5 Ways to get more out of your Riding Lessons and Clinics

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Have you been taking lessons for a few months and do not seem to be making progress? Do you wonder if you lack the ability? Have you thought about buying another horse that seems better? Do you think your trainer is boring to listen to?

As riders we often give over control of our learning process to the instructor. Sometimes we say “Fix my riding problems” or “Get my horse to respond better to me.” We need to take control of our learning.

Let me repeat what I just wrote – WE NEED TO TAKE CONTROL OF OUR LEARNING. Now I am not saying argue with your trainer every minute of the lesson…that never turns out well. What I am saying is that if you want to improve as a rider – come prepared to learn.

1) Have goals… Monthly and quarterly goals. Share with your instructor the goals you want to achieve. He or she can then work to craft a learning plan with you that will help you achieve those goals. A good conversation with your instructor is the key to building a good learning environment. But remember – a good conversation needs both you and the instructor to listen and hear what each of you is saying.

2) Do your homework between lessons. I remember back to the days when I was learning to play the piano and guitar. Mr. O’Brien would give me homework and I would practice…the day before the next lesson. With a twinkle in his eye, Mr. O’Brien would ask me how often I had practiced. As a 12 year-old I tried the “I practiced lots” answer. He knew and the one and only time I tried that – I knew that I was dancing a line between truth and a lie.Instructors know immediately if you have practiced. So be honest to yourself and your horse and if you have made a commitment to learning – do your homework. If you have not done your homework – let your Instructor know. Good instructors can help you get motivated in your homework and learning – because good instructors are also good coaches, cheerleaders, motivators, and mentors who want to see you and your horse succeed.

3) Eat before the lesson…even just a snack. In the last-minute dash to get your horse loaded and to the lesson or get ready for the instructor to show up you decide to skip breakfast or lunch (or both). You will have a big dinner after your lesson or the clinic. BAD IDEA. When you are hungry you will not learn as well. (Note: the large fancy coffee drink before a lesson will give you that sugar high stamina…but not the energy you need to learn). Have some fruit or nuts or something that your stomach can work on during the lesson.One of the instructors I ride and co-teach with each year is Connie Sparks in Montana. Connie feeds the herd of horses and youth before each clinic. Eggs and French toast is often on the menu – you know why – because Connie is a good instructor who knows the value of getting food into young (and old) bodies so that learning can happen.

4) Keep a journal and lesson log. Write down your thoughts after each lesson or clinic. When you take the time to keep track of your progress it is much easier for you to see your successes. In the journal or lesson log you can write questions regarding your homework…then it helps you connect to doing your homework and know what you want to ask your trainer at the next lesson.

5) Recap after the lesson to make sure you know your homework. Sit down after the lesson or clinic and talk with your instructor. Plan so that you have five minutes of talk time to recap what you learned and what you need to do before the next lesson. In all of my clinics, after each day, we have a chat session. I always ask people “What did you learn that you will take home?” This is to help them recall things from the clinic or the lesson that they found particularly important for their improvement.

Taking a lesson or going to a clinic is all about learning so that you and your horse can improve as a team. Make sure that you are prepared to learn by following these five suggestions.  Feel free to comment on this post with additional suggestions as to how people can improve their learning at clinics and lessons.

Share this Blog and Share your Thoughts?

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

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Five Basics Each Horse and Handler/Rider Needs to Know

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We will begin with the Horse and the five things each horse must know how to do.

1) Walking with respect from the ground.  This means walking without pushing on the handler, pull on the lead line, jumping all over behind the handler, and staying at a walk.  This also means that the horse will stop with the right pre-signals from the handler.  The horse needs to be respectful of the space of the handler.

2) Picking up the feet.  A horse that is not injured or having leg issues needs to stand and allow the handler or veterinarian or farrier pick up its feet.  Way to many times have I found owners who have horses that will not allow someone to pick up its feet.  This is a simple and basic activity that we must do each day to clean the feet and make sure they are in good health.

3) Load into a trailer.  Yes it can be intimidating to a horse to get locked into a big box but this is critical.  If you have an emergency and need to evacuate — your horse needs to load into the trailer quickly and safely.  There are so many reasons that this is important yet it is neglected by many.

4) Walk up to the handler and be caught (have a halter put on).  Horses that do not come when called or do not walk up to the person with the halter are showing major disrespect and a lack of training by the owner/handler.  Chasing a horse in a paddock, pasture or beyond is not a good plan.  Teach your horse to come and be haltered.  How do you do this — not with treats.  Rather, make the experience of being with the person a reward that the horse enjoys and you will see them come when called.

