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Deb Teaching NZ Barbara Utech SM.jpg

Here I am  leading a Horsemanship Improvement Clinic in North Island, New Zealand in 2008 (Photo by Barbara Utrecht).

Yvonne on Doc Drum ADJ1 SM.jpg

Longtime clinic sponsor, student, and friend Yvonne Miller with Doc up on the drum. Yvonne and I were both attending a clinic led by Tom Dorrance that day. Yvonne is a farrier and horsemanship instructor in her own right (Photo by Carl Miller).

Chris and Barb yellow horses on drum SM.

Chris Ryan and Barb Maxwell became my students in 1988. Here they are with two of their palomino Missouri Foxtrotters.

These days they are into breeding Lusitanos.

Jenny Paterson rollback SM.jpg

My good friend and longtime clinic sponsor in New Zealand, Jeny Paterson. Here she's executing a rollback on her talented 9 year old Quarter Horse mare. This is the horse my fellow clinician Buck Brannaman rides when he teaches our students there.

Dr Deb dentistry class ca 1998 SM.jpg

The classroom segments of my Horsemanship Improvement Clinics are just as important as the riding and handling sessions. In the classroom we learn "How Horses Work" in terms of anatomy, conformation, biomechanics, and history. Lectures on Straightness, Collection, and Birdie Theory are a planned part of all clinics.

Students Joanne Scholfield trot down y r

I'm proud of each and every one of my students who is willing

to heed directions and advice and then practice (while having fun). Here New Zealand student Joanne Scholfield "shows

the horse the way to the ground", an exercise she learned in clinic. Encouraging the horse to go freely forward is a basic tenet of our school.

Students Judy Bracey y Colt rolling ball

Here is New Zealand student Judy Bracey on the same colt,

having a bit of fun rolling the ball with his nose. Rolling the

ball is a way to help a horse get brave before he's introduced

to cattle. Plus it engages the most important parts of the horse

-- his spirit, emotions, and mental abilities. AND it's also, of ourse, just plain fun.

Students Joanne Scholfield Toby SpaniWal

Here's Joanne again with her very handsome and good-moving Clydesdale X TB gelding, Toby (whom I always call "Sox" in clinic). Looks like they're doing a bit of costumed riding -- maybe for "The Lord of the Rings"??

Students Judy Bracey Pony Sitting Up SM.

I know that I have succeeded as a teacher when one of my students takes training principles learned in clinic and then goes home and uses them to teach a horse something that we did not work on "as such" in the clinic. This is one of Judy Bracey's ponies which she has taught to lie down upon request, and then pause and wait upon the request "whoa" at that part of the natural rising sequence which is the act of sitting up. Judy's pony waits until she can whip the old cell phone out and snap the picture. When Judy steps backward and pulls the "Thread", the pony will complete the rising sequence and stand up.

My Horsemanship Improvement Clinics are structured around the three components represented by the buttons below. Click to learn more about each one.




A Personal Message toYou from Dr. Deb


There's a reason why my horsemanship events include the word "improvement". If you read my message under the "About Dr. Deb" button, you know that I spent many years learning how to ride and handle horses, and that I learned from plenty of mistakes made along the way. Everyone, including me, has to live and learn. The overall goal is improvement, and if you hang in there long enough, that may culminate in excellence and even mastery. Mastery is my own quest, and I hope it's also yours.


Any adult 18 years or older can ride in my events. To ride, you must own your own horse or be able to borrow or lease one for purposes of participation. With rare exceptions, my events do not include "colt-starting". I may, however, be able to accommodate your young horse or a troubled horse that needs re-starting, i.e. problems with bitting, girthiness, pulling back, kicking at the leg, bashing into the handler, barn or herd-sour, etc. These horses often are unable to participate in group rides, and depending upon the particular situation, I will schedule these rider-horse teams for private time (private time costs more, and if we have a lot of other riders, may have to occur on a weekday rather than the weekend).


To get the MOST out of your clinic participation, I strongly suggest that you bring your best and most reliable horse -- a horse that you don' t have to "babysit". Good old broke-silly buddy horses are the closest we can get to "school horses". Mounted on a horse of this kind, you will have the maximum opportunity -- especially the first few times that you ride with me -- to learn new techniques and approaches and put your skillset together. You will then be able to take your new knowledge and abilities home with you and apply them to your more troubled horses. I will continue to support you after our clinic ends when you to write in to the Forum with questions and to report on your progress.

I can accommodate up to 20 riders at any one Horsemanship Improvement Clinic.


I myself usually do not sign up to ride with any instructor whom I have not first observed, so spectators are always welcome at my events: I want you to "vet" me by observing and asking questions. There is no snob factor, so spectators are treated exactly the same as riders. Riders are required to attend all the classroom lecture sessions which are an integral part of my clinic structure; spectators are welcome and encouraged to attend. Riders are required to attend on all the days scheduled for the event; spectators are encouraged to come every day, also. All riders receive a handout-workbook packet, and all spectators who make reservations ahead of time will receive the same packet.

