You’ve been waiting most of the year for the clinic date to arrive and now it’s here! Soon you’ll be loading up your horse for the trip to the clinic site. You’ve been dreaming of doing this with your horse since you bought him. How to make the most of the weekend? As someone who has attended and taught clinics over the last 20 years, I’ve compiled a list of my own secrets for a satisfying and successful few days.
1) Arrive in plenty of time and remember to have your release, vaccine records, and any other information handy for the host to check you in. If you live more than a couple of hours away, try to come the night before so you’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. You and your horse will want to be fresh for the first day’s session, as that is often when much of the instruction occurs. Most clinics supply stabling for a small nightly charge. Be sure to bring all of your own feed, plus a water bucket, rake and a muck bucket. Assume that what you are getting is a four-sided enclosure and everything else will be your responsibility to supply. Label everything you bring. If you take along shavings, ask first before you spread them out. Actually, for the night or two your horse is going be there, he will be fine without bedding—trust me.
2) Make sure your horse is comfortable in his (temporary) new surroundings. Check his allotted enclosure and look for any nails, sharp wires, or gaps that a horse could get their head stuck in. Keep Murphy’s Law in mind: If anything can happen, when you turn your back and walk away for the night, it will.
3) Bring alternate tack and an extra lead rope. You might want to bring along all your saddles, as some clinicians will give you excellent feedback on saddle fit. Chances are, one of your saddles is fitting better than the others (unless they’re all custom made or fitted to your horse) and that is the one you’ll want with you. Also, I’ve seen horses suck back and break a lead rope at more than one clinic. Having a second one that lives in your trailer’s tack room is a plus.
4) Pamper yourself and stay in comfortable lodging. This may mean choosing an economy motel room over a cot in your trailer, or even springing for a single room instead of a noisy shared situation. Your energy, concentration, and endurance are going to be taxed and you owe it to yourself and your horse to be rested and well nourished.
5) Eat well and hydrate often. Riding is thirsty work. Pack an ice chest with drinks/water) and nutritious snacks/lunch. There may be a catered affair at the lunch break, but bringing your own snacks—and enough to share—ensures you can eat when you’re hungry or in need of an energy boost. Besides, I’ve bonded with at least one new clinic friend over a shared craving for Lemon Zest Luna™ bars.
6) Make some new friends! Especially if you arrive alone, make sure you take opportunities to introduce yourself and your horse to your fellow attendees. Later this will lead to “swapping stories,” which will assure you that a) you are not the only “newbie” and b) horse people are generally friendly and nice folks. Find out where people are from. If it’s near you or someplace you’ve always wanted to trail ride, swap information. This how to build a network of trail riding buddies.
7) Engage in “active learning” by asking at least one question of the clinician in front of the whole group. Yes, it’s much safer to just blend into the crowd and not call attention to yourself, but research shows you will retain more information if you actively engage in learning your subject. Asking a question not only identifies you as someone who is paying attention and has come to learn, it also helps you emerge from hiding. There are so many great questions just waiting to be asked. No one will think yours is stupid—they will either tune in if it’s relative to something they’re interested in or they will “filter” it out and not pay attention. At any rate, the session is your time to get answers—not during the lunch break or after the clinic, when the clinician may have other priorities to attend to.
8) Spend some undemanding time with your horse over the lunch break. This is your time to re-set your relationship with your horse and, to borrow words from Pat Parelli, let him “know how much you care.” While you’re at the clinic, you are the only familiar thing in your horse’s environment, the only vestige of his herd. Be an active herd leader and take him out for a little grazing or sight seeing.
9) Try to avoid leaving early. It’s often tempting to peel off from the clinic in time to get home at a decent hour, but the last hour or two of work is often the most productive and powerful. Most clinicians try to be sensitive to travel concerns and will end a couple of hours earlier on the last day. If you have a long haul home—say over five hours—you might consider staying over another night rather than pushing yourself to exhaustion to get home.
10) Best way to enjoy a clinic: Travel there with a buddy! The most effective support system is one you bring from home. This might be another equestrian taking the clinic but could also be your spouse or even your teenaged child (provided they don’t add to your stress level). That way, you have someone to hold the video camera, run get your sunscreen or refill your water bottle. To be sure, traveling with a posse, even of one, is the way to get the most out of your clinic experience.