One of my biggest idols in riding is Kyra Kyrklund. She is a dressage rider and teacher, has written books and made videos and they have all made great sense to me. So when she came to Sweden I just had to go and watch her in real life, since you can never have too much good riding in your life.
It was a long time ago since I went to an event like this, and I had no idea what to expect. To my delight Kyra was just as great a trainer as I hoped and I really enjoyed my day watching her and trying to learn from her.
One thing I noticed from the beginning was Kyra’s eye for both horse and rider. Just by looking at an equipage she could see what needed to be done and what to begin with. She pointed out that you can only learn (or re-learn) one thing at a time. If you, for example, have both elbows and toes pointing outwards and you correct the elbows, they will stay where you want them to as long as you can focus on them. But if you also get the instruction to point your toes forward, your elbows will automatically loose their position again.
Kyra also talked about collection of the horse and how that can be different depending on the level of the horse and rider. She brought up the subject of the lengthening of the horse’s top line, which only can happen if the horse also shortens the muscles in the stomach. To help your horse to use its stomach you can use a shorter whip on the horse’s stomach. If you use the whip on its hind legs, you will only ask it to move faster.
On a less collected horse you can add more collection by moving it backwards. On some horses even this is too hard and you might need to start with just moving one leg at a time more in under the horse. The horse is supposed to stand still. If you can’t get the horse to stand still with its hind legs under it you won't succeed when it moves forward either.
If the horse thinks something is hard you should not let it walk away from it. Don’t panic when things don’t work as planned, just keep on giving the same aids until the horse understands. Or if the horse gets too stressed you can choose to do something completely different. If you change yourself and adapt to the horse you can’t help it any longer. Also remember that there should be a balance between hand and leg, not a war.
Another important thing Kyra mentioned was how important the basic work is. If the horse finds an exercise hard to perform, you should be able to break it down into its basic parts and practice those separately. When they all work you can put them together again and hopefully the horse will find the exercise easier.
Kyra talked a lot about the rider's seat and I got some valuable tips. One addressed putting too much weight on the outside when riding on a circle. This pushes the horse further out on the circle, and forces the rider to use more and more aids to get the horse to move on the planned track. You can feel this if you feel one seat bone more than the other. To put your weight more in the middle you can look at the horse’s tail in the direction you put the most weight at. When looking where you’re going you don’t need to turn your head or whole body as that will change where your weight is placed on the horse. The best thing is to only look with your eyes. Concerning the rider’s legs, their contact with the horse should be elastic, like a spring. You should never add constant pressure. The legs should move vibrantly towards the horse, and only be used when needed.
Another interesting thing was Kyra’s focus on the rider's hand. The contact with the horse’s mouth should always be soft. It begins in the softly bent elbow and moves through the arm, wrist, hand and rein to the horse’s mouth, all which should be flexible. Kyra told several riders to pat the horse on the neck - not because the horse necessarily likes it, but because it’s impossible to pull the rein when you pat the horse’s neck. She also recommended riding with a neck strap, even for experienced riders, to get a more steady, non-backwards-moving hand. The horses used to demonstrate liked this, and it’s also a good way to get the horse to lift it’s front a bit more. If you don’t have a neck strap, a noseband in the front rings on the saddle works just as fine for keeping the hands still. Just hold the neck strap in the hand of the horse’s stronger side. Another great thing with the neck strap is that the rider can use it to learn to sit relaxed in the saddle, instead of trying to force oneself down, which would result in tension and loss of balance. As Kyra said, "It's not so hard to ride, just relax your buttocks, press your anal ring down and sit on it".
And on the subject of sitting in the saddle, Kyra said that all riders struggle with three things: half halts, collection and sitting comfortably. The trick is to bounce in the pace you want the horse to go and instead of using your reins or legs to change the pace, you just bounce quicker or more slowly. The same effect can be seen in rising trot, if you rise quicker or slower.
If you’re using a whip in canter, you should have the whip on the outer rein. If you use it on the inner side it encourages the horse to either change the rein or put it's inner leg into the ground too hard. In the canter the outer leg gives energy and the inner leg changes the rein.
Kyra was really interesting to watch and learn from. It was exactly the motivation I needed, and I can’t wait to test some of the things Kyra talked about. Kyra is fun to listen to and adds a lot of humour to her teaching.