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Horsemanship Clinics: Getting the Most From Your Experience
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Horsemanship Clinics: Getting the Most From Your Experience

Clinics are structured learning opportunities that focus on a discipline, approach, or topic (in this case, related to horses) that are intended to share knowledge, improve insight and enrich skills. The host clinician has spent a bit of time developing the structure and lesson plan for the clinic – from topic to information delivery to providing the participants with an opportunity to apply the skills they shared.

In short, the host clinician has invested time, energy and effort to create something he or she feels is valuable to the participants. It takes a bit of courage to stand in front of a group of strangers and say “follow me for a while” and “trust me to help you” on some level. It is not for the faint of heart!

We, as participants and auditors, also invest in the experience. We spend the money to attend, listen, take notes, ride and learn. We set our egos and our “what we know” attitude at the arena gate and turn on our “active listening” skills to the hearing, processing, understanding, and application of the knowledge being shared.

We invest in the shared experience through active participation, respect for the clinician’s efforts, respect for other participants and preparing our horses (and ourselves) to get the most out of the clinic. Getting the most out of any learning opportunity is simple, but like so many things in life, it is not easy. Here are some guidelines to help you get the most for your next clinic experience.

PREPARE: Do your homework! Research the discipline or approach you are taking the clinic on. Review any skills that are a prerequisite for this particular clinic (meaning do not take your barely green broke horse to an intermediate level horsemanship clinic).

Prepare your horse for working in a group, in a new place, possibly in front of a crowd. Prepare your horse for the trip and resolving any major trailering issues BEFORE you set out on the road. Give your tack and your trailer any repairs, cleaning or attention they may need to be in good working order.

Prepare yourself! If the clinic is a three-day experience that runs for eight hours each day, you need to prepare yourself for that level of work. Preparation is the key to success. Being prepared will allow you and your horse to get the most out of the clinic experience.

LISTEN/READ/LEARN: This may sound “simple” but it is not “easy.” When attending a clinic or other learning opportunity, one has to set aside what they believe they know and be open to new approaches. These opportunities are not about proving what you already know. They are about enriching and enhancing your skill set and experience.

The term “active listening” means that one listens to learn, not just to reply. It means processing the presented information in one’s mind, asking questions related to the presented information and then actually applying it to the learning opportunity. If study materials are provided prior to the session, take time to read and process them. Be open to new approaches and concepts. Do your best to apply them during the session before making a judgment on the validity of the exercises presented.

If you are an Auditor, then audit. Critiques or commentary on the clinician or participants during the clinic do not help enrich the experience. In fact, it does exactly the opposite! Those participating have invested both time and money in the learning opportunity, put themselves, their horses and their “performance” out there, in front of you (which you can actually learn from) and as such should be respected for making the effort.

Take good notes. Take pictures (if allowed) and when appropriate, ask questions. Be a positive part of the learning opportunity. Auditing is all about learning, just like participating. Respect the experience, practice active listening and you will be surprised how many “pearls of wisdom” you will receive.

PRACTICE: Again, this sounds “simple” but it is not “easy” by nature. While in the action of the learning opportunity, you are processing and applying the skill/exercise with the help of the clinician. Once you are home, you will need to review and practice the learned skills to truly own them and incorporate them into your program. Odds are you will have questions as you practice at home because the results you are getting at home “feel different” than what you and your horse experienced during the session. This is normal.

And most clinicians are open to questions after the session. A simple email or phone call can often help you and your horse refine and improve the exercise, thereby enhancing the performance and demonstrating that you valued the coaching. Allow yourself and your horse to really process the information and adapt to it.

Every horse and human learns differently and at different paces. Give yourself and your horse time to “get it” and, as you practice together, allow learning to occur at its own pace. Remember that the clinician practices their approach every day and really owns it. As a student, you are on a learning curve or sorts and giving yourself permission to not be super awesome today (but keep that as a goal for tomorrow) will actually increase the value of the learning opportunity.

Clinics, workshops, and lessons are fantastic! They have real value and can create wonderful opportunities to improve your horsemanship, communication, and confidence. Your horse reaps the benefits too! The better you are for your horse, the better your horse will be for you. Following these tips will help you to get the most out of any clinic you audit or participate in.

Thanks for reading!

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  1. jst4horses
    This is a good article. Clinics are always valuable, even if you just leann "NEVER let this happen to YOU". Auditing can help you see what YOU do wrong all the time. Taking pictures and notes is NOT a great idea, since most clinics you are ON your horse, but it IS a great idea for auditing. Yes, every trainer has a different slant, even the star certified trainers in a certain line of trainers, BUT the most important thing to learn in ANY clinic is that horses are the same. Many of them need stop being My Little Pony toys and let to be horses. Then they need to learn that OU are the Alpha Mare and you will be in horse heaven. SOME of the auditors are old timers in the discipline and CAN help green horses and green riders. I have even been invited to clinics to come and wander among the riders and help them with what is going on with the clinic, being trusted to do what is going on, not my own agenda. Otherwise, auditors do need to take notes and video if allowed to take home. I suggest a visit to a GREAT wild horse free roaming ranch to learn about HORSES before going to a clinic. Learning what Horses know, and respecting it is a great step towards becoming more than sack of wobbling, sometimes screaming or swearing baggage to your horse. Clinics are well worth the money spent, as noted, even the bad ones, you can then say, NEVER let this happen to me.
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