Clinics can be very helpful. A fresh pair of eyes and some new approaches can help you get out of a rut or offer a new solution to an old problem.
However, clinics are expensive and at times the advice you receive can conflict with what your trainer has tried to impart. So how do you choose where to invest your training dollars?
- Audit before you ride. By auditing a clinic you can get an excellent sense for the clinician’s teaching style and focus. I suggest that you watch several rides, if possible, as that will give you the chance to see if the person has a “program” that they teach to, or whether they adapt their style to different horses and riders. I like to watch riders who are a similar level to my own abilities as well as riders who are better than I am as this gives me the chance to see progression.
- Assess whether this clinician teaches in a style that resonates with you. Let’s face, most trainers, especially the Big Name Trainers (BNT), have a “schtick”. If you don’t relate to the way they like to teach, you probably won’t get enough out of the clinic. For example, I audited a George Morris clinic and while I think he is a brilliant and insightful trainer, you couldn’t pay me to ride with him. I have a friend who rode with a BNT and reported, “that man has made a business out of insulting middle-aged women.” Some people don’t mind some sarcasm; others prefer a more nurturing environment.
- Discuss the clinician with your trainer. Yes, I now that some trainers are jealous or resentful when their students take clinics, but that’s a topic for an entirely different post! A trainer with a balanced personality understands the appeal of getting another opinion and they can help you understand whether a particular clinician is a good match. I once had a terrible ride with a clinician who just didn’t “get” my horse. The very first thing she said to me was, “you know what Trakehner means in German, don’t you? Pig!” I’m sure she thought it was funny, but the rest of the session went down hill from there. Afterward, I called my trainer (who was in Florida) upset about the experience. Her comment? That while this clinician was an excellent trainer, she was not a good match for my horse.
- Talk to people who’ve ridden with the clinician. Find out if they’ve ridden with them more than once, whether the advice or exercises that they were given continue to help, and what distinguishes them from other trainers. Keep in mind that many trainers have an almost cult following, and you might not feel the same way.
- Think hard about what you want to accomplish. Why are you taking a clinic? Is there a particular issue that you’d like them to advise you on? Do they have an area of expertise that is different from your regular trainer? For example, I took some lessons with a trainer who specialized in the type of balance seat taught by Mary Wanless. Her emphasis was different from my regular trainer but in a complementary way. Never be afraid to go into a clinic (or a lesson) with a plan.
- Remember that a clinician sees you only once, or at best occasionally. Unlike your trainer, who has seen the continuum of your progress, when you ride in a clinic that person is teaching the horse and rider that show up, not the one that was either so good or so bad in your last lesson. If that person doesn’t like your horse, or has a program approach that doesn’t work for you, remember that it’s only one ride. Personally, I’ll try most suggestions, unless I think they are dangerous and have sometimes been pleasantly surprised by the results.
At almost every clinic that I’ve ridden in, I’ve gotten at least one good tip or insight. From the clinician I mentioned above (see the “pig” comment), I got a suggestion for a bit changed that ended up helping me a lot. I’ve also learned from watching other rides and sometimes picked up ideas that I was able to take home and apply. Taking clinics also helped me appreciate the qualities of my own trainer. There have certainly been time when I’ve decided to save my money and spend it at home with someone who understands my horse and my abilities, and with whom I’m making progress.