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I don’t know if any pro trainers will be interested in taking advice from a humble clinic organiser and attendee like me, but I’m going to throw this out there anyway just to round off my series of blogs about clinics. Anyway, I’ve taken part in a lot of these events, either with my horse or my comfy chair, and I think I’ve worked out a few things that make for a good clinic, and some things that don’t. Feel free to ignore.


1 – First, you get the same advice from me as everyone else does. Pack your sun cream, waterproofs and polar fleece. Particularly if you don’t live in the UK, our weather can come as a bit of a shock. We had a brilliant clinic once with the gifted teacher, Tom Widdicombe. The day started out with clear blue skies and sunshine. People were wondering why the heck our host’s mum had prepared a macaroni cheese for our lunch. A nice salad might have been more appropriate surely? By lunchtime riders were trying to battle on in driving wind and rain, Tom was huddled in a miserable heap in the corner of the arena, and the spectators were peering out from a tin barn nearby. Boy, did we appreciate that macaroni cheese! (Except from poor Brenda, who didn’t like macaroni cheese, life’s a bitch sometimes…).

2 – Please bear in mind dear trainers, people have paid a lot of money to come and learn with you. Even if you think they’ve got it, could you try to give them some attention and attempt to spread yourself around reasonably evenly? Speaking as a clinic organiser, and the person who gathered the money to pay you, it makes me really tense when I watch a group of people in the arena for a morning, when one or two are clearly missing out on the action. To be blunt, they’re not getting value for money, and it might have been a really big deal for them to be able to afford to be with you.

3 – Don’t assume that if someone isn’t saying anything they’re fine. OK, they’re all adults (maybe they don’t act like adults, particularly on Pub Night, but they are), and they should maybe be responsible for their learning. In reality though, particularly if they’re new to this stuff, they may be struck dumb by the experience and be trailing around the arena completely mystified. Oh, and if someone’s up at the far end, stood with their horse watching from a distance, don’t assume they’re taking a break. Check in on them, there may be tears – male or female, sometimes people have a little weep!

4 – Clinics present fascinating projects for trainers. You know the sort of thing, the horse that is blissfully ignoring everything it’s owner asks of them or the horse that’s theoretically started, but not as we know it? Just bear in mind, these challenges are fascinating I agree and surely break up the day, but they can be a bit time-consuming. People will watch for a while, but just bear in mind, as above, there’s one of you and a number of riders who all want their share! (Until we work out the mechanics of cloning our favourite teachers I can’t think of an easy answer to this one).

5 – You see that gaggle of characters by the side of the arena slouched in a variety of comfy chairs? Depending on the current climate they might be kitted out in scary shorts and tiny t-shirts, or huddled in sleeping bags, horse rugs, fleece hats and with only their eyes visible. Mostly they will be clutching mugs in one hand and something edible in the other. Well, they’re your spectators. They paid to be there as well. Here’s a common scenario:

Trainer: “OK, let me bring you over one at a time and you can tell me what you want to get done during this clinic.” (Points to a guy in full cowboy gear riding a cute hairy little black cob. Guy rides over).

Trainer: “Well, tell us a bit about your horse.”

Cob Cowboy: “Mumble… gelding… mutter… head… mumble… mutter… my leg… mumble… up in the air.”

Trainer: “I see, well, that’s mighty interesting. That reminds me of a situation I came across with a horse back at my place in Montana. Have you tried him in a jointed snaffle instead of a straight bar?”

Cob Cowboy: “Well… mumble… mumble… mutter… so it was hard to tell.”

Trainer: “Great! Let me give you an exercise that might help with that then.”

And off they trundle. Meanwhile the spectators are looking at each other for enlightenment, coming up with various guesses about what the issue was, it’s like Chinese Whispers really. By the time they’ve finished the cob is a bolter and bucks every time Cob Cowboy puts his leg on. In fact he’s a bit fidgety in his mouth.

So trainers all, you need to work out how to deal with this. Sometimes a confident spectator will be asking “What did he say??” at regular intervals, but they tend to get self-conscious about it and stop. So please, could you either arrange yourself so your lapel microphone picks up what the riders say, or just reflect the question to the spectators? That would be great, ta very much.

6 – Talking of spectators, would you consider giving them the sort of little talk at the start of the clinic that Mark Rashid does? Just something about remembering that the riders aren’t there because they are perfect, not criticising them from the sidelines, being a supportive audience, that sort of thing. By the way, I don’t know how you feel about people coaching the students on your clinic while you’re teaching, but I reckon it’s to be discouraged don’t you? Just a thought, I’ll leave it with you.

7 – By the end of the first day I know you’re probably going to need a stiff drink. Maybe 5 or 6 stiff drinks. I don’t blame you, my inclination would be to break open a bottle of sloe gin and share it with you somewhere. Just remember though, you’re going to need a clear head in the morning, us riders will be out there again testing your wits, patience and faith in humanity. We’ll give you enough of a headache, you won’t need to do anything about that yourself. However, we appreciate your efforts, honest we do, and if you’ve got the stamina we’ll drag you back next year.

I almost dread any trainers giving feedback on this one, but if you’d like to chip in any comments it would be great.

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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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