5) Learn to stand tied without pulling back.  There are just times we need to tie a horse up and each horse needs to be taught this from an early stage in life.

We will now move on to the Handler/Rider and the five things each person must know how to do.

1) Know how to saddle a horse properly.  This includes everything from putting on a pad, properly placing the saddle on the horse, putting a halter on correctly (and making sure you know how to tie the knot on the rope halter), fitting the bit correctly, and any other tack items.  Know how to use them correctly or you can hurt your horse or get yourself hurt.

2) Know how to give pre-signals and aides.  Pre-signals help the horse understand what you are planning on doing (moving your leg, half-halt, moving your shoulders as you begin to turn).  Aides are what we do to help guide the horse and each handler and rider need to know how to tell the horse what is going to happen and then how to make it happen.

3) Learn how to feel the horse. Whether you are leading the horse or riding the horse, the person needs to know how to sense or feel where the horse is putting its feet, or head, or body.  The horse is giving us signals about what they are planning on doing (most of the time)…do not ignore those signs or signals.

4) Know how to pick up a foot on a horse.  Yes, we need the horse to know how to pick ups its feet and we need the person to know how to ask for this to be done correctly.  It is not tug of war on the leg.  It is not pick it up and pull it out sideways.  Realize how much (or how little) flexibility is in the leg and do not ask for more than the horse can give you. Help the horse know to shift its weight and take pressure off that hoof so it can be picked up.  (Quick hint for helping pick up a front hoof.  Gently ask the horse to point its head towards the opposite foot you want to pick up.  This helps the horse move weight off the foot you want him/her to pick up.  Makes it much easier to help the horse by doing this because it helps the horse re-balance)

5) Learn and know how to get on and off a horse without pulling and yanking on the horse.  Far to many times I see people grab the horn and use that to help pull them up onto the horse.  That is yanking on the back of the horse and causing discomfort.  (If you need to feel this — have someone put a backpack on you then pull it to one side without moving your body — it is going to hurt some folks) Use a mounting block or be able to mount without pulling on the saddle or mane or reins.  There is never any shame with using a mounting block to be kinder to our horses.  Of course there are times when you cannot seem to find a mounting block and at those times you need to minimize how much you pull on the horse.

I look forward to some of your additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

My horse asked me to not be a trainer anymore — I …. ?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

One of the great aspects of social media is how many ideas and thoughts get shared.  We are now able to chat with people all around the globe and find how similar in thought many people are …. even if the thoughts might just be wrong.

Some of the comments I have read recently that I think are just wrong include the following:

1) I trained my horse to make a flying lead change.

2) I trained my horse to pick up its feet.

3) I trained my horse to walk, trot and canter (lope).

4) I trained my horse to back up.

These are only a few of the comments from people about how they “trained” their horse.  This actually got me thinking about how much the person actual “trained” the horse.  Three definitions I found in the dictionary for the word “training” include 1)   the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing, and 2) the process of bringing a person, etc., to an agreed standard of proficiency, and 3) The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.

Now step away from the reading for a moment and think about a horse or horses in the pasture that have never been handled.  Have you seen a horse such as this make a flying lead change all on its own in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse pick up its feet in the pasture (I have), have you seen a horse back, walk, trot and lope along (I have).

So in reality we have seen a horse do all the things we claim that we train them to do.  Wow — quite arrogant of us people to claim we trained a horse to do something that its own natural talent allows it to do just as easily as it breathes. 

Well as I thought about this I realized I need to change some things in my life and my thought process.  I do not train horses.  I do not want to train horses. I do not want to be known as a horse trainer.   I want to coach myself to work with my horses to achieve success.  I want to coach others to work with their horses to achieve success.  I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. 

I shared this with a friend who asked me what the difference was between being a coach and a trainer.  Well since I am a coach — I sure need to define what that means.  A coach is 100% committed to the outcome of the student’s results.  The coach is prepared with a philosophy and a series of principles that guide the process.  With a coach you have a person who brings everything he or she has to the meeting or time together and finds solutions and enhances the communication and helps those connections grow.  The trainer is a person that works around a set schedule and current commitment to a program.  A trainer provides a service that works for the participant and brings them closer to their goals but may or may not achieve the level of success that is possible.  The trainer is often a person who brings a level of accountability to the process. Trainers set lesson times at 45 minutes and sets horse “training times” based on a wall chart.  Sure those all work — but in my opinion they limit the potential of the horse or rider.