Any number of spectators may attend a given event, up to the limit permitted by the facility, the organizer, and the Fire Marshall.


Minors are welcome as spectators, although parents, if you bring small children you must closely supervise them or else be asked to leave. I normally do not permit anyone younger than 18 to enroll as a rider, although the parents of a very mature teenager are welcome to Email me (see contact page) to explain circumstances and ask permission.


I don't care what kind of hat you wear, or what cut of saddle you prefer -- in other words, you can ride "western" or "english" or "Aussie" or "Vaquero" or any other traditional style. You can have a trotter or a gaited horse, and I positively enjoy seeing a variety of breeds and types. Either mules or horses are welcome so long as they are within the proper weight range (700 to 1500 lbs., see below).

There are some things to note:

( 1 ) You cannot ride in any type of halter. A halter is NOT a "natural hackamore" (there is no such thing). Your horse must be tacked in either a snaffle or else a flat-leather hackamore, i.e. what in English riding is called a "jumping hackamore" and in western riding is called a "sidepull". PREFERENCE is that sidepulls have a leather rather than a rope noseband. FORBIDDEN are mechanical hackamores, i.e. those that have metal shanks. FORBIDDEN are the "Dr. so-and-so" crisscross noseband contraptions in which the reins run through leather tubes. PREFERENCE is that you ride in a snaffle rather than either a shanked bit or a Mexican bosal. "McCarthy" (Mecate) reins with snaffle, bit hobble, and slobber straps are fine. FORBIDDEN are bosals with cable cores; if you ride in bosal, it must have a rawhide core. If you have questions about bitting or headgear and are considering riding in one of my clinics, please contact our office (see contact page).

( 2 ) You cannot use ancillary straps or reins of any kind. This would include: tiedown, standing martingale, running martingale, draw reins, German reins, side reins, bitting rig, deGogue, Pessoa rig, etc. If you think your horse "needs" these devices because he's high-headed, bring him to the clinic and I promise that before you go home, neither you nor your horse will ever again "need" any such device. Please note that if you have been riding in a running martingale/training fork, I will not require you -- or even permit you -- to get on your horse in plain snaffle until it is safe to do so.

( 3 ) You cannot ride bareback, or in a bareback pad. You must have a saddle. If you've been having trouble finding a saddle that fits your horse, bring what fits best (even if it's not perfect) and we'll discuss it and possibly modify it during the clinic. Please note that we will gladly refund all or part of your entry/clinic fees if it turns out that you elect not to ride due to saddle fit issues.

To participate as a rider, you will need: saddle, pad, girth, stirrups, and bridle + snaffle or else flat-leather hackamore/sidepull and reins. For ground handling you'll need a rope halter + a lead rope that is at least 12 ft. long, or else a standard English longe line (PREFER heavyweight cotton). Horses in rope halters PREFER that lead rope be tied onto the halter rather than attached with a bull snap.Horses in English equipment may be longed off a standard flat-web halter but PREFERENCE is toward a well-fitted cavesson.


A Buck Brannaman-type, quality flag is OK for ground schooling. Dressage whips are forbidden, although you may bring a dressage whip (or any other fairly stiff stick of about the same length) that has been modified by impaling a 1.5-inch styrofoam ball upon the end. Longeing whip is OK to bring although we probably will not need to use it.


Stallions are forbidden in our group rides until they have proven themselves to be safe around any and all other classes of equine, i.e. mares, juvenile horses, geldings and other stallions; AND you have proven yourself a competent and knowledgeable stallion handler. This means that your initial clinics with your stallion must be private instruction, and may also require that a roundpen or small pen be available. If you want to attend a Horsemanship Improvement Clinic with a stallion, please write to our office to discuss (see contact page).


Draft horses are forbidden, not because I dislike them but because Horsemanship Improvement Clinics are for horses suitable for riding. No horse weighing over 1500 lbs. is suitable for riding.


Miniature ponies are forbidden for the same reason as above -- they are not suitable for riding. However, if you want to learn how to free-school one or more small ponies, or learn how to teach your small pony what are "called" tricks, or you have mannering issues with your pony, you are welcome. Please contact the office to discuss (see Contact page).


I do not require helmets or hard hats to ride in my clinics unless someone wants to work on jumping. However, the insurance for some venues requires riding helmets for all riders at all times. The event organizer will put this information into your enrollment packet.



I am not a circus, and therefore, I do not employ a promoter to come into town ahead of my arrival and hang up posters to drum up business. I do not arrive in a semi-trailer truck loaded with rope halters and other stuff which I tell participants they have to buy. I do not even arrive in a horse trailer -- it's very rare that I get to teach off the back of one of my own horses. My clinics are organized by people who volunteer to do it. I also, by the way, do not expect organizers to work for free (see "Sponsoring Dr. Deb"). Organizers are permitted to do local advertising and to collect downpayments and other fees. We also run notice of upcoming events in the Forum at this website and (sometimes) in The Eclectic Horseman magazine.


