Friday, March 18, 2016

How do you introduce yourself?

So I've already written at great length about our back-to-back clinic experiences last weekend.

One recap gushed euphorically about my most majestic of arabian unicorns (and those trainers gifted enough to recognize her otherworldly talent). The other recap snarked like a petulant child about how dare that judge push my poor tired princess for more when she's obviously tired - clearly a case of horse abuuuuse!!1!1!!!!!

pictured: worlds most majestikal arabian princess

Um. Anyways. Mooooving right along.

Quite a few well-meaning readers and friends suggested a more thorough introduction at the second clinic could have paved the way for a different (and possibly more positive) outcome.

I may or may not be convinced (see remark above re: petulant child), but can concede that generally it's in our best interests to present an honest and upfront picture to a new trainer or clinician.

So now I'm wondering what an "honest and upfront picture" actually means - what is actually the relevant information that should be shared?

"we r obvi the best at cantering"
In the past, having never owned my own horse, when starting at a new barn on their own lesson horses I've generally kept my CV (as it were) as basic as possible to let the new trainer draw their own conclusions. (Worth noting: I also consider that first evaluation as somewhat mutual - does the trainer's assessment of my needs match the direction I want to go in?).

But now that I'm branching out with Isabel and getting more experience at clinics, my approach probably needs modification. Tho part of me suspects that, at least with dressage and eventing, sharing the levels we're schooling should be self-explanatory enough.

So my introductions might be something along the lines of:


We are both new to dressage, tho the mare has shown an affinity for it. She takes to the work well and has been an excellent horse to learn on. We are schooling all of first level and a little bit of second.

"plz to be impressed with our expressive free walk change of rein"

Handling 2'6" with relatively few splat moments. Showed 3' last fall with less refinement. The mare could be considered confirmed at the novice level - especially on cross country - except I'm a bit too influential in stadium and will ride to knocked rails and refusals. She's got hops tho!

But I'm curious - is that enough? Is that too much? Should I also be sharing details about the horse's age, medical/lameness history, turnout situation? How often we ride, my short term / long term goals? Whether the horse gets training rides? Exactly how long we've been working on any given level / movement / etc? Or how long I've been riding in general?

Should I always be prepared with a list of things I want to work on, or expect the clinician / trainer to take us in whatever direction they deem most appropriate?

especially if that direction is alllllllll the way to the base - or even better, directly underneath the jump!
Is it better to give too much information or too little? What's the balance there?

So tell me: In your opinion, what information does a new trainer or clinician need to know before beginning a session? Or do each of those individuals need different sets of info?

How do you introduce yourself and your horse?


  1. I say very little about myself and pretty much just talk about the horse. I haven't introduced Stinker since we figured out how to walk nor have I introduced him to someone I haven't ridden but I'll give you a hypothetical introduction.

    This is Stinker he is a rising 7 year old saddlebred and I'm bringing him back into work from EPM. He is still pretty green and while I had him professionally started I've been his primary rider. He has some anxiety issues that we have been working through but in general I have been working walk trot with him, teaching him to stretch and relax, and working on straightness.

    I'm much more careful about who I ride him with than I am with Pongo. Pongo is such a trooper that I don't worry about him getting fried. Pongo's introduction is much shorter. This is Pongo he is a 7 year old OTTB that (barn) owns. He walks trots canters with baby leg yields and I've started playing with shoulder in. Our biggest struggle is getting him soft and keeping the shoulders straight. As far as jumping goes I usually say he is green and I'm green.

    If you want to scare a clinician tell them on XC day of a clinic in a slightly panicked voice "I've never done XC and my horse is green and super spooky today."

    I should mention that if something is not working I say so. I've stopped in a lesson and said "I'm obviously not understanding what you want. What are you trying to get me to do?" It really didn't help because the instructor literally had one way of saying things and would just keep repeating it. It's ok not to like someone's teaching style. Just like it's ok to ask for a break.

