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Michael Etherly

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Riding in a lessonAppearing in the July 2008 issue of Dressage Today as a section in the feature "Ask the Experts":

The Question:
I'd like to start organizing clinics to get our barn established. Since I have no experience with organizing and running clinics, could you give me some advice on how to go about?
Name withheld by request

The Answer:
Organizing or managing a clinic is a time-consuming task that requires a lot of preparation. To make your clinic successful, make a check list:

Ask your barn members if they have a clinician they would like to work with. You want to be able to fill the clinic with riders and provide a service to your barn members.

Audit the clinician at another barn if possible to see if you like the way he works with the riders. When watching the clinic, look for a logical progression in the training. Can you follow the method being used? Do you understand where the clinician is going with the instruction to the rider? Can you see a difference in the horse and rider as a result of the training during the lesson? Is the clinician fair with his or her expectations of the horse and rider team? Also, it is important that the clinician is willing to work with all the levels of riders that you have at your barn, so discuss this when interviewing the prospective clinician.

Contact the clinician who works best with the riders at your barn. Inquire about his fee and the number of riders he is willing to teach each day. Most clinicians are willing to teach 8 to 10 rides a day. This will help you figure out how much to charge each rider in the clinic. Remember, there will be flight, hotel and meal costs to include in the final fee.

Contact the clinician early in the year because clinicians’ weekends usually fill up fast.

Offer to book the clinician’s flight and hotel; it usually makes it easier for him. Ask what he prefers—a morning flight, aisle or window seat, and the type of food for lunch.

Advertise the clinic in local magazines, online and on the barn’s Web site, including a short biography of the clinician, the audit and ride fees (the auditing fee is usually at the discretion of the clinic organizer), and contact number.

Post a sign up sheet in the barn so members can sign up for the ride times. Inform all riders that payment for the ride is due one week before the clinic and that their payment holds their ride time. This will help you to ensure you are not out of pocket for someone who doesn’t show up.

Plan a group dinner with the clinician and invite all the riders to join. The dinner cost is usually for each person or family to pay on their own with the exception of the clinician, who is usually paid for by the organizer. Having a group dinner will give the clinician and the riders a chance to get to know one another better, and talk about any questions the riders had after the first day of training.

Organize the ride times so that you have a mix of advanced and lower level riders through the day. This will keep it interesting for both the auditors and the clinician. Leave plenty of time at the end of the last ride for travel to the airport.

Organize a professional or barn member who is willing to videotape the rides at the rider’s cost. Watching the video after your ride is the best way to learn and keep the lessons with you for weeks on end.

If possible, set up another riding arena for the barn members not participating in the clinic or give them plenty of notice of the times the arena will be closed.

Set up a speaker system so the auditors and riders can hear the lesson.

Be prepared for the auditors and have an area for them to sit and watch out of the way of the ride, but close enough that they can see and hear what is being taught.

When lunch time comes, be ready to go to a nearby restaurant the clinician likes or pick up take out meals and provide a warm, quiet place for the clinician to eat.

A word on safety: All underage riders should hear a helmet. If the barn rules require a helmet, then all participants should conform to the helmet rule. If the barn rules do not require helmets and an outside rider wishes to ride with out a helmet and is not an underage, then the rider should sign a helmet waiver release. All riders should also sign a rider release form.

In conclusion, be prepared and make it easy and fun for both the clinician and the riders.