I have been participating in clinics since my first one in 1978 or '79 with Charles de Kunffy. I learned that day, and I have observed ever since, that even the best clinicians out there have a schtick, and modern-day clinicians are very practiced at packaging what they are selling. They have done a great job of branding themselvest with buzz words and logos; they have plenty of product to sell, including sticks, halters, bits, boots, bridles and saddles (and that's not to mention the products they endorse); and they can make a lot of money in the clinic business.

That is all well and good. But what I see too often is many people go to clinics hoping for a magic fix to what is not going well with their horses at home, and lots of those people just fall through the cracks at clinics.

I have ridden with some of the best clinicians in the business, and I highly recommend participating in clinics, with one caveat: Going in, know that if you are afraid of your horse or you don't actually get out there and ride all that often, a clinic is not going to fix things for you.

Every time I go to an event, be it a trail ride, a trail challenge, a show, or just riding in a public place, what I see over and over again is horses with problem riders. There is no easy way to tell someone you just met that they are the problem with their horse. I do not consider it my business to tell someone that unless they are paying for my opinion - or at least have asked for it.

The two biggest problems I see with riders usually happen in tandem: fear and bad hands. I recently watched a woman ride her horse for a couple of hours, and during that time the horse went from being OK to not turning right to getting ready to throw a real wing-ding. The rider's comment? "She just won't listen to me."

Actually, the horse was listening all too well. Each time the mare received a wicked punch in the belly with the rider's big, rowled cowboy spurs, she got a jerk in the mouth with the big, shanked cowboy bit! The message the horse was receiving? "Go! Whoa! Go! Whoa! And by the way, I'm getting REALLY MAD!"

That is not what a horse wants to hear from its rider. That rider was afraid the horse was not going to obey, and she was pulling back on the reins every time she asked the horse to do something. So the bad aids continued to escalate until it looked like things might get dangerous.

The simple fact is green horses - and really well-trained horses - are too much horse for people who are not very good riders. The greens ones get wrecked before they get a chance to learn, and the really well-trained ones can blow a gasket because the rider is talking gibberish as far as they are concerned.

What is a green rider to do? (And by the way, although you can't stay young forever, you can stay green forever.)

  • Toss out the big bits and big spurs until you are educated enough to use them properly.
  • Find a good old horse to ride and practice on that can put up with your mistakes while you improve. If you don't have access to a horse like that, at least do Pilates, sit-ups, go to the gym - do whatever it takes to build leg and core strength so you don't feel so darned insecure when you are sitting on your horse.
  • You must MUST MUST find a way to soften your hands so you are not unintentionally jerking on your horse's mouth. If you are jerking intentionally, SHAME ON YOU! Get off the horse and cool off, then find a better way to get things done.
  • If you want to read about riding, read BOOKS or ARTICLES about riding from reputable authors. DO NOT read blogs to learn about riding - you cannot sort out the good information from the idiots unless you already know what is correct.
  • Go to RATED shows or visit training barns (if you have the opportunity) and WATCH GOOD RIDERS. If you are at a show, go listen to what is being said in the warm-up arena. It's like a free clinic with someone who is making a living training horses! If going to shows and training barns is not an option for you, I have one word: Youtube! Just make sure you are watching good professionals at rated shows.
  • RIDE RIDE RIDE. You cannot train the neural pathways you need to be a good rider unless you spend hours in the saddle - it's that simple.

All that being said, the next time you go to a clinic, go there with reasonable goals in mind. Plan on WORKING and try to retain what you have learned to continue the work at home. By all means, do not go there thinking you will soak up new abilities through osmosis. 

Depending on finances and availability of good trainers and instruction, a clinic could be your best bet for improving your riding. Be sure you go with the right mindset and get the most out of it you can!

- Alberta Hale Crigler

 

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