I’ve known Kim since I was a teenager, she helped me a lot with my Mum’s horse Dandy who had been pulled in from the front in the extreme by someone obsessed with ‘outline’ and as a result was incredibly strong, unbalanced and most of the time just plain dangerous to ride. On the ground she was such a sweet, easy going mare, but when you were on board she was a rearing, bolting, plunging hosebeast. But when you’re that age and that’s the horse you have to ride, that’s what you do – ride it! As a result my position in the saddle suffered massively, I sat in the ’emergency brakes’ seat with my feet pushed forward, hands clamped to my thighs and whole upper body leaning back at a 45° angle. Kim kindly gave me lessons on her mare Zena, took my stirrups away and put me in a good place in the saddle. She recommended I stopped riding Dandy which of course I ignored but by giving me a better seat and position on Zena I was set up to progress with my riding and get out of the vicious circle I was trapped within. Although I didn’t make any real progress with poor Dandy, I didn’t know it at the time but Kim saved my riding. Had I gone to College with a seat like that I would never have progressed or landed my job with Robert Buck.
I moved down south to go to College and Kim moved to Selkirk and we lost touch. Years later, I had hit a wall with Chilli bringing him back into work after a tendon injury. I needed to get him forward but just couldn’t do it, I schooled him, hacked him, lunged him, jumped him, went from trainer to trainer who all said the same thing, you need to get him more forward! I was at the end of my tether with him, not that he was doing anything bad, just his quality of work had deteriorated, he had become lazy and heavy in my hand, everything was an effort. I was considering selling him having accepted that he was a ‘man’s horse’ and I just wasn’t strong enough or a good enough rider to make him preform. That’s when Kim popped back into my life, she gave me a lesson and watched me ride him. By this stage I had pretty much made up my mind that Chilli, as much as I loved him, was not the horse for me and I was going to have to sell him and let someone else do a better job. So my attitude in that lesson was not exactly great, I thought I could predict what Kim would say, “you’re not riding him forward enough, you need more leg, you need to get after him….” I was so wrong. Kim simply said, “I can help you solve this, do you want me to?” That threw me, I was hardly going to say no, so I signed up for my first Clinic weekend at Kim’s yard in Selkirk.
I arrived in Selkirk on the Friday morning (late of course) with Chilli wired to the moon and not a clue what I was going to do for three days. As I was late everyone was already in the arena doing weird leading around stuff with their horses, poking them with schooling whips and counting to eight. If I’m honest, at that point I did think ‘let me outta here, clearly Kim’s gone mental over the years!’ But out of politeness I went into the arena with Chilli who promptly tried to eat me alive, he had no clue what I wanted and neither did I. After a good 10 minutes of disrupting the class I was ready to leave, Kim stepped in and started showing me what I was meant to be doing, so I gave it another go, I dread to think what it looked like!
After lunch and having a chance to meet everyone else on the clinic, we went back into the arena and I was so happy to be told it was a 10 minute session with the in-hand and then we could mount up. Chilli’s in-hand was not much better, although I did have a clearer idea in my head what I was meant to be doing. The real revelation came when I got in the saddle – after all that in-hand stuff, which as far as I could see was completely pointless, my horse suddenly felt more like the horse I had before his tendon injury. He actually picked me up and I didn’t feel like I had a bag of sugar on the end of each rein. Could that have been just from all that faffing about trying to make him walk sideways on the ground?
My happiness to get in the saddle was short lived, as Kim put us in a group order (I was at the back, partly because I didn’t have a clue and partly because my nuisance horse kept disrupting everyone else with his silly behaviour) and we were told go down the centre line & leg yield from A to B. Now, ‘leg-yield’ to me was a pretty bad word. Yeah I could kinda move my horse sideways a little bit, but from the centre line to the long side of the arena, that seemed a little extreme. I thought it’s fine, no-one else will be able to do this either, I’ll just slide along… Oh no. they could all do it fine, and as for hiding what I was doing, I was pretty bad at that too. Made it to the long side – phew. Then she says shoulders-in! What? We just did leg-yield! Going back to the ‘Kim’s lost the plot’ theory, again everyone else could do it, just me wobbling along behind but we made it to the end, so again, phew! Glad that’s over! Oh no, counter shoulders-in along the other long side!! What!? Are you nuts? There’s got to be a law against this sort of thing. This time because I’m at the back of the ride I’m in Kim’s full view and painfully aware that my half-assed cheating is really not holding much water. “Jan” over the PA system, with the breathing noise, I now recognize this as a bad sign, “get that horse’s neck straight and move his quarters, he’s just walking along the track” Great, she noticed. But we made it all the way along the long side, I thought phew! At least that awful lateral work’s finished and I survived. Man I was wrong, down the centre line AGAIN & leg yield the other way, shoulders-in, counter shoulders-in, down the centre line, leg yield…. It was endless. By the fourth time I thought maybe I should just try and get this because trying to cheat is probably just as much hard work (sweat running down my back & purple face was a good indication). It must have been rough as, but I actually got a few steps here & there, and I knew I got them right because I could feel it! I could feel Chilli having to engage his back end, lift his back, soften his neck & get off my hands.