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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting the Most from Your Equine Clinic Experience

Last weekend, I participated in an eventing clinic.  On the nearly five hour drive home, I had plenty of time to reflect.  I've attended a number of clinics in different disciplines over the years, and no matter what type of clinic it is, there are some specific things participants can do (and not do!) to make the clinic experience great for everyone.

Before You Sign Up:
  • Take the time to learn something about the clinician's philosophy and methods, and make sure both are a good fit for you and your horses.  Don't just sign up because the clinician is famous.
  • Given the clinic schedule and location, make sure you can be there in plenty of time, stay for the entire session, and still make it home in time to be well-rested for whatever is next on your schedule.
  • If the clinic is focused on X discipline, and you and/or your horse have never done X before, make sure the clinic is beginner-friendly.
  • Review the offerings carefully and sign up for the session that is the best fit for the ability, experience and fitness level of you AND your horse.  Don't sign up for a session above your level and hope you'll be ready.  
  • Unless it's a colt-starting clinic, don't bring a horse that's never been anywhere or done anything.
  • Unless it's a clinic designed to address behavior problems, don't bring a horse with a serious behavior problem.
Preparing for the Clinic:
  • Take the time to make sure you, your horse and your tack are clean and presentable.  It shows respect for the clinician. 
  • Make sure you bring all of the tack and equipment your horse normally wears for schooling.  Clinics are not the place to experiment with new bits, new saddles, etc. (unless it's part of the clinic).
  • Read the instructions.  Is bedding provided?  Are meals provided?  Do you need to bring anything specific?  If in doubt, ask the clinic organizer before you hit the road.
  • Check the weather before you leave, and pack the clothing you and your horse will need to be comfortable.
  • If you absolutely must request something special, such as a private lesson with the clinician, or a particular stall location, make arrangements with the clinic organizer beforehand.  If you aren't charged for the special favor, bring a bottle of wine or a special treat from home to show your appreciation.
 Etiquette during the Clinic Session:
  • Show up on time and ready to learn, with your tack properly adjusted and your horse warmed up.  
  • Everyone attending the clinic has paid to hear what the clinician has to say, not what you have to say.  While the clinician is speaking, keep your comments and conversation to an absolute minimum.  Unless you have a question that's relevant to the whole group, wait to ask until after the session.
  • Don't corner the clinician after the session.  He or she is probably anxious to use the facilities or get a drink of water.  If you have a question that might require more than a very brief answer, ask the clinic organizer when it might be convenient to ask the clinician.
  • There's one person in every session who takes more than his/her fair share of the clinician's time.  Don't be that person.    
  • Nobody likes a showoff.  Your appearance and behavior should not draw undue attention.  Save the bridleless demonstrations for your YouTube channel. 
  • Don't be a Negative Nancy.  If you don't agree with the clinician on some particular point, keep your opinion to yourself. 
  • If the clinician asks you to do something, make an honest effort to do it, even if you don't think you can.  You just might be surprised at the results.
  • Avoid making excuses. If you and/or your horse can't do it, you can't do it - no one, including the clinician, wants to hear why.
  • If someone is having a problem during the session, be patient and kind.  You might be next!
  • No one, especially the clinician, wants to hear any sentence that begins, "But my trainer says..."   
  • Take advantage of any opportunity to observe other clinic sessions, but make sure your presence is not distracting in any way.
Etiquette at the Clinic Facility:
  • Unless you can count on your dog to be perfectly well-behaved AND you get advance permission from the clinic organizer to bring your dog, leave him/her at home.  Clinics are not dog-training opportunities.
  • Don't assume you can park your RV or living quarters trailer and camp out at the clinic facility, even if your rig is self-contained.  Ask the clinic organizer for permission.
  • If something isn't clear, ask before doing.  Examples:  Where to dump manure, what stall to put your horse in, where to park.
  • Don't assume you can take photos and video of the clinic session.  Ask the clinic organizer for permission beforehand.
  • Don't bring an entourage.  Extra people means extra distractions, for you AND other participants. Unless they are essential to your participation, leave your mother, children, boyfriend, etc. at home.
  • Don't hog the parking area. Unless there's PLENTY of room for everyone, including people who arrive after you, don't unfurl your awning, set up a private lounge area next to your trailer, etc.
  • Avoid forming a clique with people from your barn, and be friendly to everyone - you just might make some new friends.
After the Clinic:
  • Make some notes about what you learned.  Work what you learned into your training program at home.
  • Thank the clinic organizer.  If you can't do it in person, drop him or her an email. 
  • Send the new friends you made at the clinic a Facebook friend request and/or email.
  • Plan the next clinic you want to attend.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Show Horse Abuse: One Insider's Perspective

I was inspired to write this post when someone (anonymous, of course) on the Chronicle of the Horse forum posted this to me:

 "Gee Rachael: How do you think all your AQHA clients would feel if they read this post? The horse is very small, you of all people should know this. I get it that it's not for everyone, but feel that this is very hypocritical for you of all people to post. Just remember that there is abuse everywhere in the horse world, not just AQHA or USEF or eventing or ASBs or Walkers or whatever else."

This is very typical of the feedback I get whenever I post anything critical about show horse abuse. There's the personal attack (in this case, ironically, misspelling my name). There's the threat I'll lose clients. There's the defense "there is abuse everywhere." There's the suggestion outsiders don't understand.

As far as being "hypocritical," I've always been outspoken about what I didn't like in the breed show rings, and I've refused to participate in trends I thought were stupid and abusive, like injecting horses' tails with grain alcohol. Did it negatively affect my show ring results? I have no doubt. Have I lost clients and even friends? For certain. Do I wish I'd been even more outspoken? You bet I do.

I know my publicity of show horse abuse makes people uncomfortable. In fact, I want it to make people uncomfortable. Perhaps, uncomfortable enough to speak up the next time they see something they can no longer stand.  Change happens one person at a time...