Perspective from a student:
Every time I sign up for a clinic, I think to myself ‘oh this will be fun!’ And of course, I always assume that my horse will be an absolute gentleman and a rock star because, why wouldn’t he be? Liberty training? Bo will be perfect at that! Mounted Archery? He’ll be the best in the class! Working Equitation? He’s an Andalusian, he was born for this! I am nothing if not utterly smitten with this horse, as you can see, and completely confident in his super horse powers.
Then, the morning of the clinic, I wake up with all my demons in full force. Why did I sign up for this? Can I call and cancel? Can I fake a cold? Do I even care if I get my money back? Bo was cranky yesterday, it’s going to be a disaster. But eventually I haul my butt out of bed, put on my cute riding pants, grab my good boots and head for the barn. I always arrive too early, another sign of anxiousness, and wind up standing around waiting on everyone to show up. And Bo is standing in his stall, feeling my anxiousness and thinking to himself, oh hell no, this is going to be the scariest thing and I am NOT leaving this stall. I go check my tack, clean my saddle that I just noticed is filthy, check my tack again, get it all out and line it up by Bo’s stall, as he nervously starts pacing. I go in and start to brush him which he of course wants none of. But we finally settle into our routine of currying, brushing, de-tangling his tail, unbraiding his mane, picking feet and so on until we both finally calm down a bit. People begin to arrive at the barn, bringing in their horses and start to get ready. I tack Bo up and lead him out to the arena to warm up a bit. He’s a little reactionary to the new props and new horses in his arena. (Yes, he thinks he owns the place.) But pretty soon, everyone gathers, and the trainer walks in, and we begin.
When you are trying something new, it would be helpful if one of you, either you or your horse, has a little experience. However, that is rarely the case, especially with Bo and me which is why you’re taking the clinic in the first place. I am a fairly new rider, and Bo at least acts like he’s never seen a gate or another horse or a giant inflatable ball before. Ask him to move over from leg pressure? Does it all the time when we are alone in the arena and playing around. Ask him to move his hindquarters so I can open a gate and then close it? Are you kidding me??? To Bo, that is a death trap and he’s not going near it. You get the picture.
For myself as a horsemanship clinician that has been teaching around the United States for the last 15 years, I feel that there are several things you can do to set yourself up for success. The most important thing you need to do is RELAX! Be Calm and Clinic onward! I have seen many students over the years that put pressure on themselves and their horses to do so many things to prepare or participate in a clinic environment. The anxiety and pressure cause several negative outcomes to happen. Anxiety, Failure, Emotion, Pressure, Frustration, perceived upcoming clinic failures, stress, and other non-productive human thoughts and emotions cause us to have a “Predatory” feel to our horse. The horse doesn’t know exactly what our problem is, but they can feel our negative picture in our mind and body. That negative thought and feeling makes us feel predatory in our requests and the horse in many situations must respond to our non-sense by acting more like a Prey animal! It can be a vicious cycle. You must have experienced it yourself or heard about it in others in maybe how a horse wouldn’t load in the trailer and it only happens when I am going to clinics or “the show”. Everyone can think of a time in their lives when they walk into a room where a person is sitting there, and you can feel like something is “OFF”. Well, our horses can feel the same things in us, except they are more hyper-aware and sensitive of each and every feeling we have when we are around them. What advice do I offer? Stay Calm and picture in your mind’s eye the thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions that you want to share with your horse as a partner. Slow down and breathe more deeply often! BE IN THE MOMENT!!! You will be so surprised of the changes your horse and people around you will notice.
Many students feel like they must work hard with their horses to prepare for or participate in the clinic for fear that they will be judged by the clinician or others for each thing or action. I would just like to encourage you to play and ride your horse about the same that you normally do in a regular week and maybe just a few extra sessions will help you feel prepared. Make yourself a list to help you mentally prepare for the upcoming event. Clean the tack, wash the horse, clip the hair, get the trailer just right, pack your tack, pack your helmet, etc.. Visualize your horse play and rides and that will help you make a perfect list to prepare for the clinic and packing. Making a good list and packing perfectly will help you feel perfectly prepared and it will set everything up for harmony for the clinic event. Having a mind that is “at ease” is the key here! Earlier, I mentioned another thing that truly trips up so many students….. fear of judgment. Well start out your checklist by making sure that you leave one thing off of your packing list….. JUDGMENT! Judgment and fear of Judgment can sabotage you and your horse in big ways. The other students in the clinic do not have the time or luxury to judge you because likely they are in overwhelm mode themselves and they have their horse hands full too. The clinician has a simple goal, to help each and every student get closer to achieving their own horsemanship goals. To do this, we must help each student step outside their comfort zone. Outside their comfort zone is Learning zone! The comfort zone is where “Fun” lives, the Learning zone is normally not FUN at all (it is uncomfortable)! It is funny however that once we survive stepping outside our comfort zone we describe that feeling in the Learning Zone as “Fun”. So again…. Ask lots of questions, Relax and Clinic on! Allow the learning process to reveal itself and you will be amazed at how well you end up coming out on the other side of the clinic! We all want what is best for you and your horse so that you can enjoy your educational clinic investment.
To learn more, visit Jesse Peters, Master Natural Horsemanship Instructor at https://www.facebook.com/JesseRobertPeters
And please visit my blog “Between the Crossties with Allison” at https://www.transitionstreats.com/between-the-cross-ties-with-allison/