How To Get the Most out of a Riding Clinic

Whether you’re attending your first clinic or your tenth, these tips from professional clinicians will help you get the absolute most out of the experience as possible.

Attending a clinic with your horse, or auditing from the sidelines is an excellent way to learn and improve as a rider. It can be an overwhelming experience though from having to ride in front of strangers, to feeling like you aren’t prepared, clinics are tough. See what these clinic professionals had to say about getting absolutely everything you can out of the experience possible.

Clinics are a great experience for horses and riders.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Collier.

Meet the Experts

Sandy Collier: As a National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Fame member and multiple world champion and Snaffle Bit Futurity winner, Collier shares more than 30 years of professional experience through her hands-on horse training clinics. Her goal is to teach riders how to understand how horses think for better communication and horsemanship.

Johnathan Field: With a background as a competitive rider, cowboy, student, and now clinician, Field has built his clinician program on fostering lasting relationships between horses and riders through natural horsemanship. As a Road to the Horse finalist and Brainard Award for Horsemanship award recipient, he strives to help students understand horses on a deeper level and help riders develop as horsemen at his clinics.

Richard Winters: Understanding horses, as well as their riders, has been the key to Winters pursuing and understanding the art of horsemanship for nearly four decades. As an NRCHA world champion and former director of the horse program at the prestigious Thacher School in Ojai, California, Winters brings a wealth of knowledge to his clinics to help riders take the necessary steps to improve.

Joy Wargo: As an AQHA world and reserve world barrel racing champion, Wargo believes in helping others become better horsemen through her clinics. She focuses on building equine athletes that will last for the long run through consistency and focus.

Come Prepared

Think of attending a clinic like going back to school. You wouldn’t show up to school late without the necessary books and supplies, right? It’s important to have the same kind of mindset when going into a clinic. You’ll want to plan ahead so you have all the necessary tools you need to participate.

“Come to class prepared,” Winters says. “Make a checklist of the things you’ll need to bring to the clinic and come prepared to work hard and learn. While clinics are supposed to be enjoyable and sometimes a social event, it’s important to take it seriously so you can get everything you possibly can out of the experience.”

Plan to get to the clinic a little earlier than the start time, so you can get your horse settled into the new facility and have him mentally ready to participate in the clinic. This is also the time to pull the clinician aside if you have any questions about your tack and gear.

“As a participant, getting there promptly, being saddled, and getting your horse warmed up before the clinic starts is important because you only have a certain amount of time with the clinician,” Collier shares. “If you have questions about bits or anything, ask the clinician before the clinic starts.”

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to arrive at the clinic prepared and ready to learn.
Photo courtesy of Richard Winters.

It’s easy to get excited and get caught up in preparing for the actual clinic, but don’t forget about your horse’s needs, too. If you’re going to be gone all day, make sure you packed water buckets, feed buckets, and a hay bag, so that your horse can eat and drink during breaks.

Have a Prepared Horse

Winters recommends taking time to make sure your horse is prepared before you get to the clinic. He should be in shape and on the appropriate riding level for the clinic you’re attending. If you’re attending a cow horse clinic and your horse has never seen a cow in his life, he’s most likely not going to be ready for the drills and lessons you’re going to be working on at the clinic, meaning you and your horse won’t be able to get much out of it.

[Read More: How to Give –and Get– a Good Clinic]

Be Open-Minded

When you’re attending a clinic, you’re subjecting yourself to a whole new world of riders, training techniques, and opinions. It’s necessary to be open to new ideas before stepping foot in the arena so you don’t tune out all the information that’s being shared. Just because you were taught one technique for working on turns with your horse doesn’t mean the clinician’s technique is wrong, it’s just different. You can learn something from everyone, but you must be open-minded enough to actually let that knowledge sink in.

Have an open mind and be willing to try new techniques so you can absorb as much as possible.
Photo courtesy of Joy Wargo.

“Go in with an open mind. Know that not everything is for everybody but take the bits and pieces and apply it to where it can be applied,” says Wargo. “If you learn something that doesn’t necessarily apply to the specific horse you’re riding in the clinic, shelve that information and try it with your next horse.”

