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Even Horse Pros Need Pros

Published: 6/7/2017
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Editor's Note: Like many NickerNews guest columnists, Juliana Zunde is interested not just in teaching but in learning. She recently participated in a Kim Walnes clinic.
Years ago, Walnes rehabilitated a difficult, spooky thoroughbred into a Rolex Three Day Event winner. Since Zunde’s horse, Maximillian, is also quite spooky, she knew she could learn from Walnes.
Read more about Zunde here.
 
Read more about Walnes here.

By Juliana Zunde

Even before I had gotten on my horse, Kim was talking to me about position, balance, and the biomechanics of horse and rider. I constantly work on this myself and stress it in the lessons I teach.

The first part of my lesson was all about putting my body in the Center Balance position: placing my leg in a better place on the stirrup iron and making myself more aware of knee placement and hip angle.

With amateurs as well as professionals, small things can get lost and bad habits can creep without someone observing from the ground. We professionals tend to get away with it more often simply because of miles and experience. But that doesn’t make it right. We all need a set of eyes on the ground in addition to the feeling we have on the horse.

I am held together by pins and screws.  I’m on my second set of titanium hip joints and have a knee replacement. Through years of physical therapy, I know that unless you do an exercise in the right position, in proper balance, and in the correct manner, you are not training the right muscles and proper habits. After putting my leg in the proper position as the base of support, Kim continued to make small changes to my lower back and hands.

The better body position, the higher hands, and a softer wrist completed the proper feel and the connection to the horse’s mouth.

My horse immediately responded to the better balance and adjusted position, engaging his hind quarters better and wanting to move into my hands in a more balanced manner.  

Though I had not felt off balance previously, the changes brought me into true balance within myself and with my horse. My leg felt stronger, my base of support deeper, my seat closer to the horse, and my hands softer.

Interestingly enough, after feeling this better balance, my old position felt much less balanced than I had thought.

Kim had an amazing eye for the smallest changes in balance and immediately corrected the wrong and reinforced the right. During the two-hour session, we managed to move from the walk, to trot, and canter. The biggest difference for me was how subtle the changes were and how my horse changed, depending on whether I was perfectly centered and balanced in my base or when I had lost it.

Over the years, I have ridden in many clinics with very good riders and competitors. I’ve learned a lot. However, Kim went right to the core of a problem many riders have: it’s what I call “Center Balanced.” If this balance is off even by a small amount, our communication with the horse becomes distorted. Instead of hearing clear commands, the horse hears a lot of chatter. It must sound to them as if a radio station isn’t tuned in properly and there is static along with the music.

Or imagine a gymnast or ballet dancer - they cannot complete movements if they are off-balance.

I'm so appreciated of having Kim's expertise and her eyes on the ground. She has made a huge difference adjusting the small things and my horses and I are better for it.

As a teacher and rider, I tend to focus more on getting the horses balanced and straight, but it really has to start with getting the rider centered and balanced before the horse can come into his own balance.

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6/8/2017 Kerry
Most excellent. I spent over a decade training and becoming certified in GYROTONIC, a training modality that teaches working from one's center in an unstable environment. When I returned to riding after a twenty year hiatus, it was amazing how much my seat, independence and balance had improved. This article highlights how powerful subtle changes can be in communication and performance. How wonderful to work with a coach with such a great eye.
6/16/2017 rocky rochlin
great article! makes so much sense and puts balance in a different frame of reference that will help me when I show tomorrow. How timely. It always amazes me how many times you can hear the same thing but sometimes when it is worded slightly different the light bulb goes off. thank you, and my horse will thank you if I can tune in the radio channel and stop the chatter

   
"It is the hardest pill for all of us would-be horsemen to swallow, but it is absolutely true - if the horse is not responding properly, we are doing something wrong" - Mary Twelveponies