Get The Most From Your Next Seminar Or Forum

Dec 2, 2013 - 8:54 PM

Whether you’re riding, auditing or leading a seminar, our columnist has advice on maximizing the experience.

During the years of working with our elite athletes, I was too busy to accept special assignments such as being a presenter at seminars or doing combined clinics with other trainers and judges. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to get back in the game, and it’s been fun on many levels.

It also drives home to me the difference between giving a regular lesson and being part of a seminar in the capacity of either rider or clinician. As a rider, when you partake in a seminar or a judge’s forum, your expectations need to be different from what you expect to gain from your private lesson at home or in a regular clinic. The one-on-one time is broken up by the attention the clinician has to devote to the audience, who are the ones paying for the event and looking to be educated and entertained.

When you and your horse are part of the “show,” you can expect both criticism and praise to come from the crowd, as well as the person working with you. The applause if you improve things with your horse is a welcome addition, of course, but the many eyes intensely watching your efforts can become intimidating. This is particularly true about being the demo combination at a judge’s forum.

I know. I’ve been there, done that, several times. Not only are you now in front of a number of experts whose job it is to evaluate and put scores to your performance, but there’s always the fear in the back of your mind that they’ll remember your shortcomings the next time you meet up with them in a competition.

As a judge, I can put that worry to bed because judges are very aware that their job is to judge what happens in the present, not what once was. Besides, most of them are so involved with their own performance while judging each movement that they hardly know at the end of the day who rode which test!

In a seminar, the mood is less intense than in a judge’s clinic, and often the involvement and approval of the audience is a positive and encouraging feature. However, the actual benefit as far as learning may be limited because of the time taken away from the “lesson” by attention spent explaining to the audience, and sometimes you may have several horses in the ring at the same time, which further waters down the time spent on you and your horse.

Benefits of riding in seminars include learning to relax and perform in front of a vocal and moveable crowd, for both you and your horse. You can usually work out with the presenter which movements you want to display and which you would rather not yet work on in public. You and your horse get a lot of exposure, and that is never a bad thing if you have ambitions for the future in the show ring.

Control What You Can

For the instructor, there are a number of things that are to be considered before signing up to do a seminar, particularly at the large horse expos, such as Equine Affaire, which has major events in Massachusetts and Ohio, and The Mane Event in Canada.

First of all, you need to be flexible and think ahead. Normally, when giving a lesson or a private clinic, you’re pretty much in control of the work area as far as size of area, footing and audio equipment. All those things are often luck of the draw at horse expos, which often feature many different work areas of varying sizes and with footings that have to accommodate every type of equine activity, which changes every hour in that same ring.

Normally, these events fly their experts in from all over the country and sometimes the world, and you cannot expect to bring your own horses or equipment. At the last Equine Affaire, I was blessed with help from my friend and renowned trainer Kathy Connelly to find horses suitable for the program I wanted to present. This worked out very well, but do not expect to be offered just the kind of horses you asked for when arriving in an area where you have no students.

A bit of pre-work with management is of essence here! When you arrive you will be assigned one or several work areas, and if the footing is not safe for the horses and work you are planning on, see what can be done. A horse that gets hurt does not do you or the management any good.

The speaker system is usually better than average, because it’s a mainstay for all big arenas, but sometimes the work areas are in the same building, and then the lectures can escalate to a shouting match. Adjust and shout, and hope you are louder!

Making The Magic Work

As mentioned before, your role is not just to teach the student or students in the ring; it’s just as much to involve the audience and make them feel they get something out of going to the event.

I’ve been a spectator at seminars when I could barely stay awake and others I wished would never end. It was not about the subject matter; it was about the ambience between the presenter, the riders and the audience. As with everything in life, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If you can get the communication to flow between them all, it can become really inspiring, as happened to me recently in Canada. I had three Grand Prix-capable horses in the ring at the same time and had asked each of the combinations to show one movement at a time to demonstrate the difference in style from one horse to another. There were two Hanoverians, a mare and a stallion, and one PRE stallion.

As we proceeded, and the audience clapped at each effort made by the horses, they became aware of the fact that they were appreciated, and each horse became inspired to show off his or her star features. The mare piaffed as if there were no tomorrow, the stallion produced the most extravagant extended trots, and the Spanish horse put down pirouettes to die for. As the session went on, it was comical to see the horses starting to compete for attention and praise, and all of us were delighted to see the effects of long years of training that had instilled pride and a joy to perform. The way it should!

An additional bonus of being a part of the large expos is that many of them hire some of the best professionals from every discipline worldwide, as well as veterinarians, farriers, chiropractors, saddle fitters and you name it. There is much to learn and usually enough time between your own work hours to attend other presentations.

At the Mane Event Expo a few weeks ago, I watched a session with Joe Fargis and had a great time learning from and talking to barrel racing star Storme Camarillo Robbins, who gives a very slick and smart presentation of reining.

Paul Clarkson came all the way from Australia to take part in a horsemanship competition that goes on yearly. The contestants are given a halter-broken 2-year-old colt loose in a round pen to work for one hour for three days. At the end of the session on Day 3, Paul’s horse was tacked, mounted and walking over obstacles with him on board. When Paul dismounted, the horse followed him around with his nose touching him. In our different arenas, we all practiced dressage in different forms, and the evening discussions we had just proved that when training is consistent, kind and clearly communicated to the horse, it leads to the same results: a horse that understands his job and is happy to perform.

Anne Gribbons was the U.S. Equestrian Federation technical advisor for dressage from 2010-2012. She has trained and shown 15 horses of her own to Grand Prix and competed in 10 national championships as well as in Europe, including the Aachen CHIO (Germany). Seven of her horses have been U.S. Dressage Federation Horse of the Year, and she was a member of the 1995 Pan American silver medal-winning team for the United States. Anne is a Fédération Equestre Internationale five-star judge, and she’s been a member of the FEI Dressage Committee since 2010. She started contributing to Between Rounds in 1995.

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