by Katie Navarra

Are you registered to ride in a clinic? Clinics are an opportunity to improve upon the skills you already have as well as learn something new. Whether the clinic is limited to fewer than 10 riders or is open to a larger group, here’s advice for making the most of any clinic experience.

Go with an open mind. Regardless of your level of riding or accomplishment in the show pen, go with an open mind. Amateurs, non-pros and accomplished professionals can learn from someone else. Attending a clinic can also be rejuvenating. Going in with an open heart and an open mind allows you to leave with an even better understanding of training techniques. It may also present an opportunity to work through problems you may be having.

Pay attention. Larger clinics can mean a lot of down time. Make the most of this time by watching and listening while the clinician works with other riders. Keep your eyes and ears open all day long. The rider the clinician is working with may have the same problems you do.

Take notes. You can learn a lot in one or two days. Ben Baldus, a Texas based trainer, encourages clinic participants to use breaks to write down what they are learning. Taking notes at the clinic gives you time to confirm with the clinician that you’ve accurately understood all the steps to accomplish the maneuver you’re working on. If you’re working on a lead change, the process includes multiple steps and if you skip a couple of those steps it will be harder to execute. Writing it down and clarifying any step you’re unsure of will help you practice better at home.

Don’t show off. Participating in a clinic is intended to be a learning experience. Don’t try to show a clinician how good you are. Some riders tend to over extend their (and their horse’s) talents to demonstrate how much they know. The clinician can see through your attempt to show off and you run the risk of messing your horse up.

Strive for two to three takeaways. There will be a lot to take in during any clinic. Jay said that if you come away with two or three tips that are useful, then you’re doing well. He encourages riders to ask questions. Clinicians use questions to get a better idea of what level riders are at and what may help them improve. Don’t be afraid to hold your hand up and ask questions. Interaction helps with the flow and makes sure you get the tips you need.

Make the most of large groups. Large clinic settings with 15 to 20 riders can make it difficult to get a lot of one-on-one interaction. It’s okay to pursue the clinician without being obnoxious. In larger clinics, clinicians tend to demonstrate a maneuver and then have riders break into smaller groups and practice. It could be 15 or 20 minutes before he gets to each rider. Try the exercises for a few minutes but avoid over-schooling and tiring your horse out.

Make the most of this time by watching and listening while the clinician works with other riders. The rider the clinician is working with may have the same problems you do.

Keep it simple. Heading into a clinic you’ll likely have a long list of goals and you’ll be excited to learn from the featured trainer. Keep it simple and don’t be too analytical. Relax and let your horse’s body put your body in the correct positions.

Enjoy the experience

There is a lot to learn from a clinic. Make the most of your opportunity to improve the skills you (and your horse) already have and learn something new. Most of all enjoy the learning experience.