Friday 25 November 2016

Clinic Coordination

I live in a dressage desert (great term coined by Karen @ Bakersfield Dressage). There's a decent amount of dressage in Alberta, but unfortunately not in my neck of the woods (prairies). That's the whole reason why I named my blog "Autonomous Dressage", because there is no local dressage trainer that I can work with. This isn't even about being picky; there literally isn't a single one.

Looks pretty deserty to me..

Dressage clinics aren't readily available either. There is one dressage clinician that comes regularly, and I have ridden with him, but I'm not the biggest fan of his approach (always more rein, skip over basics and get people to work on things they shouldn't be ready for etc) and he only teaches mid-week during the day which is pretty useless to those of us with office jobs. For a long time, that was the only option. Then there's Elaine, she started coming recently and that's awesome, but she lives in Manitoba and only comes a couple times a year (I'll probably ride with her again when she comes back in April). That's enough to complement a program, but not enough to be a program by itself.

September clinic with Elaine

Hauling somewhere else for clinics is a third option, and I've done that. It's not ideal though. First of all, hauling in the winter can be dicey, especially for long distances. Second, it's costly: it costs me about $200 in fuel alone to haul to the closest place with clinics, and then I still have to pay for hotel, eating out, boarding, and the clinic itself. The time and money that it takes means that I can't do this as often as I'd like to get lessons. 

My trusty, solid, but oh so heavy trailer

Sometimes when I don't want to haul in winter
I do crazy things like taking a clinic on a simulator

I decided to create a new alternative, and organize a clinic myself. I really liked riding with Sandra, she has reasonable rates, also does western dressage (which is a draw in this area), and is at least Alberta-based, so I asked her if she was willing to come down to do a clinic. She said that if I got a minimum of 10 rides then she would. Ten may not sound like a big number to many of you, but I knew that getting that many people to commit wasn't going to be an easy task. I only knew of three other people in my area who focused on dressage, and one of those had just bought a new horse and didn't have the money for a clinic. 

The last time I rode with Sandra

It seriously took me 5 months to organize this clinic. Once I had talked to Sandra, I started gauging interest. We have no local dressage association or anything so there was no centralized way for me to get the word out or figure out who might be interested. I'm generally a pretty socially awkward person, but I forced myself to start talking to people, getting contact info, and building a small local dressage network. I spoke to everyone who showed in the dressage classes at the local show, I asked people at a hunter/jumper show about whether they had any interest in dressage, I talked to everyone who was in the Elaine clinic, I created a local dressage Facebook page and got multiple people to contribute to it so it could become a central space for all things dressage (and we're up to 21 members who have joined!). I used a combination of social media and also much lower tech ways to get the word out (shared my Facebook event all over and hung up paper posters at a few barns and the local tack shop.)

I also had to figure out a date that wouldn't conflict with other types of clinics (because I'm trying to appeal to a cross-disciplinary group), book an indoor arena (and do so without offending any other facilities), create a workable schedule, arrange accommodations, etc. Getting enough commitment was definitely the part that took the most time and effort though. 

It's been a lot of work, but it's paying off. A few people were super excited about the idea of more dressage clinics and immediately signed up. A few more really wish they could take part but this weekend didn't work for whatever reason so they have their names down for next time. A few others took some prodding, and I'm even bending over backward to accommodate them by hauling for them, being flexible about payment, etc. The bottom line though is that the clinic is a go for this weekend with a total of 14 rides (and I have payment in hand so I'm not letting last-minute cancellers rain on my parade, sorry not sorry). I figure that the first one is the toughest to get started. I'm really hoping that the clinic goes well - if it does then Sandra has agreed to come back for more clinics every 2-3 months. If that happens it will double the amount of instruction I currently get and that makes me insanely excited! Please cross all your crossables that this clinic goes smoothly! 

This is Sandra on her GP horse, I used this photo to foreshadow back in October

I've also learned an important lesson through this endeavour: Please appreciate your clinic organizers, sign up early, pay in advance, and understand that it costs a lot to put a clinic on. I'm charging $110 for a 45min private lesson, which isn't exactly peanuts, but that really is the lowest I could make it, and as it is I'm absorbing some extra costs myself (I want this to happen so badly that I'm okay with that, but there's definitely no profit being made here by organizing). 


  1. Fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly! It should be easier after the first one.

  2. Clinic (and show) organizing are such a giant PITA. Good for you for stretching your comfort zone to get it done.

  3. I hear you- it's not easy. It's hard here too. Another issue we have are personalities and such. However, we are looking to build up the community here and have some fun 'practice' shows as well. Good luck I can't wait to hear about it.

    1. "personalities and such" - sounds like tactful code for the drama that too often exists in and between barns ;) , sorry that you're struggling with that.
      Building up a community is slow hard work but I think it will be worth it!

  4. Do you have a blog post about clinicing on the simulator, I must read it! I rode one of those at the race horse museum it was wild!

    1. Yep!

  5. so i've been meaning to get caught up with your blog since you entered 2ptober but am only now getting to it (sorry!). had to revisit this post tho, just to say: i am seriously impressed by all your work in organizing this clinic! that is no easy task!!

    1. Hi Emma, I just found your blog during 2ptober and I'm catching up on yours! The work to organize the clinic was well worth it for me to be able to clinic close to home :)