by Julie Goodnight

Becoming a Leader for Your Students and Horses

By Julie Goodnight

As a horsemanship or riding instructor, you want to strive to be a good leader and interact with fairness with all of your students and clients. In addition, you want to teach your riders to be good leaders to the horses they ride. Leadership is not just about your actions or intentions; it is also about your honesty, integrity, and fairness. Authority is not the same as leadership—just because you have authority over others does not mean that they have a desire to follow you or accept you as their leader.

Developing strong leadership skills with our horses can also help us become better leaders with people, especially if we think about the lessons the horse provides to us regarding leadership. In addition, you can teach your students to judge whether their mount is questioning their leadership skills.

Horses have a sense of fairness, just as they are good judges of leadership and trustworthiness. Because they are herd animals, they are mindful of leadership, hierarchy, rules, and ramifications of behavior. They are instinctively drawn to strong leadership, with a compelling desire to be accepted in a herd and a profound fear of banishment from the herd. Both horses and students thrive when leadership, rules, and structure exist, and they flail in the absence of it. Horses can be a reflection of our leadership skills with students and clients, as well.

Horses and students usually know when they are breaking a rule or pushing a boundary, and they usually responds well to fair discipline. But when rules are unclear or inconsistently enforced, when you say one thing but then do another, when you inadvertently punish even though no punishment was intended, or when the punishment does not fit the crime, both horses and students will feel that they are being treated unfairly, and trust in you diminishes.

So how do you know if the horse feels like the rider is treating him unfairly? Reactions from the horse may range from a slight tensing and lifting of the head, to shaking the head, refusals, running through the bridle, crow-hopping, bucking, or shutting down (becoming nonresponsive). While there can be a variety of causes for these reactions, whenever a horse is frustrated, it’s always important to consider your own actions and how they may be viewed by the horse. After all, none of us are perfect leaders for our horses or our students.

Here are some common scenarios which a horse might consider unfair. It’s important to coach riders not to do these things or the horse will question their leadership skills.

Unfair Treatment #1: Asking him to do something then punishing him for doing it
An easy way to test a horse’s sense of fairness is to cue him to canter, then hit him in the mouth with the bit when he does. How he reacts to that will tell you how tolerant he is. This happens far more often than you think, regardless of rider level. Sometimes it’s related to lack of skill; other times it is reactionary—a rider fearful of the canter often snatches the horse up as soon as they respond to the cue. From the horse’s point of view, you asked him to do something then you punished him for doing it. Responses from this kind of conflicting signal can include: a small shake of the head, crow-hopping, a refusal to canter anymore, or bucking. Usually it is the horse that is blamed, although from the horse’s point of view, this is not fair or honest.

Unfair treatment #2: Asking for one more time
Let’s say you or your student has been working on something challenging with their mount—like jumping gymnastics. You started with a few rails in a line of jump-every-stride obstacles and gradually added more until it’s a very challenging and strenuous exercise. After some stops and starts and failed attempts, the horse finally goes through the full gymnastic correctly. You are thrilled! So what’s the first thing you say? “Let’s do that one more time.”

So, he’s already given you his best and that wasn’t good enough; now he’s tired and emotionally spent and you ask for more. Things fall apart, and what should have been a great training session turns into a salvage effort. Fairness would dictate that you recognized your horse’s best effort and let him rest on that.

Unfair treatment #3: Setting the horse up for failure 
This is the actual real, unedited scenario that stimulated this article. A past clinic attendee whose horse had come uncorked due to the clinic atmosphere wrote to me about how her horse had recently done great in an arena full of 15 other horses. When they finished, he loaded without hesitation into the trailer. However, since her horse was tired and away from home, she then decided to practice trailer loading. Her horse balked, and a nearby rider had to assist her.
It was indeed unfair to finish and then ask her horse for more. Clearly the horse had given of himself, worked very hard, and done the right thing. He had every reason to believe he was done and would receive the kindness of comfort from his leader. Instead, he was set up to fail. He had already loaded once without resistance.

Should we expect perfect patience from our mounts in every situation or at the same level we expect from more patient or experienced horses? No. Should we make our horse, or our students for that matter, jump through hoops when they are anxious or aggravated? No. Should we ALWAYS set our horses and our students up for success? YES! That is what makes a good training exercise.

Good leaders do not expect their followers to do things beyond their capabilities. If we think an individual (horse or human) may not be capable of giving us what we want in that moment, it’s best not to ask. Do something else instead. Come back later and address it when the chances of success are greater or when you have removed other obstacles.

