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Celeb

So, you’ve agonised over whether you are brave enough to ride on a clinic.

You’ve chosen the clinic with a trainer that you like, and you’ve saved for the last 9 months to pay for your ticket and transport. How do you make sure that you get what you and your horse need out of the experience?

First of all, prepare carefully. Read the clinic information, and if there is anything you’re not sure of, ask. What accommodation is provided for your horse? Do you need to bring fencing, hay, mucking out tools? Make lists if you need to so that you are sure to pack all the tack and other gear you need.

Obviously you need to make sure you know where you’ll be sleeping, but that seems to be a secondary consideration for most people, who get much more stressed about what’s going to happen to their horse or pony than where they will lay their head at night. I do strongly recommend checking out whether you’ll be fed… Remember your horse needs to travel with their passport (if you’re in the UK), and if you’re taking him yourself, have you got good breakdown recovery? You know – the sort that looks after your horse as well as your vehicle.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here, but honestly, you need to make sure your horse loads. If it doesn’t, just think about how stressful that could be travel day and do something about it. As for coming home – don’t expect that the trainer will be able to help you with a loading problem unless you warn the clinic organiser in advance. Even if it’s a “problem horse” clinic, they will need to make sure they have the setup to help you. A lot of people need a bit of extra time to load their horse and that’s going to be fine. I tend to ask these folk to wait until the other, faster loaders are gone. I’ll admit it can be quite entertaining to watch a determined pony planted at the foot of a ramp for a while, but after an hour or so, when I’m waiting for the space to load up and leave, the novelty wears off.

So, fully prepared, horse in lorry, off you go! Oh no, wait – have you packed your wellies and sun cream, because if you haven’t, it will rain. In the UK at least you must be prepared for anything weather-wise, from scorching sunshine to a blizzard. Plan for that and you’ll be right. I pray that the weather forecast is good and everything on your list is with you. If not, don’t fret, nobody’s going to die of it and someone at the clinic will probably lend.

Just to mention, most organisers assume that the nags and riders arrive together and they don’t need to get involved with looking after the horses. If you need something different you’ll need to check. Bear in mind, that when you unload your usually well-behaved equine will start to lose it’s brains out of it’s fuzzy little ears and drag you about a bit. This is perfectly normal and nobody will turn a hair.

I well remember the first time I took a horse to a clinic. A dear little Arab mare called Breeze, she was an angel, but I was shaking as I led her to her pen. I ducked out under the mains powered electric tape when she was inside, and touched it with my head. A sharp zap didn’t help my confidence at all! So, with the benefit of experience, here are a few suggestions for you:

• See if the other riders drifting about are open to a bit of contact and a chat. They nearly always are, particularly if you offer to put the kettle on and ask how many sugars they take. There is huge moral support to be gained from the other riders, spectators, and a friendly clinic organiser. Over the years a great group of people have become friends at my clinics, a great support for each other.

• At some stage I’d take a bit of time with a pen and paper to write down what you’d like to get out of the clinic. At some point the trainer might ask you this, and many get lost for words at this point!

• It can be pretty daunting when you’re out in the arena, in front of the trainer and probably some spectators, either on your own or in a group. I promise you that you get used to this and it gets easier with time. Remember, you’re there to learn, you’re not expected to be an expert, if you were you probably would be teaching wouldn’t you? And people would pay you to be there, which would be nice… (Remember, entering the arena is another point where your usually well-behaved equine will start to lose it’s brains out of it’s fuzzy little ears and drag you about a bit. The trainer is used to this and will be very laid back about it).

• The trainer will hopefully try to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of their time. They’re only human though, so if you are feeling overlooked, or if you’re not sure about something, just stick your hand up or ride over to them and look expectantly at them until they are free to speak to you. Remember, you saved for 9 months to be there! Some trainers work on the assumption that people take responsibility for their own learning, and if a rider doesn’t say anything they’re fine, which is also worth being aware of.

• Spectators are also there to learn, and they shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines criticising the riders. There’s a bit of clinic etiquette around that, Mark Rashid is very good about this when he addresses his audience and refers to the arena as his dojo – and asks people to respect it as a safe place for the riders. Even if you think people might be talking about you, bear in mind that they might not be! In any case, develop a thick skin; you’re the one with the horse getting first-hand training. It’s much easier to watch. Mostly though, spectators will be interested in you and your horse, and supportive; sometimes muttering encouragement from the sidelines, and even cheering and air-punching if they are really swept up in a good moment.

• OK – here’s a word to the wise. There is only one trainer on the clinic. Don’t be tempted to hand your horse to a friend who thinks they are more experienced when you’re struggling. Most trainers would stop this, but not all. You paid the money, and it won’t help you to watch someone else work through things with your horse. Particularly if they haven’t quite “got it”, as is inevitably the case. Similarly, beware the experts and well-meaning friends away from the arena in your down time. You don’t need multitudes of suggestions about things you might like to try that the trainer didn’t think of. Worry about that when you’re at home, don’t confuse yourself and your horse at the clinic. It’s hardly ever a good idea to pass your horse over to anyone to work with apart from the trainer.

• Riding hats and hangovers don’t mix. Trust me on this. Breakfasting on very strong coffee with the remains of last night’s sugar-rich pudding Ice Box Pudding is also inadvisable before getting on horse. Especially if your horse is as quick to pick up on your “energy” as my lovely Celebrity is. Two of us bouncing about wide-eyed wasn’t great really. My fellow-students found it pretty amusing though, and I aim to please. Almost as good as the time I took strong painkillers before riding… put me in a very good mood… So there you go, a whistle-stop tour on riding at clinics. If you’re hovering, not sure whether to get involved in this stuff I’d say go for it, maybe watch the trainer teaching a clinic first if you don’t know a lot about them. You’ll learn a lot and will probably meet some new friends. If you produce a bottle of wine at a suitable point in the evenings I’d say you will definitely meet some new friends. Chocolate, or home-made cakes tend to go down well too.

Anyone else want to share some tips for clinic riders? I’d love to hear them in comments.

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Kas

Kas Fitzpatrick is the founder of Exploring Horsemanship. She has been the clinic organiser for Steve Halfpenny, Tom Widdicombe, Amanda Barton, Dave Stuart and various Parelli Natural Horsemanship instructors at different times. She lives in UK with her beloved horses, Celebrity...

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