Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by OTTB United: Why We Clinic

“… this is where clinics are cool. So when 10 Thoroughbreds and around 40 folks who share a common interest in these horses came together, the process and the progress became central. At the very least, the horses got to experience somewhere else that was not ‘home’ and which was also not the track.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, will offer insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey discusses her logic on why we take clinics.

This past weekend I hosted the third Thoroughbred Logic Clinic at Kivu Sporthorses & Training. My team and I spent the week/end cleaning up, prepping food (Thanks, Shane), and making space for the ship in horses. As with any event, it was a ton of hustle and I kept reminding myself that I have no one else but myself to blame for having to put this together – hell, I created it.

 And I’m pretty damn glad that I did.

Beans (Giant’s Gateway) got to be the demo horse for the Thoroughbred Logic Clinic this past weekend at Kivu. Photo by Cora Williamson.

So why do we clinic? What is it about getting a bunch of horses and riders together in one space that creates something worthwhile?

On one hand, there’s the opportunity to get your horse off-property and ride in a new environment. This is critical for “green” Thoroughbreds (and green horses in general). It builds their acumen of what can be “normal,” and by positively adding experiences, they become more tolerant, open minded (oh, pigs here too? OK) willing creatures. This is excellent show prep, and the slightly buzzy atmosphere of a clinic is a step away from the comfort of home, but not yet the stress of a show.

Pig (yes, that’s his name) helps desensitize horses that come in for training and clinics. Photo by author.

Moreover, clinics provide opportunities to ride with specific trainers you might not have access to daily. And quite likely, even if that trainer is saying the same thing as your at-home trainer, you might sit up and kick on more when Boyd says it. Hell, I definitely took note when Lucinda Green yelled, “You’re going to die!” when I pushed and got forward to a prelim question on XC. Yep, I didn’t do that again.

Hopefully, riders leave a clinic with a sense of having learned something – a new way to handle a dropped shoulder or create smoother transitions. Ideally, you also go home with homework – something specific to work on and a new (or better sharpened) set of tools with which to do so. But if we stopped there, clinics and lessons would look pretty similar. So what else? Why do we do these strange group-ish things and how do we get the most out of them?

Tyler Brunner and Friendly learn about moving away from pressure at the shoulder during the Thoroughbred Logic Clinic. Photo by Cora Williamson.

I can’t help but see clinics as academic exercises – a bit akin to conferences. To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of conferences (and back when I was a full-time academic, you usually could have found me hiding in the hotel lobby dealing with something about horses, not academia) but…

That said, a few conferences were remarkable. Those were small, intense, and productive. They brought in folks from diverse backgrounds, united on a particular topic, and through a day or two of presentations, workshopping, food, and late-night drinks, incrementally, a community was formed and an understanding of the topic at hand deepened, shifted, and created something new. And better yet, that something new almost always carried momentum.

This was by far the best conference I have been part of — and the resulting work ran on the energy created when everyone was together in Chapel Hill.

I always left those smaller conferences with energy for the subject and a bit of a buzz about my newfound academic community. Sometimes, the “we’re all dealing with the same challenges” was simply cathartic. But through the combination of presentation, discussion, and organic community building, learning flourished, unchecked.

On the flip side, the least productive conferences were always those where people came with performance as the priority. Perfected presentations and super high stress shut down many potential avenues for learning and community building. At those, I found I spent time with the people I already knew, and I didn’t venture far outside of my immediate circle or knowledge base. The desire – no, the expectation – to have to do well and show that you already know all the things, literally undermined the overall potential.

Yeah, this is why we do this. Cindy Adcock and Yukon Johnny featured. Photo by Cora Williamson.

Such bigger conferences might operate a bit like important shows, where the goal is more the performance, and the process work is done ahead of time. I find that with young/green horses, the process:performance binary is really a spectrum. The happiest way to bring an off-track Thoroughbred along is to inch along it towards performance, always with the goal of learning and incremental progress.

And again, this is where clinics are cool. So when 10 Thoroughbreds and around 40 folks who share a common interest in these horses came together, the process and the progress became central. At the very least, the horses got to experience somewhere else that was not ‘home’ and which was also not the track. They all held it together – even with the pig. The riders hopefully learned something individually while having a chance to see commonalities between their horse’s challenges and those facing the other participants.

Anna Sasser pilots Mountain Holiday through the grid, remembering to stay back and ride forward. Photo by Cora Williamson.

Auditors and participants who watched for most or all of the day got the chance to witness how different riders handled similar situations. They also had a chance to see the various ways forward. This accumulated knowledge and the community built around it is honestly why we do this. Thoroughbreds can be sensitive, particular rides… but between them, there are usually more commonalities than differences.

Over the next couple articles, I’ll address a few of the trends that surfaced during this clinic. For instance:

  • The need for quality (quiet but forward) rhythm
  • The ability to move a horse’s shoulder and ribs over in order to create a correct bend first and an uphill — driving from behind — movement second.
  • How horses and/or riders created “noise” that needed to be dialed back so that communication could be clearer.

Sensitive horse, Beans, showing off how he can be sensible and on the buckle despite the atmosphere and audience. Photo by Cora Williamson.

In the meantime, I encourage folks to check out the clinics in their area and take a spin with a new trainer. But better yet, stick around to watch the other rides and soak up all the knowledge, because it is there that the learning is intensified, and the community is built.

Thoroughbred Logic is proud to be supported by OTTB United, the premier virtual marketplace for retired racehorses built by equestrians, for equestrians. The OTTB United app unites organizations, buyers, sellers, and trainers in one interface. Download the app and give it a whirl by clicking/tapping the banner below!