    I probably would have asked for a break and explained that you guys had worked really hard the day before in a clinic when she was having you drill excessively. But I have only recently gotten ballsy about speaking up for my horse.

  2. I used to introduce myself the same way you do now. I still kind of do, but now I try to think about a few areas I'd like to work on and mention those. I find it helps the clinician start focusing. You may not actually work on those things, as in the process they may notice something else holding you back (like how your left leg forgets to touch the horse). So, my intro looks something like:
    Hi! We are working on finishing up my bronze medal scores at 3rd. We've struggled with changes and getting enough body bend in lateral movements. We usually have too much neck bend. Pig is a thoroughbred, pretty sensitive and can be emotional.

  3. I absolutely think your short and long-term goals should be part of your introduction. They paint a picture of how motivated you are as a rider, and can be good gauge of whether or not a trainer fits where you want to go. For example: if you have a concrete goal of showing at HITS or Devon or Rolex one day, but your new trainer only goes to smaller schooling shows, then they may not be the best fit for you.

    I agree that you shouldn't go on a 20-minute rant about EVERY SINGLE DETAIL of your partnership with Isabel, but I definitely think including goals is extremely important. And echoing what Austen said: including tidbits about what you're currently working on and a few quirks of your horse's personality is crucial as well.

  4. Oh how I remember that Arab poll in your face in your first photo. Mine even gave me a bloody nose with it before. I think the intro you typed up is good and add a couple areas you'd like to work on. Clinicians have a really tough job and I think any information helps. Clinics for me are always something I take with a grain of salt. I've had some really bad experiences with some really good riders, like Olympic quality instructors. I've also had some good ones. One thing I have learned over time is that I have every right to speak up in the moment if they aren't reading my horse. This gets some good and some really bad results depending on the clinician. Some are not open to your input. Which to me is stupid considering A. They've never met me or my horse how could they know more about us than me. And B.I'm on the animal and therfore should get a say and C. I am paying them a good amount of money. I.e. they are working for me! But after some pretty bad experiences and not speaking up for fear of looking like I'm making excuses, or being a know it all. I have come to the conclusion it is my responsibility to speak up for my horse. No matter how it makes me look.

    Just a warning I've met many Clinicians and speaking sometimes gets you ignored or publicly embarrassed by them. Because I guess when you've been to the Olympics you have the ego the size of China.

  5. I like Austen's introduction! It sounds eerily similar to the one I used to give for Mikey. I usually give the short term goals- which for me revolve around showing. Monday's intro will probably go something like this: "I've shown up to 3rd Level, but Penn is a new partner for me and we've been showing training level at schooling shows with scores averaging in the mid-60s. I plan on moving him up to first level at the end of April and start going to recognized shows. He was just broke to ride last year and is very willing. Our issues right now include an unwillingness to bend left bend and steadiness in the bridle."

    1. Also, I just got an email to give a short written bio. Eek! That totally freaks me out because I don't want to write too much.

    2. Aw! Written bios are fun!

      You reminded me, I'll often add that "My horse and I have taught each other up to our current level." I feel like that lets a trainer know that I'm not experienced above the level and that all the issues they are seeing are probably because of both of us letting our bad habits wear on each other. Haha!

  6. Clinics sort of scare me and major props to you for attending them in the first place! I'm sorry that the second one wasn't what you thought it would be. I think that's why they worry me. I don't want to try to ride with someone who I won't mesh with.

    I have audited quite a few though and the more successful intros were short, to the point and with a few key things that you want to focus on. This seems to give the clinician more of a guide as to how to work with you and some specific directions. Fix all the things is great, but it's got to be hard for them to narrow it down so quickly so they may just go after what they are seeing in that moment.

  7. Your intros are pretty good, I would just add relevant info (like my horse might be tired, or her back has been bothering her off and on) and definitely have some long/short goals in mind in case the person asks.

  8. I love the majestickal arabian princess. So elegant! Much refined! You have the best pictures. (Even the dorktastic "things gone wrong" pix are so relateable. We've all been there.)

