Ilove learning new things, particularly when it comes to horses. I was raised on horseback by a Hungarian Calvary officer who encouraged me to explore all I could to make me a better horseman, rider, trainer and teacher. He felt there were many valuable learning experiences worth embracing, provided I understood the reasons and justifications behind any given instruction and provided it was always presented in a logical way, always encouraging the free forward movement of the horse. So, when I had the chance to audit a clinic presented by Kirsten Nelsen who describes her approach as an interesting blend of what we might modernly call a combination of “Natural Horsemanship” and “Classical” riding, I was pleased at the opportunity to attend and “sop-up” all I could!
Kirsten began by explaining (as she was invisibly working in simple halter and lead shank with Chris Cecil’s mare, Savannah, encouraging her in the direction of a learning frame of mind) that both horses and riders develop balance, whether that means emotionally, mentally or physically. She went on to say that the process is especially important when one wishes to achieve results without sacrificing the spirit of the horse. Within Kirsten’s Training for Optimal Balance this means that the horse is safe, dependable, flexible, mentally agile and moving in bio-mechanically correct balance. That defined, Kirsten then turned to Savannah as she continued to describe and demonstrate a her very positive system of maintaining positive energy and a learning frame of mind while defending her own personal space and controlling the horse’s movement. She emphasized that the simple way in which she calmly and positively does this can be the tricky part but is exactly the mix that makes or breaks the horse’s vote that identifies you as the leader.
The next step was for us to begin to grasp and understand that all horses have in common the same skeletal system, organization of muscles, organs, metabolic system and physical functions. As a result that there is one common optimum regardless of one’s breed preference or sporting interest. Further, there is one common way the horse is able to function so that it is completely supported by its form and not stressing any one part of the anatomy to the point of doing damage. Kirsten began to demonstrate this with Savannah, on long lines, helping her to find her own optimum balance, where her movement was supported by the form of what is known as “bio-mechanically correct” movement. Once Savannah began to find her place of balance, she seemed to get more and more comfortable and fluent in her movement. Kirsten calls this the horse’s reward – the horse feels that something is better stride by stride and that what one is trying to teach the horse makes movement easier, stride by stride. She went on to ride Savannah and then have Chris ride her in order that she too might feel the difference.
As I read back through my description above I am wishing that I took pictures of the before and after to bring clarity and deeper understanding to that which right now seems to be an awful lot of words! I would encourage each one of you to check out Kirsten’s website: www.wexfordfarm.com which offers a great deal more than my clumsy explanation of bio-mechanically correct foundations for horse and rider.
And, as I ponder all that I saw and learned at Kirsten’s clinic I realize that this quote from Dan Millman that she uses on her website is both a good ending and an excellent beginning!
“What is often called ‘talent’ can be developed simply and methodically by improving the basics that all athletic endeavors require – relaxation, mental focus, strength, suppleness, stamina, coordination, balance, rhythm, timing and quick reflexes.” This goes for both the horse and the human!
This sounds exactly like what my classically trained Hungarian coach and mentor might have said all those years ago; only this is in good English!
So, I thank you Kirsten for demonstrating and explaining what you say on your website “It is just so old-fashioned, so forgotten, and so elemental that it appears cutting edge.”
Lori – Pennsylvania