Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a five-day intensive riding workshop with equestrian legend Bernie Traurig at his ranch in San Marcos, California. The format was two lessons a day in small groups. In the morning we did flatwork and small gymnastics, and the afternoon was reserved for coursework. I brought two horses, my 1.00-meter jumper mare Aria and my young hunter gelding Majerus, who is just about to start his show career in the baby greens. Majerus attended primarily to take a bit of the workload off Aria because two lessons a day for five days will wear out any horse (and totally annihilate most adult amateurs, as I was about to discover).
Throughout the week, I soaked up as much technical knowledge as I possibly could from Bernie, but I won’t go into that here. Instead, I’d like to share my top tips for survival and success in any clinic experience.
1. Prepare yourself by knowing what your clinician emphasizes. For example, I know that Bernie loves to see a deep heel. He has said that he evaluates a rider by looking at the heel first then working his way up. So you can bet that when I walked into my first session I jammed those suckers way down. This resulted in a nice compliment right off the bat, which I mentally returned to for consolation later in the week when the gloves came off. Which leads me to No. 2…
2. Put on your thickest skin. You go to a clinic to improve, and the first step to improvement is to hear what you’re doing wrong. Unlike some famously ruthless clinicians, Bernie is known for his kind manner, but he doesn’t mince words either. One of my favorite lines from the week, uttered as I failed to achieve a crisp walk-canter transition, was: “What is this, kindergarten?” If we’re being honest, kindergarten sounded pretty good right about then. If I’m not mistaken, there are naps in kindergarten.
3. Stay humble and thank your horse. We’ve all said it. We’re standing ringside, and we see a rider miss, and her horse picks up the slack and saves the day. “That’s a good horse,” we say, a compliment to the saintliness of the horse. So I knew just what it meant when Bernie said of my mare, “What a fantastic amateur horse you’ve got yourself there. That’s a gooooooooood horse.” Translation: “You rode that exercise like crap, and your horse fixed it. She deserves more carrots.” Noted, Bernie. Noted. I’m always grateful for my horses, but an intensive experience like a clinic can really strengthen the bond between horse and rider if you allow it to (and if you bring enough carrots).
4. The other riders are your best allies, not your competition. There are no ribbons at the end of a clinic, so sticking together is the smartest strategy. During one tough session after all three of us in my group had completed an exercise really well, Bernie asked if we wanted to go again. Quick glances were exchanged, and the decision was unanimous: Let’s end on a good note, and Bernie agreed. There are plenty of places to compete with your horse, and a clinic isn’t one of them. You’ll have much more fun if you support and encourage your fellow riders, especially the adults! Which leads me right to No. 5…
5. Don’t even try to keep up with the kids. They’re cuter than you; they ride better, and they have 100 times more stamina. At our evening Q&A sessions, while the adults were clutching their wine, pounding ibuprofen and trading chiropractic advice, the kids were literally running from stall to stall taking selfies, handing out horse cookies, and gushing about the cuteness of each horse’s muzzle. Once the sun went down, one of them piped up, “Let’s go see if our horses are laying down!” and the rest squealed with delight at this fantastic idea. While watching them scamper off, I poured all the adults another well-deserved drink.
Most of us adult amateurs in equestrian sport put a lot of pressure on ourselves to improve and to perform well, and we all have to choose carefully where to spend limited time and money. I love clinics for the combination of fun and learning that they offer. If you haven’t yet participated in one, consider talking to your trainer about finding the perfect clinic for you, and use these tips to come out unscathed on the other side!
Lindsey Long is an amateur rider living in Southern California. She nervously trotted her first cross-rail at age 32 and is now a full-fledged addict, attempting to balance her “real” job alongside her true loves: riding horses, writing about horses and photographing horses. She shows in the hunter, jumper and equitation rings, and her goals include not launching from the long spot, becoming brave enough to take the inside turns, and galloping over the final fence without chipping. Read all of Lindsey’s blogs.