Erin Strader, Barn Manager and Trainer for the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, tries to attend between two and three clinics a year, depending on what her work schedule will allow. She finds clinics helpful as they can help her refresh her riding and look at how her horse goes differently. “They allow me to get a lot of quality instruction in a short amount of time,” she adds. Erin currently has a 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse she got in the fall of 2015 who is ready to move up to Novice.
Though many clinics are typically in a one- or two-day format, Erin prefers the two-day format as she feels that the first day is more of an evaluation period for each horse and rider combination. By the second day, the instructor can really hone in on some key areas that need improvement, she notes.
To prepare for a clinic, Erin ensures that both she and her horse are fit and ready for any jumping or galloping that is asked of them. She also makes sure that her horse is fit to jump the height at which she is entered. She goes into the clinic with a good idea of where the horse will be headed in competition and what specific things she needs to work on. Erin recommends that it’s best to bring up and concerns or issues with your horse at the beginning of the clinic, so the clinician has an idea of what troubles you have been facing and how you have been dealing with them at home.
And don’t think the learning stops when you step off your horse. To get the most from her clinics, Erin tries to bring a notebook with her to jot down phrases and explanations while auditing other lesson groups. “I also try to write a recap of my own lessons at the end of each day, specifically noting what did and did not work for me and my horse. I will also draw diagrams of any jump grids/courses with distances so that I can recreate them at home.”
No matter with whom you decide to clinic, “you can always find at least one takeaway from a clinic, and if nothing else, it gets you and your horse off the farm and used to riding in front of other people in a new place!” Erin says.
Jody Cattell clinic between two and four times a year for a few reasons: “It is one of the only ways I hasve of getting comprehensive cross-country instruction,” she notes. Jody lives in Columbus, Ohio, where event barns are virtually non-existent. “I am usually the only eventer where I board and/or take lessons, so clinics are one way of meeting other event riders--I know more event riders in Michigan than any other state because I’ve attended so many clinics over the years at Hunters Run in Metamora!” she says.
In addition to the camaraderie, Jody appreciates that clinics are typically relaxing environments; there are “no boots to polish or coats to wear. Often there is a group dinner, which is a good opportunity to ask the clinician questions about conditioning, bits, favorite boots, etc. Plus, they usually have interesting stories to tell,” she explains.
Like Erin, Jody appreciates riding under a different set of eyes. “However, they may say things a little differently that brings on the ‘aha’ moment or have a helpful exercise you have never tried before.” She, too, will address any issues she and her horse are experiencing with the clinician beforehand if the clinician is interested in tailoring the lesson for them specifically. Jody has cliniced with Leslie Law, Kim Severson, Kyle Carter, Doug Payne, and Buck Davidson, as well as Cathy Wieschhoff, Diana Rich and Robin Walker.
Jody has this advice for people who are looking to clinic:
- Ask around about the instructor. If you are a beginner novice rider, ask if this person is appropriate choice. There are some clinicians who have more patience than others. If you have not participated in an event (recognized or unrecognized), you might be better off putting your money toward regular lessons instead of one shot with someone whom you may never see again.
- Even if you are an experienced rider, you need to know the instructor’s idea of the appropriate degree of difficulty at each level. For example, when I was thinking about moving up to Preliminary with my current horse, I still rode with Buck in a Training group, knowing full well that we would be jumping a lot of Preliminary fences. With another trainer, a Preliminary group might be more like a Training group.
- Find out how many riders are going to be in a group. To me, four riders or less is ideal. I won’t ride in a clinic with six riders--the wait time is too long.
- If possible, find out from the organizer how the groups are going to be arranged. I think this is an important factor that many people, including organizers, overlook. Ask other people if the organizer arranges the groups properly. Many years ago, I took a clinic from Jimmy Wofford at Training level. No one in my group had ever gone Training. Only one participant had ever been to a recognized event (at Novice). We spent the day jumping 18-inch logs! It’s even worse if you are over faced in clinic--chances are that both you and your horse will lose confidence.
Jody also recommends watching the sessions both before and after yours while you’re at the clinic. The “sessions before yours will help you understand the exercises and what the instructor is looking for. The sessions following your ride will solidify what you learned,” she notes. Jody, also, makes notes as soon as she can to help remember what she has learned.
To make the session enjoyable for others as well, Jody suggest that those riding in a clinic “ask questions, but be careful and be considerate. Don’t ask every question that pops into your head and don’t interrupt the flowing of the session with questions.”
Clinics are great ways to ride your horse under a new set of eyes, meet new friends and gain new tools for your riding toolbox.