I’m going to say something controversial: be really careful about doing clinics!


1985 – Me and Bruce Davidson – Mountain Meadows, Duvall, Washington

First of all, yes, I’m a participant in, and organizer of, clinics. And yes, I’ve learned quite a bit in clinics, and enjoy taking home what I’ve learned and working on it, to improve myself and my horses. And that is exactly what a clinic is for, and why people agree to teach them – to see good students make use of their knowledge and advice and use it to better themselves as riders. This makes for better horsemanship. That’s the goal.

On rare occasions – less, now that I know a bit more about life and horses – I’ve gone to clinics that were totally a waste of time, gas money, and my horse’s abilities and life. I’ve regretted these and still remember them painfully. I’ve searched for the meaning in the bad ones, and most of the time, what I learned what that clinician was a good person to stay away from, and the person setting up the clinic who talked me into it, was not to be trusted again. There are thieves in the horse world just like the real world.

So let’s talk about the good parts: A good clinic cements the basics, stretches you a little, and improves on what you have already got in the tank – a leaves you with positive things to do and feel going forward. Being able to watch all the other sessions in the clinic, those before your group and those after your group, especially those who are slightly ahead of you in skills, is an immense part of the clinic experience. Not everyone learns by observation, but most riders do, and because of that a good clinic, well organized, with a proper teacher leading it, will be a positive learning experience.

So that’s what a clinic is supposed to do.

And choosing to participate in a clinic should be a decision you should absolutely not make lightly. For yourself, and for your horse!

Here’s why clinics go wrong:

  • A huge mistake so many organizers and riders make today is to believe the press. What a person says about themselves on social media is not who they are! What they believe is not always what is classically correct. A couple of half-ass rides around a big cross-country course that happens to have television cameras around it does not make one an expert in teaching a novice horse and green rider! I have preached this over and over. Selecting a proper clinician needs knowledge aforehand of what kind of trainer and instructor this person really is. How much do they teach and coach at their home base? Do they have a program? Who have they produced? What is their forte? There are some incredibly good teachers out there that have never ridden around Rolex, but have produced young horses or riders that win events year after year. Don’t underestimate a good clinician; don’t overestimate a bad one.
  • It’s easy to go on line and watch a lot of Youtube videos of clinics, read clinic reports, look up clinicians online and read and discover their resume’s and riding history. I would hope everyone engaging a clinician would do that before booking. Be familiar with what they are likely to teach, and how it is taught. Here’s some examples of poor clinicians:
    • some clinicians are big on heavy gymnastic jumping.
    • Some incorporate the dressage first and like to build the jumping session slowly, picking on rider’s positions to a minute degree.
    • Some add more and more complicated exercises til a student reaches the point where they fail.
    • Some go very quickly, spending little time on flat work and moving right on up to higher jumps.
    • Some do not do groups well and tend to teach specifically to individual riders while the others in must wait and watch
    • some have an attitude about how riders present themselves and more worried about tack and dress
  • There are a ton of clinicians out there, sadly, because it is a lucrative endeavor and easy to make money if you promote yourself well enough.
  • The other thing is know your riders and horses. Who is likely to participate, what is their horsemanship level, are they a good fit for this clinic and his or her style? Is this a clinic where it will be important to watch other groups, and are the riders mature enough for that?
  • As a rider, my group is CRITICAL to my learning experience. An organizer must know the horses and riders and put groups together with a lot of thought – that is the best way for all involved to learn the maximum amount and get their money’s worth.
  • Having too many horses in a jumping group is just death for a good clinic – there is nothing worse than warming up, then sitting around, then taking a horse out and jumping through an exercise cold, then going back and sitting around.
  • Worse is people who chat or talk or interrupt the clinician while others are riding. Rude behavior by spectators, parents, other trainers.
  • Clinics that run behind schedule or just as bad, ahead of schedule, so you aren’t ready when it’s your turn to ride!
  • No accommodation made to allow nonriders to watch or observe the clinic (no chairs, no place to stand or sit and watch).
  • No place to put your horse while you observe or a parking area too far away to be convenient for horse care before and after. Cross country clinics tend to be located a long way from water for the horses, for instance. Just a few things that make a clinic an endurance contest rather than an educational experience.
  • Another false belief is that clinics are just like lessons with a guest instructor instead of your regular one. Yikes! I hope that people would not set up clinics for this reason – I guess I’m old fashioned – but the classical clinic scheme for me is always at least a day long or multi-day educational experience that involves observation and participation both. One should respect a clinic as a total educational, horsemanship enhancing experience – and the clinician should as well. That’s what I feel I am paying for.

See, you need to take something home from a clinic. If you take nothing home, it’s been a waste of your time and worse, a waste of your horse. The threat of losing more than you are getting, to me, makes clinic very very important choices to make for my training and my horses. I need to KNOW I am going to get more out of it than I would had I just stayed home, or taken a lesson with my regular trainer. That’s horsemanship.

So those are the reasons I think clinics should be very carefully thought about. They are wonderful experiences, done right – they are terrible experiences, done wrong.

Here’s a list of the professionals I’ve cliniced with:

Bruce Davidson

Jack LeGoff – 4 times

Sally Cousins

Sharon White

Tim Bourke – many times

Aviva Nebesky – 3 times

Charlotte Bredahl

Gunnar Ostergaard

Pam Pentz

Hilda Gurney – 5/6 times

Sandi Chohany

Phillip Dutton – 4/5 times

Boyd Martin