The strongest differentiator between the two is more one of faith and desire than actual training principles.  A coach and the person or animal he/she is coaching meet on an equal level with the desire for a specific outcome.  With a trainer — the goals may be set by both participants but it is the heart of the trainer that helps push the person towards the goals.  Life situations creep into the final outcome between a trainer and a horse or rider – big project at work, family vacation, nagging injury – all legitimate reasons for taking it easy in a training program and the trainer actually helps you validate your excuse.  These excuses do not work when you have a coach.

Definitions of training have words like “Action,” “Process,” “Standard,” and “Discipline.” Coaching is like a marriage between souls – a coach will absorb every new technique and implement all tactics to make the horse or rider better.  Coaches spend hours outside of the “lesson times” to make himself better or improve what he knows.  I watch my horses in the pens.  From day 1 of life to now — wow have they improved their athletic abilities — I must come to this partnership with the same dedication to improving as my horse brings.

My horses have taught me that I should not be a trainer.  Since I get up each day that I am home and feed them, clean stalls, work with them and spend time with them — my horses are coaching me to be better in many things.  They are not training me….the horse brings what she knows and I arrive wanting to achieve success so we coach each other.

So I am a horsemanship coach and a horse coach … not a trainer.  There is nothing wrong with being a trainer and for people to want a trainer.  For some people that is what will help them achieve their goals.  For me — I want to achieve that marriage of souls so that my horse and I and people I have the privilege of coaching and their horses all do so much more than they ever thought possible.

 I want to choreograph the dance that is inside each horse and rider. I want to coach myself and my horses to achieve so much more.  I want to ride…I want to live….I want to listen to the horse coach with four legs who asks me to listen so that we can find this partnership that leads to magic.  It has taken years but now I understand what my horse started sharing with me years ago.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

How much should you plan your ride?

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

In life some people like to plan things out in detail, others like a general plan, and some like to go “Fly the seat of their pants.”  When you “Fly by the seat of your pants”, you decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a pre-determined plan or mechanical aids.

So what works best for horsemanship.  In truth, a plan (at least a general plan) is your best bet.  Sure, when riding horses you must be prepared for changes.  You must be able to move and act in the moment to help you or the horse through an unexpected event.  Here are five reasons riding with a plan really helps.

1) Having a plan can improve the safety for you and your horse.  If you plan to ride in the arena and tell someone so that if you do not return at the right time — they know where to find you.  If you tell someone you are going for a ride wherever the road takes you and you get lost, injured or do not return on time — people that care will be worried and have no easy way of finding you.

2) Having a plan can help you stay out of the rut (fixed boring routine).  When you ride if you plan to do something new today, that you did not do the day before it allows you to track how often you are making sure that the horse is being worked equally.  IF you always warm up and take your circles to the right, you might get into a boring routine and that can actually be damaging for your horse — because you are forgetting to make sure that the muscles on both sides of the horse get worked equally.  Variety helps increase your communication ability with your horse.  It prepares you to be able to get through new things with your horse because you are a team.

3) Having a plan helps you develop new skills.  Let us face it friends…we all have many things on our minds.  Sometimes we forget what we had for breakfast the day before or even that morning.  If you develop riding plans, going so far as to put them to paper or notecards, you are better able to keep track of what you have been learning or what you have been achieving.  As a trainer, I know that I cannot always remember every detail of what I want to teach or what I have learned with a particular student or horse…so I make a plan to make sure I fully challenge and engage each student and horse.

4) Having a plan can help you track your progress.  If you develop a riding plan for the week or month, of course we know it will change, but having some of these things written down will help you see your progress unfolding.  For those days when things did not seem to go well, you can look at your long-term plan and remember just how far you have come along with your horse.

5) Having a plan helps you solve problems.  So many times when we run into problems we are lost for what to do.  We go out the next day and hope it is fixed or we find ways to avoid the problem.  Take the time to plan how you will address the problem you are having and then work with your plan.  Of course there is a need to be flexible but having that plan helps you to be prepared, both in mind and in body to work with your horse to get the two of you past the issue.

Now, please understand that I know horsemanship needs to have the rider/trainer not stay on a path or a plan if it is not working.  Of course you always need to readjust your plan or change it for the situation, horse or issue — but I promise you that having a plan will help you make progress.

