Two Decades of Learning: 10 Valuable Lessons Learned from Riding in Clinics

Riding with British Olympian William Fox-Pitt. Photo by Jennifer McFall.

I was lucky enough to be born into an equestrian family, climbing onto saddles as soon as I could walk. My parents, Earl and Jen McFall, are both three-day eventers and trainers. They run Dragonfire Farm, which is a horse breeding and training facility founded by my grandmother Cheron. She originally started off breeding pure Morgan horses, which my mom and dad trained for competition. Eventually the entire farm changed over to the discipline of eventing, and I learned a lot from being able to experience both of these different worlds.

I’ve been eventing for the past 12 years now, and my parents have been helping me develop my skills when it comes to training horses and becoming a top level rider. While they’re both capable teachers with plenty of experience, they know the value of taking lessons from a variety of instructors, so they’ve done their best to bring top riders out to Dragonfire Farm for clinics.

We’ve hosted some of the finest riders in the world at Dragonfire, including Philip Dutton, Lucinda Green, Boyd Martin, Susie Hutchinson, Tamie Smith, Buck Davidson, Hawley Bennett-Awad and William Fox-Pitt. Each clinic has been an opportunity to learn and understand horse riding from different perspectives.

There are so many different types of instructors out there and each has their own way of explaining things. Gaining outlooks from so many different minds has given me a big pool of lessons to pull from. Having taken advantage of these opportunities to ride with some of the best riders in the world, here are the 10 most valuable lessons that will help you get the most out of the clinics you attend.

Riding with Boyd Martin at Dragonfire. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

1. Watch and Learn From the Other Riders

Clinics provide an opportunity to observe multiple lessons in one day. Attend some of the other groups and you’ll get to learn from watching other riders. Their successes and failures can help you identify ways to improve your own riding.

2. Come with an Open Mind

Embrace the opportunity to try new techniques, even if they challenge your current approach. Be adaptable and open to change, as it might lead to a breakthrough in your riding.

3. Know Your Group Size Preferences

Consider whether you thrive in a larger group setting where you can watch and learn from fellow riders or if you prefer a more one-on-one lesson. Personally, I learn best from watching how other riders approach the same task. Choose a clinic that aligns with your learning style.

4. Know Your Horse and Your Limits

Over-facing your horse and challenging him with something he isn’t ready for won’t help your growth — speak up when you’re in over your head! No matter how experienced or how accomplished your instructor is, they don’t know your horse as well as you do.

Riding with Olympic show jumper Susie Hutchinson. Photo by Jennifer McFall.

5. Widen Your Horizons

To evolve as a rider, I’ve sought lessons from a diverse range of instructors. Each clinician brings a fresh perspective and innovative techniques to the table. Riding with different trainers can provide you with the new techniques or ideas you need to continue improving. The teacher who gives you that “break through” moment might not be who you expect.

6. Take Videos for Self-Reflection

Recording your lessons can be a valuable tool for self-improvement. Reviewing the footage allows you to absorb the instructor’s guidance and assess your riding performance objectively. It always feels different than it looks, looking back at your ride and listening to the instructor’s words can help you better understand the lesson.

7. Don’t Fear “Bad Rides”

Clinics often are challenging and this might cause new or old issues between you and your horse to come to the surface. Not having a perfect ride shouldn’t be embarrassing; clinics are a great place to solve problems since you could get a fresh new solution for a problem you’ve been struggling with. Failure is a chance to learn.

8. Find the Best Teachers

When looking for a new instructor to learn from, make sure you look beyond someone’s achievement in competition. While there are many great riders who are also great teachers, being good at something doesn’t always mean you’re effective at teaching. Look for the best teachers out there — someone who can connect with you and has the right outlook for learning goals.

How it started: an early clinic with Hawley Bennett-Awad. Photo by Jennifer McFall.

9. Be Appreciative

Show gratitude to the clinician for their time and expertise. Fully engage in the lesson, avoid distractions, and make the most out of the opportunity to learn.

10. Find One Key Take Away

When going to clinics and learning from different instructors you’re going to get a lot of different advice, and you won’t be able to apply all of it. Take one bit of advice from each lesson or each clinic you take and really implement it into your riding. It’s up to you to decide which advice is the most effective for you and your horse.

Clinics are a great opportunity to challenge yourself and learn so much in a short amount of time. I find opportunities to apply what I’ve learned from clinics in competition and in my lesson program.

As I continue to work alongside my parents in our family business, Dragonfire Farm, I remain committed to evolving as both a horse trainer and an instructor. I am immensely proud to be the third generation involved in this equestrian venture, and I owe my growth and success to the dedication of my parents and grandparents. Their support has allowed me to explore the broader equestrian world and I’m thankful for the investment they’ve put into my learning.

This column is brought to you in collaboration with Athletux, one of the longest running equestrian marketing agencies in the business working exclusively with equestrian brands, athletes like Taylor, and events. Click here to learn more about how Athletux can help you!

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