angle-left Clinics Are Great Places for Amateurs to Learn

Want to Learn? Try a Clinic

AQHA amateur Kris Klingaman has learned personal strengths and her horse’s talents through clinics in ranch riding, cutting and cow horse.

A clinician adjusts the stirrups on a saddle as the rider smiles. (Kris Klingaman photo)

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By Kris Klingaman

If you’re considering a first-time competition or fine-tuning abilities for you and your horse, attend a clinic! A clinic is a hands-on workshop where other riders, like yourself, learn new techniques and challenge skills of both horse and rider, all under the guidance and instruction of a professional horse trainer, coach or judge.

Originally, clinics were offered mainly to youth, as a way to teach horse safety and handling, often through 4-H. Nowadays, clinics are offered to all-age riders focused on achieving a goal. Clinics can be broad-based from basic horsemanship and perfecting riding skills, to specific horse show events such as ranch riding, cutting and cow horse classes.

Clinics are an inexpensive, simple way to allow you to become more knowledgeable on rules about a particular event or just to become a better rider. Discovering your own personal strengths and weaknesses is the first step, which is not always obtainable on your own, or while riding alone or even with friends. Clinics are a venue to discover your horses’ talents, strengths and weaknesses as well.

Think you’ll be nervous at your first clinic? Chances are you will be, but so will everyone else. Your clinician will make everyone feel at ease, and you will quickly realize everyone is there to learn, challenge themselves, and get just a bit outside of their comfort zone. Many clinics offer the option of auditing or just watching the clinic from the viewing area, usually at a lower fee, which may be a good option for first-timers. But those riders that bring their horse and actually participate in a clinic receive the personalized instruction, methods and procedures to achieve the optimum performance.

Five years ago, I purchased a proven cutting horse, Very Smart And Light by Very Smart Remedy, with the intention of competing in AQHA ranch riding classes. Just for fun, and totally clueless, I attended a cow horse clinic given by Monty Bruce of Northwood, Iowa. Sure, I’d watched cutting and cow horse events at shows, but I had no idea if it was anything I ever wanted to do, or how good my horse really was, or if I was capable as a rider of doing any  cow work.

With Monty’s instruction and much reassurance, I discovered I had a well-trained cutting horse, showing talent and ability working both a flag and a buffalo. I also learned I’d need further education and experience for myself as a rider, but I was so ecstatic about my first time ever experience on a cutter and the adrenaline high of emotions I’d never experienced before! It was a fantastic first ride and I was hooked!

Even as an experienced exhibitor, you can always gain knowledge attending a clinic. After three very productive years competing in AQHA ranch riding, I attended a ranch riding clinic in Iowa given by Craig Johnson of Shell Rock, Iowa. Craig’s talent combined with quick wit and great sense of humor immediately put everyone at ease.

Aboard a seasoned Quarter Horse, he demonstrated first, giving viewers a goal to strive for. His procedure allowed us to see correct methods; and hand and body positions before trying it on our own. Even as an experienced ranch riding exhibitor, I gained new perspectives, learned techniques, and raised my own level of vision for competition.

Most recently, I’ve attended cutting and cow horse clinics in Texas at Sundance Ranch, given by Shannon Pigott of Fredericksburg, Texas. Shannon’s clinics range from classroom style teaching of rules, regulations and differences for competition in AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse and Stock Horse of Texas, as well as hands-on flag and cow work.

During a clinic of six riders, Shannon set the goal of correctly pushing a cow out of the herd for participants. Using a round-robin format, under Shannon’s direction, each of us took a turn pushing one cow out of a herd to a designated cone and then correctly keeping the cow from getting back to the herd. But in this style of clinic, we also took turns being herd holders and turn back riders during the clinic. We each took our turn in every position needed during a cutting competition. We all gained new skill, proficiency and respect. It was an incredible learning experience!

It’s worth finding a clinic near you.