Maybe you’re someone who regularly participates in clinics or maybe you’re thinking about signing up to your first one. Either way, here are some tips and pointers to help you get the most from your experience.

Before the Clinic Starts

My first suggestions fall under the category of “pretty obvious.” For starters, get to the clinic early and be ready to go on time.

If the clinic is being held at a facility that you and your horse aren’t familiar with, it’s best to allow for some time to show your horse the area where you’ll be working. It gives you both time to settle in and become familiar with the surroundings. If your horse is going to have a meltdown about a banner on the arena fence, or something along that line, it would be nice to know sooner rather than after the clinic has started and there are a dozen other horses around you all spooking at the same banner.

If you get a chance to talk to the clinician before things get started, I sure recommend doing so.

As a clinician, I like to have an idea of where the participants are at with their horses and their horsemanship and what they hope to get out of the clinic. This lets me know what parts in the clinic to emphasize to certain people and maybe which points not to spend as much time on.

Although most clinics have some sort of outline that’s going to be followed, each clinic is different and the dynamic changes depending on who is participating and their abilities, goals, etc.

Don’t feel that you have to give the clinician your and your horse’s life story. (With several horses and riders in the clinic, they probably won’t be able to remember it anyway.) Just give them the highlights, focusing on the areas that you want to work on and improve.

During the Clinic

Once the clinic gets underway, my best advice is to pay attention, be open-minded, and give everything a good honest try.

I find some folks have the notion they’re going to debate with the clinician or tell them how they learned to do things a different way than what is being shown in the clinic. The important point to keep in mind is that you signed up to learn from the clinician – not the other way around.

The clinician has a reason for doing things the way they’re being shown. No one is going to insist that you do what the clinician is teaching for the rest of your life. What you’re seeing is one person’s training style. Give it a shot and you might be surprised how well it works. If you try it and it doesn’t work that well for you, then you don’t have to stick with it when the clinic is over.

Try to participate in everything being shown.

If you’re being shown an exercise that you already know, I would really recommend practising it anyway. Don’t think that because your horse knows a particular exercise that you should skip it. A lot of times, the clinician will be able to show you how to make something that was good on your horse even better.

Also, a lot of horses won’t perform a particular manoeuvre as well at the clinic as they will at home in their normal surroundings. This can work to your advantage because, if you practise at the clinic, it will make your horse more solid and reliable in any setting.

On the flip side of the coin, if you’re being asked to do something that you feel is over your horse’s head, I would say to give it a try and see how it goes.

Remember, you’re there to grow your horsemanship and, to do that, you’re going to have to move out of your comfort zone. However, if you’re really in over your head, just tell the clinician. Chances are, they can break things down to make the exercise easier or give you a different way to accomplish the same task.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Likely, someone else in the clinic has the same question and is happy you asked so they didn’t have to. It also helps the clinician focus on the particular things that the participants really want to learn.

After the Clinic

My final thought: take what works for you home and practise it.

I often make the point that clinics are more for the owners than the horses. That’s because there’s usually so much information in a clinic that the horse won’t be able to remember a big portion of what it was shown. Clinics are more for the participants to learn the information, so they can take it home and practise and make their horses better over time.

Just attending a clinic won’t improve your horsemanship – practising what you learned will.