To Clinic or Not to Clinic?

If you have had an interesting clinic experience (good or bad) please share it with us below.  What did you learn?  Was it new to you?  Did you have fun? How did it go after?

(Please keep in mind the Pollyanna Principle that we abide by here at Dressage Snob. ] You can compliment anyone you want, and name them if you like.  Anything less than that should have no credits.)

Dale Forbes

So, on to clinics!

If you’ve been following along for a bit now, you may get the impression that I am anti-clinic.

This is not at all the case!

In fact, most of the cash I have generated over the years to pursue my riding and training goals has come from either horse training, or clinics!   There is a lot of money in clinics.

(That’s not what you were wanting to know?)


Do I think riding in clinics is a good idea?  Sometimes. I’ll tell you some of that below, but right up front here is the problem.  Wili Schultheis said it well:  The three day clinic is the best.  Day 1: Get to know the rider, Day 2: work on something with the horse, Day 3: wrap it up and go home.  Five days is no good.  In five days they realize that nothing that matters is going to come out of the horse in such a short time, and that the hard work has begun.  Three days is better.

Lots of performers know this–always leave the audience wanting more.

Here is a great rider and trainer.


Photo: Rudolf Zeilinger on a clinic riding Nancy Chesney’s Trakehner stallion Ibson in the early years. New Mexico c. 1989.  He was 26, maybe 27, at the time, on a ten day clinic split between Fort Collins and Las Vegas New Mexico.  (A place you HAVE to go to.)  They are only a 6 hour drive apart. That’s nothing to us here in the West.  Took me 22 to get to Fort Collins. . .  Anyway that was near the start of the madness.

You wonder I wanted to go to Germany?  Just look at that half pass!

Back to clinics–Put bluntly, three days or less of training is a fling.  And training a horse with a coach/trainer is a whole lot more like a marriage than a fling.  There are times when you could cheerfully strangle your partner–but you don’t.  And you do show up the next day.  The guy in the airport is  a whole different matter.

(BTW, For a good movie and a very scary airport scene see “360”

Starring Anthony Hopkins among others.

Re mitigating the fling.  Continued contact turns it into something else.

Here is something I do to mitigate the huge problem I see at clinics–lack of backup and follow through.  For a month after the clinic, any rider can send me weekly short clips of homework given at the clinic for evaluation and feedback–no charge.  That gives a chance to correct any mistakes in communication, see how the training is progressing.  The technology is there–I did it this morning re flying changes for one of my clients in Oregon.  She is doing very well.  Not all the riders will organize to send even a fifteen second clip–which is not hard to do or watch–but the ones that are serious probably will.  Or the ones that are confused.  Both are really important.

After a month? If they want to send clips after that I’m open to it, but I do charge.  (It is perfectly stunning what you can tell in a quick clip.  Wish trainers would do it more.)

But anyway, I do ride in clinics on occasion.  And for different reasons.  (Given they are about five times the cost of regular training, I really have to want to do it.)  Some reasons?

To See and Be Seen: Example Klaus Balkenhol on invitation from the ESET at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center

And I actually learned a great deal in this one.  He rode my horse, Galoni, from Rudolf, and did so beautifully–the ability to ride that wonderful horse was fairly rare in this country, a fact that made me very leery of the clinic scene here.  Herr Balkenhol scolded me about a detail of not having the horse stand still to be mounted and gave me good advice on contact and roundness in the passage.  He also sat and had coffee with his wife and I and told of the gossip in Germany, which I missed.  100% Great Guy, fantastic rider, teacher, clinician, and–from my limited contact–human being.

For a great eye, I’d ride with Debbie MacDonald any chance I got.  Great help, with background from many top International riders and a very nice person as well.  We have had good discussions about how piaffe is set up in different schools and she taught me an invaluable lesson in turning. (Duh!)

When he was alive I would suffer the slings and arrows of Detriech Von Hopffgarten any time I could get in the ring with him. He was often not pleasant to ride with, but had one of the best set of eyes around–and also rode my horse very well: no grandstanding, good feel, the horse was sane and soft and light on his return to me.  Which was not often the case.  You needed a pretty sophisticated seat.

Re clinicians riding your horse and it working out well.  Unfortunately this is not the case with everybody.  Rudolf in my hearing kindly told one competitor that his method was not going to be effective with that particular horse.  It happens.  He was polite enough to sense it and back off–it was already a Grand Prix horse, and that was the right thing to do.  I have had some utter wrecks with top names that have left me with my eyebrows up and a real mess to clean up after.  So that’s the first rule–and why clinics are also so difficult to train in: “Don’t open up anything you can’t fix in the time available.”

