Best/Worst Clinic Experiences?

Henry and I are headed to an Ashley Adams clinic this weekend at my Trainer’s barn. Well… I have a private SJ lesson on Friday, and then Trainer is riding him. She’s mostly back in the groove from her post-baby/riding-hiatus, but all of her horses are green, so who better to gallop and jump big fences on than Henry? Plus I’m still planning on making her run Prelim on him so they may as well start getting re-acquainted.

auditing Charles de Kunffy

I think it’ll be fun, and since I’ve heard nothing but good things about Ashley (especially regarding her experience with OTTB’s), I’m willing to give it a go. Normally you have to twist my arm a lot for the clinic thing… by the time all is said and done most of them end up costing about as much as a horse show, or a lot of lessons with your regular trainer. When your budget is tight, it becomes a matter of priorities and choices. Clinics don’t usually win.

I have been to some good clinics though. I’m lucky in that I’ve never ridden with a truly BAD clinician, although some have definitely been better than others. I’m not sure that I’ve ever walked away with any huge revelations though. Except for that little steeplechase lesson we got from Hawley Bennett as part of the 3-Day at Coconino… that one little lesson, and applying what we learned at the subsequent event that weekend, really made cross country riding “click” for me in a way it hadn’t before. Maybe the Classic Format in general should get the credit there (the whole event was set up as a semi-clinic, with jog up lessons and everything), but Hawley’s advice still echos clearly in my memory on cross country.

steeplechase practice with Hawley

Granted, I haven’t ridden in a ton of clinics… only 5.

I’ve audited a lot more than I’ve ridden in, plus participated in a couple un-mounted ones (the YEH judging and FEH ones). Some were great, most of them decent, and a couple were just uncomfortably bad. Auditing Charles de Kunffy was a particular highlight in the “great” column, as was the YEH judging clinic with Marilyn Payne, both of which I ended up writing about here.

The bad ones that stand out in my mind were mostly bad because of the clinicians’ attitude toward some of the riders. There’s a difference in constructive criticism and just plain meanness.

So that got me thinking: what were the best clinics you’ve ever been to, and what made them so great? And on the flip side: what were the worst clinics you’ve ever been to, and what made them so bad?

52 thoughts on “Best/Worst Clinic Experiences?

  1. Personally, I’ve found that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for riders/horses that want to clinic but aren’t yet at the BN level. My horse is young and I’m new to the sport so I’m still learning, so I tend to avoid clinics because I don’t feel ready to jump at BN height away from home. Money is also an issue, I can take 3-5 lessons with my trainer who knows me and my horse for the same money as some of the big name clinics.

    I rode with Doug Payne last winter and it was really wonderful because he offered a 2′ “intro” group. When my horse got nervous (and in turn me as well), he worked with us to work through our issues until we were able to get over the jump we had trouble at. If he came to my area again I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up! Plus compared to some of the other riders I’ve seen advertised he was very reasonably priced!


    1. I never really considered that, about BN being the lowest offered, but that’s a good point. Although I know from the clinics I’ve been to that a lot of pre-BN people just enter the BN anyway and tell the clinician their deal.


  2. My worst clinic recently was a clinician I audited a bunch AND rode with on a client horse and she was great! So I decided to ride my young horse in the next one. She was terrified of him… from the ground. He was super green so every now and then would bring his head up, getting distracted. She called him dangerous for that behavior and had me address it quite aggressively. Turns out that a few of my barn mates that watched me struggle with his bolting over the winter had told her about that and made it sound like my horse was a complete psycho. I was annoyed with them, sure, but as a clinician you’ve got to just teach the lesson you’re teaching and ignore any and all drama that comes out of the peanut gallery. So yah, never riding with her again.


  3. I have things I’ve learned at clinics that I definitely still apply years later, but overall I’ve decided they aren’t for me to ride in. I’ll audit all day long though. I’ve found that the difference between good/bad clinics can often have a lot to do with how well run they are, which is out of my control, obviously. I had a bad experience with someone who is usually considered to be a tough but good clinician, and it was all because she was in a terrible mood about logistics and poor organization. I borrowed money from a friend to ride! I wish I had just watched.

    The barn I board at does clinics with visiting trainers a little more like riding lessons, groups are usually no more than three riders. I enjoy that format a bit more.


