In his book “These Were The Vaqueros,” Arnold Rojas states that “a horseman cannot learn all they should know by trial and error; a person’s lifetime is too short for that.” Indeed, he says, five lifetimes would not be long enough to experience all the things a good horseman needs to know. You can spoil 100 horses before you can learn to train one properly; you could learn more on one horse if you had someone to teach you how to handle it than you can on 100 by trial and error without a teacher.

More and more barrel racers are realizing this. They understand that there is much more to running barrels than kicking and whipping a horse to go and pulling the reins to turn. 

There are many professional barrel horse trainers who hold clinics and give lessons. Most of them have also learned from other great barrel racers and horsemen over many years. In the 20 plus years that I have put on barrel racing clinics, I have noticed that a lot of people arrive unprepared to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn. Because it can cost plenty of money to ride in some of these clinics, the more advance preparation a person can make, the more they should be able to absorb. 

The first question to ask is if you want to ride or simply watch the seminar as a spectator. Spectator fees can run anywhere from $10 to $50 a day depending. This fee will usually include lunch with the other participants. If you are not sure if you are interested in this person’s methods, this is the least expensive way to find out if a particular horseman or woman meets your expectations. Some people say they can get more from watching than they can from riding, while others feel that if they can’t ride they can’t learn. This is a matter of individual preference. 

There is usually no limit to the number of spectators but a definite limit to the number that will be accepted. For the person who wants to ride with a top instructor, it is often necessary to make a reservation in advance.  However, if the clinic you wish to attend is already filled, there is usually some sort of a waiting list in the event that somebody cancels. I have also seen extra days added to accommodate those who do want in.

If the participant owns more that one horse, they will have to make a decision which horse to take to the clinic. Experience has shown me that taking more than one is counterproductive. You see, most clinics work in a progression, making it hard to switch to another horse half way through, when you have been building on the horse they started with. If you are having a specific problem on one or more horses, then you should bring a horse that demonstrates that problem. This way the instructor can find a way to cure the problem and avoid similar problems in the future.  Young or inexperienced riders should try to bring a fairly trouble-free horse so that they can concentrate on where they are going and what they are going to do when they get there, working on their horsemanship and form.

Most places that hold these clinics have stalling and trailer hookups. But be sure to check the cost and the requirements.  If you do not have a living quarters horse trailer be sure to make motel reservations well in advance, unless you live close enough to drive in and out. 

Study as much as possible before you arrive. If the person you will be learning from has books or articles or videos available, go and find them. Check to see if the instructor has a website and then go through any material several times. The more you understand before the clinic starts, the more you will be able to learn. 

If you are riding your horse in the clinic, it is a good idea to put in some extra time with your horse to be certain that both of you are in shape to ride for basically all day long. Your horse should be current on his shoeing or trimming, up on its shots and sometimes you will have to have a Coggins and a health certificate from your veterinarian.   

You should arrive well-rested and ready to do a lot of riding and learning, so you may need to come in the night before. It is a good idea to have your horse saddled and warmed up about a half hour before the start time.  If a rider is late they may miss something important. 

In any group there will be various ability levels and you  should feel neither overconfident nor intimidated. You can learn a lot from paying attention and watching the other riders and their mistakes. You may not be having that particular problem with your horse, but if you stay in this barrel racing game long enough you may just have that problem later. 

It takes hundreds of repetitions to learn something new with your horse. I have seen some riders who get bored and go over to a corner and start visiting when they should be practicing or paying attention. Please resist this temptation. You are here to get it right, or have the clinician help you until you do get it right. Remember, you paid for this day, so get the most out of it. 

Come to the clinic with an open mind, even if it seems contrary to what you have learned in the past. Remember that the person presenting this new method has proven it successful with hundreds of horses and many students. So, make every effort to try it during the clinic, because while many teachers use different ways and different terminology, often times you will find that the methods are the same, and you never know when that light bulb will go on for you. 

Plan to devote the entire time to learning, even if it lasts late into the afternoon and you are tired. If you think it is going to be a long day, it may not be a bad idea to plan to stay over another night so you won’t feel pressure to leave before the session is finished.

After your day is over, be prepared to follow up. Questions may arise in the weeks that follow. Some barrel racing instructors will continue to help you after the clinic is over. You can find out if they give lessons, do horse training, or will watch your videos and instruct from those. Most professional barrel racers are passionate about their sport and really want to help anyone wanting to learn more. So never be intimidated to ask.

Finally, one clinic should not be the end. Returning for another clinic later in the year or next year can pay big dividends for both you and your horse. The more you learn the more you will realize that there is to learn. 

Hope you are all having a great Spring barrel racing and an even better clinic season. If I can be of any help or if you want to host a clinic in your area, give me a call. God bless!

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