Sloe Gin and Drugged Horses: The Dangers of Organising a Horse Clinic

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I’ve organised more clinics than I can count, for some great horse trainers including Steve Halfpenny, Tom Widdicombe, Amanda Barton, Dave Stuart and various Parelli Natural Horsemanship instructors.

It’s been… interesting………

Feel free to disagree with me, but I think that the most important people at the clinic are the horses, ponies and the people who came with them. In other words, the paying customers. When people come to clinics they have a lot invested in the event. They might be nervous, out of their comfort zone, and managing to afford to be there might be a huge challenge for them. So I try to treat them well. Having said that, the things that can go wrong on clinics, and the weird things that people come up with to test the diplomatic skills of clinic organisers are many. As a result, my clinic booking information now stretches to four pages as I try to cover every eventuality. And yet every time, I can expect something to happen that leaves me thinking “WTF?” as I clutch a glass of sloe gin in the peace of my tent at the end of the day. (Sloe gin, cider and fruit flavoured vodka are highly recommended, if not essential sustenance for anyone venturing into the world of organising clinics).

So, bold clinic organisers, I suggest that you get together a good set of clinic information, and get everyone to sign at the end to say they have read it. Preferably in blood. To guide you on this process, here are some of the things that people might just do.

First of all, obviously, they will sign the details without reading them and arrive with some very important item missing. For example, the makings of an electric tape pen for their horse. Or something to sleep in. Or maybe their horse. (See below).

Once in a while a professional transporter will arrive at the gate and look around expectantly expecting a groom to come running to receive the equine that he is delivering. The person the horse belongs to didn’t realise that you’re expecting them to arrive with their horse, put up a pen, and in general take responsibility. They will arrive a couple of hours later, bearing a bag of carrots.

They will wind down the window of their lorry with a friendly grin, and when you say “but there are no dogs allowed at this venue” – gazing at the large hound sitting on the passenger seat – will say something like “Oh, I saw something in the details about dogs, but didn’t really read it. They will then go on to assure you “Don’t worry, he never leaves my side and I’ll keep him on a lead”. Said mutt will then leap out of the window and chase your clinic host’s favourite cat into the distance.

You will wake up one morning, wander down to the pens that you thoughtfully set up for the riders to use, and things will look a little different. On closer inspection, one of the riders has decided that, because they forgot their hay (see point 1) their horse needed more grass, they would move their pen. In the process they disconnected the electricity. Consequently horses and ponies are visiting with their neighbours, hopefully in friendly fashion.

People will lead their lovely pony around the open areas, with nothing on it’s head. It’s OK, don’t worry, they have their Level 2 and a half in Liberty work. It will all be fine.

They will turn up in the arena on the first day with a completely different idea of what the clinic is about to the plan that the trainer has in mind. Since the rise of Parelli Natural Horsemanship people expect horsemanship clinics to include groundwork. They may even think they can do groundwork for the whole of the clinic. This can be a problem when the trainer is all set up for riders and doesn’t really believe in a lot of groundwork. But maybe not such a problem as the lively pony that does a little dance on two legs, revealing a lovely set of crown jewels in the undercarriage area. This explains why a lady with normally angelic mare is hanging on to frantically to wide-eyed, slutty creature with the tail on one side and legs akimbo. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the problem horse, or the pony that the owner expects the trainer to back for them as part of proceedings.

People will drug their beloved pet in order to load in and get it to your clinic. They will then expect the trainer to fix the loading problem so that they can get home. Sensible and experienced trainers can be very nippy when leaving a clinic, ensuring that they are half way to the pub before loading dramas start. At which case, people will start to look expectantly at you to do the honours. (Be careful here, think about your own safety, and whether or not you are insured if things go wrong).

Have you had any similar experiences at clinics? Let me know in the comments.

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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...


  1. Hilarious post! A bit scary to think its all true :) The dog thing is funny, people definitely insist on bringing dogs no matter what they have been asked to do (often the direct opposite). Looking forward to more blogs Kas!

  2. I’ve stopped carrying my cellphone,, because I’ve had two destroyed byother peoples horses that refused to load at the end of a clinic/show,,,, no they didnt offer to replace the phones,,,I’ve waited 4 hours after my daughter’s classes where done,, on muggy hot days, for my last haul horse to arrive only to find they left early with a friend and stifed me for half the haul fee. I’ve started carrying my camper on my truck,, even to shows so I can have a fridge full of cold beverages, a freezer with fruit pops,,, and a door to lock…..I save the liquor for the end of the day/ return trip… My hauling contract now must be innitialed as read, and signed with advance payment,
    Yet I still do it,,,, what can I say,, we horse people are crazy….

  3. I agree the comment about the dog is funny, however, the number of clinics that don’t allow dogs is ridiculous when you consider how many horse owners have dogs. For this reason I choose clinics that are horse and dog friendly and I generally find that people are welcome too!

  4. That’s fair enough lolly dee, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I’m confident that people are very welcome on our clinics, I think we’re very lucky to have such a happy and friendly group of people along. We used to have dogs at all of them, but unfortunately, as ever, some people spoil it for the rest. Spectators pay to watch the clinic and are very keen to learn, it might be the only time they get to see that trainer in a year. An unhappy, restless and noisy dog goes down like a lead balloon. Not to mention people not picking up dog shit in fields because they think it doesn’t matter… and riders who think it’s OK to shut a dog in their lorry howling while they ride. One venue I host is still dog-friendly. But there is also the venue where people are happy to cuddle the cat who was chased (him in the photo, his name’s Wilson) and his friends. A cat-friendly clinic is unfortunately not going to be a dog friendly clinic.
    I hope you have a great time at what ever clinics you do attend.

  5. Catherine, I can’t imagine getting involved in actually getting horses to the clinics. Luckily for me people arrange that for themselves! As it happens I have also lost a cellphone, in my jacket which was thoughtfully moved into a puddle. Happy days.

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