    I struggle with the "introduce yourself" thing -- I try to keep it short and understated. I figure that if they want more information, they'll ask for it. Some have, some have not.

  9. I think your current introduction is quite good; I use a similar one, but I also add in what issues we're working on or what I hope to get help with that day (i.e. "I'm trying not to ride so defensively to the jumps" or "We're working a lot on straightness in our flatwork right now") and usually also give a warning that Dino does not do well having a break & standing still and then getting back to work, so if you see me still riding around when it's not my turn, I'm not being disrespectful, just trying to avoid a temper tantrum!

  10. You need to put that Ayrab on a t-shirt, she's so majestic.

  11. I agree that it's a balance between too much and too little. I also like to add things I would like help with or issues I'm having.

  12. I've actually never ridden with a clinician that DIDN'T ask if you had any goals/areas you'd like to focus on for that ride. If I did, I'd certainly sneak that in there. No point in paying a lot of money for a glorified lesson if you never touch upon the area you'd like outside help for.

  13. Honestly, the best clinics I've been to, the clinician asked ME for a little background info. Namely Type of horse, what do we currently compete in, any goals, age, something we struggle with, and maybe a few other basics. I think it depends on what you are doing too though. Sometimes you need more info, sometimes it's better to give the minimum and let the clinician nit pick.
    For me at least, I try to keep it to things that are factual, and not based on my assessments or opinions of myself or my horse.

  14. I tend to say what I want to hear when I'm teaching a clinic. Teaching clinics can be hard because it's sometimes a guessing game, like I literally watch someone ride for ten minutes in warm up and I'm expected to see every single thing they've ever struggled with in their whole lives. Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. I've had some people think I'm the world's greatest dressage coach after their first lesson and other people think I'm way out of touch. Just based on what happened to work on their horse that day. Knowing that, when I introduce myself, I want to take the guesswork out as best as possible.

    Basically I try to include- who are you, who is your horse, what have you done, what do you want to do, and what are the main issues you're working on now? And then anything they need to know, like with Rico he had old injuries so needed extra breaks. If my back is hurting, I'll tell them about that.

    With TC I told them that the main thing I was working on was the connection because I tend to get rigid and he tends to get retracted in the neck. So immediately they think of an exercise about contact. Vs if I just told them "we're working on the basics, he's green, we're showing Training," they reach into their bag of Training level exercises and we'll find ourselves working on something that might not help us on the contact- which is the main thing I needed help on.

    Also to help them out, I don't just accept what a clinician wants me to do without lots of questions/discussion. I'm almost constantly talking (I am SO ANNOYING to teach) through a clinic while I'm riding. If they ask me to do shoulder-in, I'll back it up with "to get him to connect better to the outside rein?" to get a confirmation that that's the goal of the exercise.

    And if they say "doesn't that feel better?" and it doesn't, I'll say no. And if they just keep pushing the exercise on me, I stop and say something polite like "I don't think I'm quite getting this, can we go over it again." The best trainers IMO, will switch exercises if it just isn't working.

    So yah I'm with Carly- no point to pay someone to basically just guess at what you need help on. It's HARD to watch someone ride for a few minutes and be amazing at it. Unless you're like Charlotte Dujardin, but she's too expensive to ride with anyway.

    1. I totally talk back to trainers, too. I have zero problem saying "nope, don't get it" if I don't. And it annoys me to no end when I am going around being directed like a marionette but don't know why I'm doing those things. Like, this clinician is going to leave and I'm going to be left figuring this out on my own. So, gimme some insight dudes!

  15. A clinician only needs to know the type of riding you do, how long you've been at it, and what you want to work on. Having a goal in mind for clinics is a must, but they don't need to know all the gory details of your experience. Outside of that, I'd say give them any "special needs" type details, e.g. tell them if you're an anxious baby like me or if your horse is a bit stiff at the start of a work out yadda yadda yadda

    A new trainer, however, requires more, but it's likely to come up over time as you keep riding with them and the like. That's where the horse's history comes more into play, and a more detailed rider history is also a plus. Trainer's also need to know both your short and mid to long term (like next year to year and a half) goals.