As always…I look forward to your comments and additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at http://www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

Teaching your Young Horse to Lead

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Many times people have issue teaching a young horse to lead.  Often folks utilize the butt rope to help the horse move forward and some people use a small whip or stick to tap on the rear end of the horse.  My recommendation is to teach your young horse the “Go Forward Cue.”  I start this with the babies when they are still with their mothers.  This is one of the greatest things you can teach your horse.  If your horse will consistently go forward when you ask, then you can easily teach your horse to load into a trailer, walk into a stall, and stand on the “blue tarp.”  The Go Forward Cue will help you and your horse stay safe when you are teaching or working your horse from the ground.

Here is how to teach the Go Forward Cue.  Stand on the horse’s left side next to his shoulder.  Hold the lead rope with your left hand.  Point your left hand in the direction that you want your horse to travel.  With your right hand use pressure and release on the flank, side, or rear and say “FORWARD.”  Some horses may not move forward easily and you may need to reach back and tap the rear.  As your horse walks forward, let the lead rope in your left-hand slide so that your horse experiences no resistance and is able to walk forward.  As soon as your horse has moved far enough forward you can stop him where he stands.  Repeat this exercise on the right side of the horse by simply reversing your hands.  As you get this process working and your horse begins going forward and leading nicely you can change your aides slightly to get more response with less action/pressure on your part.

When you are now able to lead your horse normally, you can change your hand position to be open and facing upwards with the lead across the palm of your hand.  Think of the underhand toss of a softball.  That is the mechanics you want to use to encourage your horse to speed up into a faster walk or even a trot when you are leading him.  This works great for teaching your horses for halter classes. When you want your horse to slow down, you can change your hand so that your fingers close over the top of the lead and point towards the ground.  One further refinement is in your breathing.  Again, once you have your horse leading and going forward, you can control speed and stopping with your breathing.  Inhale and lift your shoulders to get your horse to move forward or exhale and slow down to get your horse to slow or come to a stop.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

FIVE TRUTHS FOR GREAT HORSEMANSHIP

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Five Truths for Great Horsemanship

#1 – Time spent leads to success.

If you want to improve your riding, get to the barn, ride, take lessons, go to clinics, and ask questions of people that ride better than you.

#2Your Hands controlling the Horse’s feet leads to success.

If you can ride softly and speak to your horse through the reins and have control over the front and rear legs of your horse you are on the road to success.

#3Watch yourself or someone else ride your horse.

When you can step back and see what your horse does, how she moves, how she flexes/bends, how she responds, you are on the road to better understanding of your horse.

#4Ride the horse between your legs.

Do not get on a horse and expect him/her to be exactly like another horse you have ridden.  Each horse is unique and you need to ride the one that is between your legs.  Another way of saying this is do not expect one horse to be like another – make goals and plans for that specific horse.

#5Cross-training for you and your horse develops leadership, confidence, and skill.

Teach your horse something different and you will connect with his/her mind.  When you connect with the mind, you teach new skills, gain confidence and the horse realizes you can lead.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).

The Rider – Clinician Relationship in Horsemanship

The Rider – Clinician Relationship in Horsemanship

By Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) and Kimberly Bench (www.Benchmark-Farm.com)

This is the third in a series of blogs on how we as owners interact with the different professionals that we rely on in the horse world. For this blog, we have brought together Kimberly Bench and Dr. Mike Guerini. Some of these interactions in the horse world include:

Horse Owner – Horse Trainer

Rider – Riding Instructor

Rider – Clinician

Horse Owner – Veterinarian

Horse Owner – Farrier

Horse Owner – Stable/arena owner/manager

Dr. Mike discussed the Rider – riding Instructor relationship in the last blog. This time we are looking to the Rider – Clinician relationship and things you can do to help this interaction be a success. Many thanks to Kimberly Bench for adding her expertise to this discussion.

Kimberly Bench comes from a classical dressage background and Dr. Mike comes from a western performance background, so in this blog you are getting the advice from two distinct backgrounds — but you are also getting to see that we have many similarities and shared perspectives.

The rider – clinician relationship is different from that of a rider and riding instructor. Often, the relationship with the clinician occurs only once or infrequently. The rider – riding instructor relationship is one built for the long term with goals and objectives.

The importance of the clinician/owner relationship and how this compliments owner/trainer relationship.

Many riders have successful careers by taking weekly lessons, formulating plans with an instructor, and following through on those plans. Other riders learn from multiple/different instructors and/or a clinician(s) visiting the area that can provide an opportunity for additional learning. For some riders, learning from a trusted trainer and clinician is the optimal combination.

