and those with amazing resume’s won’t get bored.
- If your horse spooks at a ground pole don’t sign up for an over-fences clinic.
- If your horse has never loped a circle you may want to think twice about a reining clinic.
- If your horse bolts when you sneeze don’t spend too much money on a mounted shooting clinic.
Before signing up for a clinic write down what you hope to gain from the experience. Ask the clinician if your skill level and goals are a fit with the upcoming event. Clinicians want riders to be happy, to go home enthused and motivated. If someone won’t answer your question – keep your checkbook in your tack locker.
If you don’t know why you’re going, how will you know if it was a success or not?
2. Properly prepare your equipment.
Be certain you know what you’ll be doing and how long you’ll be doing it. Equipment includes tack, grooming and first aid items, clothing and boots for you, as well as food and drink for you both and whatever you need to stay comfortable and safe.
- Do you need sunscreen for you and your pink-nosed pony?
- How about mosquito repellent and fly spray?
- Are you prepared for a cut or scrape (equine or otherwise.)
- Do you need to take notes, bring a chair, jacket, umbrella, or cash for the concession stand?
- Is your horse up-to-date on vaccinations, Coggins, and health papers?
- Where will your horse hang out between sessions? Tied to the trailer? Stalled?
- Carry buckets for both feed and water even if you don’t plan to use them.
What type of bit and saddle are recommended? Does your tack fit both you and your horse? This may seem like a dumb thing to waste article space mentioning, but a hefty portion of clinic failures happen because tack is ill-fitting, ill-kept, or totally inappropriate. I have loaned out bridles, girths, saddle pads, and even saddles. Unless you’re going to a basic tack discussion and fitting clinic, be prepared before you get there.
Make a list at least five days before the clinic date of all you need to pack for you and your clinic partner. Be loaded and ready to go the night before. Don’t wait till the last minute. Unless you’re familiar with the clinic facility you may discover that the nearest place to buy Coke, flyspray, a bucket or bandaids is 35 miles away.
3. Properly prepare your horse.
Once you tack up at a clinic you can usually expect your horse to deliver less than its full performance potential. The best patterns, runs, and maneuvers are usually left in the practice pen at home. If you’re going to a clinic be sure to tune your horse so he is ready to work on the same things you worked on at home.
- If you’re going to a jumping clinic, work on small gymnastics and precision flatwork for a week or two before the event.
- If you’re going to a competitive trail clinic be sure to hit the trails and work some obstacles before loading.
- If you’re going to a dressage clinic polish up your transitions in advance.
- Check hooves, teeth, and soundness. Take a horse who is ready, willing, and able to try something new, but without it being TOTALLY new.
- If you’re going to learn more about working cattle or roping, at least let your horse look at a cow or hear the twang of a rope before arriving at the clinic.
Know what your horse is able and willing to give you on his worst day and on his best. On the day of the clinic you’ll get something that falls somewhere in between. The better you prepare your horse the more likely your clinic experience will be successful.
4. Accept responsibility before, during, and after.
No matter how famous or accomplished the clinician, your horse came with you and will go home with you. Never turn over your horse’s welfare and put the relationship you’ve worked so hard for in the hands of a clinician (or anyone else) without weighing the risk.
If you or your horse isn’t prepared to do what a clinician asks, don’t do it. The instructor isn’t riding your horse, you are. The instructor isn’t holding the reins, you are. Unless you turn control and leadership of your horse over, you’re still the leader. Even if you hand the reins to someone else, you are still responsible to your horse for what happens. Think twice before letting an apprentice or assistant to the clinician take your horse from you.
If your horse gets agitated, angry, or anxious – stop. Neither you or your horse will learn anything of value once fear or emotion runs wild. In my opinion, any clinician worth his or her microphone should step in before a participant (human or equine) gets totally flustered or frustrated.
You invited your horse. You decided to ride the clinic. You’re accountable for the outcome. An unsuccessful clinic experience is never the horse’s fault.
5. Treat your horse as you do at home.
This is the number one error riders make away from home. Pressure, embarrassment, or instructions from the clinician cause riders to launch into some language totally foreign to the horse. It happens at every clinic and to more riders than not.
Your horse doesn’t respond to you the way he does at home because you aren’t asking the same way. Body language, spirit, and aids are off-kilter and strange. Most horses choose to do nothing when they are confused. Some will offer whatever seems most likely to please, leaving them vulnerable to being punished for trying to do the right thing when the right thing was as clear as a muddy river bottom.
Groom and tack up as you do at home. Warm up as you do at home. If you usually do a little ground work, do it. If you normally get on and walk around for ten minutes enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, walk around for fifteen.
The best way to prepare your horse for success is to be the same person at the clinic you are at home.
6. Make it all about your horse.
Clinics offer opportunities for riders to improve the performance and response of their horses. There isn’t an award for best dressed, the most bling, or any other silly comparison between riders. The horse that stands out in a clinic is the one that goes home sane, sound, happy, and working just a little more in tune with its rider than it did at the beginning.
Approach the event with your horse’s best interests at heart. If your horse comes home better then you will too. Horsemanship is a partnership. You’re the leader and the responsible one. Your horse doesn’t get to decide which clinics to attend.
- Who is responsible for selecting an appropriate clinic? – You are.
- Who is responsible to prepare for the event? – You are.
- Who is responsible for making food, water, and rest available as needed? – You are.
- Who is responsible for successful communication between horse and human? – You are.
- Who decides what and how much your horse is asked to do? – You are.
- Whose idea is this anyway? – It sure isn’t the horse’s, so it must be yours.
Your horse didn’t get a vote. In the interest of fairness, at least make the experience a pleasant one for your equine buddy. Which bring us to the last point.
7. Be sure to make the clinic a positive experience for you and your horse.
The best clinic experience is one that leaves both horse and rider ready to do it all over again. It was fabulous! You were reminded of things you already knew but had forgotten. You learned how to fix one problem and began learning a new skill.
You and your horse should be going home with more confidence in one another than you had when you arrived. Have fun. Create opportunities for your horse to WIN! Make certain you say, “Good boy!” 100 times more than, “Oops – blew that one.”
Life with horses is a blessing and an opportunity. Be a blessing to your horse and to all those with whom you shared the clinic experience. Make it a point to CARE that your horse is happy to be going home with you.
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The Amazing Grays Trilogy – pursuing relationship with God, horses, and one another.
- How do horses think and communicate?
- How does our relationship with horses impact our relationship with God – and vice versa?
- What does it mean to be a worthy leader?
- What is truly possible in relationship with a horse – and how do you experience it for yourself?
True stories and lessons from the show pen, breeding and foaling barns, training arena, and standing in the round pen with the Holy Spirit…
- Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace – pursuing relationship with God, horses, and one another
- He Came Looking for Me – a true story of hope and redemption
- Discipleship with Horses – Journey of Joy
by Christian writer and World and National Champion, Lynn Baber.