Posted by: shannonc | April 20, 2010

Eventing clinics: tips for participation

I got some requests (probably because I appear to be a clinic fiend!) to post a guide to clinic participation, so I thought I’d jot down a few how-tos I’ve learned from experience.  Please add your own tips and post any further questions you may have!


  • Remember, eventing Hollywood stars are also real people.  Most of us, honestly, get a teeny bit nervous and starstruck at the prospect of riding with the eventing elite — clinicians are often successful world-class competitors.  Think of it as good practice for the nerves you’ll have standing in your next start box.  Remind yourself not only that these people have a tremendous base of experience from which to draw in order to help you and your horse improve, but also that they do want to be there. 
  • Do your homework.  Chances are good you have some idea of who it is you’re signing up to ride with, since you’re signing up.  But if you’re at all like me, that’s not nearly enough information to make you comfortable :D.  What can you expect from a given clinician – in terms of what you are likely to do, and what preparation you might need?  Ask around – coaches, friends, barn mates – to see if anyone’s ridden with this particular person.  Another excellent resource is The Chronicle of the Horse Forums (link is to eventing forums; if your clinician is a D person, hunter, etc, uplevel and look for that section).  Tip:  use the search function before posting a query.  Just search or advanced search (which allows you to look for thread titles only) your clinician’s name and off you go. 
  • Be careful about signing up for part of a clinic.  Especially if it is several days long and you are missing the beginning.  Maybe the clinician already knows your horse, maybe it is specifically encouraged by the organizer, maybe there is some other very good reason to enter on day 2 when you missed day 1, but in general it may not be such a great idea.  Clinics usually move from less to more challenging over time.  You, the clinician, and your horse are all getting information at the beginning of the clinic that help you at the end.  Unless you want to be that person whose horse stops thirty times at a review exercise all the other horses are fine with because it was built up gradually the day before…consider saving your entry for another time.
  • Be clean.  Think of your clinic like a schooling show.  Your horse and tack should be as clean as possible, with allowances for conditions like the dead of winter and pooping eight times on the trip from the trailer to the ring.  Really – IMO – there is no excuse for dirty tack, ever.  I have sometimes ridden in a dusty saddle, but never a dirty bit, or a girth that needs washing – no part, in other words, that could affect my horse’s health or well-being.  When I rode as a kid, we were fully expected to take our bridles apart and clean them after every single lesson.  So call me old school…but you can never go wrong with neat, clean tack in good repair.  It shows respect for the clinician, that you take good care of your horse, and that you’re serious about the lesson you’re about to ride in.
  • Dress like for like.  Okay, figuring out what you are going to wear…it’s like planning for the eventing prom, right?  Fun, stressful, possibly involves shopping.  Make sure to behold your research if it turned up any strong clinician opinions – not all of them consider currently vogue xc attire (animal prints, color-mismatched boots, etc) attractive.  As a rule of thumb I ask myself what the primary focus of the clinic is and then I dress as I would dress for that phase at a schooling show – in other words, if it’s a show jumping clinic, I won’t wear a coat, but I will wear tall boots, a black or dark solid colored helmet, black gloves, and beige breeches on the first day.  Maybe even a hairnet – but minimally, long hair pulled back.  I’ll usually wear a polo type shirt tucked in and a belt.  If you think neat and conservative, it’s hard to go wrong.  I recommend leaving your purple rhinestone blingy spurs at home, unless you want to be the target of a joke that will probably run the entire two-day length of the clinic. 
  • Do the same for your pony, and don’t forget his boots, martingale, studs, or anything else you would normally use for that phase.  I have seen clinicians ask for bit changes (usually in questions of possible overbitting), so pack the bit you used a few months ago if there was one, and the one you’re thinking of using next week if there is one of those.  For jumping clinics I pack my dressage bit, just in case the clinician wants me in a plain snaffle. 
  • Be attentive, too, to the rules of the venue and clinic organizer:  they may want you in your xc vest, for example, but aren’t concerned about your armband because you’ll be filling out their paperwork.