  4. I love clinics. I am a human who will go along not asking a whole lot from my horse and clinics usually serve me as that kick in the butt to realize how much more we’re capable of. I don’t think I’ve ever had a truly bad one.* I think they work really well in that aspect for me.

    I’d almost always pick a clinic over a schooling show, but I have noticed a lot of differences in clinics of different disciplines. I audited a western clinic that a barn mate was riding in once and would have been super disappointed if I had been her. There were about 10 of them and they all only got worked with for about 5-10 minutes and just stood there for the rest of the time. He had them all do the same exercise and didn’t really tailor it for each horse/rider pair. But she loved it and said it was one of the better clinics that she’d been to. Dressage clinics have, at most, two riders per session. I think we get a lot more done in our clinics than most other disciplines who try to have 3-5 pairs in one lesson.

    *I did have one clinician when I was in high school tell me that if I wanted to be a professional I needed to be better by then and that it was essentially too late for me (she was notoriously “hard” on younger riders and I did almost cry), but her follow-up was to offer me another lesson the next day free of charge.


  5. I’ve only been in one so far, so I guess it has to be best and worst…hoping to find another one to go to soon so this one can go to worst. Luckily it was only $75 but I don’t feel as though I got my monies worth. It was disorganized and the clinician seemed confused what to do with us. I literally sat on my horse for HOURS and watched other people do a trail course, then I did the trail course in less than 10 minutes, because Paigey is trail pro. We then loped laps in an indoor (one at a time) so the clinician could tell us how to fix our horses lope, but no fixing really happened in that time, we were expected to try her techniques at home and see the magic happen… Yeah, I still haven’t located the magic. 😉 So I did a trail course in 10 minutes and loped my horse three laps in an indoor each way. Tada…


  6. I audited a George Morris clinic and he was plain mean. Even to the audience. I would never pay to see him again. He may be one of the greats but that doesn’t give him the right to belittle and tell people that they should lose weight.
    On the good side my daughter and/or I have ridden with Lainey Ashker, Mary D’Arcy & Boyd Martin. All positive people and came away with good learning experiences!


    1. I would agree with this – I audited a GM clinic and he is just mean. A girl fell and he yelled at her for patting her horse to reassure him. That really turned me off.


    2. I am not much of a GM fan either. I like his approach for most things, but disagree with others (and sometimes his general methods). I don’t need to be mollycoddled but I don’t really need to be told I’m fat or shitty, either… trust me, I’m well aware of my shortcomings!


  7. When I was younger I participated in clinics, but I haven’t in a really long time (money and I don’t learn a lot when a ton of people are watching – damn you adult ADD and performance anxiety). However, I feel like I learn a lot from auditing them. I went to a Bernie Traurig clinic last year and found it really insightful. Coming from dressage land it was like a whole new riding world!


  8. i have only done one clinic with Remus (wanted to do more but usually the jump ones around here start at BN and higher so don’t sign up). It was fine but pricey and i dont feel i got the most of out it i could have. So I would rather pay for a private or semi-private with Emily and Sally than do that again! Live and learn.

    I would sign up for a jump clinic if they started lower heights.

    have fun this weekend. Still wish you were in Maryland this weekend instead 🙂


  9. I have ridden in quite a few clinics, most of the time it was re-occuring clinicians when I lived out in the middle of nowhere.

    Mostly dressage, 1 eventer coach that did dressage and jump lessons, an other lady that did dressage and jump lessons and one SJ clinic with a biggish Canadian rider. Oh and an Olympic level Eventer as well.

    The clinics with the eventer were all pretty good. She had an “interesting” attitude, and I did actually cry in one of her lessons. In the span of probably…a year? We went from doing small 2′ jumps to schooling about 3’6″ with her, she definitely boosted my confidence over fences BIG TIME. I don’t know that I would clinic with her on this particular horse though.

    The dressage ones were all pretty good. Nothing spectacular though.

    The SJ one last year was good…but I have been having some really strange issues that I never used to have, and I am beginning to think they stemmed from that clinic. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but she said some things to me that seemed to have changed the way I rode the fences in a not good way.

