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Lifelong Learning – Clinics, Instructors and Competition

Lifelong Learning – Clinics, Instructors and Competition

In Colorado, we have a bundle of horse related educational opportunities especially during the spring, summer and fall.  The quality and frequency of those opportunities will only grow with our consistent participation.  You will find that most any competition or clinic has a place for all levels of riders and horses.  Even a clinic with an international caliber instructor is open to all levels of riders, simply to fill the time slots in order to pay for their trip, time and the facility.  I encourage you this year to make clinics, riding lessons and competitions a part of your yearly goals to better yourself and your horse, while helping to bring top instructors to our area.

Clinics are just a compliment to an excellent local instructor.  No matter your level of riding, having eyes on the ground are invaluable.  Olympic rider Robert Dover states, “there is never a point in a rider’s life where it’s a good idea to ride without some form of help.”

As you start making your plans for your horse schedule this year, take a step back and intentionally make the most of the precious time we spend with our horses.

Make goals:  Write them down!  How many times have we heard this?  It’s true, people who actually write down their goals have an 80% higher rate of achieving them.  Don’t overthink it, just write them down.  It is rewarding to look over your goals at the end of the year and see what you have accomplished.  If you have an instructor, go over your goals with them and make a plan to accomplish them.  Your goal may be as simple as getting your horse to load in the trailer without hesitation, or it may be the year end award in a local organization or maybe it is even to qualify for a national competition.  Getting there takes goals and planning, day by day.  In addition, have a picture in your mind of what you want your horse to be like in a year, in five years.

INSTRUCTORS:  Don’t have an instructor?  Find one!

Goals:  Look at your goals and find an instructor that lines up with those goals.  Do you want to compete?  Find an instructor who competes and knows what judges are looking for at a competition.  Depending on your goals, you may need to take lessons at least once a week, or maybe you can only afford the time or money once a month, just commit to consistency and make it a priority.

Accessibility:  Find an instructor that is within reach geographically for your time availability.  If you cannot trailer to them, see if you can get them to come to you by getting a group together to do a morning of lessons that makes it worth their trip.

Personality mesh:  Riding with 10 different instructors in 2017 taught me personally a few things.  Instructors have different teaching styles and we all have different learning styles.  Find one that matches you.  Find an instructor who can find your strengths and weaknesses.  One who challenges you each time to be a better rider.  Find an instructor who likes your horse specifically and ultimately considers the horse’s well-being above all.  Avoid instructors that make you feel like an idiot the entire lesson.  On the flip side, avoid instructors who mostly just make you feel good about yourself, but don’t really teach you anything.

Lifelong learner:  Make sure your instructor is committed to their own lifelong learning.  Dover states, “The No. 1 mistake they (professionals) make is they stop being a student.  If you look at the greatest athletes in any sport, they’re never without great people on the ground supporting them and helping them and making sure things are exactly as they should be.”

Take notes:  Keep a notebook and write down what your learned after EVERY lesson or clinic – before you forget.  Review your notes before each ride and periodically look back over your notes to remember helpful exercises or thoughts that may have new meaning today.

Homework:  Make sure you have homework to take with you to work on in between times to make the most out of each lesson and make consistent progress.  Write the homework in your notes.

Be prepared:  For clinics or lessons, make sure you and your horse are fit.  Dress you and your well-groomed horse smartly with clean tack and good equipment.  Ride consistently in preparation for the lesson or clinic in order to get the most out of it other than exhaustion.  Have in mind and be able to articulate what you are working on and what difficulties you are having.  Most importantly, BE TEACHABLE.  You are there to learn and be challenged.  It should be hard and maybe uncomfortable.  You are there to be pushed outside of your box by a professional who has dedicated their professional lives to being better every day themselves.


Discipline Based Clinics:  If you are interested in a certain discipline, not matter your level, find the local organization, check out the schedule, find a clinic and sign up.  Every organization has several clinics every year in different areas and organized by different people.  While they are more expensive sometimes than lessons, they can be a great compliment to your local instructor.  They are also a great way to try out a new discipline, or to expose your horse to cows or a different location with different obstacles that you may not have access to without attending a clinic.  Clinics are also a great way to meet a new group of people to ride with that have similar interests.

Foundational Clinics:  This type of clinic can be beneficial to any discipline, horse and rider and can serve to find holes in foundational skills.  It does not matter what kind of saddle you ride in, these clinics work on better communication between you and your horse.  Kip Fladland, a student of Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and Buck Brannaman is a great example of a foundational clinic.

One day or multiple day:  While clinics that are more than one day logistically can be more difficult, the intensive effort and daily consistency can advance you and your horses abilities exponentially in a short amount of time.

Colorado and horses are a perfect combination.  With a wide variety of thriving disciplines in our region, educational opportunities abound.  There are not many areas that have such strong organizations in western and English disciplines, not to mention incredible trail riding.  Taking consistent lessons, going to clinics and competing, helps give riders focus, purpose and our horses a job.  While it all costs money, with the value that you will add to the time and enjoyment with your horse and the problems that you will avoid down the road, you can’t afford not to be a lifelong learner!  Heather McWilliams © 2018


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