How to Organize a Dressage Clinic

Learn the nuts and bolts to help you assemble a successful dressage clinic.
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Learn the nuts and bolts to help you assemble a successful dressage clinic.
Spectators watch a Hilda Gurney clinic in Virginia. | Photo by Molly Benstein

Spectators watch a Hilda Gurney clinic in Virginia. | Photo by Molly Benstein

Well-run clinics always have one thing in common: effective organization. The elements of a successful clinic will make everyone--riders, auditors and clinicians--want to come back. The steps to organizing a clinic do not necessarily take place in the order they are presented here, and there will often be an overlap of several at a time. Bringing together clinicians, riders, horses, auditors and facility hosts for several days is a complex task--expect the unexpected and be prepared to solve problems as they arise. There is no specific timeline for organizing a clinic but you need to start early to book the clinician, the venue and promote your clinic to riders and auditors.

Booking a Clinician

1. With a few exceptions, the clinician is usually the one thing you are quite certain of when you decide to organize a clinic. Find out if the clinician is available during dates that work for your group.

2. You also need to be aware of other events in your area that might conflict with your clinic--a show, clinic or conference the same weekend may make it hard for you to fill your clinic.

3. The more in advance you book the date, the more choices you will have with the clinician, as well as lots of time to let the dressage community know about your clinic.

Clinician Costs

1. Find out what the clinician charges per session and per day. Some clinicians who don't come from the international competition arena are likely to charge something similar to their lesson fees. If you are booking an international clinician, such as a past or present member of a European team, the rates will be considerably higher.

2. Ask how many riders the clinician is willing to see in one day and how many days he or she would be willing to give you for one clinic.

3. Will the clinician be flying or driving? Research the cost of the travel to be certain that those costs are recoverable. If your clinician is willing to stay at someone's home rather than in a hotel, that can mean significant savings if you are working on a tight budget or want to keep costs low for the participants.

Find a Venue

1. The facility for your clinic is important. If you live in an area with extreme weather, a covered or indoor facility may be vital to the comfort of all participants. Some, such as judging and freestyle clinics, may require a standard-sized competition arena.

2. Remember, too, that riders need a place to warm up before their sessions. While it is sometimes possible for the next rider(s) to warm up in the ring during the preceding session, this is not always the case. Make sure the warm-up location neither interrupts the clinic nor forces riders into driving rain or sweltering heat.

3. Keeping your auditors comfortable is another important factor to consider when choosing a venue. Many indoor arenas don't have bleachers, but you can create a sitting area by blocking off one end of the ring or a long side, if the ring is wide enough.

4. The clinician should wear a microphone connected to a sound system so that spectators can hear.

5. Tell the owner or manager of the farm what to expect in terms of the number of people and the timetable.

6. You can minimize the disruption to the normal operation of the barn and its clients by being clear with the manager about all the aspects of your clinic that will affect the daily routine at that barn.

7. Unless your clinic is going to be filled by horses that already board at the venue, the facility should have some stabling available, even for those who are not staying overnight.

8. Be sure there is enough parking for several horse trailers, and if you expect auditors to your clinic, you will need to determine if there is parking space for them as well.

Venue Costs

1. Once you have found a venue that meets your needs, you will need to find out what the rental fee is and make sure that the cost is feasible for your clinic. Most people understand the you-get-what-you-pay-for principle, so if you find a place that is really suitable but a bit expensive, ask riders how they feel about the extra cost.

2. It is a good idea to have the facility manager sign a contract with the clinic dates, times and fees. You may be asked for a deposit to hold the reservation. Stay in touch with the manager over the months leading up to the clinic, and visit the farm a few weeks before, in case some aspect of the facility has changed since you first booked it.

Getting the Word Out

1. Once you have booked your clinician and facility, it's time to promote your clinic. Take the time to list the clinic everywhere you can, even on Web sites that aren't specifically dressage-oriented.

2. Most regions have local magazines that offer free calendar listings, and some will even publish a short article about your clinic, if you provide them with text.

3. Compose a press release and send it out to all relevant media--press releases are often printed in full, verbatim, by magazines. Title it "Press Release" or "For Immediate Release." Include the vital statistics: date, location, fees and the name of the clinician with a brief biography, focusing on past accomplishments and particular skills. Contact information (phone numbers and email) should be included as well.

4. Create a flyer to put up on notice boards at tack stores, horse shows and barns. If possible, put a photo on it and print it in color.

