Riders often speak of clinics in the same revered tones as they speak of the Grande Prix. I only became completely aware of the aura that surrounds clinics when I asked a young barn mate if she was attending.

“I think it’s only for the adult riders,” she shrugged.
“It’s for anyone who wants to be better,” I told her. “At least audit it, you’ll learn lots.”
“What’s audit?” She asked me.

It was that moment that I realized that clinics maybe their own worst enemy.

I recently read a blog of a young rider who’d been invited to a George Morris Clinic. For the days leading up to the clinic all the way past the full first day she felt like a fraud. On the second day, she’d promised herself to just go out and ride. And ride she did. Over the clinic she emerged as a superstar.

Thinking you’re not good enough isn’t a good excuse to not attend. If you’re being asked and/or can afford it, then go.

Peter Gisborn recently hosted a clinic at my barn, Belle Wood Equestrian. For anyone who doesn’t know, Peter is one of the rare “lifer” riders. He has decades of experience, and justly won the Ontario Hunter/Jumper Association’s Jumper Coach of the Year Award for 2015. A simple google search will afford you more detailed knowledge, should you need it. Anything I have to say is my opinion only.

I wasn’t confident that I would be able to take the clinic with Peter. I was actually ok with my riding. I was less certain about my mare. Star would have weeks of brilliance, and then she’d be…well, less than brilliant. It was going on and on with no real rhyme or reason. She’d be great…then not…then great…then not.

Finally my “clinic buddy” K, laided it out to me. I’ll sum it up for you, because the actual conversation was long and lovely. If you can do a clinic, do it. If Star’s not fit, taking the clinic with another horse is better than no horse. And you can apply what you learn on that one back to Star.

For me, it wasn’t the best choice. Both Star and I were off that weekend, but that really didn’t matter. I watched and I learned. This is how it went…

Both Saturday and Sunday started with a pony class. Not being a “real” Canadian rider I wasn’t as familiar with Peter Gisborn as I had been with Danny Foster. But I watched and listened. More than one person mentioned Peter’s experience with bringing up “pony kids.” He only had to be told a rider’s name once to remember it – fairly impressive considering we had about 24 riders.
He was always calm, kind and very clear. Ask for this. Shift your weight for that. Be more quick and more consistent, and you will get what you need from your pony.

It was lovely to watch from the sidelines as two very gifted riders learned and grew. I think the whole experience was improved because the two riders were also close friends. There was no attempt to be better than the other, just the sincere try to be better than themselves.

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Two of our own Pony Hunters showing off the importance of friendship and teamwork.

The second group was classified as a “low green” level. In it, my old flame from my adult jumper fame, Ramses was ridden by his new owner. (Doesn’t he look fantastic in the header pic?) Along with them were several others, some from my barn, and some from others. I’ll admit that I wasn’t as able to focus on this group as I would have liked, because part of their session required me to tack up my own mount. The thing that really started to stick with me, though, was the focus on position and flatwork.

I think that most hunter/jumpers can agree that the fun stuff happens over poles. But the longer we ride, the better we can prove that good flat work lays out the groundwork for a fantastic jump round. To paraphrase an oldie, but goodie, from George Morris, “Good show jumping riders rarely jump.”

Peter talked about things as simple as how to sit in your saddle and where your stirrups should hit your ankle while hanging your legs. He wanted to see very specific things from everyone; good hands, good body position, and working from the leg forward.

Something I really came to love about Peter (well, one of the things) was his constant calm. “That’s okay,” was one of his auto-responses to any major trip-up. He never once yelled. I talked him about it later. “What does yelling help?” he asked me.

After dealing with his classes on the flat, he sent us through our paces over jumps. He asked for quiet rides, both literally and figuratively. Clucking was discouraged as much as any excessive body movements.

My catchride Bennet, showing off some pretty knees when I managed to balance on him.

My catchride Bennet, showing off some pretty knees when I managed to balance on him.

Over and again, he drilled consistency. Through gymnastics and serpentining lines one group after another jumped. The only thing that changed were the riders and the height of the fences.

I managed to get through the “high greens” mostly by watching my cohort, K, excel. Her and her mare showed a glimmer of what they’re capable of, and Peter was quick to bump up the fences to showcase that. He also jumped on K’s mare to get a feel for the ride and be able to offer K more exact advice. Weeks later, the pair have never looked better.

In almost every group, Peter took over riding a horse. He got on and almost instantly the horse transformed, going rounder and more consistently. Even better, Peter gave a lesson to those in the class and watching while he rode. He would explain what he was doing differently than the rider prior, and how the rider could modify it in his/her own way. It was a very powerful method of instruction. Some may argue that those who cannot do, teach, but no one could ever say that about Peter.

Peter Gisborn, teaching while he rides K’s lovely mare

Peter Gisborn, teaching while he rides K’s lovely mare

I watched all six groups, in one way or another. There were falls, bad behavior, refusals, and perfect rounds. I can only speak for myself, but I felt like the good and the bad taught me something. Most of all, the importance of trusting that drilling and working from the ground up makes both a rider and a horse. Emotion, such a part of all of us, has to take a backseat to our training.

Peter wrapped up day one of the clinic with a question and answer session. He literally gave us full rein and there were quite a few that did not pull their punches. We discussed the differences in ‘A’ levels and Trillium Circuit (Gold vs. Silver); how better and better riders are moving through the Silver level up to Gold and beyond. Peter explained where he goes for his horses (Holland), what he expects out of his riders (minimum 3-4 rides a week), and how he feels about performance enhancement and upkeep (if they need drugs, they’re not good enough; and, basic good grooming and stablekeeping are the best medicine).

There was more of course. Someone asked how to explain to their children that they lost because the other person’s horse was worth more than theirs. Peter was chagrined, but answered, “Listen, it is hard, but a $1,500 horse cannot compete against a $50,000 in hunters. Rarely, it can happen, but not usually. Sometimes in jumpers it doesn’t matter, but even then you see a difference.” Another asked why he went to Holland for his horses. “I have a guy, who I trust. His Dutch Warmbloods have been going to shows since they were babies, and are strong competitors by four or five. It is difficult to find that sort of prep in North America.”

So you see, a clinic isn’t an exclusive club for “those riders.” It’s the place for every rider. I, personally, had a horrible clinic. I felt weak, emotional about Star’s issues, and I did not ride to my potential. Even so I was happy I went.

Experiencing what Peter had to teach went right along with my enjoyment of speaking to the other riders, auditors and parents made it worth it to me. I may not have been great that weekend, but I was able to walk away and think about some of his advice long after.

Sometimes it’s not about being the best or even one of the good ones. Sometimes it’s about getting through it and moving on. It’s about what you take with you from the experience. Clinic on, my friends, you really have nothing to lose.

All Photos are the Copyright of Paniemoniam Graphics.

Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her new Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Trillium Jumper Circuit in 2016. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.

[Photographer] Sara Duncan is a dedicated equestrian with over 10 years of riding experience as well as insight in the equine industry working as a beginner coach, groom, stable hand, and working at a tack shop. She has designed multiple websites for clients from a breeding farm to a non-profit show circuit. Sara has educated herself in design both from classes at Durham College in the Multimedia Design program and from independent study. She also has a diploma in Executive Office Administration. In November 2015 her design was chosen to be used on the 2016 Equine Canada sport license cards from their contest “Chance of a License-Time” contest.

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