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Suggestions for Clinic Organizers

Copyright © 1998, 2006 by Jessica Jahiel

Over the years, I have had a number of requests for information and ideas to help people who are organizing their first clinics. Here are some useful tips I've collected. [Printable version].

1. Initial Contact
2. Travel Arrangements
3. Money
4. Advertising
5. Cancellations
6. Scheduling
7. Special Notes: Health and Safety

1. Initial Contact

  • Give yourself plenty of time: try to give yourself at least four months to organize a clinic. That may seem like a long time now -- it won't by the time you've finish reading this!

  • Find the right clinician. This sounds easy, but it isn't always simple to find someone you feel will be truly helpful to the participating riders. Find out as much as you can about different clinicians, their styles, and their teaching specialties and preferences. Some clinicians are brilliant with adults but not very good with children; some are wonderful with advanced riders but not comfortable with beginners. Before you bring a clinician to your barn, it's very helpful to check with other people who have hosted this clinician, and find out what he/she is like. These days, with so many people online, it's easy to chat with cyberbuddies in other states or other countries -- this can be a great way to get names of good clinicians, or to find out more about a specific clinician.

  • Contact the clinician by telephone, e-mail, fax or mail as soon as you can. Most clinicians need four to six months of lead-time, and some schedule their clinics a year in advance! Introduce yourself, explain what you are planning, and list the dates that will work best for you. Go into as much detail as you can: tell the clinician whether the facility is public or private, whether the arenas are large or small, enclosed, covered, or outdoor, and what level of horses and riders you expect to have. This is important: some clinicians won't work with beginners or low-level riders.

  • Wait a week, then contact the clinician again, this time to discuss and/or confirm your arrangements. This is when you will set the dates and ask the clinician to send you a letter or an e-mail of confirmation. In this way, everyone's expectations will be clear. Call at a time when you are not in a hurry, so that you will be able to sit down with a pad and pen and check off your questions and the clinician's answers.

  • Questions for the Clinician:

    • How many hours a day does the clinician want to teach?

    • What type of lesson does the clinician want to give -- private, semi-private, or group? In a "group lesson," how many riders make up a group? three? four? six?

    • What level of rider and horse is the clinician willing to work with?

    • Will the clinician allow the videotaping of lessons?

    • Does the clinician require any special equipment for the clinic itself? This might be as simple as a VCR in someone's home, traffic cones in the riding arena, and letters for the dressage arena -- or it may be more complex. If the clinician requires a set of eight adjustable-height cavalletti, or a full set of jumps and a jump crew, find out now.

    • What accommodations does the clinician prefer? Is a room in the host's home acceptable, or would a motel be preferable? What about a B&B?

    • Will the clinician be willing to share social time with clinic participants? Some clinicians will eat with and talk with riders in the evenings, others will not -- avoid disappointment and awkward situations by discussing this with the clinician well in advance. Most clinicians will agree to one evening get-together, but be sure to ask before you plan it.

    • Does the clinician have any special eating requirements (food allergies, preferences)?

    • Ask about airplane reservations: which airport would the clinician like to depart from, and what is a convenient time of day for him/her to catch the plane?

2. Travel Arrangements

  • Once you have determined the clinic dates, buy the clinician's tickets and send them off. If he/she is driving instead of flying, your expenses will be less, but you should ask him/her to estimate trip costs so that you can send a check for that amount immediately.

  • If your clinician is flying in, be on time at the airport, and have some way for the clinician to identify you -- perhaps a sign with the clinician's name on it. If your clinician is driving, provide clear, detailed directions (and a map if possible), together with several telephone numbers where you or other organizers may be reached.

  • Weather is important -- not just weather extremes like blizzards or floods, but your local weather forecast for the clinic. If your clinician is coming from an area with a very different climate, get in touch a few days before the clinic and tell the clinician what your weather is like now and what it is expected to be like during the clinic.

3. Money

  • Figure your clinic costs: Find out how much the clinician charges per day, and how this translates into lesson fees (private, semiprivate, group). This will not be your total -- just your starting point. Remember that there are clinic expenses: the clinician's travel expenses, plus the cost of housing and feeding the clinician. If your clinician has to fly out, and prefers to stay in a hotel, the expenses may be quite high.

