I am continually trying to find ways to improve my skills and knowledge. Over the years I have found horseman that I knew I wanted to learn from and found ways to do that; whether it was learning from my mentor Wayne Allen, riding in an expo clinics with Eric Horgan (Olympic medalist), Al Dunning, or Dale Livingston, or attending a cattle clinic with Richard Winters.
I have always watched and studied the professional trainers that I most admired. Seeking out equine professionals that represent the training methodology and style of riding that you like is an important way to improve your horsemanship skills.
When you want help with your horse and your pocket book can’t afford to hire a trainer for six months, your options are books/videos, lessons or clinics. If you are a good reader and independent studier, books and videos may be very helpful. Even better, if you have a friend that you can share your resources with and then ride together, your friends eyes can help you understand if you are accomplishing the goals set forth in the book/video. The problem here is that the expertise shown in the book or video may get lost in translation once you are working with your horse. You may be forgetting or misinterpreting a small piece of the lesson that will give you a different outcome. That is where having the live resource there with you can make the difference between accomplishment and total frustration.
If you find a good riding teacher in your barn or close by, frequent and routine lessons (at least once a week, twice is better) can be a great way to improve your skills. Most lessons are an hour or so and can help you slowly and steadily build your skills. Having that set of teacher’s eyes on you can help not only build skills but help you avoid lapsing back into old bad habits. Make the most of your instruction time by making sure that you and your horse are ready to start to work at the beginning of your lesson time. If you discontinue lessons or move your horse to a different barn, be sure to maintain the good riding habits that the lessons taught you. If you start having problems, analyze your riding to make sure that you are not the problem.
In my opinion, the disadvantage of lessons compared to clinics is that you usually don’t have the big breakthroughs in an hour lesson time slot. When you ride in a clinic, you are usually riding anywhere from 5-7 hours in a day. I find that in the first hour, both riders and horses are warming up and getting the edge worked off. They are getting in a mode to really get down to work. The real improvements and developmental breakthroughs usually happen in the afternoon of the second clinic day. I know that the initial cost of a clinic may seem overwhelming when you are looking at your financial horse budget. But break the cost down to a per hour basis and compare that to the cost of lessons. You will usually find that clinics have the financial advantage.
There are things you need think about when trying to get the most for your clinic dollar. Ask how many will be attending the clinic to be sure that you can receive the attention you need. Understand the full cost of the clinic, including costs for stalls, your overnight accommodations and your meals. Choose an instructor or clinician that you admire their knowledge and the way they teach. Have you ever met a great horseman who can train a horse to do amazing things but can’t teach people? A good clinician can not only ride/train, but they can explain the ‘hows and whys’ in a way that is understandable and inspiring. A good way to find out if a clinician is a good teacher is to go audit a clinic. Your audit fee investment is minimal, you should learn some new skills to try at home and you will find out if you want to make the investment to ride in a clinic with that clinician. When auditing or riding in a clinic, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether while you are on your horses back or sitting down to lunch, ask those questions and pick the clinician’s brain about things. You have hired that clinician to teach you skills, but sure that you take advantage of the opportunity to learn them. A really good scenario is to bring a friend, whether to ride or to audit. You can be each other’s eyes and ears when you go home, to help apply what you learned in the clinic.
Whether you seek instruction in lessons or in clinics, find an exceptional and inspiring trainer who trains in a discipline and a style that matches your goals. Just like horses, no one trainer/clinician is exactly like another. When you find one that you like and who communicates in a teaching style that is compatible with your learning style, stick with that person to learn as much as you can before you seek instruction from someone else.
One final thing to remember…horses don’t make mistakes, people do. By constantly trying to improve your knowledge, you will improve your chances of having a successful partnership with your horse and reach your equine goals.
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Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com or on Facebook.