Plan a Clinic Like a Pro

A quiet introduction to the water complex at a recent Francis Whittington clinic. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld A quiet introduction to the water complex at a recent Francis Whittington clinic. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld

Clinics from top professionals are a great way to expand your riding education and take in some feedback from someone who has spent time at the top of the sport. Such opportunities are a great supplement to your everyday training, and you can continue to build your own theories and practices based on what you work on in a clinic.

Organizing a clinic is never an easy task, however, and it requires keen attention to detail and a lot of time to ensure your clinic goes off without a hitch. One very important part of planning a clinic is to involve the selected rider who will be teaching. To that end, we spoke with a few riders who frequently travel for clinics to get their advice on planning (and participating in!) a clinic.

Dom and some attentive clinic riders. Photo courtesy of Susan Horner.

Dom and some attentive clinic riders. Photo courtesy of Susan Horner.

Dom Schramm

In my opinion, a successful clinic is one where everybody feels as though they come away with information that is helpful for them and/or their horse at a personal level. Obviously, there are challenges in juggling time constraints and group sizes, etc., however a good clinic organizer will accurately create groups that are based on a combined experience level (horse and rider) rather than just how high the rider may have competed.

I believe the students that get the most from my clinics are the ones that come with a happy disposition and a receptive mindset. I don’t like my lessons to feel like a dictatorship where everyone is terrified to make a mistake, but at the same time I expect students to handle themselves the same way I would when I am taking a lesson.

When you go to the training sessions and watch the best U.S. riders taking lessons with David, you don’t ever hear them responding to him with a ‘What?!’ or a nasally ‘Huh??’

I enjoy having a variety of horses and am not mad when a horse might act up because sometimes when a horse is green or disobedient, it is actually an excellent opportunity for everybody present to learn how to deal with them when they aren’t being perfect. That’s more realistic!

Last but not least, my Mum always told me when I was a kid that ‘Sometimes, the only thing you will learn in a lesson is what not to do — but you still learned something!’

The Chinch, Hawley and Taylor at Dragonfire Farm. Photo by Erin Critz

The Chinch, Hawley and Taylor at Dragonfire Farm. Photo by Erin Critz

Hawley Bennett-Awad

Having organized quite a few clinics myself, I think it’s really important to say thank you to the person who organized it and who hosted it. It’s a lot of work!

I love having groups of 4-5 horses. I feel more than that gives the horses too much time to cool down, and the riders too much time to lose focus.

Come with enthusiasm! They are long but great days. I absolutely love teaching, so I really enjoy doing clinics and meeting new people. I have found that it’s best for me not to have a lunch break when I am teaching — I like to keep my momentum.

I love clinics because I think you can learn just as much by watching as you can by riding.

Bailey, Lainey and Sky. Photo via Laine on Instagram.

Bailey, Lainey and Sky. Photo via Laine on Instagram.

Laine Ashker

I try to make myself readily available to the organizer, because the better the clinic is organized, the smoother it will run. Organizing clinics is a very overwhelming task; my mom used to do it all the time, and it’s not easy. It has to be a symbiotic relationship between the rider and the organizer.

Building a relationship with the organizer is important, as some riders like to have clinics run a certain way. Some like a lunch break, others don’t. These little nuances are helpful to know and come from having a good relationship.

As far as participants are concerned, just keep in mind that looking professional in your turn out is important. When I was younger I didn’t have any polish, and someone told me that I would be treated as professionally as I looked. I like to think I treat everyone the same, but coming with a belt, your hair in a hairnet, your horse’s mane pulled, etc. really helps make a good impression.

For a first timer, always be honest with yourself on what level you should be riding at in the clinic. Especially at the beginning of the year, you’ll see a lot of people coming to lesson at a level lower than what they ended the year on. But always be honest — try to ride a level lower or at the level you’re at currently; don’t try to enter the highest level because you schooled that height once.

It’s always easy for me to make things a bit more difficult if someone is doing really well, but it’s hard to take away and back up when a person is in over their head.

Come with an open mind and know what you want to work on. I’m very helpful and will try to help you work through any issues you have, but I also stress to people not to just bounce from clinic to clinic. I feel that having a trainer to go back to and show what you learned is important; otherwise you’re just going from trainer to trainer and sometimes getting conflicting information.

Clinics are about having a fresh set of eyes and learning from others. You can take or leave what you learn at each clinic, and you have to remember that what works for one person may not work for everyone.

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