Connecting…with Kim Andersen
By Cara Moser
Nathaly and Christopher Jones hosted a riding clinic for Icelandic horse owners near their Abbotsford, BC farm in early March.
Kim Andersen is Danish by birth but has lived in Iceland for the last 10 years. He has been riding and training Icelandic horses exclusively since he was 15 years old. I first
became aware of Kim at the Breed Evaluation that was held last year near Vernon, B.C. Although I didn’t catch his name at the time, I was impressed with his horsemanship, his riding skills, and his willingness to help out everyone at that event. When I signed up to audit the clinic advertized by Nathaly, I hadn’t put Kim’s name and identity together. I was very pleased to see who our instructor was to be for the three day clinic near Abbotsford, B.C. last week.
The general approach Kim offered to riders was to talk to them about problems they might be having with their horses and watch them ride. After assessing the pair, he would offer suggestions. He then took the horse to demonstrate solutions before reuniting horse and rider and coaching the pair further. That this was a successful approach was evident by the improvement each pair showed through the individual lessons, as well as over the course of the clinic. In every case, Kim emphasized three things: the rider needs to be relaxed; there must be connection between the horse and rider to enable the horse to work comfortably; and riding must be fun!
In Kim’s teaching, connection means making contact through the horse’s mouth in a manner that encourages the horse to relax at the poll. This is coupled with using the position of the upper body to influence the speed of the horse and to maintain the rein connection. It sounds simple, and looks easy when Kim rides. In his hands, the horse would relax, dropping its head into a comfortable carriage that allowed its back to lift and be supple. Exercises to increase lateral flexibility followed. Correct gaits developed as a result. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish good horsemanship from magic. This was one of those times.
Most people taking part in the clinic were pleasure riders form various backgrounds and with varying levels of experience. Some were new to riding. Some had changed from Western riding or high level jumping backgrounds to Icelandics and so were new to gaited horses. One person had a history of an accident while riding that caused considerable fear about returning to the sport. Regardless, Kim quickly assessed each rider’s level of understanding and tailored lessons to address specific issues.
As we horse folk should know by now, there is little distinction between “rider problems” and “horse problems”. Each member of the team influences the other and improving one part can only improve the efforts of the pair. Kim has a great ability to identify where riders and horses are blocking one another’s efforts. For example, one horse had been taught that speed was of primary importance. This mount wanted to rush every gait and get on with things. Kim was able to show the rider how to connect softly and comfortably with this horse. The result was a more confident ride for both partners, without sacrificing the forwardness of the horse. Another young horse had little early experience with people and still harbored some fears. Using the round pen for ground work, Kim was able to help the horse gain confidence and willingness to follow a human leader. As well, tasks could be introduced without a rider so the horse could learn to carry itself better alone before working under saddle. It was a delight to watch this lovely horse learn to relax and bond more deeply with its owner. The owner, in turn, developed confidence in communicating clearly with the horse to continue teaching new tasks.
Riding horses are what they are made. One lovely patient gelding had previously been ridden in a high-headed, hollow backed manner. His current owner, new to gaited horses, had been disappointed by lack of tolt in this horse. By teaching both partners a different connection, and encouraging the horse to drop his head and flex at the poll, the team made great progress over the course of the event. By the third day, they were beginning to tolt together and the horse’s neck appeared longer as he was able to stretch and use
Muscles more comfortably.
Many of the horses presented at the clinic tended to be pacey. They showed a range of flexibility, or lack of it, that Kim approached by having the horse circle the outside of the round pen. By first connecting the horse and rider to allow the poll to flex, then asking for lateral flexion by bending around the curve of the pen, tight horses gradually began to loosen. All showed marked improvement in their gaits through the three days.
The importance of good saddling was a recurring topic. Placement of the saddle was discussed often: far enough back to free up the shoulders but not so far back that undue weight was placed behind the ribs. We’ve all read about this, but seeing several horses tacked up repeatedly helped make the concept clear. Also, saddle fit was addressed. Kim chose to ride one horse bareback to demonstrate the effect that the forward seat saddle was having on his gaits. Again, magic! The horse moved so much more freely without tack to interfere. This set off a series of test rides in various saddles so that the owner could get a feel for what was needed to help the horse move comfortably.
All of this activity took place in a friendly and welcoming environment. Those of us who had not signed up to ride were happy to cheer the progress of the riders. It was awesome to be able to see the changes that took place. We auditors were encouraged to come into the ring, to sit beside the round pen if a horse was being worked inside, to stand beside Kim and see the interactions between horse and rider as the lessons progressed. Some of the ladies attending brought food to the event and we would return to Nathaly and Christopher’s home to chow down at meal times. Sitting down to eat didn’t stop the flow of ideas, however.
All horse-rider pairs showed marked improvement as the clinic progressed. Higher level horses worked in better harmony with more liveliness and expression in their gaits. All teams developed confidence and began demonstrated some beautiful movement. Horses outlines changed and with that came improvement of gaits.
And yes, even I rode eventually. With Chanel Jones’s encouragement, I got on Sola the last day. I began inside the round pen as I am not a bold rider. But we made it out into the arena and I was able to take home the feeling of connection to apply to my own horse.
It is a happy situation when an instructor not only possesses knowledge and the ability to apply it, but also has the gift of teaching. Kim is such a person, and we are all the richer in our ability to work with our wonderful Icelandics for having had his assistance. If the measure of a successful riding instructor is the size of the smiles on the riders’ faces as they leave the arena, Kim is highly successful.
Don’t worry if you were unable to attend this clinic. Plans are in place to have Kim return in June. Stay tuned for more and better connection with Kim Andersen!