Is That Clinic Worth Your Money'

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Many of us have thought, at one time or another, about attending a clinic. A clinic can rejuvenate you. It can revitalize your interest and re-inspire you to work at being a better horseman or rider or just a better custodian for your equine partner.

If you have never attended a clinic, we can tell you that you will come away with fresh information and new ideas for how to solve old problems. Attending a clinic conducted by a knowledgeable and respected person in your riding discipline can be an eye-opening experience and will be well worth the money spent. And that can be a considerable amount of money, depending on the level of the clinic, the number of days it covers and the popularity of the clinician.

The atmosphere at a clinic is one of learning, but besides the valuable technical information you’ll receive, they are just plain fun. You’ll be exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things and spend uninterrupted quality time with people who are interested in the same things you are in a non-competitive environment.

While attending a clinic can be an invaluable experience, participating in one with your horse can be awesome.

Picking a clinic

First, and foremost, is choosing the clinic you want to ride in. Find out what trainers/instructors who conduct clinics are scheduled to be in your area or at least within driving distance. Depending on where you live, there might not be many choices, but with the popularity of clinics today, you should be able to find some through local riding clubs, bulletin boards at boarding stables, ads in magazines, and by searching the Internet.

When you find one that interests you, check out the instructor. Even if degrees or certifications aren’t important to you, try to get opinions from others who have taken lessons from that person, or who have attended clinics conducted by him or her. Not everyone who does something well can teach it well.

And a person who does the same style of riding as you do might not always employ methods you might find acceptable. Ask questions of other horse people you know and research the person on the Internet. One caveat about relying too heavily on the Internet: Some people on discussion boards might have personal axes to grind so be sure you visit various websites and get a broad spectrum of opinions.

A good way to find out about the person who is conducting the clinic is to find out if he or she has written a book. If so, get it and read it. Buy it, borrow it from a friend or see if it’s available from your library. That can help you get a handle on the clinician’s concepts and approach.

If the clinician has DVDs or videos out, watch them. You can quickly see if the personality of the teacher and the methods he or she employs suit you. Talk with other horsemen you know and see what they think about that particular clinician. But remember, you can always learn something.

Attend without A horse

Once you’ve decided that a particular clinician might be right for you, check to see if he or she has a clinic scheduled in your area any time soon. If so, sign up to go as an observer. Most clinics invite anyone interested to attend to watch and take notes, referred to as ”auditing.” It usually costs $20-$50 to attend as an auditor, and it is money well spent.

Auditing will give you insight into how the clinic is organized, how the clinician approaches the tasks, how clear the instructions are, and how he or she treats the riders. You will pretty much know in advance what it will be like to ride under that instructor. Even if you don’t return to ride in one of that instructor’s clinics, you will have leaned a lot and have a lot of notes to study when you get home to your own horse.

Auditing can give you a fairly inexpensive preview of what to expect if you do sign up to ride next time. Going to a clinic with your horse can be fairly expensive.

Besides paying your portion of the clinician’s fee, there are stall fees, the costs of additional feed and bedding and, if the clinic is any distance away, you will have to pay to feed and bed yourself. Motel and restaurant bills and fuel can add substantially to your cost. It can still be well worth the expense, but doing a little advance planning will help you get the most of out of the clinic and the most bang for your buck.

Visit the venue

If you decide to sign up to ride in a clinic, try to visit the arena or show grounds where the clinic is to be held beforehand. Check out the stalls. Will regular stalls be available, or will there be temporary ones constructed out of pipe corral panels'

See how far away the trailer parking area is, where the entrances and exits from the arena are. See how far you will have to lug your gear. There might be a wagon or wheelbarrow people attending the clinic can use to transport their hay and equipment from the trailer to the stall. If not, make a mental note on how you will handle that chore.

Scout out the water hydrants, hoses and the manure disposal area. If you have a trailer with living quarters and plan to stay overnight on the grounds, note where the water and electric hookups are. (See if you can reserve a space in advance.)

