Words to live by, and to ride by: Being able to host a clinic that leaves clients with information they can turn to for years is a sound investment—and can boost your farm’s reputation and your bottom line. A clinician who can provide sound insight is the kind you want to bring in, the kind for whom customers will return. Here’s how to help foster that kind of educational experience.
FINDING A GOOD FIT
You may have a person in mind, someone you aspire to. But how much do you know about this person? It’s important to do your homework before settling on a specific clinician. If you have never met this person, and she is close enough that it makes sense, taking a lesson with her yourself is a great way to get to know how she teaches. Talk to others who’ve hosted this person as a clinician. Find out what they think. Watching this person coach her own students at horse shows is another way to catch her in action and give you good insight.
Diane Carney of Telluride Farm in Hampshire, Ill., has been hosting clinics with George Morris (chef d'équipe of the USEF Show-jumping Team) for 20 years. She suggests starting with a clinician “who can accent your own business.”
Diane Carney hosts many clinics throughout the year that accent her business.
Don’t forget to investigate your local market. What type of clinician would draw the biggest crowd? What levels are you marketing to? Do you have a large beginner scene, or do you cater to Grand Prix aspirants? Call trainers in the area to see what they and their clients find appealing. It is also important to find a very able and clear communicator to give the participants something to go home with.
SETTING YOUR PLAN
Before you even venture into contacting your clinician of choice, give yourself plenty of time to plan. Knowing the best time of year and having a few different options for dates is a sensible place to start. Stephanie Leahey, owner of Leahey Dressage in Longmont, Colo., hosts multiple clinics a year with Olympic dressage medalist Cathleen Raine. She advises to keep in mind that the higher the demand for a clinician, the further ahead you’ll need to plan. “With a higher-caliber clinician, it’s important to be ready to make a commitment to the dates, because if you don’t, someone else will,” she says. If you need to rent a facility to host the clinic, have that set up and give the clinician solid information so she can commit to your dates.
After talking to your chosen clinician and settling on dates, the next step is to spread the word. There are plenty of simple ways to advertise your clinic. Start by posting flyers in tack shops and feed stores and at shows. Carney says that it’s best to keep your flyer basic. “Give an accurate date, spell the name of the clinician correctly, give a location and a good way to contact you, do not advertise the price, make them call you,” she says. You want to personally invite the riders and participants, Carney adds. Even if would-be students can’t make it to this clinic, they may ask you to contact them for the next one.
The most important consideration is the footing in the arena. “As long as the footing is good, the rest will fall into place,” Carney says. If you are renting a facility, keep that in mind. If you are hosting at your own facility, you should update the footing if it needs it, Leahey and Carney firmly agree. Remember that footing needs differ from one type of riding to the next; a reigning clinic needs adequate footing for sliding stops, while for jumping, the footing shouldn’t be too deep or the horses can’t get out of it.
Time of year is also a factor. Will you need an indoor arena for a winter clinic?
BE A GOOD HOST
It’s important to keep your clinician comfortable so she will want to come back for you. Even if your clinic isn’t a mounted clinic, you need to keep in mind the space that would be most appropriate for what you are hosting. Are you doing ground work? Veterinarian or farrier clinics also need to have appropriate accommodations; ask your clinicians what they need and want available.
As the host of the clinic, you are also hosting the clinician. It is your responsibility to purchase plane tickets, for example, and to put her up in a hotel and feed her. Since you may have never met this person, ask about her preferences. Talking to someone who has hosted this person before is helpful, too. Leahey likes to find out their “likes and dislikes to help keep things moving smoothly.” Carney stresses the importance of organization. “Do not be late to pick her up from the airport, and pay attention to details,” she says.
Find out how early the clinician likes to start, how many groups she is willing to teach, and how many people to a group she prefers, as well as how she would like to group riders. Be aware, in fact, that not all clinics are conducted in groups. Leahey’s dressage clinics, for example, are set up as private sessions with the clinician.
Ask your clinician what supplies she will need. A jumping clinic will require standards, poles, and jump cups. Most clinicians will know how many of each they want, and give you those numbers. If you are planning a natural horsemanship clinic, your clinician will ask for very different supplies. Whatever the type of clinic, it’s your job to fill that order.
Once you have the dates and location set you’ll want to have proper liability insurance policies in place. Your clinician should already have liability insurance; she may need to ask her insurance company to add a short-term policy for the days of the clinic. You’ll also want to have the participants sign the regular release waiver for the facility. You don’t need anything more specific than that.
Costs (and fees) can vary widely, depending on what type of clinic you’re hosting and the clinician herself. A smaller, one-day clinic with no overnight stabling is the least costly option, for you as well as your clients. Early on, find out what the clinician charges. If the clinician stays overnight and needs a hotel room, your costs rise. So: to set your fee, factor in stabling, shavings, costs for lunch if you provide it, plane tickets, hotel, clinician fee and facility rental.
Once you have all your costs totaled, divide by the number of people you have attending, add an extra amount to cover any unexpected costs, and then factor in compensation for all your time and work.
Both Leahey and Carney agree that to run a three-day clinic with students stabling their horses overnight, it would typically cost $600 to $700. But prices vary across the country.
Whatever you charge, get it in advance. Carney’s protocol is to collect fees “30 days in advance, and I collect the entire fee.” Leahey says that she, too, has learned that it’s better to collect fees ahead of time, or risk getting burned. Neither has a cancelation policy—once the fee has been paid, it is the job of the rider to be there. If a horse or rider is sick or injured, Carney and Leahey both say the spot must be filled. Leahey requires the person who is canceling to fill the spot. Carney uses her waiting list to fill any holes, so that the replacement is in the same ability group.
Carney hosts and teaches enough clinics that she has set up a separate bank account for clinics. This keeps her from accidentally spending a check that may need to be returned in the case of an emergency cancelation.
Once in session, Leahey’s key to keep things running smoothly is “organization, and learning to do ten things at once.” Carney notes that “people appreciate orderly, systematic structure.” She posts her schedules online and in the barn a day ahead of time, with her contact information on them, along with contact points for a vet and farrier she has on call for her clinics.
After successfully completing your clinic, you will be faced with cleanup. If you have rented a facility, leave it looking tidy so that you can return in the future.
But the most important step, Carney says, is to wrap up your relations with students and clinician on a positive note. “Keep it personal, say good-bye to everyone who is leaving, and tell them they did a good job—even if they fell off. The whole thing is a learning experience."
Horse show associations can help you locate a suitable clinician and round up students. Use association websites for promotion, and discover what other help they offer. The United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) website, for example, provides a clinic format and an entire toolbox, with sample forms, tips, timelines and advice for bringing in a clinician and hosting a clinic. The USHJA will also give you free promotion on its website if you affiliate your clinic with USHJA, which is free. It will even give you gift bags for your participants. So check with your association and explore the possibilities.