Paige Cerulli and Whisper

Paige Cerulli and Whisper

A Different Kind of Clinic Report… by Paige Cerulli

Last year, I did something I never wildly imagined I’d ever do: I rode my horse in a clinic. That clinic was televised. Thankfully both my mare and I lived to tell the story, so I’m here to share my unusual learnings with you.

Sure, I could tell you about all of the great horsemanship skills I gained in the clinic – and there were many. The clinic was with world-renowned horsewoman Julie Goodnight, and was filmed for an episode of her Horse Master with Julie Goodnight TV show. But you’ll be able to watch the episode yourself when it airs (it should be out sometime around April or May of 2014), so I thought it would be best to talk about what I’ve learned about preparing for clinics in general.

A Little Background

If there were ever a horse and rider pair who were the most unlikely to participate in a clinic, my mare and I would win the prize. Whisper is a now-14-year-old ex-racehorse. Registered as Summon Mi Cielo, Whisper raced until she was 7; I met her soon afterwards and purchased her four years ago. She’s my first horse and is a total sweetheart of a mare.

Whisper and I just ride for pleasure. We putter around and school, but don’t show and don’t travel off-farm. In fact, Whisper lives at a very small (four-stall) barn with little activity; she hasn’t been off-farm in years. And, if you want to know a little secret – until a month before the clinic, I rode Whisper in a brown saddle and a black bridle with brown reins. I wore jeans, black (very worn) half chaps, and brown paddock boots. (And a helmet, of course – though the helmet was light blue.) The epitome of style? We were it.

I applied to participate in the clinic and shooting on a whim. Whisper and I had some issues that I would have loved help on, but I never actually believed that we would be accepted. (If I had, I’m pretty sure I would have chickened out long before ever hitting the “submit” button.) So when I received notice a month to the beginning of the shoot that we had been accepted, I panicked. And I also started to learn.

Lesson #1: Preparing for a Clinic is a Lot of Work

I immediately made lists of everything that I would have to bring along to the clinic. Whisper was to stay overnight on the grounds for 2 nights; we would film for two days. I was quickly staggered by the size of the list, though – all the items were necessities, but still, it was monumental. When I hauled everything out and piled it in the yard before loading it on to the trailer it was even more ridiculous, leading me to conclude that Whisper owns more things than I do.

We don't pack

We don’t pack light…

Lesson #2: Start Planning Early

Lesson #1 leads right into Lesson #2. Clinics are a lot of work – start planning WAY ahead of time, if at all possible. Especially if you’re not a show rider and are lacking much of the equipment (as in, tall boots, breeches, a bridle and reins that actually match) that you’ll need for the clinic.

I have never spent so much time shopping in my life as I did preparing for the clinic. I learned all about tall boot sizing (and the fact that my calves are ridiculously large and eliminate most tall boots from even being a possibility). I also learned that all breeches marked size 28 don’t necessarily FIT like a 28, and that when you order off Ebay you should really ask for exact measurements and never go by the size. I also learned that shirts without large logos are almost impossible to find (because of the filming, we couldn’t be sporting that large logos that 99.99% of equestrian clothing is known for).

Lesson #3: Grey Horse? Baby Powder Is Your Friend

When my vet came out to pull a Coggins for Whisper a few weeks before the shoot, she gave me some excellent advice: bring baby powder. Whisper is a grey mare, and having not ever really shown before, I was lacking in many of the show ring grooming tips. So, heeding my vet’s advice, I threw a bottle of baby powder into her grooming bag.

I never imagined how important that powder would become! On the night before our second day of filming, Whisper evidently decided to have a party in her stall. I have never, and I mean never, seen this mare so filthy. She had covered both of her sides with massive manure stains – and I had about an hour and fifteen minutes to get her ready before we were to begin filming.

Panic ensued. Thankfully all of the other clinic participants were wonderfully kind and everyone chipped in to help me get her ready, from fetching us a bucket of warm water to attacking Whisper with grooming spray. Still, there was only so much we could do before I had to tack up and go. So I brought the baby powder with me ringside and, out of sheer desperation, started rubbing fistfuls of it into her coat.

It worked. Whisper was restored to an almost-white horse. She wore almost a whole container of baby powder for our last shoot, but she looked clean and presentable enough for TV. I had to be careful not to pat her too much while wearing my black gloves, but was so grateful for my vet’s advice.*

My vet also gave me some phenomenal advice about biosecurity when bringing Whisper to the new farm, such as: Bring her own water and feed buckets. Soak her hay to help reduce the risk of colic (she colics frequently). Bring your own manure fork. Bring water from your own farm to avoid her deciding that the new water tastes funny.

Lesson #4: TV Brings Out All of Your Habits

Part of our focus for the clinic was going to be calming Whisper down in new environments (which quickly unsettle her) and helping me learn to help her in those situations. As the cameras started rolling I realized that my default in tense situations with Whisper is to start singing. Alas, I am not blessed with a pleasant singing voice, and as I refused to belt out tunes on television, I started talking to her instead. And talk I did – constantly. I don’t think I shut up once during that first day of filming. (And yes, I was wearing a mic.) So, instead of my humming a tune, the episode will likely feature my nervous – incessant – chatter. Oh well.

with Julie Goodnight

At the End of the Day, Just Enjoy It!

Lesson #5: At the End of the Day, Just Enjoy It

There is only so much stressing and worrying that you can take. Thankfully by the time we got Whisper to the farm safely, I was already exhausted – so exhausted, in fact, that the jitters couldn’t really take effect. When it came time for me to mount up the next day, I was nervous, but there was also a hint of excitement there.

Filming our episode seemed somewhat surreal (enhanced by a camera malfunction on day 2 which led to a VERY extended final shoot). Through it all, Whisper was a star, and I was grateful to stay in the saddle. Looking back, I still can’t quite believe that we did it. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Just let me stock up on some more baby powder.

Paige Cerulli

Southern Stars Saddlery