Birds trilled, and a brisk wind gusted across an unfamiliar arena as I lunged my Quarter Horse mare, Ava, before swinging into the saddle for a clinic with a new-to-me instructor. It was a mid-March morning, and I’d trailered about 40 minutes north from my house to clinic with Stephanie Mosely, who travels across the country teaching riders how to produce enhanced results from their horses with biomechanics.
If you have an interest in horses and haven’t been to a riding clinic, you should know that it can be a really eye-opening experience. A clinic is basically just a session with an instructor (usually a traveling one) who you don’t usually lesson with. You’ll probably end up traveling at least a short distance unless you’re lucky enough to meet with them at the barn where you keep your horse.
Clinics are available to riders of nearly all disciplines and levels, so whether you’re thinking of getting into natural horsemanship and just want to watch or you’re a seasoned dressage rider who needs a tuneup on your lateral work, there’s a place for you in most clinic settings. Here, I’ll tell you about my first clinic with Stephanie, and I’ll give you some tips that help me make the most of these experiences.
Since this was the first time I’d ridden with Stephanie, I wanted to make a good impression, so I made sure to have all of my prep work done by the time she was ready to work with me. This meant I arrived about 40 minutes early and tacked and lunged Ava so she’d be used to the facility and ready to work. Then, I hopped on and shucked her forward at the trot and canter for a few minutes.
With all of my prep done, I sat and waited for Stephanie to emerge from the barn nearby where she had been giving a lunge lesson. She watched me school Ava for a few minutes and then said, “All right, I’ve seen what I need to see. Come over here.”
I understood from watching other riders work that she was going to physically rearrange my legs. She gently turned my toes in, pulled my right leg back and folded both my legs into the horse. She explained that I had fallen into a habit of cramming my hips into my lower back and that I needed to sit more on my thighs.
By the end of the session, Ava was moving more reliably into my hand and was lifting her back a little. I had the sensation that her body was swinging away freely beneath me, and it felt grand.
One great thing about clinics is that you can often audit other rides, and this option is especially beneficial for beginner horsemen. Sometimes there’s a small fee involved, but other times, it’s free. I always opt to stay and watch other riders go, since I usually have to trailer out to get to the clinic — meaning it’s a bit of of project just to get there. Why not stay and make a day of it?
You can learn so much by watching another rider work out kinks. After all, effective riding, no matter the discipline, always relies on the correct use and application of aids. In other words, our problems aren’t all that divergent, no matter the level.
I watched a young rider have a lunge lesson after my turn with Stephanie, and although he was at the beginning of his riding career, I could see that the changes he made had a definite effect on the horse. I also saw a rider schooling several levels above me working on maneuvers I haven’t yet done with Ava — but I saw how the techniques Stephanie worked on with me were still coming into play for this rider.
Here are a few more tips for getting the most out of a clinic:
♦ Have someone take notes for you. My friend was also at this clinic, and she handed me a full page of notes after I rode — score! Now I don’t have to rely on my brain to catalog everything Stephanie said.
♦ Have someone video you or shoot photos. We were fortunate to have a fellow rider and professional photographer shooting this clinic, and we could see how our rides improved. If you’re going to have someone video or photograph you, just make sure it’s OK with the clinician.
♦ Relax and have fun! If you’re working with a seasoned clinician, chances are she’s used to working with riders of different levels. You’re not going to show her any problems she hasn’t already seen and fixed.