December 20, 2016

The Worst Clinic Ever

Reading Emma's latest blog about her first clinic on her new guy (read it here) got me thinking about that one time I was talked into going to a clinic on Gem about 3 or 4 months into our relationship together. It was a complete shit show and so much the opposite of her clinic that I thought I would write it up for the enjoyment of all.

Let's hop into my blogger time machine and travel back to the spring of 2010.

 Ah...the naivete is so thick you could choke on it. A training facility that creates gems of knowledge such as:

- She will never be able to canter straight, so just always go in a circle. 
- Pete is unable to be lunged, ever, so just don't do ground work with him.
- Gem trots at 9 million miles an hour and is completely hollow/inverted - she is prime and ready to jump 2'6" gymnastic lines...with oxers!

A woman who purchased a horse she really had no right to own and then decided it was the best time to learn how to ride english. 

A horse who was so mentally and physically shut down that she really ought to have just been loved on as a pasture pet for 6 months to a year but now found herself in a full training program being worked 5 days a week. 

Perfect situation...huh?

After two months of throwing my money down the drain for "full training" (the full story is too long to interject here but the short version is that the trainer never actually rode my horse and would just plop unsuspecting lesson kids on her when able and lunge her when not), I was finally at a spot with Gem that I could get her to walk around the indoor without trying to kill us both. Trotting was a possibility, if I wanted to careen around at mach 10 and cantering was a no go unless I wanted to ride a bucking bronco. Riding outside was a near death experience for all involved including any hapless bystanders who got in our way. 

This was the expression Gem wore for the first 4 months I had her

For some reason, trainer lady felt it was a great idea to introduce us to jumping. She did this in the most classically trained way  - set up a 2' vertical along our path in a way that it was entirely unavoidable to either go over or through it. Then with each lap of the arena that we made, regardless if our previous approach was successful or not, jack up the height and hey lets add some width to it as well. Might as well scar these two for life! 

And that was where we were when a clinician, who is nameless only because I can't recall her name, came to town. Trainer lady signed both Dusty, who had Pete for all of a month and was working hard at getting him to stand still without rearing and spinning, and myself up. Lest you think this was maybe in the same universe as "appropriate" let me tell you what was on the docket for said clinic. 

First, it was a group. The first 30 minutes would be working on flat work in the indoor and then we would saunter outside for 30 minutes of work over solid obstacles on the small cross country course. lesson on one horse who only goes 100 miles an hour or nothing at all and a second horse who rears and spins whenever asked to stand still for more than a micro second. Then add solid obstacles in a wide open field! 

Exhausted mare napping in her sand paddock at the training facility

So we showed up and got ready. My heart was already in my throat and I do believe that my muscles were as tense as a marble statue. gem was therefore also tense and worked up before we even started. We all began by walking around the rail of the arena while the clinician shouted angrily in the most incessantly shrill voice at everyone pointing out mistakes and generally putting every horse and person within a 5 mile radius on edge. This was the beginner clinic too, by the way.

She would randomly call someone over to berate them and started yapping on about contact and grabbing the reins to yank on the horse's mouth to make the rider get a feel for what level of contact they should have. Gem and Pete could barely hold their shit together long enough to walk off with a rider on their back. Contact was not something any of the 4 of us had ever been introduced to. You can imagine how well they enjoyed their faces being ripped off by the screeching clinician. 

Off to the rail again, this time at a trot. I happened to be the first in the line and immediately got yelled at for going too fast. I tried to explain to her that this was what I was currently working on with Gem. A way to get her to slow down without losing all impulsion and dropping to a walk. She ignored me and demanded that I slow her down. I asked how. I'll never forget this - she laughed at me. 

Things progressed from there. We had long periods of waiting in the center of the arena while one member of the group did their thing. Dusty and Pete spent this time spinning and rearing and scaring the rest of the riders. It was fun for all!

The only other thing from the first 30 minutes that I recall is cantering. I had told her that we weren't cantering yet, but I was willing to give it my best effort. She had us all start by trotting. slowly, around the rail at the...wait for it...sitting trot. None in the group had ever done this skill...remember it was a basic, beginner level intro type class. But here we were being yelled at to sit that trot! One we made it around the arena at the sitting trot we were to pick up the canter at the start of the long end. To make this even worse, we had to stick together in a line such that when the first person hit the long side, they would canter and then the next person would begin a few seconds behind them. 

The person behind me was so far up Gem's ass that she got kicked while we flailed through the transition. 

After that we all went outside to jump solid objects. You'd think the clinician would have long ago figured out that this was not a good idea given the skill level of the 6 people in the group. But no...she had a pre determined schedule of tasks to go over and she would be damned if she went off track now. 

One by one we attempted to make it over various logs and tire jumps set up. Pete adores jumping all the things and made easy work of it, wining Dusty the "most improved during the clinic" award. That was just pure ridiculous since neither actually improved anything. They just finally found something they both could do. 
Making it look easy

Or not

For our part, Gem and I flailed horrendously over things neither should have even attempted and pretty much ruined any bit of trust I had built up with her. I think it only took 3 attempts before we got banished. Literally. The clinician looked at us and told us to "go walk around somewhere else for the rest of the time" Pleasant. 

Who is more tense here?

Not a happy horse...or rider

Returning from our banishment


I 100% agree that we had no place in this clinic. I followed my trainer's recommendation to join, believed her when she said we would be able to do what was asked of us, and went into it expecting that the clinician would be working with everyone to their level even though it was a group. I was wrong. 

So was my "trainer" for putting me in that position. 

So was the clinician who set up a series of tasks for a beginner class and never once actually paid attention to anyone attempting to follow along with her. Nobody learned anything during that hour. It made me swear off clinicians, full training and a lot of other things. 

Thankfully we were off to WI a few short weeks later. 


  1. Holy crap that sounds horrible. :(

  2. Holy Crow- it was foturnate that no one was seriously hurt! I'm glad you got out of that situation!

    1. I am still surprised nobody got dumped or run over. We were planning to leave before this even happened, but then I gt my residency placement in WI and we didn't really think it was worth moving them both for only 3 weeks. Probably should have done it anyway.

  3. I've been in this exact situation before. I swear, your experience, from beginning (fake training) to the end (horrible clinic) is like reading a chapter out of my journey with Fiction. I'm glad you got away :)

    1. Ugh :( I was hoping nobody else would have ever experienced that. It was the worst 3 months and nearly killed off my love of riding. Thankfully we got out and since I had no time to schedule lessons in WI I just played around in a very no stress way to build us both back up again.

  4. yikes what a disaster :( that clinician sounds like a miserable sack of you know what. or like she's trying to be the second coming of george morris, but inconveniently forgot all about the 'brilliant trainer' part of the equation

    1. I think that was her thing: be nasty and rude and people will love you any way. Except she sucked so I'm not sure what her deal was

  5. That's an impressive collection of fail. I'm glad you found a new trainer.

    1. I haven't had a trainer since her. Residency was too hard to plan around so the next 3 years we just bummed around on our own and made a ton of progress. Then we moved here and I've focused on endurance. Hoping to get a trainer for 2017