    A lot of what either needs to know will come up while you're riding. They might question something, and you just say, "Oh, this and that happens sometimes." and that's the end of it.

  16. yeah i agree with what several people have said above - normally i have goals i want from a certain clinician. and then at schooling shows when the dressage judges give 'helpful tips' i just ignore them. or put a smile back on until i can sulk back to the trailer and cry (dressage was not me and my red mare's strong suit...)

    i'm lucky in that everyone i ride with at clinics are people ive ridden with before and know me and my trainers very well. plus my trainer puts us into groups and since she knows everyone is good at matching us all up appropriately.

  17. I usually mention my horse's age, only because I am on old-ass horses lol. Moe is regularly mistaken for much younger, greener horse (because he is like "HAY GUYS LOOK I AM A GIRAFFE WHAT IS LEG WHERE ARE DONUTS WHEE FAST"). I think everyone suspects Gina is a crotchety old biddy, but I mention it all the same because she IS kind of creaky and stiff, especially starting out.

  18. I actually had a bit of a bad experience last year at my first give-it-a-go dressage test. The judge/clinician totally did not get that my horse was so green that we had not even cantered before and had us doing some very focused (frustrating) trot work that almost got me dumped by my overwhelmed pony. I was so pissed I may have looked like a 6-year-old having a tantrum by the end. It was definitely a learning experience for me--take the chance and say something even if it feels like it is not invited. I never had the chance to tell her my situation, but in hindsight it would have been better to stop the exercise and maybe try to explain very politely that I was grateful for the info and would certainly look forward to applying it in the future, and then explain my horse's level of training and ask some great, useful question to redirect things. Some clinicians are just more open to discussion than others though. I don't know, I am easily intimidated by the grumpy know-it-all type coaches, but I am hoping to get more vocal. :)

  19. I've only ever done two clinics, and the first one someone else rode my horse the day before so there wasn't too much to say. The second time I was so nervous, I have no idea what I said except that I had never done an event.

  20. I usually keep my intro really brief. I tell the clinician what level we show at and school at, and possibly add something about what we are currently working on in general (i.e., better collection at the canter, or simple changes, or whatever). I feel like it's important to give them a base line so they don't totally overface you or your horse, but also important to let them draw their own conclusions based on what they're seeing. I have definitely been in the situation where my horse wasn't his usual self in a clinic (in my case he was uncharacteristically strong to the jumps). I didn't bother explaining that he's not usually like that, even though in hindsight it might have explained why I wasn't riding very well. Figure maybe they'll give you some tips so that next time your horse is acting that way (like next time Isabelle is tired and less than her normal majestic unicorn self), you'll have some new ways to deal with it?

  21. I used to share my horses age, breed and temperament. I feel like sometimes I should include that I am an emotional hot mess, so I will cry and do it often!

  22. I definitely share where I'm at, where the horse is at, and what I'd like to work on or what we're struggling with most. I have a clinic next week where I'm planning to ask to work on more carrying behind and freeing up the base of his neck in front, because I happen to know what the clinician is good at. ;) If I were to ride with someone else, I'd probably ask for more help with riding better corners instead of careening through them, and also work on lenghthenings (me) and leg yield straightness. It's hard to teach anything without certain goals - riding lessons are no different!

  23. I love reading everyone's responses, because I am sometimes lost on what I should day as well. I do know that I need to tell the clinicians ahead of time about my health issues, and that I may need more breaks. And then I go and ride past my limit, have an asthma attack, and scare them anyways. Whoops.