Always make sure your expectations are realistic and attainable. Have high expectations, but always remember to recognize efforts from both your horses and your students. Everyone wants the feeling of a job well done.

[Author Bio]
International trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight is the international spokesperson for CHA, a CHA Master Instructor, and the star of RFD-TV’s “Horse Master with Julie Goodnight.”

Becoming a Leader for Your Students and Horses Read More »

Julie Goodnight Photo by Whole Picture

Succeeding as a Clinician

By Julie Goodnight

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “clinician” as “a person who conducts a clinic,” with “clinic” defined as “a group meeting devoted to analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or knowledge.” After decades as a horsemanship clinician and thousands of clinics worldwide, I think these definitions make perfect sense. In the horse industry, a clinician is an expert trainer or instructor who travels to various locations—regionally, nationally or internationally—to teach horsemanship on a one-time basis.
To me, being a clinician is not a career in and of itself but rather the result of a successful career as a horse trainer or riding instructor. And it can help diversify your revenue streams.

To be a successful clinician, you must have:
• Expert ability
• Exceptional communication skills
• Years of experience training horses
• Years of experience teaching horsemanship to people
• An established reputation in your field
• Business sense

Business Model
The purpose of a clinic is to teach, correct any issues, and to improve the performance of the horses, riders, and handlers involved. With experience, you’ll learn which techniques, business models, and clinic structures work best for your teaching methods.
Some horsemanship clinics involve group lessons while others teach back-to-back private or semi-private lessons in front of an audience. Some clinics are discipline, breed, or ability-level specific, while others are open to all niches. Usually there are spectators and auditors.
Administering the clinic requires organization, communication, and attention to details or the clinic will fail—no matter how brilliant the clinician. If your organizational skills aren’t up to par, consider outsourcing.

Here are some ways to structure your horsemanship clinics.

• Find a clinic host that will foot the bill, pay you a flat fee per day, or guarantee a minimum number of riders or a percentage of the profits. The host provides the facility, promotes the clinic, recruits attendees, collects all the money, and—after paying you—makes all the profit (or may take a loss). Pro: This model is easy—just show up and teach. Con: If the clinic is well-attended, the host may make more money than you.
• The clinician foots the bill, rents the facility (or trades for spots in the clinic), promotes the clinic, registers attendees, collects the money, and accepts all risk for profit or loss. Pro: This is the most profitable if the clinic fills and you have total control. Con: More work is involved, and there are no guarantees.
• Combinations of any aspects of the above could be used to structure a clinic, as well as bartering for services, partnering with a promoter, and non-profit or philanthropic partnering (e.g, you teach a 4-H clinic for free in exchange for being able to host a for-profit clinic for adults).
However you structure your clinic, make sure you consider all expenses, including travel, advertising, liability insurance, care of your horses at home, and labor at home and at the clinic. Before you price your clinic, ensure the profit will adequately compensate you while you are away from home.

Marketing Clinics
It’s up to you to convince attendees to take your clinic, but the marketing tools below can help.
• Website—Include all the information people could want or need on your website, such as your bio, your teaching techniques and philosophy, what a clinic is like, policies and procedures, your calendar of events, and registration information. Enter your clinics on free online event calendars (e.g.,,, and link to your website.
• Social Media—Social media—especially Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube—can raise interest in your programs. Keep your brand active, share your training philosophies, spend time visiting relevant online horse groups and chat rooms, and allow people to get to know you.
• Horse Expos—Speaking at horse expos is the easiest way I fill clinics because it gets me in front of an audience who will then come back a few months later for my clinic.
• Flyers—I send a flyer to be printed at an office store near where the clinic will be held. Then a local volunteer will pick them up and post at places horse people frequent.
• Newsletter—We always include informative articles plus a list of my upcoming clinics and expos. Staying connected to your customers is key.
• Word of Mouth—Followers of your training methods are happy to spread the word if asked. Sometimes we offer a discount off a rider’s own tuition for each rider they sign up.

No company is eager to invest in a clinician unless they will get a nice return on their investment (ROI). You will have to work very hard for them if you expect to get a deal and maintain the relationship. What you have to offer is influence over the buyer and things like media exposure, arena banners, wearing their logo, product placement, a trailer decal, website exposure, social media posts, etc. The sponsor will want evidence of how your efforts impact their ROI.

It’s important to get a feel for the landscape of sponsorships in the horse industry and to distinguish between readily available product trades and harder-to-come-by cash sponsorships. Product trades should offsets your costs. Some companies may only offer a sales commission, which may or may not be lucrative because you must repeatedly close a sale.