It is important that you take the time to evaluate different clinicians and choose those who will challenge you as a rider, teach you something new, or help you overcome an issue with your horse. If you are working routinely with an instructor, discuss with him/her why you feel that you will benefit from attending the clinic.

Kimberly Bench describes in detail how her farm operates with respect to continuing education and advising students on clinicians. At our farm, continuing education is a big focus so I try to provide outside educational opportunities for both my students and myself regularly. Last year we had an FEI coach/rider come in monthly – this spring we are lucky enough to be hosting her as a guest instructor for weekly lessons.

I pick clinicians that will compliment my program and enhance what my students are learning at home. Continuity is important, especially in newer/less-experienced riders. I try to go be as involved as possible with my students’ education, and I find that attending clinics with them not only allows me the opportunity to learn as well, but also helps me further explain and reinforce the material at home.  I will also often speak with the clinician about “homework” for my student after the clinic, which helps make the clinic beneficial to the rider longer term.  More seasoned riders may feel confident trying many different clinicians who will offer them a broader perspective, but I find that often times the newer rider is overwhelmed and confused by too many different approaches when it comes very early in their education. It is a great benefit to the rider if the at home instructor attends the clinic with the student, either as a participant or as an auditor. 

It is also a good idea to observe (audit) a clinician before participating as a rider. Often times a clinic sounds good but when you get there you realize the ideas presented are completely contrary to what you believe or perhaps the instructor has a teaching style not suited for your learning abilities. It also gives you the opportunity to be introduced to the material and have a little time to prepare yourself mentally for what you may learn. See how the clinician interacts with the students, the auditors. Is he/she willing to get the horses? Does his teaching approach compliment your existing educational program, your goals? Is the clinician open to questions about why they want you to do something and is he/she willing to break it down if you need further explanation? Is she patient? Does he work well with all levels of riders or is he better with specific groups?

Dr. Mike says, “As an instructor, I encourage my students to attend clinics with other clinicians a few times a year. This helps my riders grow in experience and reinforce or deepen what they are learning at home. After a student attends a clinic, we speak about what he or she learned and how it applies to what is happening on our regular lessons.”

One of the benefits of the rider – clinician relationship is that the rider gets to hear the clinician discuss principles and concepts being spoken about and taught by the regular riding instructor. There is a true harmony between the clinician and riding instructor if the clinician is chosen wisely. As is often said “There are many roads to Rome” but you need to find professional horsemen and horsewomen who will compliment your goals. A clinician may do things differently or discuss something from a different perspective but it is important that it make sense with respect to what you are doing with your horse.

For example, Kimberly Bench recently attended a clinic that presented some material that contradicted what she believes about classical riding.  Several of the horses became increasingly tense and resistant during their sessions. Kimberly determined that some of this clinician’s techniques may have worked for certain horses and riders, but overall it was not an approach she would adopt in her own training/teaching. She was, however, still able to find some valuable insight and a few good idea’s to take home, reinforcing the idea that everyone can teach you something – sometimes it’s what not to do – but even that has merrit!

Both Dr. Mike and Kimberly want to share a moral of this story. As professionals, we often attend a variety of clinics and can find something to learn from the experience. New and less-experienced riders can be caught up in something that doesn’t/won’t work for them but can’t get past the “but I saw it at this clinic and…”.   Having an educated professional with you at your clinic can help you sort through all of the information and incorporate what is appropriate for you, your horse, and your goals. 

Dr. Mike says, “As a clinician I present in areas I have never visited and have no connection to any of the riders or trainers in that location. Because of this, it is very critical that I spend time on the phone or on email with riders or auditors so that I can share my philosophy and approach and let them know the goals of the clinic. I also welcome, at no cost, local instructors to audit my clinics. I want the local trainers, many of whom might have a student attending my clinic, see what I am doing, and ask me questions — it enhances the learning for all. My Dr. Mike’s Horsemanship series highlights what I teach and these books, along with my website and blogs help people understand who I am as a clinician. It is also important to ask EVERY student throughout the day — “Do you follow what I am teaching?

How to be a successful rider in a clinic (preparation and how to be active and learn there).

Be prepared for the time commitment of a clinic. You and your horse both need to be physically able to take part in whatever clinic format (discussed later) you have chosen to attend. You and the horse must be up to the demands of more difficult work, therefore, if you have serious goals, you must dedicate the time necessary to reach the level of fitness required to reach those goals in the clinic.

