Tales, Tips and Take-Aways From a Serial Clinic Organizer

Bill Warren and George Williams at the VADA Symposium

By Sheli King

I am a very active member of both my GMO, serving as the vice president of the Virginia Dressage Association (VADA), and of my local chapter, as a longtime member of the Northern Virginia’s Chapter (VADA/Nova or VN) Board of Directors.  I also love education.  I would have thought that my training as an attorney and, in retirement as a technical delegate, might have filled my quotient on that front, but instead, it seems only to have whet my appetite for more.  Add to the mix, my time spent on the USDF Adult Programs Committee helping to roll out the GMO Education Initiative.  So here I am, taking a deep breath after having organized both a large symposium for VADA and serving as co-organizer of a Dressage Camp for VADA/Nova in the span of just over one month!


VADA runs 2 large licensed shows a year, a schooling show “Chapter Challenge” that rotates around the state, and we also aim every other year to host a clinic or other educational event.  We got slightly off schedule on the latter, so we decided we would make our next event a really big symposium and hold it in, yup, you guessed it, 2020.  VN had hosted a very popular dressage camp for a number of years a while back and then, for some reason, that fell off our calendar.  One of our board members, who had attended and helped to organize our previous camps, was determined to bring it back, so that too was scheduled for 2020.  Of course, the year had other plans for all of us, so both activities were rescheduled for 2021 and I found myself as the primary or co-organizer of both activities.  VADA presented a very exciting and successful symposium, “Discover Your Potential by Building a Solid Foundation”, with George Williams and Bill Warren in June, and VN hosted an action packed two-and-a-half-day camp at the end of July, with clinicians Debbie Rodriguez and Jim Koford. Having had a little time to catch my breath and reflect on both events, here are my key take-aways.

VADA NOVA Clinic CoOrganizer Mary Callan

Look for opportunities: Educational events can be very expensive to run, but help is out there.  As you begin your planning, search for partners, financial assistance in the form of grants and sponsors, and local talent.  The USDF GMO Educational Initiative has a grant program that makes up to $1,000 available per year to each GMO or chapter for a variety of educational events, including traditional riding clinics, Ride-A-Test events, and camps.  A detailed description of the requirements for each, as well as step-by-step guidance, can be found at https://www.usdf.org/education/gmoei.asp, and the USDF staff is always available to help answer questions and walk you through the process.  Grants are also available through The Dressage Foundation (https://www.dressagefoundation.org/) and other local opportunities may exist.   For example, in our case, a beautiful new facility in the state, Stave Mill Farm, offered to co-host the symposium with VADA, which proved to be a wonderful partnership. And for the camp we were able to utilize grant money our GMO makes available to its chapters to keep costs under control. Thinking of an unmounted session to enhance your event?  We were able to find a local yoga instructor who conducted a session for riders and auditors at the symposium, in exchange for being able to audit.

Delegate: As is the case with most dressage riders, I am a bit of a control freak with a Type A personality.  Admitting I need help, and accepting it when offered, are learned skills that I am still working to improve.  But, it is amazing how much easier the job becomes when broken into small pieces that can easily be shared by multiple people.  As the organizer, make sure you develop an action plan of what needs to get done, when it needs to be done, and then find responsible people to take on some of the delegable tasks.  Don’t underestimate the work or overestimate how much one person can do alone – even something as simple as asking someone to stop for ice on their way to the event can significantly lighten your load.  Then, reduce your anxiety level by checking in with your volunteers prior to the event, to make sure everyone knows what they need to do and that they have all the tools they need to get it done.

VADA Symposium
VADA Symposium

Let go and chill: This tip is an off-shoot of delegating.  I am not comfortable unless I have a pretty detailed idea of how each activity I am involved in is going to unfold.  Others thrive with a more laid back, go with the flow approach and, throughout the planning process, I learned to appreciate styles other than my own. A perfect example of this was the planning of an evening activity at our camp.  We had spoken to both clinicians about doing some sort of evening presentation, but never developed a firm plan.  My co-organizer, who is a Grand Prix rider, decided to bring her horse along to the camp so she could ride him during some of the down time.  She then spoke to Debbie and Jim about “maybe doing something on freestyles.”  I took a deep breath and forced myself to accept this more relaxed approach to planning and, in the end, the event could not have come off any better.  Debbie started the evening by going over some of the rules, what the judges are looking for, and mistakes to avoid.  Jim added his personal perspective, as a competitor who is well known for his award-winning, crowd-pleasing freestyles. Then, our co-organizer rode her Grand Prix Freestyle to demonstrate many of the points Debbie and Jim had made and an enjoyable, and informative time was had by all.

Persist: Educational events can be time-consuming, difficult, and sometimes even frustrating to organize.  But, if you have a vision, fight to make it happen.  Bringing back the VADA/Nova dressage camp was the vision of one person, who remembering the wonderful experiences she enjoyed and friendships she made at our prior camps, would not let go until she made the camp this year a reality.  Both events were tabled for a year, but that just gave us more motivation to see them to fruition.  Even finding a way to get lunches delivered to the symposium – 30 minutes from “civilization”, down winding mountain roads, happened because the person I spoke to at my last best hope said I sounded desperate – which was actually pretty accurate! As frustrating as the process may seem at the time, I can assure you that the end result will be worth the effort!

Leave a Reply