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by Lisa Bockholt

Recently, I returned from the Texas Equestrian Expo in Belton, TX. It was an exciting as well as humbling experience to be there as a participant in the company of several well-known, highly respected trainers and clinicians---many of whom I try to train and study with when and wherever possible. The neat thing about an event such as the Expo is that it gives all of us, myself included, the opportunity to watch, listen, and learn from others.

Trainers and clinicians who demonstrate at expos bring with them a variety of concepts, philosophies, training techniques, and levels of experience. We may not necessarily like each and every trainer we watch. We may not agree with their methodology, or the particular training “system” they represent. On the other hand, some things we learn may end up working better for us than our present way of doing things.

WHY DO PEOPLE GO TO AN EXPO? Are most attendees there to find answers to specific training problems? Or is it so they’ll get some exposure to some general concepts? Perhaps it’s just to have a fun, entertaining weekend. All of those are great reasons to attend a clinic or expo. But let’s say you went to a Celine Dion or Garth Brooks concert. No doubt, you’d probably have a terrific time, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean you’d come home a better singer. On the other hand, even if you went to an expo just to be entertained, you can always learn something, even if it’s what not to do when working with your horse.

Here’s a few things to consider when attending / evaluating any type of equine educational event or activity:

SAFETY “RULES”: Evaluate everything you see during the event from a safety standpoint. For instance, is the horse wearing leg protection? Is the working area safe and secure? Does the trainer give the horse a reasonable time to get the right answer? Or, in an effort to perform under a certain time constraint is the trainer skipping important steps which may compromise not only the training but also the horse’s safety, especially if you were to try it at home yourself. Ask yourself this question: How would I feel if it were my horse being worked in this demonstration”?

CLINICIAN OR MAGICIAN: No one wants to attend a demonstration and be bored to death. Many of today’s top trainers/clinicians tell humorous stories or jokes throughout the program, and are, to a large degree, judged in popularity by how entertaining they tend to be. But watch to see if the trainer makes fun at someone else’s expense. Does the trainer make fun of the horse, the horse’s owner, or another trainer? Putting others down (horse or human) is not funny, nor does it make for a positive learning environment. If the trainer gives the audience a definite sense that they, too, can do the training with their own horse, now that’s a morale booster!

PATIENCE: Does the trainer make you feel comfortable in their presence? If you interrupted the trainer during his or her remarks would he or she listen if you had a question? Would he or she take the time to explain something you didn’t quite understand again, even after just having discussed it for the past twenty minutes? Or, throughout the demonstration do you notice times where the trainer seems to lose their patience. If patience with the audience is limited, perhaps patience in working with a horse is limited as well?

MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY: If a trainer is giving the impression that their way is the only way, the best way, or more superior to other methods, what they are really saying is that their mind is closed to further learning.

EQUIPMENT: Does much of what the trainer does and says rely on the use of special equipment (which is conveniently available for purchase at the event?) Does the equipment overshadow good training principles?

SENSIBILITY: Good horse training is, to a large extent, good common sense. Watch what the trainer does. Is it so complicated there is no way you can try it on your own? Or, does it look really easy, but sounds too complicated? Either way, it’s too complicated!

DISREGARD HEARSAY: One of the best places in the world to hear more wrong information about this or that trainer, or this or that particular training method, is at a clinic or expo. There will be people surrounding you who are fans of the trainer/clinician, as well as a few sharp-tongued critics. Ironically, it’s usually not people who really know all that much that are the ones passing around the inaccurate/incomplete information. It’s people who may mean well, but only saw part of a clinician’s training tape or demo, or heard something that had been passed along to them from someone who heard something that had been passed along to them from someone who heard something that had been passed along to them….Best bet --- ignore what you hear from others around you and focus on why you are there: to learn. Usually, the people talking the most are the ones who know the least. Those that are attending to learn do the least amount of talking, because they are too busy listening and learning for themselves.

In the end, it’s not about whether or not we like a particular trainer, his or her style, personality and/or horse handling abilities. The whole idea behind attending clinics and expos is so that we can learn what someone else is doing (or not doing), and see if we can apply all or some of what is working (or not working) to our own personal situation(s). When you leave a clinic or expo, hopefully you will go home with a renewed interest in improving the current level of performance and/or relationship you have with your horse. Bottom line: the most important thing we can all take home from a clinic or event such as the Texas Equestrian Expo is a clearer understanding that finding methods we are most comfortable with --- ones that work best (easiest / safest) for us and our horse, learning how to apply them, and getting the kinds of results we want, is really what it’s all about. Better horses. Better horsemanship.

Lisa Bockholt’s Synchronicity Horsemanship teaches horses and their owners to operate in unison. Bockholt’s programs and services include: private training, clinics, demonstrations, lectures, fund raising for non-profit organizations, foal handling and training courses, internships and certification classes, courses for new horse owners, and her “Stall & Strudel” Bed & Breakfast Personal Training Packages. A John Lyons “Select” Certified Trainer, Bockholt specializes in working with new and / or inexperienced horse owners, or, those seeking to improve performance based on trust, respect, and communication. For more information on Bockholt’s programs, contact (210) 491-6522.

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