    The O level eventer has definitely been my favorite. While not all of my rides have been great, I have always learned quite a bit from her.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In the beginning of my eventing career, the only way I could get in a xc course or really go anywhere was if I attended a clinic. So we hit a handful of clinics, mostly with the local trainer, and it was always a great experience. Jan Bynny was great as well.

    Now that I have my own transportation, the focus has shifted towards competing, although I wish I had more funds to regularly attend lessons because Lord knows we need them. But I still love to audit when I can.

    Worst clinic I’ve witnessed, without a doubt, was with KOC. I got yelled at for taking pictures, plus the beating a horse into the water complex, and watching many a rider cry just did not tickle me pink.


      1. I have done several clinics with Jan and pm me before you spend the money. She can be a great clinic, or she can be GM on crack. Her temper is better now than it used to be but it is not always under control.


  11. I haven’t ridden in many clinics, but I loved the few I took with P Dutty. He always has fun and challenging exercises. I will say that the amount of feedback he gives can vary… the first time I rode with him, he barely said anything at all except to say “good job” or “try again.” My lessons since then have been amazing though. I highly recommend riding with him if you can!


  12. I did a sort of “clinic” at a schooling HT a few months ago (you had to have a grounds person for schooling so that fulfilled that purpose plus having some guidance) and the clinician hated P. Granted, he was a maniac, but that was because the schooling day was nuts. She said he had a shitty attitude, a poor work ethic, and recommended dropping to the lowest CT, which was Intro A and poles on the ground.

    While yeah, he was being an idiot, I tried not to take it to heart because she doesn’t know us, and he was acting out of the ordinary that day. But I won’t ride with her again because I don’t think insulting us was productive either. I’d rather spend the money on more lessons with my trainers who know my horse and I.


  13. I feel for the clinician. It’s tough to meet a rider for the first time and know what they need to work on and get them through any trouble spots. In one or two days. Clinicians don’t know who is going to show up and what level they’ll be. The worst situations seem to come from the rider who is in a group that is too advanced for them. Then the entire group suffers while the clinician tries in vain to work with that rider. Or, they ignore that rider and that seems bad too. I’m with you- I rarely clinic. I enjoy auditing more. It just doesn’t seem worth the money in the end to spend a day or two hoping someone who doesn’t know you or your horse is going to make a huge difference in your riding. I liked both my steeplechase lessons, but I think that was mostly becuase we worked on one specific thing- galloping steeplechase jumps! The best clinicians I have had were not big names, just people who are really good instructors.


  14. I had a clinic with a local dressage trainer and judge. She told me I was ruining my green horse who actually was behaving quite well, but didn’t have anything very constructive to give us. Conversely, whenever she judges me at shows she always scores us very well… maybe she just wanted me to put my horse in training with her?


  15. I’ve only ridden in a few clinics and while they weren’t particularly horrible I think I would have gotten more out of spending the same $ on lessons. At an Eric Smiley clinic I had a dumb pop off fall near the end of the second day and earned a ride in an ambulance with a minor concussion. That was…embarrassing haha. I love auditing though!


    1. I loved my one clinic with Eric Smiley. He was very straight-up honest, but never belittling. He saw what was really there and had something for it. He did a session for a lower-level, more new-to-eventing set of BN’s who were all afraid of ditches. Some horses also afraid of ditches. At the end everyone was happily jumping ditches. THAT is a great clinic, imo! 🙂


  16. My worst – when the hosts had to tell the presenter you -cannot- treat animals like that here. And the presenter went and sat down and refused to come back for an hour or so. His assistant jumped in to continue during that time. Many people had come 12+ hours to attend. I felt so bad for the hosts – they made the right call to intervene but I’m sure were really stressed about people being disappointed after driving so far and the instructor not presenting!

    Best – a multi-day event when we really got in a rhythm of working with the person. Everyone got to know each other so well. It was just fun and almost like a summer-camp-feeling of “I don’t want to go back to real life, I love spending time with this group.”