Talk to the clinician about the warm up policy. Some clinicians like to observe the horse and rider in warm up because it can give valuable insight to the horse and rider relationship. Other times a clinician may expect that you have already warmed up and are ready to work so it is important to discuss this with your clinician or clinic organizer before the start of the clinic. Also, ask if you will be allowed into the ring for your warm-up while the rider before you is finishing up. (If you need to lunge your horse also ask about opportunities to do that.)

For your attendance at the clinic, minimize the number of distractions during your lesson time. When you cannot pay full attention to the lesson, you and your horse are not optimally prepared for learning. Distractions can keep you from focusing on the task and this leads to a situation where you or the horse can get hurt. Also consider the other riders – bringing young children, pets, or other distractions may not only distract you, but the clinician, horses and other riders as well.

Make sure you take the time to email or communicate with the clinician or his/her team about your background and goals. A good clinician should be able to help you grow as a rider and push you to excel and you need to accept or discuss with them how much they might be pushing you. Be honest with yourself as well as the clinician as to your level of commitment to reach those goals.

Clinic formats and how to decide what works best for you.

Multiple clinic formats exist and are utilized throughout the US and the rest of the world. We will discuss three formats most commonly encountered.

In every clinic, regardless of the format, it is important for the clinician to adapt to the needs of each rider on that particular day.

As Kimberly Bench said,

The clinic plan needs to be flexible. I always have a rough idea of what I’d like to work on, however, I have to work with what is in front of me that day. Perhaps the horse is a little distracted because snow is sliding off the arena roof. Maybe the rider had a tough workout at the gym and has a stiff back and is having difficulty sitting the trot. A few weeks ago I taught a clinic; one of the riders had emailed me in advance to tell me she wanted to improve her horse’s connection at the canter.  I believe she thought we would spend the lesson in the canter after the warm up. What I found when I began the lesson was that the horse was not forward and therefore was behind the bit and on the forehand. He was also dull to her leg aides. We went back to the basics of sending the horse forward into the contact, we worked on leg yielding in and out on a circle and then on a parallel line. I also adjusted her position as the way she was sitting had her seat bones facing backwards, restricting the horses desire to swing through in the back. The majority of the lesson was spent in the walk and trot. However, near the end of the lesson when I asked them to canter again the connection problem had resolved.

If I had restricted myself to a detailed lesson plan, we could have spent 45 minutes of cantering poorly. Cantering itself does not improve cantering, just as asking for 100 flying changes does not fix a problem with the flying change. It is my job to identify what issues need to be addressed; guide the horse and rider through exercises that help improve the work and instruct them on how to achieve the desired results. It is also my job to help the rider understand the bigger picture and strict lesson plans are often detrimental to the overall goal.

Similar experiences have been encountered by Dr. Mike who says, “It is the job of the clinician to adjust and adapt to accommodate each student’s learning style and to help make sure a strong foundation exists. Once that foundation exists and is the basis for good fundamentals, many problems are solved.”

Format #1 — Multiple riders over a single day or multiple days — the group option.

In the group format, anywhere from 5 to 30 riders may attend a clinic and take instruction. For some people this works well because they have frequent break periods while the clinician is working with someone else on a particular issue. Also, for some people, learning is easier when they see everything done by someone else and can process what they are learning   simultaneously. This type of clinic may run 1 to 4 days and can be a lot to take in for some riders and horses.

Format #2 — Riders scheduled one at a time with auditors — the one-on-one option.

With private sessions, one on one time is set and the clinician works with riders independently. Other riders and auditors may watch and learn. Often times the clinician will stop and ask if the auditors have any questions about what was covered in between riders.  This format allows the clinician to give more focused feedback and works well for rider who want a more detailed, intense lesson.

Format #3 — Group lesson in the morning and then private sessions with each rider in the afternoon.

This format can provide the benefits of the two previously mentioned formats where the group session introduces the concepts and then the individual sessions can fine tune the application of them.

In summary:

1) Find a clinic and clinician that will help you move forward with your goals. Make sure the clinic format works for you and that you and your riding instructor (if applicable) have discussed the right clinician for you.

2) Be prepared to learn. By this you need to be physically fit, not distracted, and devoted to the learning opportunity.

3) As always — have fun and practice safe horsemanship.

Kimberly Bench is a clinician, instructor and horsewoman specializing in Classical Dressage. She owns and operates Benchmark Farm in Hudsonville, MI. She has developed a program she calls “Practical Dressage” which is designed to teach riders of any discipline how the classical training scale can work for them. Find more information at www.Benchmark-Farm.com.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (www.hydrot.com).