So I approach clinics with caution, and I still actually don’t get to ride with the people I’d like to as often as I would like to.

Typically clinics are “owned” by the organizer.  The organizer may be a professional, and of course the slots go to the students of that barn.  Sometimes they are offered to other professionals.  But not so much so.

In fact the reason I ended up in Germany was the organizers who had a death grip on the Kim Von Hopffgarten clinic series here in Spokane when I moved here, would not let me ride.  No space.  Kim was great—-but I guess that was in the end a good thing, not getting the spot.  I got Rudolf instead.

Here are the good things about clinics:  a fresh eye, a new take, a new way of saying the same thing–or maybe something different.  We hope not!

Here are the bad things: no background, can be an awful experiment in rapport, if they open a real can of worms for you, you can guarantee you’ll be fixing it on your own.

A lot of harm can be done bashing around in someone else’s training program–if you don’t REALLY, REALLY know what you are doing.  (And if you do really, really know what you are doing, you likely know when to back down and when to press the point.)

The bad part is the poor student may not realize that they have just been bashed around.  If they’ve been being a good student they will never think that.  But it happens more than you might think.  And that’s why I give away the keys to important horses with great caution and after a good deal of toe-dipping.

I take being a good student very seriously.

(I’m also really careful when I get on someone’s horse–it’s mostly to feel what the situation is so I can help better–not a retraining, and yes, I know how to give a horse a nice ride.)

Here is what a perfect clinic situation looks like:

1. Notice is given to all the professionals in the area asking if they would like to ride.  This establishes an inclusive environment.  After that, places are offered to non-professionals in the barn that organizes.

2. The option is offered the riders to have their ride subsidized by auditing–give them a break on their ride cost if they attract a lot of attention/auditors.  (Logic is, the time is theirs and if they want spectators that is fine.  They should benefit from them.  If they want or need to train in private that should be an option.  See Post Training Behind Closed Doors

3. Video of rides is offered at a charge.

And that’s my utopian, and probably nostalgic, feel from the RMDS instructor’s series, which I remember as a real coming together of the both the club and professionals involved.

Got a story?–Give me yours below.

Training Behind Closed Doors

Dale Forbes

Re Training Behind Closed Doors:

This thought is related to the post on clinics.

Herr Schultheis had the reputation for having closed doors on his training.

Later in life, the slender and elegant Herr R. Klimke is said to have conjectured,

“If I had such a figure I would close the doors as well!”

Though very funny, this was not Schultheis’ reason.

His reason was closer to practicality.  Many excellent riders and horses have problems.  Many professionals have students and reputations.  Many horses have owners with a lot of money invested.  Sometimes riders trying something new are shy, and it helps to be alone.  (Yes, I know they should get over that.  It’s on the list!)

And in all cases the problems exhibited might be momentary–a blip on the training radar.

But problems presented out of context will live in every auditor’s memory to eternity–and possibly on U-Tube for far longer than that!

So, even if you can get beyond the fact that you never ride or school quite as effectively with an audience (grandstanding is not training), and especially if time is limited, frank questions and answers need to be put forth. And should be.

Nobody is “hiding” anything by asking for privacy.  Privacy should be a right.   Are you hiding things when you engage: a counselor?  a doctor?  a lawyer?   Probably not.

And do you have your yearly physical in the bus station, or the lunch room of your work place?

How come?

Privacy breeds openness, trust and confidence between the coach and the rider.  Nothing more, nothing less.

In places where there is a real economy in horses this is taken for granted.

(And not taking it into account makes developing a real, serious, horse economy far-fetched.)

There is also a story that the tall and trim Klimke said his doors were always open.  That’s true too.  I went several times with Christine Doan, and he was very, very charming.  Great fun to watch him ride.  Very elegant and beautiful.  A large race track outside his home. But in the indoor I always missed a bit of what he was doing–even when I watched carefully.

Christine helped me out here, explaining, “He’s a magician.”

Adding, “and you are not always here.”

Nothing devious–but why SHOULD he show his methods to all?  That’s not a magician’s job.

Frau and Herr Theodorescu had a sheep herder’s wagon sidled up to a small sliding window pointed down the center of the indoor. (You could see the middle of the school–not the edges.) Guests were invited to sit there.

In my hearing,  some English visitors asked,  peering through the window, “Could we have a ride?”

The answer from Mrs Senior was priceless: “No.  We do it differently here–you would be stiff and frightened!”

Yes, barns do it differently, and that’s the range–but if you don’t have much time, it is good to get on with the exam!