Clinic Etiquette: 101

As the off season comes to a close, clinic season is in full swing. If you’re like me, you’re shaking your head and wiping your eyes, wondering where the time has gone. 2017? Really? I swear I blinked in 2014 and suddenly here we are, three years later. The winter months (I say winter jokingly, it is south Texas, after all!) should be used for R&R: rest and reconditioning. Jumping on the clinic train during these brief peaceful months is of utmost importance for the upcoming season, and while we train as much as possible during clinics, not a lot of importance is placed on understanding proper etiquette for them. Fresh off a clinic, I decided to write about clinic etiquette 101, as much for myself as others.

  1. Proper turn out is like underwear …

You shouldn’t go anywhere without it! While true “turn out” attire varies by discipline and seriousness of clinic, there are some minimum standards that should be met in order to show respect for your clinician, your trainer, and your horse. For you, a fresh, clean face with minimal make up (you remember the adage you’re never fully dressed without a smile?) portrays a sense of professionalism. Contour away and turn up the eye shadow any other time, but in a lesson, try to keep it subtle. Neutral or dark breeches are always a solid choice, paired with a matching collared shirt (short or long sleeve), create a sophisticated and timeless image. Tall boots/paddock boots with half chaps are great, as long as they’ve been given a good spit shine! Also, always mind your melon with an approved helmet 🙂 For your horse, bathed, neat, and clean is the key. A white or black saddle pad with matching leg protection (this depends on your normal turn out for training) and neatly trimmed points, including a brushed tail and pulled mane. Button braids always make a smart impression, but aren’t always necessary, while a horse with a long mane should always be presented in a running braid. Don’t forget to give all your tack a once over with the tack soap! Respect for your equipment = respect for your horse! While some clinics are less “traditional”, it’s always best to air on the side of caution (muted/demure colors) when presenting yourself unless you know for a fact how informal you can be through previous experience.

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Example of informal clinic attire. I’ve previously had many lessons with this clinician, and he constantly jokes that he won’t train me if I wear pink!

2. Timeliness 

Clinics run like shows, sometimes early and sometimes late. Be sure to ask. My rule of thumb is to be on 10 minutes before my scheduled ride time. Give yourself ample room for grooming and tacking up to not feel rushed. Even with that time frame, you have plenty of time to walk around and do your own little warm up. Try to watch at least one ride before yours to see what the structure of your lesson could be like. If the clinician expects you to be warmed up before the lesson, make sure to take the time to do so and schedule accordingly. They’ll want to get to work right. Be sure to confer with your trainer to make sure you’re on schedule and always check your girth, just in case!

3. Notetaking

Now, before the awe-inspiring invention of smartphones, recording a ride and all the things learned was much more of an undertaking. People actually had to take notes! The horror! What I will say is videos ARE helpful, but having a designated person to take notes if possible (trainer/parents/best friend) is always a fantastic extra layer to add to your clinic experience. Additionally, some clinics require the attendance of all riders for all rides. Make the most of the experience by watching/listening intently for thing you can catalogue away in your mind to add to your repertoire. To do this, take as many notes as possible.

My dad used to be my notetaker when I was younger, but that job was delegated to my lifelong best friend Erin. It’s a job we don’t take lightly and do for each other as much as possible. 

4. Respect

As I mentioned in #1, respect is everything. A well turned out pair is respectful to your clinician, but also is a courtesy to them. Your demeanor should reflect that as well. You’re a representation of your trainer, your stable, your parents, your horse, and especially yourself, so PLEASE do yourself a favor by representing an honest and appreciative attitude for all involved. Lead by example. Nothing is too hard for you to simply try it. Say yes ma’am, yes sir, listen with eye contact, ask questions, give everything a try, and if you’re auditing, don’t talk during lessons or whisper with buddies. You definitely have plenty of time to do that at the barn! This is a time to participate in higher learning to furthering your riding education.

5. Have an open mind, but be guided by your heart

Now, above I said that nothing is too hard. What I really mean by that is never ever say “I can’t do that,” or “it’s too hard!” Even if an exercise is new or complicated, it warrants at least a try. Nothing is ever perfect the first time, so focus on understanding the purpose of the exercise and keep trying. There is a “what if” clause in this tip. Not everything a clinician says or does you will agree with. Somethings can be downright wrong. If you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, you know the one that feels like the bad kind of butterflies, listen to it. That’s the moral fiber of your heart telling you what you’re being told is wrong or against your personal values. Be aware of that. If you feel like you can’t say something to the clinician, it is of utmost importance to tell your trainer or your parents, whoever is there with you. On the other hand, if you know you’re strong enough to stand up for yourself and your horse, don’t be afraid to say you’re not sure if that’s a good idea. To be a bit crude, you’re paying them when it comes down to it, and they can’t make you do anything you feel is wrong. A good example of this is draw reins. I don’t use them (a blog post for another time) but I’ve had two clinicians ask me if I would like to use draw reins for their “benefits”. The first time, I was on a backyard appendix paint whose wither was 2 inches shorter than his haunches, and we were schooling 2nd level with difficulty in the left shoulder-in due to developing self-carriage. My clinician at the time wanted to make it easier for me (I was only 15), but I was able to ask my trainer and she concluded it would be best not to. The second time was yesterday with Joy, who I’ve carefully developed in a snaffle through the PSG. Our clinician suggested I use draw reins or a double bridle and I felt that iron butterfly feeling, knowing draw reins are against my classical beliefs and I’ve worked so hard to do everything in a snaffle. But, a double bridle used correctly is an instrument of high learning and is not against my beliefs. Now, at 22, I have to make those decisions myself, knowing what I know about Joy after our seven years together. Let’s be real for a second, you don’t owe anyone (any trainer or any person) anything. You do, however, owe your horse and must make responsible decisions as such for their well-being. They are your first priority. Keep an open mind, but ALWAYS make decisions based upon your heart’s instincts. Your ties should lie with your four-legged best bud.

Celebration after a successful first passage tour with Alfredo Hernandez yesterday, who helped with experienced guidance for Joy’s first full ride in a double bridle and understood my reasoning against draw reins, making it a positive experience for all. 

Again, this is just a basic guide for Dressage clinics. I certainly do not claim to be an etiquette master for all disciplines or clinicians. Above all, have fun and learn a TON!

Happy riding, my dears. Until next time!


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