At Anne Kursinksi’s recent Market Street Clinic I was offered the opportunity for a quick interview with Anne. I was nervous, so as I sat down on the couch with Anne I took a deep breath, exhaled, and hoped for the best. Luckily, Anne is a very gracious interview subject. She’s warm and open and honestly puts a lot of thought into answering questions. We only had a few minutes before she needed to start with the next group, so I tried to keep the questions brief.
As most of us at HJU are amateurs, I asked Anne what she feels are the two biggest issues she feels amateurs need to work on and what exercises she would suggest to help address them. Anne thought for a bit, and then answered, “The hands.” She went on to say that many riders have very busy, overly controlling hands, whether they are see-sawing on the mouth or over-using the inside rein. This was not an unexpected comment, as Anne had been stressing the importance of legs, seat, eyes, and body control during the clinic, and telling the riders to stop over-using their hands.
Anne’s favorite fix for this is to tie a knot in the reins, about halfway up the horse’s neck. This makes it impossible to have busy hands, and forces the rider to be lighter and more elastic with their arms. It also forces you to ride more off your leg, seat, and eye, in effect riding the horse from back to front instead of front to back. I’ve been practicing this and let me tell you, it’s a game changer. I thought I used my leg aids pretty effectively, but found out pretty quickly I wasn’t! I knotted my reins, trotted, tried to do a 10m circle and failed utterly. Poor ol’ Sug had virtually no clue what I was asking her, because when I tried to use my reins I wound up pulling her out, not turning her in.
Once I stopped trying to use the reins and concentrated on using my legs, seat, and eyes things improved drastically. I repeated the exercise in canter, and then upped the difficulty level by trying it in two point and ultimately while on a circle over a flower box. Every time I tried to use my hands, things went pear-shaped. Every time I kept my hands still and poised over her neck and concentrated on keeping my outside leg long and back on her and my inside leg on the girth while using my eyes to look through the turn…Voila! Success!
Anne is a big proponent of the American Forward System of Riding, and the next suggestion she offered for ammies was to ride more in a two point. Riding in a two point will help a rider become lighter, both on the horse’s back and lighter through the arms. She says the riding in a point will strengthen a rider’s core, and stay more in balance as they deepen their heels and balance over their feet. The beauty of the two point, according to Anne, is that a rider is already in the position to jump. The rider is not flailing around, trying vainly to catch up, and distracting the horse from its job. Another aspect of the two point is that riding in the two point helps build core strength, which is crucial in maintaining balance and effectiveness in the tack.
Anne also spoke a lot about Visualization during the clinic. I was a collegiate swimmer and our coach used to have us visualize our swim in our mind, from racing start to flip turns to finish. What Anne was talking about sounded different from that, different from visualizing your show jumping course or dressage test or cross country ride, so I asked her about it. To Anne, Visualization is picturing in her mind how she wants the horse to go. She says it’s a sense of what she wants to accomplish, like seeing in her mind’s eye how the shoulder in she’s asking the horse for should go. In other words, it’s the belief that the horse can and will do what you are asking for.
From what Anne was saying, it sounded like Visualization and Feeling are connected. Whenever we ride, we are carrying on a conversation with the horse, or we should be. We are talking with our aids, and the horse is talking with his ears, eyes, and body language. It seemed to me that what Anne was saying is that Visualization is seeing in your mind a successful shoulder in and believing that the horse will give you a successful shoulder in, and Feeling is the ability to understand what you are communicating to the horse, what he is communicating to you, and the ability to adjust your aids based on the feedback the horse provides.
Listening to Anne talk about riding and horsemanship is fascinating. On one hand, what she teaches is simple, straightforward and follows a logical progression. On the other hand, there is a part of what she talks about that is somewhat zen-like. Listening to Anne, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story about a seagull’s search for enlightenment as achieved through perfecting his ability to fly.
Jonathan starts out life as a different kind of seagull in that his sole concern is not the mundane act of searching for food. He has a passion for flight, and by striving to perfect his ability to fly he transcends the ordinary and ascends to a higher level of being. As he improves, Jonathan finds himself with others who share his passion, and the passion for their craft raises their practice to an almost meditational level. By the end of the book Jonathan has become a teacher, and by passing on what he has learned he become a fully actualized being, has reached the equivalent of enlightenment, or perfection.
I may be going off on a philosophical tangent, but it seemed to me that what Anne was getting at was that many riders are comfortable with a very basic level of understanding when it comes to riding and horsemanship and rarely achieve more than a minimal level of communication with the horse. Others seek to raise their experience to a higher level, and strive to perfect their skills. Lastly, there are those that take their equestrian passion to a level where it is not just perfecting a set of skills, but a deep and abiding respect for another being, creating a harmonious partnership and open exchange of communication. Anne fits in the last category, and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from her.
If you’d like the opportunity to learn from Anne, you might want to consider adding her book to your library: Anne Kursinski’s Riding and Jumping Clinic: A Step-by-Step Course for Winning in the Hunter and Jumper Rings. I have a copy, and have found it to be an easy to read, easy to understand, step by step guide to improving your riding and your communication with your horse. If you’d like to ride with Anne, either by setting up a clinic, participating in a clinic, or by taking a lesson, you can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, be sure to save the dates for the 2014 Market Street Clinic – November 14th, 15th, and 16th, 2014. Hope to see you there!