No Substitute for Experience

I had the best riding clinic experience of my entire equestrian career this past weekend.

Olympic equestrian Michael Barisone traveled to Michigan to work with ten horse and rider combinations, of which my gelding Ricochet and I were one such pair.  (Even if you don’t follow dressage, you might recognize Michael’s name from his recent appearance on The Colbert Report when he taught host Stephen Colbert how to piaffe as part of Colbert’s declaration that dressage was “The Sport of the Summer.”)  In just two short days, Michael helped me install a “cruise control” button on my normally lazy gelding so that we have the necessary forward energy to propel us (literally!) up to the Prix St. George level of competition, a longtime goal.

Michael Barisone and I following my clinic ride on Sunday. (For the curious, I’m 5’7″ and he’s 6’4″.)

After the clinic, I spoke with my normal instructor, Maryal Barnett, to fill her in on the weekend’s events and she made an observation that not only stuck with me as a rider, but also as an independent educational consultant.

She said:

“You never know with a clinician that has not worked with you before how you will mesh.”

Such a simple statement, but one that is so true and widely-encompassing.  I had never met Michael before this weekend; he didn’t know me or my horse or our history.  I helped organize the clinic so I had thoroughly researched his background, including reviews from other riders who had worked with him in the past or (more importantly!) are working with him now to get their take on his methods and his approach as an instructor.  But I’d never audited one of his clinics or even seen him ride in person.  (Thanks to YouTube, however, his rides on the famous Neruda are easy to find.)

In the end, my personal experience riding Ricochet with Michael was a fantastic one and I hope to have an opportunity too work with him again in the future.  (We’re trying to lure him back to Michigan soon!)

So how does my experience in the clinic relate to my students’ search for their perfect college?

There is no substitute for the actual experience!

When you’re embarking on your college search, you’ll inevitably search the Internet, talk to friends and family, and do the same preliminary research that I did when we were deciding if we wanted to bring Michael in to teach us.  But after a certain point, none of that research will be able to help you any more until you get actual experience and get to know the school personally.

How do you do that?

  • Go beyond the tour!  The tour is just the introduction to the campus – the handshake, if you will.  You look around and get a general sense of what’s there.  But to really get to know a campus, you need to dig deeper.  Sit in on a class (or two!)  Meet one-on-one with a professor in his or her office the way you might meet with them during their office hours if you enroll there.  Eat the food in the dining hall.  Attend a sporting event, a play, or a concert.  Stay overnight in a residence hall if that’s allowed.
  • Follow the school on their social media outlets.  Nearly every college and university in the nation has feeds and channels with the major social media sites online.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr – you name it, they’re on it.  And what better way to follow what’s happening on campus and get to know a school’s personality than to actively follow what they’re posting?
  • Audit a riding lesson and/or attend a home horse show.  For equestrians in particular, you don’t just want to find a college campus that will be your home for four years, you also want to find a riding program that fits your goals as well.  While some programs may allow you to take a riding lesson with their instructors or do a riding tryout, others may view your request for a lesson much like a prospective football player asking to practice with the team and will offer you only a chance to audit.  Either way, seize every opportunity you can to see what their program is like and if you think you will be comfortable and able to learn a lot if you join them.  (Horse shows are great for this because the college students often run their own home meets – and seeing the students in action will tell you a lot about how well prepared they are for the responsibility!)

So as you embark on your college search (or continue with it), be mindful that you’re going to have to do a little more legwork than just surfing the web or talking to people to get the “word on the street” about a school.  Your personal experience with a school is more important than all of the superficial elements (school rankings included!) could ever be.

And if you need assistance to get started on the search, contact me.  I’ll help you find the right college experience for you.


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