  17. I recently rode in a Karen O’Connor clinic and really enjoyed it. She’s definitely not for everyone and a few people did cry (mostly bc they were scared of their horse and couldn’t control it) but I thought she did a good job of supporting one of the crying girls and didn’t just stand there and shout at her. One of the other crying girls was over mounted and couldn’t control her horse at all. I don’t think Karen made her cry I think her horse made her cry (Bc it was the bad) Maybe KOC has mellowed since you audited her clinic? My favorite part was when she had us practicing our galloping positions and getting the horse to respond just by stretching up in our stirrups. She had us do a lot of accuracy questions and I screwed up a lot and she was very firm and corrective but she never made me feel like I was a horrible person and should give up riding.


  18. I participated in two clinics while in college that were held at the college’s equestrian center. The first one was with an eventing hall of famer that requested every rider who was participating (there was around 7 of us) be mounted and warmed up at the beginning. Then, without watching anyone warm up, she instructed each person individually at the opposite end of the ring for 20-30 minutes. As the last person to go of seven, I had been sitting on my horse for hours and Ax was far from pleased. While my individual session was wonderful, the entire experience of having to stay mounted and walking around for hours wasn’t pleasant.

    The second was with a well-known equitation trainer in our area and we were in groups of two. I had just gotten Ax and his adjustability wasn’t great, so we ended up working on that. Unfortunately, it turned into 40 minutes of drilling a three stride line of flower boxes in an attempt to make it a four stride. Ax’s brain was a fried egg, and he was covered in sweat about halfway through, and I wasn’t given the option to give him a break even after asking to numerous times. The poor girl who was also in my session did two courses and was promptly ignored the rest of the time. It’s safe to say that my last two clinic experiences weren’t so great.


  19. Ive only audited clinics as im a super weenie, and never wanted to be called out in a group bigger than my lessons for it. Ive seen some pretty goofy local western clinics.

    GM is a little over bearing/rude for my taste but honestly I sometimes need someone to tell me to suck it up and do it. I think he is good for those who maybe need a reality check on their skill level. And anyone that can still hop in a hot horse at 78 without stirrups wins points in my book.

    Susan Hutchinson was great to audit and my barnmates that rode, learned some great stuff. She was tough but didnt belittle those who were a little overfaced, she pointed it out them helped them out. There are a few dressage/ eventing trainers id love to audit, even though its not my gig.


  20. Worst clinic- Mario deslauries when I was 14 and told me I had wet noodle legs 😂😂 ignored my tiny plain TB and focused on a kid on a big fancy warmblood the whole time…. like 6 of us she got all the attention. Then we started jumping courses and hey all of a sudden my tiny TB who could jump 1.45m wasn’t so unimportant 😉 I’ll never forget what a rude ass he was.

    Best was Blyth Tait. I learned so much I still use to this day, plus he was so cool, fun and positive. He told me I was capable of whatever I wanted and that he believed in me and Penny. Will never forget that either!


    1. Mario sounds a lot like the clinic I had with Ian Millar. He did not like my saddle and made a point of having me ride a course to show all the auditors how bad it was. I rode that course perfectly with my leg in perfect position to spite him. Most of us left daily in tears determined to come back the next day to prove him wrong. I was 13 yrs old. Later when I went to university I wrote a paper on this experience for my sport psychology class. I was the only one on a pony and my pony jumped everything the big horses jumped. Everyday my Grandpa on the way home would ask me if I wanted to go back the next day. Taught me to be tough that week. That is for sure.


  21. I have a love/hate relationship with clinics.

    I hate auditing, because I just don’t learn anything that way. I’m a really terrible student unless I’m the one applying the principle. Good job, brain. I did pick up one useful thing from watching another rider at a different clinic. This girl was jumping way ahead of her horse, and the clinician screamed, “JUMP AHEAD, JUMP ALONE!” at her and I think she cried, but it was actually good advice and it stuck with me. Well, maybe it was because she screamed it.

    It’s the same with the IHSA shows I’m doing right now. My trainer will tell me to watch how they ride the horse I’m going to show (we get horses on a random draw), but I don’t really get anything from it. I have to be the one doing the actual thing to learn anything. Obviously I can tell if the horse is lazy or high strung, if they like contact or not (I ride western currently), and I make a game plan based on that + whatever their owner tells me. IHSA is challenging and really, really fun. (Also if you know any equestrian companies looking to sponsor a team, we’re desperately searching!)