Don’t Over Expect Progress

Clinics are a great way to learn and make progress with your horse but it’s important to realize that you’re not going to fix all your problems in a day and that some of the training techniques you learn that day are things you need to consistently do when you’re riding in order to see improvement.

You can’t expect a green horse to attend one clinic and be able to do the same kind of maneuvers a finished horse can do. But you can expect to learn how to help get your horse to that next level.

Jonathan Field says that during longer or multi-day clinics, one can’t expect a problem to be fixed quickly. Some things might improve in a few hours, but others might take a few days or weeks to see any progress. If you go into the clinic expecting a problem to be fixed immediately, you’re only setting your horse up for failure and will be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

“Try to think of two major things you want to work on throughout the clinic. Don’t go into it trying to learn 75 different things in a matter of hours,” said Field. “The goal of a clinic is to help you improve in the future, not just in that day.”

Don’t Be Shy

If you’re used to riding by yourself or with a small group of friends, attending a clinic can be an overwhelming experience. The biggest thing to remember is that everyone is there to learn. They’re most likely going to be so focused on their own horses that they won’t even notice when you make a tiny mistake.

“People come to clinics and are afraid to look bad or ride in front of other people. Leave your ego at the gate, jump in, and try new things,” says Collier. “The only way you’re going to get better is if you’re willing to be involved and make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to look bad or mess up.”

Another important tip is to remember to ask questions. And if you have a question, there’s a good chance someone else in the crowd has the same one.

“The more interactive you are, the more you get out of it so don’t be afraid to ask a question,” said Wargo. “There aren’t any stupid questions at a clinic when you’re trying to learn.”

Winters said that it’s important not to be a wallflower during a clinic.

“Speak up, be involved. You spent the money, so get the most out of it,” Winters said. “Ask questions be respectful, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

There needs to be more meat between each quote, more advice than one sentence. It’s hard to follow right now since you have 3 different people giving advice without much explanation in between.

[Read More: The Difference a Clinic Makes]

Be A Good Auditor

If you’ve never attended a clinic and get overwhelmed with the thought of participating in one with your horse, or your horse isn’t quite at the level needed to participate, you can check with the clinician to see if they allow auditors to attend and watch from the sidelines. Even though you won’t be riding your horse, there will still be plenty of things to take away from watching from the stands.

“Auditing is a great opportunity to see so many different riding scenarios with an outside view,” says Wargo. When you’re sitting in the bleachers, you aren’t distracted by a horse and can really pay attention to what the clinician is saying and how the riders are perceiving it.”

Just like you should come prepared if you’re riding in a clinic with all of the necessary tack and equipment, you should do the same when auditing. If you do decide to audit the clinic, don’t forget a notepad! Just like you would in school, taking notes will help you soak in all the knowledge that took place that day and will help you remember all the things that were covered throughout the day.

“Bring a notepad and pen. Think about your questions before you ask them. Write them down as you go so you don’t forget and you might find you have more to add to that question,” says Field. Also, come with questions prepared before the clinic. You might find they get answered naturally, but if not, you can bring it up to the clinician when the time is right.”

Remember, even though you’re not horseback, you’ve come to learn. Don’t get distracted when you’re sitting in the stands and get caught up in conversation with other clinic attendees or feel far away from the action going on in the arena.

“It can be hard to focus when you’re not on horseback. When auditing, position yourself in a spot where you can hear clearly and aren’t distracted by those around you,” said Collier.

There will be plenty of breaks to chat with other participants, but when the clinician is teaching, you should be all ears (and eyes!) Don’t feel like you have to sit with the crowd of other auditors. As long as it’s okay with the clinician, find a spot where you’re comfortable and feel like you have the best view for you to learn from.

Clinicians want you to get the most out of their clinic and for you to make progress. You have to find what works best for you, but in the end, if you’re prepared, paying attention, and not holding anything back, your time at the clinic will be well spent.