  • Find out whether the clinician prefers cash, a check, or a money order. It's the organizer's responsibility to collect the money and pay the clinician. Never hand the clinician a sheaf of individual checks, or expect the clinician to collect the money -- he/she is there to teach. Collect the money long before the clinic dates.

  • Figure out what you will need to charge participants. If you feel that because you are the host, your own lesson should be paid for out of the general clinic fees, then you must figure this into the charges. Remember that the lesson prices may need to be higher than the clinician's stated prices, because you have to figure in the clinician's expenses (airfare or driving expenses, meals, accommodations, food) and the cost of clinic refreshments, etc. If your riding club or barn has a fund for such expenses, that's wonderful. If it doesn't, you should not be out of pocket. At the same time, you don't want to make lessons unaffordable -- you must strike a balance. If your riding club is paying for the clinician's travel expenses, try to coordinate with another club in your area so that the clubs can share the clinician and the travel expenses. If the riders are assuming these costs, try to arrange a three- or four-day clinic, a week-long clinic, or a series of two-day clinics at different barns, because you will be able to distribute the costs over a larger number of lessons.

  • If the clinician charges for auditors, you may increase that fee as well, to help pay clinic costs. Try to encourage auditing by keeping fees low -- today's auditors may be next month's clinic participants! But a nominal fee will help defray your costs, and it will discourage casual, chatty railbirds. Most barn owners know a few people who will never support a clinic by riding in it, but enjoy hanging on the rail and providing audible criticism of the riders, the horses, and the clinician. Auditing fees will also allow you to say to noisy auditors "Quiet please, we've all paid to hear this."

  • If the clinician doesn't charge for auditors, set a reasonable auditing fee -- even $5, $10, or $15 per person will help to pay clinic costs and keep the lesson fees down and make it possible for more riders to participate.

  • Handling clinic fees: all clinic money should be in hand 4 weeks before the clinic. The easiest way to handle this is to open a clinics account at the local bank and deposit all of the money in this account. That way you don't have to deal with bounced checks or last-minute cancellations. It's a useful precedent to set for the next organizer. It also allows you to present the clinician with one check (or two checks, in the event that you need to reimburse the clinician for any expenses).

4. Advertising

  • If the clinic is private, send out your invitations at least 8 weeks in advance. Most organizers find that it's well worth the small extra expense to have invitations copied on coloured paper -- the invitations are less likely to be lost in a stack of other mail.

  • If the clinic is an open clinic, advertise it in the local papers, regional equestrian papers, at the local tack shops, and at other area barns at least ten weeks in advance. Most tack shops and barns will accept posters and invitations or sign-up sheets.

  • You may also place clinic announcements (dates, location, organizer's telephone number) in magazines. Four months lead-time will generally allow you to place announcements in national magazines, and even two months lead-time is often enough for regional and local publications. Almost every horse publication has a calendar and/or a Coming Events list. This can be an excellent way to generate interest in the clinic -- and in your facility.

  • Put a press release or article, preferably with a photo, in your local newspaper. Your clinician can provide you with a bio, photo, and publicity information.

  • If you are hosting a clinician on a regular basis, include this information in your usual advertising for your barn or lesson program. A regularly-appearing clinician can be a wonderful "draw" and a great attention-getter for your facility and programs.

  • All of your invitations, advertisements, and posters should list:
    • clinic dates and times
    • place (barn or barns where it will be held)
    • levels of instruction
    • price per lesson and type of lesson (private, semi-private, group)
    • information about the clinician
    • information on overnight stabling and costs
    • information on local accommodations for riders
    • a farm liability waiver
    • directions to the clinic
    • the clinic closing date
    • any other information or requirements (see Special Notes sections)

5. Cancellations

  • Make it clear to the riders that they are purchasing time slots, and that they must pay in advance. If a rider is unable to use his/her time slot, he or she is responsible for finding another rider to fill it. Although it's true that riders who pre- pay are generally more likely to participate, you will have to figure on a few unavoidable cancellations due to sick riders or lame horses. This is a good reason to maintain a waiting list!