Don’t forget to protect your brand. Taking on too many sponsors, changing sponsors regularly, or endorsing fly-by-night products could devalue it and repel bigger sponsors. One big cash sponsor may be better than a bunch of product trades.

Some categories of products are highly competitive for sponsorships, so sponsors will want exclusivity. Supplements, feeds, tack, saddle pads, pharmaceuticals, and apparel are categories with many brands competing against each other and areas where horse trainers have a lot of influence with the customer.

Tread carefully with exclusivity, because this rules out having other sponsors in that category. To me, exclusivity is like getting married to that company. Think about the long term. Are your values compatible? Is it a brand you can use and stand behind? Can you positively impact the company’s sales and conduct yourself in a manner that the sponsor wants you to? Can the sponsor make a long-term investment in you, or is this going to be a one-time thing?

In Conclusion
It’s important to develop the traits mentioned above to succeed as a clinician. Developing horsemanship clinics can be rewarding and lucrative. Find ways to stand out from the crowd. Develop a loyal following at home, decide on your business model and marketing, and then take your show on the road!

International trainer and clinician Julie Goodnight is the international spokesperson for CHA and a CHA Master Instructor.

Succeeding as a Clinician Read More »

Product Review: Western Safety Stirrups

Product Review: Western Safety Stirrups

By Julie Goodnight

The risk of severe injury or death by dragging from the stirrup of a runaway horse is a serious concern for ride providers and riders everywhere. The risk of getting hung-up in a stirrup exists even when proper footwear is worn, but the risk is greatly increased when riders are allowed to mount in improper footwear such as athletic shoes or sandals.

While CHA standards recommend that ride providers require riders to wear proper footwear, we realize that this is not always an option, particularly for programs dealing with tourists right off the street. Even when proper footwear is required, the risk of dragging still exists, especially when riders wear lace up boots that will not pull off when stuck in the stirrup like a non-lace up boot will.

Saddle Technology Incorporated, of Laurel, Montana has invented and patented a safety breakaway stirrup, which looks just like a high quality Western stirrup and comes in several styles. Invented by a veteran cattle rancher and former PRCA cowboy, Mike McCoy, these stirrups were actually made to protect the professional rodeo cowboy. However, their application to recreational riding programs is perhaps even more significant.bearkaway stirrup

The safety breakaway stirrup is designed to release itself from the stirrup leather when it reaches a 45-degree back angle or a 70-degree forward angle. The back angle would be activated when a horse shies out from under a rider or when the rider is thrown. The forward angle of release is generally activated when a horse falls. Whether the foot is through the stirrup or the toe is wedged in the stirrup, this stirrup will always rotate around the stirrup leather activating the release mechanism.

The mechanism controlling the stirrup release is a spring-loaded pin holding the stirrup in place that fires inward, releasing the stirrup when it hits the predetermined angle of release. A torsion pressure feature restricts the flopping or free-swinging motion of the stirrup at the end of the stirrup leather. This feature will prevent 70% of those situations where the rider’s foot slips out of the stirrup, causing the rider to lose balance and fall.

One of the best features of the stirrup, according to professional riders, is that it will not release under normal riding conditions. Another important safety and financial consideration is the stirrup’s durability. The stirrup is made from high quality, high tensile strength materials and comes with a five-year warrantee. It appears to me that the stirrup could last for the entire useful life of a saddle, with reasonable care.

The stirrups come in three different models to meet the needs of a variety of riders. It is available in an Oxbow style, a roping stirrup and a traditional style western stirrup with a wide footrest. All three styles are available in nylon, leather or rawhide coverings and range in price.

I had the opportunity to test the traditional style stirrup, which would be used for a trail riding operation. The stirrups are very attractive and once on the saddle, there is no indication that it is anything other than a normal high quality stirrup. It rode just like a regular stirrup but with its weight and stability, there is less slipping around on your foot. Fortunately, I did not have the opportunity to be drug or thrown to see how it releases in an emergency situation, but I could simulate the circumstances and it released effortlessly every time when cocked to the release angles. The only downside I could find to the stirrups is that if you throw your saddle on the ground (instead of hanging it from the saddle rack), it could cause the stirrups to release inadvertently. But there is an easy fix for this problem: treat your saddle properly and it won’t happen.

Although the cost may seem a little high at first, it is important to consider the longevity of the product and compare it to the potential cost of an injury or death caused from dragging. It is quite possible that your insurance company would offer a discount if these stirrups are used across the board.

For more information on the STI Safety Breakaway Western Stirrups, contact STI at (406) 248-7331 or

Product Review: Western Safety Stirrups Read More »