Clinics are an amazing opportunity for riders to learn from big-named trainers and competitors they may not have a chance to learn from otherwise. Just like anything else in horse world, clinics aren’t cheap. Often, we have to make a choice of whether to audit or participate, or even whether to go to a clinic depending on our budgets. Attending a clinic is a financial investment in your riding toolbox, so you need to make sure you won’t be wasting your money.
The first thing you want to evaluate is the clinician themselves. A recognizable name does not guarantee results. Talk with others who have ridden or audited their clinics in the past to see what kind of experience they had. Most riders will choose to audit before participating in a clinic, however. Part of a famous name not guaranteeing good results is the fact that sometimes a trainer’s teaching style just isn’t a good fit for you and your horse. If the clinic is being held a good distance from your barn, you want to make sure it’s going to be worth the haul.
You also want to evaluate your skill level and your horse’s skill level. Talk to the clinic coordinator to get a sense of what the focus of the clinic will be and if your horse is a good fit. Clinic organizer Daina Kaugars explained that she works to build clinics in such a way that they are welcoming to all levels. To her, “the lower levels are the ones that keep our sport going!”. She makes sure to reach out to potential clinic participants personally to “get an idea of what they’re capable of doing and who would be a good fit for groups or pairs.” But, you need to honestly evaluate your horse. Are they too strong to work in a group setting? Will they be comfortable working off-farm? “Since it’s a financial commitment to ride,” Daina explains, “they definitely want to go home feeling that they received their money’s worth.”
If a clinic is being offered and it’s not focused on your discipline, Daina still recommends reaching out. Despite primarily working on event clinics, if there are times available for private lessons in dressage message riders she knows would be interested. But she “tries to make the clinics as inviting to dressage, hunter/jumper, and eventing folks” as she can. It all depends on the clinic. If there aren’t private lessons being given, sometimes the day’s focus will be on flat work. “It’s super rewarding for pure dressage riders,” Diana says. “Some of the best dressage lessons I’ve taken have been at these clinics because eventers sometimes have an out-of-the-box approach to fixing problems that pure dressage folks would not have considered.”
At the end of the day, if you’re still torn between participating and auditing, it’s always safer to audit. For some, they audit no matter what because the financial gamble is too big. For others, they live in an area where clinicians visit often and they’ll have an opportunity to ride with them at another time. Participating in a clinic all comes down to how you believe you will benefit from this experience. Do what you know will be best for you, your horse, and your wallet.