    I have done clinics years ago when I lived in Idaho. I had the worst little horse ever, god I love her, but she was a mess. I did a dressage clinic on her and had some breakthrough moments, which was cool, but I didn’t get as much as I’d hoped for when spending $175 of my parents money for an hour shared with another rider. Oh well. You never know what you’re getting until you walk into one of those things.


  22. I’ve only done one clinic as an adult- I generally tend to put my money towards lots of lessons and as many shows as I can. But I absolutely loved how the clinic was run when I did participate- 2 days with 4-5 people per group. The overall exercises were all very basic (e.g. trot a crossrail, then long approach to a vertical), with little twists depending on the needs of the specific horse/rider. Some people had to throw in halts, some people had to practice tighter turns, some people threw in leg yields, things like that. I thought he did a fantastic job of giving us all tailored instruction while balancing the need to keep moving and work with the whole group.
    If I hadn’t been out of town for work, I was admittedly planning on doing the GM clinic in my area. I still may try to next year if he comes back to town. I don’t think it’ll make the biggest difference in my riding, but it’s one of those fairly irrational bucket list things from when i was 12 and reading Practical Horseman’s Judging Clinic column.


  23. I did a Bobby Meyerhoff clinic this spring and it was amazing. He watched Nilla go, figured out what her issue was and found a solution. In about 30 minutes he solved something I’d been struggling with for years that various other trainers and clinicians didn’t know how to deal with. I don’t think all clinics are that great, but that was a good experience.


  24. I have clinicwd a fair bit often being between regular trainers and last year as an attempt to find my courage again. Some very good (Ragan Roberts and Ashley) some not so good. One BN eventing trainer that tried to kill us all and one BN h/j trainer that that was a true disappointment. Would be with you this weekend if my truck weren’t stuck in the shop. I found Ashley tough but fair and really enjoyed riding with her. Really helped my confidence even though I fell off the second time I rode with her 🙂


  25. Rode with Erik Herbermann once. It was a five day clinic, plus I audited all the other rides I could – a life changing experience, even though I had only had my horse for three days when I went, and embarrassed myself thoroughly by almost falling off while dismounting when my full seat breeches (new) stuck to my saddle (new). Also audited Charles DeKunffy and would love to ride with him if he ever comes to our area again. New header looks great. 😀


  26. My trainer and I have the same opinions on clinics. We’re not against them, but they’re probably not the best use of your money. I think you get more out of lessons with a trainer that knows you and your horse really well. But it is also nice to get another opinion and some new exercises to work on. From the few clinics I’ve done, I don’t normally walk away with much new information, but I have had a clinician explain an old concept in a new way that helped me understand better. So that’s positive.
    My clinic experiences were all kind of weird. My barn where I boarded growing up hosted Victor Hugo-Vidal every year, but my dad always dragged me on vacation that week. Finally as an adult I got to ride in it and my horse was a total jerk showing me his big blaze the whole lesson (yes, I saw his face from the saddle, not pleasant). They put me in the pro group because no other juniors or ammies were signed up for the 3’6″ group. Victor thought I held my own with the pros so I guess that was nice. I also rode in several Bill Cooney clinics, but maybe they were just lessons since he came around so often? Anyway, with him I rode with the beginner instructor at the barn, and I felt terrible because he was kind of awful to her. She was great with the kids, but not such a great rider, and he seemed to think she should be a lot better than she was. I rode a young horse in that group and he was pouring it on super thick with praise at me. It was super awkward. I’m not sure I learned that much that time, but he got that young horse jumping great. So that was good I guess. The other times I rode with him, on my own horse, I did learn a lot of new exercises to get him jumping better and more responsive. Bill was really horrible to the kids though. It didn’t border on mean, it WAS mean. The one bratty kid deserved it, but the other one really didn’t. I don’t like that. Also why I don’t drink the George Morris Kool Aid, but that’s a discussion for a different post!
    A few years back I did a Nona Garson clinic. Well half of one. I was trying a couple different horses trying to decide who to take to New England finals (Jamp loves to lose at finals). My neighbor had offered her green horse to me, and she was interested in doing the flat with Nona. She asked if I’d like to do the jumping portion on her horse and I figured it would be a good way to ride him somewhere new and get an extra lesson in. Honestly, I didn’t learn a thing that day. I had a nice enough experience and got to know the horse a little better, but I didn’t come away with anything new. My trainer came to watch and she said the same thing. We agreed that it was kind of like paying to have a BNT tell me nice things. Good for the ego though I guess right?


