Planning the Perfect Clinic

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Hosting a clinic can be a gamble: Done right, you and your barn will shine; done wrong, the bad PR?can spread like wildfire. So, how do you get the right clinician? How do you make sure that everyone is satisfied and goes away having learned something new? Having hosted several clinics here at Saddle Mountain Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and speaking to others who routinely host clinics, here’s what we feel makes a good one. And while some observations may seem obvious, any one of them can ruin a clinic.

POSITIVE ENERGY

According to Ken Jones, owner of the Colorado Center for Equestrian Learning at The Home Ranch in Clark, Colo., and host to a variety of English and Western clinics, positive energy from the clinician is essential. It doesn’t matter how famous the clinician is, if he or she isn’t nice and doesn’t have great people skills, participants will not go away feeling good about their experience. And, for those hosting clinics, beware the clinician who feels you should be so honored to host him that he takes all the revenues and the only monetary compensation is that he will let you or another stablehand participate free. Also, watch out for the clinician who is also trying to sell his or her signature brand of tack. Jones and others carefully screen the clinician prior to booking. If you can’t get to a clinic, be sure to check references and talk to previous participants first, regardless of the bio.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Although this may seem obvious, clinicians need to be able to communicate. For example, getting a European world cup rider might seem like a great idea, but one who is very hard to understand because of a heavy accent may not work. And look for creative communication. Clinician Wendy Murdoch from Boulder, Colo., is successful due to her creativity, such as using a gymnastic rubber ball to help improve a rider’s seat. Lastly, make sure the focus of the clinic is well defined. If participants came to learn to rope, the clinician shouldn’t spend the entire time on theory and basic horsemanship.

GROUP MANAGEMENT

Some clinicians prefer to work one-on-one, while others will have the entire group on horseback all day. Class size is very important—while it may be better for the bottom line to cram as many people as possible into each session, the end result may be disgruntled participants. If there are over 16 people, it’s hard for anyone to get much out of it. Smaller groups, such as four groups of four, make it easier for the clinician and a better value for the client. As the clinician works with each group, the others can learn by watching while waiting their turn. If you are doing cow work, reining, jumping or dressage patterns where the one-on-one is essential, have an order of go for each group (unless the clinician prefers to choose).

Another tricky aspect of hosting clinics is to make sure that everyone, from beginners to experts, gets equal time and attention. If possible, find out each rider’s ability level in advance and group the participants accordingly, thereby easing the frustration of a more advanced rider and the humiliation of a beginning rider trying to keep up.

TIME MANAGEMENT

There is nothing more frustrating than waiting and watching while the clinician trains a horse (usually the barn owner’s) or spends an exorbitant amount of time with an unruly horse. The clinic needs to flow at a good pace, not getting bogged down with one horse or one rider.

HOMEWORK

Learning at a clinic makes for a good clinic; getting tips and exercises to practice at home can make a great one. Hand-outs prepared by the clinician reminding participants of some of the topics and exercises are an added bonus. If the clinician does not provide a hand-out, perhaps prepare one yourself with the clinician’s approval.

FACILITY

A facility can make or break a good clinic. An indoor facility is essential for a good clinic even if it is only used as a back-up in bad weather. Whether outdoors or in, make sure your PA?system can be heard by riders and spectators alike. The facility also needs to be clean and safe. If the barn has just had a contagious sickness go through, it might not be the best time to host a clinic. There needs to be a safe place to tie your horse as well as good trailer access.

FROM THE CLINICIAN’S VIEWPOINT

To ensure a clinic’s success, it’s up to the host to also address the needs of the clinician. Ann and Terry Wegener (Ann trains and shows Arabians, while Terry trains and shows reiners) had this to say on the subject:

The host needs to be well organized and be willing to provide good PR and advertising. It is also critical that the host make sure the participants understand before the event what the clinician expects in the way of rope halters, bit preferences and any requirements such as helmets. The better prepared the participant is, the easier it is for the clinician. And find out what the clinician needs—maybe a stall for a demo horse or housing and food, etc.

A host needs to provide quality facilities with good, well-prepared footing. If indoors, the lighting should be adequate. There should also be suitable amenities such as bathrooms or comfortable indoor meeting areas for discussions off the horse.

If you are hosting a roping, cutting or cowhorse clinic you will need adequate cattle facilities and a good cow handler. Waiting while they struggle to get a participant’s cow wastes everyone’s time. If you are hosting a jumping clinic, make sure the jumps are in good shape and that someone is available to help lower and raise the rails.

A host should also be able to provide the clinician with a quick summary of the groups of participants he or she is about to face. A clinic is never good if the clinician talks over everyone’s head or presents drills the horses are not capable of trying, much less mastering.

Hosting clinics can be a very profitable and fun venture, as well as establish a great name for your barn. By the same token, it is hard to recover from an ill-prepared, disorganized event. By preparing in advance, researching clinicians and providing good facilities, you assure your next clinic will leave people clamoring for more.

Details, Details, Details

1) Payment/Fees: All participants must pay in full to reserve a place in the clinic. Refunds will be given only if a replacement can be found. This insures your having enough participants to cover the costs. Be sure to add in a facility fee, cattle fee if applicable, and enough to cover the advertising and food, if provided.

2) Requirements: If you require health certificates, coggins papers, etc., be sure that all participants know well in advance so they can either fax in copies or bring them along. If you live in a smaller community and the vet works closely with most of the equestrians in the area, have him or her review the list of horses to see who is current with shots, etc. Also, be up front in stating that the host and/or the clinician has the right to ask a rider with an obviously sick, or dangerously unruly horse to leave.

3) Advance Packet: Before the clinic, send all participants a receipt for payment, a clinic schedule outlining the day and whether lunch is provided. Include barn rules and information such as where to park, where the water is, where not to go (i.e., the stallion barn). If people are coming from far away, include a map of the area, lodging facilities and a map to the barn.