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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


Failure and Success in Competition

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt

I did not grow up showing much, just a little during a couple summers on a friend’s horses that she wasn’t riding.  You could never paint us with any discipline brush because we entered as many classes as we could English or Western, including any sort of Gymkhana classes.  Then a little showing again in college on the equestrian team.  I don’t remember any great successes, but I really enjoy showing, similar to the way I enjoy horses.

I love every part of horses.  Hauling hay, cleaning stalls, their smell, the way they move and talk to each other, grooming, caring and riding them, just being a part of their world.  With showing, I love the show preparation of packing, laundering pads and show clothes, cleaning tack, bathing the horses, getting up super early and spending the entire day/s immersed in horse.

Looking back on the last six recent years that I have been showing (the mid part of my forties), I have learned many lessons about myself and my horses.  My horses seem to enjoy getting out and they are different at a show.  More engaged.  Sometimes the engagement comes out in underlying tension and nerves.  You learn your horses.  They many need less time to warm up or more time.  They may need time to just walk around and let it all soak in.  Shows are a great way to bond with your horse and rely on each other.   They learn to be around lots of other horses, cars, people, signs, loudspeakers.  They see new arenas, new scenery, new obstacles.

I learn the most about me.  Being the “doer of deeds” and at most shows my face is definitely “marred by dust, sweat and blood”.  There were times I did it for the color of the ribbon.    But just wait, partnering with a large animal with their own brain will fix your ego.  Then there is the liability of my brain.  Doing the wrong pattern, forgetting the rules, going off course, “because there is not effort without error and shortcoming.” I don’t take much for granted anymore.  The most important lesson I have learned is that it is never the horses fault.

Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat; it’s understanding the necessity of both; its engaging. It’s being all in.  Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I want to be “all in” for my horses.  It is really all about them and they are without question a “worthy cause”.  We, horses and people, were created to partner.  We work with them to do what they were made to do in a certain sequence.  We add value to who they are in their life with people by exposing them to new environments and by partnering with them to reach their potential as well as ours.

Now I show partly because it gives me goals and a reason to, “actually strive to do the deeds.”  Life is busy and I have to have something I have invested in coming on the calendar to make me get out, ride and improve myself.  I owe it to the horses to continue to better myself through time riding, lessons and by showing to get evaluated on my progress and goals.  I want to ride at the best of my ability in order to show my horse to the best of their ability.  You will rarely be ready or prepared, but go anyway.  Show day is not a day to fix anything, don’t worry about the judge/s, do your best in that moment.  It’s is just a horse show, whatever happens, happens, I guarantee you will both learn, grow and many times surprise yourself.  Most importantly, HAVE FUN and make it a great experience for your horse.

“Competition does not have to be a horse show or a race against another horse.  Competition can be a set of standards by which we measure ourselves.  Your standards have great influence on your perceived results.  Choose them carefully.  It is not about the blue ribbon.  It is about evaluating the direction of our work and establishing deadlines for reaching goals… I will always compete, as I need to be challenged and held to an honest evaluation of my progress.  I don’t have to win the blue ribbon, but I need to know if I’m as good as I think I am.”  Trainers Aaron Ralston in “Ride Up:  Live your adventure.”  Co-written with Edgall Franklin Pyles.

Set goals, challenge, push and stretch yourself.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Don’t just do what’s necessary, do what’s possible.  Be relentless, because it is not how you start something, but how you continue.  Expect to fail.  Success does not come without failure.  Then accept your failures.  After all, we connect with each other through our flaws.     

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.  Martin Luther King Jr.

As we reach the end of the summer show season, I encourage riders to set some goals for next year, to find a couple shows or trail rides or team events to participate in.  If it seems too intimidating at first, start by volunteering.  There is a kind of horse sport, competition or group for everyone with any shape or size of horse that you will enjoy and meet new horse people along the way.  Encourage each other and the strangers you will meet along the way who will become your friends.  You will see new places and know victories “and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”.

Feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance in helping you find a challenge or to share your horse story.  [email protected]  Heather McWilliams © 2016.