In My Boots: Clinic-ing 101

Kristen Kovatch offers some tips for getting the most out of your next clinic experience, whether you are riding or auditing.

From Kristen:

I’ve just come off a weekend hosting a clinic at Alfred by AQHA judge Bonnie Miller of Morrisville, New York, geared towards guiding our intercollegiate and interscholastic teams towards good show ring practices and putting the best foot forward in the great game of catch-riding. My students improved a ton in just three days and I learned a new set of skills and details that will help me both as a judge and a coach. I also learned a few things that everyone who attends clinics can keep in mind to make their experience as beneficial as possible.

bonnie miller

Bonnie Miller works with riders at Alfred University.

1. Converse.

Certainly it’s critical to listen at a clinic–not only to what the clinician is telling you, but what he or she might be sharing with other students. Advice given to other riders might not apply to you at the moment but it might make sense later, or provide tools you can take away to use later. Equally important is asking questions–if something doesn’t make sense to you, ask about it! The learning process is truly a conversation and the majority of clinicians are happy to have a conversation about a particular topic or issue.

That said, the conversation should not turn into an argument. Does your opinion differ? That’s okay, because horseback riding has few hard and fast rules and a lot of details are subjective and up to the individual. However, you’re coming to this clinic to learn something, not to defend your own point of view. I find it even more offensive when riders have an excuse for every suggestion the clinician makes–so what if your horse doesn’t like the footing, the loudspeaker, the color of his saddle pad? Your job as a student, again, is to learn with an open mind.

2. Watch.

Sometimes the rules for auditing other sessions in the clinic will vary with hosts or host facilities, but generally students can sit in on other sessions before or after their own rides. Beginners in the ring right after you? Stop in and sit down and listen; everyone could do with a review of the basics. Have the opportunity to watch some top-level riders in your discipline? You should plan to stick around and see them perfect their skills. Some of my riders learned just as much by watching other sessions as they did in riding their own.

3. Process.

The way individuals process best varies–some will take notes, others learn simply by listening, others yet need to practice. Find your own learning style and apply it to the clinic: taking notes during other sessions or jotting down some key ideas after your own. Repeating key information out loud to yourself. Practicing the concepts independently. Watching other riders. The ways to process and retain information are endless and varied and with experience you’ll learn what works best for you to let you take as much information home as possible.

Some clinics may provide handouts, copies of score sheets or clinician’s own notes–take copies! You might not look at them ever again but they will make a great reference point later for charting progress.

Do you have your own suggestions for clinics? Please feel free to share them below.

About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team and teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving. She has shown reined cow horse, reining, western pleasure, and draft horses, as well as dabbled in hunt seat equitation. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian, Take the Reins and Ranch and Reata.

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