  • Audit.  If you have the chance to watch other groups, especially groups before yours, do it.  The programs tend to be similar, but for different levels, so you will get a very good idea of what to expect from watching.  The more you get to see and hear, too, the more you’ll learn.
  • Keep it concise.  You will have the chance to introduce yourself.  You may be answering specific questions about you, your horse, and/or your experience.  Being a little nervous, or having the great opportunity to tell someone famous about yourself, may make you chatty.  Do not go on all day…for one thing, it will shorten your lesson!  For another thing, it will make the person next to you want to choke you.  Just a little bit.
  • Try what you are asked to do.  Even if it is different.  Even if you don’t like the sound of it.  Yes, if your horse has dumped you every single time you have pointed him at a ditch, it’s worth mentioning as a point of information if the clinician sends you to a yawning hole in the middle of a line of horses.  But if you’re asked to halt between fences, gallop away from a fence, take your spurs off, tap your horse’s shoulder on approach to something – and you’ve never done it before – as long as it seems safe, do not stop or talk, just try to do it.  If you are confused, there will be time to ask questions when you come back to the group, take a break, or at the end of the ride.  You are paying a lot of money for this person’s expertise, so don’t resist it.

Example:  last fall I rode my green pony in a clinic with Eric Smiley.  On day 2 of the clinic we did xc and about 45 minutes into the ride, he asked me to canter off a bank with a downhill slope landing.  I had never cantered the pony off a bank before.  The pony has a buck and a bolt in him.  I was nervous.  I didn’t know how this was going to turn out.  I shut up, went and did it and it was fine.  By day 2 of a clinic, 45 minutes into xc, he knew what my pony and I were capable of that day better than I did.  I went to learn things I didn’t know, so I was glad I kept my mouth closed and my leg on.

  • Do not make excuses.  If you make a mistake or if your horse makes a mistake, listen to what the clinician has to say about it, then try to fix it.  You may be feeling a little sensitive or defensive if you get called out on something, but remember, the clinician does not know your personality.  The clinician only knows that it’s important to use this very brief slice of time with you productively, which means getting through to you – and not having to stop the forward progress of the lesson to listen to your justification and defend his or her own advice.  Try to be on board with this program.  If you don’t understand what you are being asked to do, then yes, ask.  But if you are otherwise confused, or if you need help sorting out something that happened, save it for when there is time set aside to ask questions.
  • Support your group members.  They are probably a little nervous too.  In downtime when the clinician is off coaching a horse on course, a kind comment or two can go a long way.  Maybe you think their horse is gorgeous…or you wish yours was so bold into water…or they had a really good save a few minutes ago.  Say it, because in the best clinic groups, you are cheering each other on by the end of the lesson, and everyone is having fun.  Maybe you will even take home a new friend.



  • Ask questions.  Are you curious about the thinking behind an exercise?  The striding?  Why the clinician had you change a certain something?  What made a type of fence so inviting?  Why the long format is a dying art?  Ask when invited – you’ll learn more, and it shows the clinician you’ve been thinking and paying attention.  These people know secrets – extract them before you lose the chance!
  • Mind your manners.  This probably shouldn’t even need to be mentioned, but I have seen people dismount, walk away, and drive off without ever thanking the clinician, the organizer, and the volunteers.  Eventing is a small world.  Be remembered for taking the time to express your appreciation.
  • Make the most of what you learned.  Journal for yourself, email your friends, review your video, or post your experience somewhere – anything that helps you remember what you did and what you were told, so that you can practice what you took away.


Of course, feed your horse many carrots, and bear in mind whether the work was more concentrated than he’s used to so you can ice, wrap, soak, bute, or whatever else you do to take care of him. 

Add your tips…I know you have ’em… :P



  1. Outstanding advice. I believe much (maybe all) of it can and should carrying into regular lessons as well! :)

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