  24. When I participated in the Natalie Hinnemman Clinic, I told her we were doing training level dressage, BN eventing, and her neck muscles know up on long trailer hauls and as a result I can't get her to come "through" once we've reached out destination. I think she asked about how long I had been riding her, so I elaborated to include that I'd been riding her for 3 years and have done all of her training.
    She sent us off to ride around for a few minutes to just watch where we were starting from before she settled into coaching us. So, I guess I *did* suggest what I wanted to work on, but as I watched ALL the different levels of riders, I feel like it was just incorporated into the general focus of the clinic. We all seemed to do the same basics, but applied them to our specific situations.

  25. So, for most clinics you're typically placed in a division relevant to where you are at. So, most clinicians know what to expect already. So, I try not to talk too much about my horse, or where we are at because they will figure that out quickly. I think it is really important to mention health concerns or if your horse has any issues health wise or other. Because of my back I need to keep moving and can't stand and watch, so I let the clinician know this so they don't think I am weird and/or rude.

  26. I try to keep my introduction to any clinician short and sweet for two reasons. One, I can get on a roll and over-inform which can just be a waste of time in my case. Two, I want to get that clinicians more honest assessment of me and my horse - untainted by my dragging on about the laundry list of things I want to change about my riding. I say names, our experience level, any goals I have and very short summary of what we work on most when we're jumping or flatting. I agree with other comments that very often good clinicians will probe you for a few minutes to best assess you as a rider. Of course mention if there are any health/safety concerns if you have any. Overall I want them to make their own judgments about me and my horse because maybe they will form a different opinion - that no one has told me before- and can give me new exercises and advice that I haven't heard before Good luck!

  27. "I'm Hannah; this is Tucker. We need help with everything."

    I only rarely rode with clinicians to address something specific; usually I was more interested in learning what they thought we needed and I preferred not to bias them. The above was my usual intro, pretty much word for word.

    I think a little more is acceptable; if asked, I'd offer our current level, length of time at same, and maaaybe one or two things we've been working on or towards. And certainly I think providing relevant soundness stuff is appropriate; if the rider was coming back from a bad fall or horse rebabbing from an injury, that's good for the clinician to know.

    But clinics are snapshots, not long-term relationships, and anyone worth clinicking with should have a pretty quick eye for what they want to -- and can, in the course of a ride or three -- address. So less is more, IMO.

  28. My friends always laugh at me when it's time for me to introduce Murray at a clinic because there's so much you can say about him. But after the basics (name/age) I usually try to keep it short and outline where we are, what our goals are both in and out of competition for the year, and what I really feel like we need to work on. So something like "I'd like to get my first level scores, and we're pretty good at the movements but really struggle with moving forward into the connection." or "We are competing at BN and I'm looking toward Novice at the end of the year, but we have a lot of de-spookifying to work on. Also, Murray really wants to shorten his stride and get deep to every fence so I'm trying to get him more comfortable with longer spots"

    I leave out any mention of potential bad behavior until after it has shown up and then I'm like "oh and sometimes... that happens..."

  29. I always tried to cover a little bit of where we'd been ("Lucy and I have been successful on the regional breed show level in the pattern classes"), where I wanted to go ("Working on becoming more competitive nationally"), what I saw as our top weaknesses ("Our lope needs work and our changes aren't always clean") and post-injury, I nearly always included a caveat that this was a horse coming off a torn suspensory because once you've suspensory-ed, you're forever paranoid. Depending on who I was riding with, I also might mention what barn/trainer Lucy came from, since the bigger trainers tend to have a 'stamp' on their horses in QH-land. Of course, sometimes I said... nothing at all, because Lucy is the easiest horse in the world.

  30. Usually, in a Driving clinic I'll mention both Spud and I are green to driving and give a low-down on him "he tries hard but when a request is too difficult he will try and shut down", etc.

    With Suzie, I'll mention how old she is and the previous injuries she has had. I'll also tell them that she is new to English but picks it up fast, etc etc. I'll let the clinician know I've been riding English for a long tie...

  31. I also like to let the trainer/clinician come to their own conclusions. I would feel awful if I over represented myself or my horse


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