My events consist of two equally important parts:

( 1 ) Riding and/or handling a live horse. Every rider receives 3 hours per day of direct hands-on/under saddle instruction, and an additional 3-hour opportunity to observe other riders being instructed. Work with the live horse may include (depending upon participant needs and available equipment), conformation and/or soundness assessment, advice on farriery, dental care, or other management issues that impact the horse's willingness or ability to perform, roundpenning, free schooling, longeing, tacking up at liberty, work on halter lead/short rein, mounting and dismounting, work with cavalletti or drum/platform, work on so-called "tricks", and riding. "Riding" includes work on seat and position, learning figures and maneuvers, suppling techniques, perfecting timing and transitions, and troubleshooting/problem-solving.

( 2 ) Classroom instruction. Every rider and spectator receives about 2 hrs. per day of classroom instruction, usually in the form of PowerPoint presentations but sometimes with a horse skeleton (depending whether one is available). Clinics include lectures on Birdie Theory and the Thread, Straightness, and Roundness/Collection -- topics which I consider essential. Beyond that there may be time to delve into conformation/form-to-function, orthopedic and biomechanical principles that govern hoof trimming, skeletal anatomy, equine dentistry, classical riding, the history of horse breeds, and more. Your questions concerning problems with your particular horse, and suggestions for discussion topics are always welcome.


Clinic duration: If you live far enough away that I have to fly to you, the minimum clinic duration is three days, often Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Events can also be scheduled for longer stretches; see "Sponsoring Dr. Deb".

Clinic scheduling: Click on the "Sponsoring Dr. Deb" button to find how you can schedule me in your area and available dates.

Clinic start time is 9 a.m. daily. Depending upon the facility, participant needs, and the season of the year, we end about 6 p.m.

Riders will be divided into two groups, "A" and "B". The "A" group will be in the arena with their horses from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The "B" group then comes in and goes from 10:30 a.m. to noon. This pattern is repeated in the afternoon, with the "A" group going from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., followed by the "B" group from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Please note these times are approximate; circumstances may dictate adjustments.

Between noon and about 12:30 daily, we have lunch. Organizers usually provide catered lunches on-site, because I don't want people straying far or wasting a lot of time going out to get lunch. Sometimes people are asked to bring a bag lunch.

Between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. each day, we have our classroom lecture session.

In the evening of at least one of the clinic days, we almost always also have a group dinner at some local restaurant or sometimes a BBQ at the venue or a private home. These get-togethers are a lot of fun and provide a relaxed atmosphere where you can ask questions and participate in discussion with me and other students.



I am no longer young, so expect me to teach from a chair or else demonstrate with my hands on your horse. I rarely ride participants' horses, so come expecting to ride your own animal. You should feel confident riding in a group situation at walk and trot on whatever horse you decide to bring. If you don't, you'll either have to make arrangements for private time, or else bring a different horse.




Good and experienced horsemen have often been overheard to comment, "Geez, there oughtta be a license." In other words -- most instructors of all schools and persuasions have seen people who take such a wrong approach with their animal that the situation becomes dangerous and essentially amounts to abuse. Rarely does this mean that the person making the mistake is bad-hearted; much more often, it's due to the fact that the person simply doesn't know (or can't imagine) a better way. 

Ray Hunt used to say, "the thing you learned last was probably the thing you needed to learn first" and that bit of wry humor certainly resonates with me. In fact, I regard it as THE greatest problem faced by every beginner: where do you start? How do you decide what instructor to work with? What clinic should you go to?

Consider the following thoughts:

Who is the person most in need of reliable, quality instruction? The beginner, of course.

Who is the person least able to tell when the advice they are receiving is good? Also, the beginner !

So how do you decide? As the old man once said -- mistakes are due to bad judgement, and bad judgement is due to lack of experience. The only way that anyone learns is by making mistakes -- missed opportunities and wrong choices. "Man that never made a mistake never done nothin' anyway," Ray used to say.

So -- smile and go at it. I recommend George Leonard's little book entitled "Mastery", in which he observes that  you should examine the credentials and experience of any instructor before signing on. But once you've determined to the best of your ability that the instructor is qualified, you then owe that instructor respect in the form of obedience. In short, you show up not in the frame of mind where you question the "rightness" of anything the instructor asks you to do, but instead you come intending to give whatever is suggested a 100% try each and every time. ONLY WHEN YOU'VE DONE THAT will it be time to ask questions or start a discussion, and my clinics provide plenty of space for that.


In asking you to follow my direction, I promise that my clinics are safe -- in 30 years of teaching horsemanship, I've never had a student get seriously hurt. I will never deliberately get you or your horse into trouble and I am very good at preventing you from getting into trouble. You bring your horse and yourself to the clinic, and I'll work with you "from where you're at".

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