  27. Bummer, Nona is here in a couple of weeks. I audited GM this past weekend. I took a horse for my trainer to ride. She was disappointed. I enjoyed him but didn’t come home with any enlightenment. I didn’t think he was nearly as brutal as his repuatation had me expecting but I sat with a 12yo from the barn during one session and she was truly terrified.


  28. I really haven’t cliniced a lot, but my trainer has 2 fellow trainers/rated judges come to our barn every MDW, so I usually ride with them (also because it involves zero travel). Both clinicians are longtime (20+ years) friends of my trainer, who is VERY picky about who she brings to the barn to host clinics, and both times I’ve ridden with those guys its been very helpful and a great experience, especially because there are no more than two riders per group, so you really get a ton of individualized attention. I would love to be able to clinic with Boyd and/or Doug Payne: I’ve heard great things about their clinics and I don’t think you get nicer people than Boyd and Doug. On the flip side, the #1 person I would never waste my money and time on would be GM….as many have pointed out, he’s quite nasty to his riders and I really don’t agree with a lot of his approaches to horses and riding in general. Plus, Roger and I are not hunters, so I don’t think it would be overly beneficial to listen to him berating horses and riders all day long, even if I were just auditing. I get that his clinics aren’t exclusively held for hunters, but hearing horror story after horror story about his clinics, I’ll take my money elsewhere.


    1. Jenn, I didn’t think the GM clinic was geared toward hunters at all. I wouldn’t let anyone use a long crest release and worked on things to supple and educate the horse. He did try to set them up for success despite the challenge level of the exercise and would not allow the easy answer if he wanted to train a particular thing. For example, he wanted the horses ridden to the base with energy (not really a hunter concept) and those that could easily leave out the stride in a bending line exercise were made to fit it in and use lots of leg off the ground at the super close distance despite everyone knowing that the leave it out would have been a pretty ride. He wanted responsive horses and thinking riders. That said, totally understand that people don’t want to ride with someone of any particular style.


  29. I live in the middle of nowhere but am lucky enough to have two excellent dressage trainers who travel to my area monthly for clinics. They’re both great teachers, with different teaching styles that compliment each other, so I lesson with them both as often as possible and feel really fortunate to have that opportunity. Their clinics have become better and better over time as they have gotten to know my horse and me, too.

    Living where I do, I don’t really get the chance to audit an instructor first before riding for them, because the ones who come here from FL or wherever are usually only coming for a one-off clinic, so you either go for it and take a chance or you miss the opportunity. I audited a clinic with Emily Miles and she was AWESOME. Wish so bad I had ridden in that one! Every single rider walked away from their lesson feeling miles high and like they’d just gotten their very best our of their horses. It was beautiful to watch. She was tough–didn’t let anyone get away with being lazy or make excuses–but kind and encouraging at the same time.

    So the next time an opportunity like that came along within driving distance to me, I decided to go for it….drove 6 hours round trip with my infant daughter as my co-pilot (not recommended) and spent way too much money for a lesson with Ida Norris. It wasn’t awesome. We walked the entire lesson, but my horse was a sweaty mess by the end of the hour. I don’t know what was going on with her but she really struggled to articulate her corrections to me. When I clearly wasn’t understanding her, she got frustrated and just started yelling the same things over and over at me. Embarrassing, especially because there was a pretty sizable audience auditing. Admittedly my brain was a little fuzzy…I was just getting back into regular training again after having my baby, so maybe it wasn’t great timing for me to head to a clinic with a new instructor, but if there’s one thing my regular trainers tell me all the time it’s that they enjoy teaching me because I am like a sponge. I feel like a really good instructor knows how to say the same thing four different ways and when one way isn’t clicking they switch it up. Ida also didn’t listen to me at all when I told her about my horse and what I was feeling. She straight up told me I could not possibly be correct with what I was feeling because she had a horse similar to him once and blah blah blah about that horse. That being said, I did really enjoy the lecture she gave at the beginning of the clinic, and I know people who have loved their lessons with her.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s