I recently had the great pleasure and burning jealousy of auditing a Hawley Bennett clinic that was hosted at my barn.  And as I audited, I pondered and, I think, answered an age-old question of the adult amateur: is it worth it for me to ride with this famous clinician?

The short answer: YES

Now for the long answer.

As an adult amateur whose horse isn’t always on, who isn’t always on herself, and who is slowly moving up from elementary to who-knows-where, I often wonder if it’s worth it for me to shell out the money to ride with big clinicians.  Would I be wasting my time and theirs by not being advanced enough for them?  Would their advanced-level lessons be wasted on my elementary-level pony?  Would my riding be good enough?  Would my horse embarrass me?  Two days with Hawley would cost about a month and a half of weekly lessons for me, and the next time I get the chance and have the cash I am definitely doing it.  And here’s why.

Clinicians don’t know your baggage

And frankly, they don’t care. Whether your horse has a wicked right drift, likes to put a hard look into fences before going over, or you lean hard to the right or throw your body crookedly over fences, a good clinician isn’t interested in seeing you accommodate for that because you’ve learned how to ride it. They want you to ride right, and they will help you get there.

What do you mean I lean right, twist left, and don't groom the top of my horse's rump?!

What do you mean I lean right, twist left, and don’t groom the top of my horse’s rump?!

This isn’t out of meanness or spite or lack of understanding, it’s because for the most part, good riding gets good results. And letting riders and horses get away with even little bad habits isn’t effective in the long run.  Because it’s something you deal with all the time and that your trainer sees all the time, both of you have become accustomed to it and you can ride well despite those problems. With fresh eyes, those seemingly little things are suddenly not so little, and fixing them is both a priority and something that can improve your performance at shows.

You ride better for a stranger

Over the many clinics I’ve watched and participated in, this is almost always true: your heels are a little bit deeper, your back a little straighter, and your confidence a little higher. This isn’t because you don’t really respect your trainer at home, but I suspect because you’re more comfortable with them. You know that your trainer knows you’re trying to stop leaning right, so it’s not the end of the world if there’s no noticeable difference between that deep right-lean from one lesson to the next.

Because a visiting clinician doesn’t know you, you’re also more likely to really do what they say.  Again, it’s not out of disrespect to your trainer, but rather more akin to how I always cleaned my room when my godmother asked me but never my parents.  When you’re told to go a little out of your comfort zone, that little voice in your head that might say “no” to your trainer out loud probably won’t speak up for a stranger, and since no clinician wants to set you up for failure, you’re probably going to be rewarded with success too.  And because a visiting clinician doesn’t know your baggage, they might ask you to do something your normal trainer wouldn’t, and watch you succeed at that too.

They are super creative

Remember when I said my horse isn’t always on, and I’m not always on myself?  Well, this is not due to lack of trying on my trainer’s part, but sometimes it’s easier to just ride through the bucking (or right-side lean or rushing or head flipping or, or, or) and learn the exercises in my lessons than to try everything possible to fix those little problems.  As much as your horse can throw at you, most big professional riders have probably ridden through that and worse, and with any luck, they’ve fixed it too.  If their first suggestion doesn’t work, they’ve probably got a whole bucket of tricks you can try – some just tricks, and some long-term solutions to make permanent change.  And even if they haven’t ridden through your exact problems, their vast experience will have given them a toolkit that’s more than capable of helping you work through your problems.

They talk about more than just riding

Amara Hoppner introducing her young Training horse to William Fox-Pitt at the November 3, 2013 clinic

Amara Hoppner introducing her young Training horse to William Fox-Pitt

Beyond riding advice, big clinicians tend to have a wealth of knowledge about feeding, fitness, exercise regimens, tacks, boots, and even human fitness and feeding programs for best performance!  Oh, you wanted to hear about things that aren’t even related to horses?  Well, that’s possible too.  Most clinicians are kind, friendly, and if they have enough time (and it doesn’t interrupt the lessons), are happy to share little bits and pieces of their personal lives and experiences, movies that have and haven’t sucked recently, and how much food they can scarf down at the end of a long day of lessons!

It’s super validating

It’s a lot of fun to know a bit more about an Olympian silver-medalist than is just in the popular media, and get to hang out with them face to face (and tell your friends you couldn’t make their silly weekend lunch because you were hanging out with an Olympic medalist!!).  Beyond that, however, it’s extremely validating to hear someone famous say “good girl!’ to you, or “great ride!” which, with any luck, you will earn at least once in your lesson.  It’s even validating if they make fun of your horse for being a naughty boy – then you know he really is that bad!

Their badassery might just rub off on you

What?  It’s always possible, isn’t it?!