Horsemanship

14 Practical Tips to Elevate Your Dressage Clinic Experience

Are you feeling stuck in your current training schedule? Maybe you are looking to try a horse off-property in a lower-pressure environment than a dressage show. Attending a dressage clinic may help shake some more energy into your riding and you just might tackle that half-pass in the tricky direction—for once!

Why Attend a Dressage Clinic?

  1. Grow your Dressage Knowledge and Skills- You may love your current trainer, but clinics are a fabulous opportunity to fill in gaps in your current riding and training practices. Getting an outside perspective at a dressage clinic can really help your equestrian skills grow.  You don’t know what you don’t know, you know?
  2. Test your horse in a new environment – Dressage clinics can be a great first step to showing. They provide an opportunity to get off-property and test your horse in an unfamiliar environment. This way you can test both your horse’s nerves and your own, before putting the time, effort, and energy—not to mention money— into attending a show. 
  3. Network with Other Riders and Trainers – Even though the equestrian community spans continents, it can often be difficult to expand from just your barn or local community. Attending a dressage clinic can be a way to meet new riders from all over the country. It can also be a great bonding experience if you go with another rider from your barn or training program! 
Horse and rider practicing dressage movements in the ring

How to Find Your Clinic

While some barns regularly bring in clinicians—or guest instructors—for their students and guests, this may not be the case for all. If you aren’t lucky enough to belong to a hosting barn, consider these 3 ways to find a dressage clinic:

  1. Word of Mouth: Recommendations from riders you know and trust are essential to the equestrian community. Ask a trainer, barnmate, or one of your equestrian friends if they have ever attended a dressage clinic and what their experience was like.
    • Great Questions to ask:
      1. What was the clinicians teaching style like?
      2. Did you feel you were given enough time and attention for the price?
      3. How was the host facility?
        1. Remember: host barns can play a big part in the overall experience of a dressage clinic. If someone’s gripe was more with their hosts than the clinician, consider doing some more research.
  2. Social Media: Facebook, specifically, can be a great resource to learn about clinics in your area. Try joining a regional horse group (or 2 or 3), and you’ll see announcements for clinics pop up pretty regularly. 
    • Bonus, commenters can let you know pretty quickly if a clinic will be worth paying attention, just don’t let one negative comment cloud your selection—it is the internet after all. 
  3. Web Sleuthing: If social media isn’t your thing, have no fear! Most clinicians should have a web page with clinic schedules, testimonials, and pricing. If you have no idea where to start, try searching “Dressage Clinics near me” to give yourself an idea. If there is a rider you admire, check out their business website. Most top riders travel nationally to teach at dressage clinics, so even if they aren’t based in your area you should still be able to attend a clinic within a few hours.

Consult Your Trainer

This is an important step, especially if you aren’t getting your recommendation from your regular instructor. While trainers should welcome you to branch out and expand your horse knowledge and experience, they may have experiences with a clinician in the past—positive or negative. While it is ultimately up to you, your trainer can be a valuable resource in choosing and ultimately preparing for a clinic.

If it is a first clinic and not onsite at your regular facility, you should strongly consider bringing your trainer or another experienced equestrian who has your back. Before you book, make sure your schedules match up for the date in question and agree on pricing for their help, and other necessary elements like horse use and trailering.

Choosing the Right Horse

Finding yourself between horses or not ready to plunge into ownership quite yet? Most clinics have a BYOH policy, meaning if you don’t own or lease a horse you might be counting yourself out. However, ask your barn if it’s possible to bring a lesson horse. Just remember there will likely be “day lease” and trailering fees on top of clinic costs. 

Woman leading horse out of trailer

Conversely, what if you have multiple horses to choose from for your dressage clinic?  You’ll need to think about your goals with each horse and what you would like to get out of it. If you are only willing to spend the money on bringing one horse, think about what you want to accomplish. 

Say you are choosing between a seasoned and a green mount. Are you looking to work more on yourself—learn a new skill or perfect a particular test? Bring your seasoned horse. Are you looking to work more on your horse—tricky movements, behavioral issues, or fitness? Bringing your green horse will give you more bang for your buck (the good kind).

Professional Dress. Professional Dress. Professional Dress.

One more time for good measure: professional dress. An outfit for a dressage clinic should include:

  • Clean breeches in good repair
  • Collared shirt, tucked in
  • Belt
  • Polished tall boots, or polished paddock boots and clean half-chaps

Even though you may not care what you wear to ride, showing up with good turnout for both you and your horse is a sign of respect for the clinician. Not to mention, if you are coming from a training program you are representing your home farm. While equestrians know it really all comes down to skill, dressing in neat and clean riding attire will get you off on the right foot at a dressage clinic.

Woman riding horse in dressage ring
Photo by Elisa Pitkänen

That being said, make sure you choose a clinic ROOTD (riding outfit of the day) that you feel confident in. Whether you prefer full seat or knee patch breeches doesn’t matter all that much, the most important things are that they are professional and comfortable. Throw on a collared schooling shirt and a coordinating belt and you are in business!

Don’t Forget!

If you are traveling to a dressage clinic, getting out the door can be a little hectic. Make sure you pack up everything you need the day before and use the morning of the clinic to groom your horse and perform any  last checks. For good measure, make sure you have the following things before you hit the road:

  • Clean Tack
    • Make sure to bring the tack you are used to riding in, even if it isn’t a dressage saddle. You and your horse will perform better and you’ll be able to absorb more without fighting against unfamiliar tack.
  • Appropriate aids i.e. whip and spurs.
    • You know your horse best, but it can’t hurt to be prepared just in case. It’s easier to drop a whip than to rely on a host barn to have them handy.
  • Change of Clothes
    • Equestrians get dirty, occasionally catastrophically. Either plan to groom and trailer in a dirt-friendly outfit and change prior to your ride time, or pack an extra clinic outfit just in case that puddle comes out of nowhere (don’t forget boots!).
  • Anything else that could be on your trailer and/or show checklist

Get Video and Debrief

Getting video of a dressage clinic ride when you are able to is always a great idea, especially if your regular trainer isn’t attending with you. Some clinics will provide a professional videographer or photographer, but more times than not you will have to pay for access to what they shoot. It’s never a bad idea to get in touch with the host and find out about their photography and video preferences. 

Whether you choose to go the professional route, or simply grab a barn mate or altruistic fellow clinician, you will get more out of your dressage clinic when you document it. You can show your trainer how your horse went, exercises you were shown, and how you rode so they can help you to continue achieving  great results at home—or address issues the clinic highlighted.

Even if your trainer is present, it’s helpful to have both video and audio of a clinic so that you can really absorb what you learned. You can learn so much about your horse and your own riding by viewing videos. Comparing your dressage clinic ride to other riding videos or really focusing on the clinician’s instructions without the distractions of trying to stay in the saddle can be great learning tools.

Have you attended a dressage clinic? Tell us about your experience or give us any tips and tricks we may have missed in the comments below!

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