Is there a food concession, or will you have to bring along your own food' Is there a place to sit during lunch or breaks or do you need to pack folding chairs' Is the stabling area warm, or will you need to bring a warmer blanket for your horse' Is there a proper sound system' The clinic won’t do you much good if you can’t hear the instructor. Top instructors are usually fitted with cordless microphones and good speakers aimed to reach every corner of the riding area.

What to take

Obviously you need to take grain, hay, and buckets for feed and water. But you might also need to bring along some ways to hang your buckets. (Baling twine can do.) You also need grooming supplies, a first-aid kit, and a stable sheet to keep your horse clean overnight. Some horses won’t drink strange water, so having some molasses, apple juice or other flavoring to disguise the taste of the ”strange” water can keep your horse from becoming dehydrated. Bring extra warm clothing for yourself. Besides being prepared for an unexpected cold snap, you’ll be ready for an indoor arena, which is often cooler than the air outside.

Most places that sponsor clinics provide one bale of shavings or straw per stall included in the stall fee, but you might want to bring along additio nal bedding or check if you can purchase more there. While additional hay might be available for purchase, it’s a good idea to bring along more than enough of your own hay so you don’t stress your horse with a change of diet. If your horse is insured, take the papers with you.

One of the most valuable things you can take to a clinic is a good horse friend. You will need someone to help you unload, to hold your horse, help you with changes of tack, and hand you things you need while you’re in the ring. A good helper frees you up to concentrate on the instructions and exercises and not be distracted by having to dismount and scramble around looking for a missing piece of tack.

Picking a person who can also take clear, understandable notes for you will be a big plus. Clinicians throw out lots of valuable information and useful advice while you are riding and you’ve got so much to think about keeping your horse on track you can miss a lot. A good set of notes to refer to later can double the value of the clinic.

And, most of all, take an open mind. Be prepared to discover that there might be some holes in your program.

What not to take

Don’t buy new bridles, bits or blankets the day before the clinic. New tack can add one more thing to stress your horse and you don’t want to be adjusting or fitting tack while the rest of the group is out in the ring starting the next session. Take tack your horse is already comfortable with and that you are used to using.

Don’t bring along a lot of non-horseman family members that you have to entertain and who might distract you from the important task at hand paying attention to the instructor.

Don’t bring your dog, unless you know it’s allowed and you can keep it in the trailer where it won’t be barking or disrupting things.

And don’t take out your video camera unless you’ve checked with the instructor in advance. Some clinicians allow videotaping, some don’t. Most, however, do allow still photos for personal use and the taking of notes.

Arrive early

Get to the clinic site as early as you can the day before, if possible. If your horse has never been to that farm or arena, you want time to acclimate it to the surroundings. Walk it around the grounds on a leadline. Expose it to the sights, smells and sounds of the new environment. Be aware of things that might spook your horse. This is particularly important if the clinic is being held indoors (as most clinics are) and your horse has never been in an indoor arena before.

The day of the clinic

Be ready at the gate and on time, fitted out with whatever tack the clinician has requested. That might be your horse fully tacked up, or just on a leadline. Many clinicians do exercises with the people alone before any horses are taken into the ring. Go into the ring with an open mind and, remember, the instructor might not do things exactly the way you do at your barn.

Be sure you are back on time from any mid-day breaks or the lunch break. Being ready and on time will help you be relaxed and prepared to listen and learn.

Most clinic instructors expect the participants to have questions and you should certainly ask questions if something is not clear. But be careful not to monopolize the question-and-answer period or attempt to regale the instructor and the other participants with tales of how you previously handled this or that problem with a horse. But, of course, don’t fail to ask questions when you need to.

If you’re staying overnight, getting together with other participants in the evening or over dinner can be helpful and fun. Others might have heard something you didn’t and vice versa. If the instructor joins in the ”campfire discussion” all the better.

The morning after

What you get out of a clinic will probably be more evident to you after you return home and can put some of the techniques and suggestions into practice. If your helper took good notes, review them to be sure you understood what was said. We can all get nervous when working under a renowned clinician and it’s easy to miss, or misinterpret, advice.

There is something to gain from every clinic, so sort through what you learned and put into practice the things you feel will help you and your horse have clearer communication. A clinic is a place where you receive first aid for your riding and if you prepare properly and pay attention, the aid you receive might help you ride to a first place.