I first met Kim Walnes when I had just graduated from engineering school. A friend told me she saw an interesting looking clinician on the list of clinicians for the Hoosier Horse Fair. The next day, I looked the clinician up and began to learn the incredible story of Kim Walnes. I was an aspiring, competitive event rider at the time, so her story of overcoming all odds to compete and win at the highest levels of eventing with her legendary horse, The Gray Goose, made it impossible for me to resist signing up to ride with her.
I was both excited and nervous about the clinic. I had never ridden at a venue like a horse expo before and also didn’t know anything about Kim other than what I had read on her website. I was lucky to have my incredible horse, Dart, who handled the chaotic environment at the Hoosier Horse Fair extremely well.
I will never forget the first time I saw Kim. She was doing Tai Chi in one of the tack stalls next to Dart’s stall in preparation for her presentation that day. This struck me as extremely unusual at that time in my life.
I attended Kim’s first unmounted presentation and was completely enthralled and inspired as she told her story. Kim then began teaching some unmounted exercises where she taught riders how to improve their position, feel, and how to center themselves. She emphasized the importance of the rider’s balance and posture. She gave me tools to help me address the issues she noticed with my posture and balance and insisted I stay aware and practice all weekend. This was the first time I had ever had an instructor who put so much emphasis on the minute details of balance and position as well as the first time I had experienced an instructor who could teach “feel.” AND...she did all of this without a horse present! I left her first presentation inspired and with a completely new perspective.
After Kim’s first presentation I had a few hours until it would be time to ride with her. I wandered around the Horse Fair processing all Kim had taught during her unmounted presentation and practiced the exercises she gave me to improve my balance and posture before heading back to Dart’s stall.
Dart is such a saint. So much chaos going on around him at the Horse Fair and things he had certainly never seen or heard, but he acted like he had seen it all a million times. He is truly the best horse I ever could have asked for to begin my riding career.
Dart and I worked our way through crowds of people as we made our way to the arena where we would have our first lesson with Kim.
When Kim arrived I was surprised the first thing she did was evaluate my tack. She checked the fit of everything and asked Dart how he felt about the bit he was wearing—it was a basic, eggbutt snaffle. She looked at him for a minute and then felt the bit in his mouth and said he seemed content with this bit...I was puzzled, but glad to hear that was her conclusion.
I had shown up with typical Eventing gear which included a figure-eight noseband and spurs. She asked me if there was a reason behind those choices. I told her Dart tended to be sluggish, so I used the spurs to help get him more forward. She suggested we try the lesson without them as she would be teaching me some new ways to help Dart stay more forward, so I removed my spurs.
I didn’t have any reason for the figure-eight noseband other than I thought it looked nice and it was a trendy thing for eventers, so I told her I didn’t have any specific reason for the figure-eight noseband. She didn’t say anything, but she had already made sure it wasn’t tight. What she did in that moment without saying anything was plant a seed that made me begin questioning my equipment choices from that point forward.
This moment seemed insignificant at the time, but I now realize it was this moment that began shifting the way I thought about and approached my work with horses.
After she had checked Dart over a bit more she gave me permission to go ahead mount.
Once I had mounted Dart, Kim asked me to come over to her. From there we began what she called, “Running the Loop.”
She started at my feet and had me work through various exercises with every part of my body all the way up to my head. She was not only focused on helping me find the correct position of my body, but helping me find the correct feeling within the position. She spent as much time as needed with each body part until she was certain I had found the correct position and feeling.
By the time we made it to the top of my head, finishing the loop, the work we had done with my feet had gone back to old habits. Kim told me this is very normal and is in fact precisely why she calls it a “loop.” She explained to create new habits and retrain my body I would have to run this loop frequently and be patient with myself.
This was the first time I had ever had an instructor go into so much depth in regards to the rider’s position.
What was most amazing to me was the way Dart responded to the changes in my position. He immediately felt more balanced and more forward. It was this moment that began to open my eyes to how the most subtle shifts in the rider affect the horse.
When the lesson concluded Kim suggested we practice an unmounted exercise she wanted to dem