Clinic Riders and Auditors

It is your responsibility to ensure that all the riders and horses are suitable for the kind of clinic you are holding. Some clinics will have a fairly generalized attendance open to varying skill levels. However, a European trainer who works with FEI (international-level) riders and horses at home, for example, should not necessarily be asked to work with riders and horses who are at the lower levels. If you are in doubt, ask the clinician what he or she is willing to work with in the clinic.

A symposium is different from a clinic. Symposium riders are there to help the clinician demonstrate methods and exercises, rather than to be taught. If you are gathering symposium demonstrators, it's important to know that they have the appropriate skill level for the theme. It is important to acquaint yourself personally, through video or first hand knowledge in person, with potential participants.

Rider and Auditor Costs

1. One way to protect yourself against losing riders on short notice before your clinic is to require full or partial prepayment. Paying some or all is the rider's guarantee of a spot in the clinic, and your guarantee that you won't end up with a half-empty clinic.

2. Decide beforehand what your cancellation policy is. Horses do go lame and get sick, and people do have unavoidable circumstances that force them to cancel.

3. In order not to have an unnecessary hassle with the facility manager, collect separate checks to cover the stabling when the riders register for the clinic. You won't have time to chase people around once the clinic is happening, and it should never fall to the barn manager to do that for you. Stabling costs are set by each facility.

4. The time of registration is also a good time to get a liability waiver signed. Waivers are standard agreements that release the property owner and manager, as well as all related staff, from responsibility for any injury or damage to people, horses and equipment. Most boarding barns have waivers that you will be asked to use.

5. If you are going to charge an auditing fee, the amount will depend somewhat on how expensive the costs for the clinic are--clinician fees and travel costs, facility rental--but $20 to $30 per day is average. Symposiums will be more expensive, because the clinician is really delivering information aimed specifically at the audience, rather than at the rider. Including lunch in the auditing fee is advantageous in that it means you don't have to collect again from people who want to take part in a group meal. Organizing coffee and lunch will give people a chance to socialize during breaks instead of heading off in their cars in search of food.

6. If a local dressage club (GMO) sponsors your clinic, you might extend a discount to auditors who are members and offer an instant discount to nonmembers who join the GMO at the clinic.

Volunteers

1. You need volunteers. You can't have too many of them. From picking up the clinician at the airport to collecting auditing fees at the clinic, volunteers will make your job easier.

2. Communication and appreciation are the two things that will keep your volunteers happy and willing to help out. If one of them has some photographic skills, ask him or her to bring a camera. You may want the photos for follow-up articles or for flyers for future clinics.

Scheduling

1. Based on the workload your clinician is prepared to handle, you can start to schedule the clinic well in advance of the date. The earlier you start on the schedule, the more time you will have to accommodate everyone. Find out from your clinician how long he or she wants for each session, whether you should schedule 15-minute breaks after each two or three and how long to break for lunch.

2. Keep your clinician happy by making sure the schedule suits his or her preferences. Include the clinician enough in the planning to be sure you are making the right decisions, but don't ask too many questions so that you become a burden.

3. Communicate regularly to your riders and to your prospective auditors. In addition to sending a completed ride schedule well ahead of time, include the following information: directions to the venue, stabling information, advice on hotels and restaurants in the area and information on any events you are planning, such as group lunches and dinners.

Equipment and Materials

1. Most riders will want videos of their clinic rides. Some people bring a camera and someone to film for them, but if they know a professional videographer will be on site, most riders will take advantage of this service.

2. Some clinics require extra equipment or materials. If you are holding a freestyle clinic, you will need a sound system. For an indoor clinic, a large, powerful boom box is adequate. Outdoors, without the acoustics provided by a roof and walls, you will need at least a full-sized home stereo amplifier and speakers.

3. Dressage test sheets may be needed for some clinics--if you make copies of test sheets that you acquired from USDF, you must print "for educational purposes only" on the front of the test sheet in order not to violate copyright.

4. Seminars are classroom sessions that may involve watching a video or looking at materials provided by the speaker. A symposium may include seminar sessions, but will also be hands on in the arena with demonstration riders and horses. If your clinic involves any seminars, or if your event is more of a symposium, you will need to create some kind of program or handout package with information about the speaker, lecture material or demonstration riders and horses.

When your clinic is a success, give yourself a pat on the back. But when you've had a rest, it's time to do a little more work. A follow-up article for your local newsletter or magazine is an excellent way to publicize the event once more to anyone who didn't come to watch this time around.

Karen Robinson has designed freestyles for top dressage riders, such as Leslie Morse and Leslie Reid. Robinson gives freestyle clinics and seminars all over North America. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Read the complete article in the May 2006 issue of Dressage Today magazine.