6. Scheduling

  • Always require a deposit -- full payment in advance is even better -- to reserve space in a lesson. Be clear about your refund policy! Maintain a running list of entries and lesson times, so that you can schedule the clinic as soon as it's filled. Keep a waiting list -- if someone needs to cancel, this will help you fill the slot.

  • At least one week before the clinic, send the schedule to the riders. Include directions, phone numbers and required items: current negative Coggins, safety helmets, etc.

  • When you are grouping riders, be careful to place the horses and riders at their proper levels, especially if the clinician prefers semi-private or group lessons.

    Have a clear idea of what constitutes a "level," so that you can list specific requirements: showing/schooling at a particular level in dressage, for instance, or jumping courses at a particular height. Asking riders to sign up according to USDF levels (Intro, Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, etc.), eventing levels (Baby Novice, Novice,Training, Prelim, etc.) or jumping heights (2', 3', 3'6", etc.) will give them, and you, a much more accurate picture of their skill levels than asking them to identify themselves as "beginner" "intermediate" or "advanced" riders. This is never accurate, because standards differ so widely. Many Olympic-level riders, who know how much there is to know, will describe themselves as "intermediate" -- and so will most new riders who have sat on a horse more than twice!

  • Welcome walk-in observers on the day(s), but do have a system of collecting auditing fees from them (someone stationed near the door to accept cash, provide buttons or stickers, and maintain a list of names). This allows you to be fair to those auditors who have paid their fees in advance. Once again, the implementation of an auditing fee diminishes or eliminates a problem sometimes found at large facilities -- people who will neither ride in nor audit a clinic, but who like to hang on the rail and offer audible, distracting comments.

  • Provide refreshments, even if it's just coffee and doughnuts (or mineral water and carrot sticks!) for the clinician and the riders. A pot of coffee and some hot water for tea can make a cold venue more comfortable; in hot weather, cold refreshments can revive tired riders and a wilting clinician. And in any season, everyone's equanimity is preserved better when blood sugar levels can be maintained at a reasonable level.

  • When you schedule the lessons, build in a few short coffee breaks and/or bathroom breaks for the clinician. A five or ten minutes' break can make an enormous difference to the clinician's comfort and endurance.

  • If there's a clock on the wall, point it out to the clinician. If there isn't, put one up, or assign someone to keep the clinic running on time. Many clinicians lose track of time when they're teaching, and appreciate a "ten minutes left" reminder. Riders who are tacking up or warming up may also appreciate a reminder.

7. Special notes: Health and Safety

    Long before the clinic:

    • Find out whether the barn owner needs you to purchase special event insurance coverage for the duration of the clinic. If the barn owner requires that the clinician carry personal liability insurance -- and the barn owner should require this, by the way -- ask the clinician to send you a photocopy of that policy.

    • Identify the barn health requirements! If riders bringing their horses to the clinic will need to present their horses' health papers and a current negative Coggins before they will be allowed to take those horses off their trailers, and if "negative" means "negative AND taken within the last six months", you'll need to say so in your invitations/advertisements.

    • If the barn owner or the clinician requires the use of ASTM/SEI approved helmets for all riders (I require helmets, and so do many other clinicians), make this clear in your invitations/advertisements. If possible, make an extra helmet or two available in case a rider forgets to bring hers.

    Just before the clinic:

    • Drag the arena and water it, if necessary, to keep the dust down. Check that your toilet facilities are adequate for the expected attendance; if they aren't, rent a portable toilet or two.

    • Remember that open clinics attract riders from many different barns, commercial and private. Some of these barns may not be as safety-oriented as yours, so make your expectations and requirements clear. Most rules won't surprise experienced riders and competitors with previous clinic experience, but some people may need reminders.

    During the clinic:

    • The barn rules should be complete, clear, and posted where everyone can see them.

    • A well-stocked, well-organized first-aid kit is always useful -- in an ideal situation, you won't need to open it, but it's a good thing to have at any barn.

    • Someone in authority should have easy access to a telephone and a list of emergency services, as well as a set of clear directions to the barn from the various main roads. This shouldn't be difficult -- you'll already have put those directions together for the clinic participants.
It's a lot to think about and a lot to do, but more effort beforehand means a smooth-running clinic, happy riders, and a clinician who will be willing to come back. And if you organize it really, really well, you might even have time to relax and enjoy the clinic yourself!