SALLY FOX/For the County News
Kathleen Lindley helping Tom Draper tune his timing skills on when to reward his horse.
‘Left,’ ‘right,’ ‘stop,’ ‘go’ – timing is everything
Part of what I love about writing this column is that, in the interest of having something to share with its readers, I find myself enticed to do things from time to time that draw me outside my immediate world.
One thing about horse people is that once we gain a certain level of expertise we have a tendency to think we know everything. Perhaps that is one of those universal truths that applies to fields of interest, no matter what your background, career, or hobby may be.
I took advantage of the opportunity last weekend to audit a small portion of the Kathleen Lindley clinic at Susan Kelley’s Big House Stables in Geneseo. Prior to mentioning the upcoming clinic a couple weeks ago in this column, I had never heard about this person.
Still, respecting Kelley’s background and commitment to providing top-notch instruction and clinics, I was confident that anything offered there would be well worth checking out.
Given my second paragraph statement, I admit to having just the a tiniest bit of…shall we call it…oh let’s not say arrogance. How about…confidence that I had little to learn.
Indeed, I did not hear or see anything that was a sea change. The planets did not realign. No asteroids shot across the sky of my universe.
Here’s the deal: some things we need to hear over and over again, perhaps in different words, phrased a bit differently, or coming at a concept from a slightly different angle, for them to finally sink in and be fully understood after the umpteenth time.
One thing I loved about Lindley’s approach was the way she asked questions. “What do you want to look at?” “How does that feel?”
The essence of her message was that communication is the key. (Duh – there’s that Life Lessons thing!)
Her primary focus, regardless of horse breed, rider experience, or type of equipment, was to help people improve their feel, timing, and communication with their horses, whether mounted, driving, or on the ground. The big challenge is fine-tuning the timing on when to release pressure or hold on the horse’s mouth as a reward for his doing what you want.
Lindley urged people to “Think about what you are actually seeing and feeling, rather than what you’ve been told.” Still, she explained that “Working off of feel sometimes feels like guessing.” What matters is how the horse responds.
Another insight she voiced, which I’ve heard before and should perhaps be posted in every barn and riding ring, is “It doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be good”, or perhaps just a little bit better. She even went so far as to quote Voltaire, who said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
On her website kathleenlindley.com, the first paragraph of her Belief Statement says, “I choose to believe that horses are smart, hardworking, willing creatures.
I choose to see horses as confused, uncomfortable, hurting, scared or uneducated rather than lazy, disrespectful, evasive or stupid. I believe horses are sentient beings who can feel pain, have memories and form relationships.
I enjoyed hearing her describe young, immature horses as having an attitude of “Here’s what I’m going to do today,” versus a mature horse who says, “What can I do for you today?”
Lindley described what she referred to as The Pro Problem. When you are a professional horseman, or one who is highly skilled, the challenge is to not help too much. At the top level, teaching and training are more about what you don’t do, rather than what you do. The ultimate use of being highly skilled is to not use it. This is not a sin of omission, but a conscious act.
Speaking of heavy stuff, here’s another insight I hadn’t been aware of before. We know that a horse’s front half is much heavier than the back end, what with the head, neck, and all. Add a rider, and the front end becomes even heavier.
The challenge is to rebalance the horse so more weight is shifted to the back end. We often speak of a horse being built or ridden “downhill” with all the weight and focus on the front end and the horse’s mouth.
People often look at a horse from the side to determine if the withers are higher or lower than the croup, thus making it an uphill or downhill horse who will be more naturally balanced front to back.
Not so, Lindley explained. The reference points should be the point of the hip and where the neck vertebrae meet the shoulder.
It was a pleasure meeting and talking with clinic participant Tom Draper who first rode in his youth with this column’s originator Mike Kelley. After a 30 year hiatus from riding, he found his way back to horses seven years ago through Susan Kelley, Mike’s daughter-in-law. Draper declares that he “couldn’t live without riding”.
There are certainly a lot of us who feel the same way. Horses have so much to give us and teach us, as long as we listen to and feel what they have to say.
Lindley is doing her part in helping that to happen. From her home base in South Carolina, she is on the road with three horses and her dog for six months out of the year, spreading the word. Visit her website to learn more about this remarkable horsewoman. Thank you Susan and Jo Beth Bellanca for bringing her here.
Sunday, June 10 – The Genesee Valley Riding and Driving Club (GVRDC) recognized Horse Trials starts bright and early with dressage at 7:30, followed by stadium jumping, then cross-country. Nine well-filled divisions ranging from Training/Novice through Intro will provide a full day of entertainment at Hideaway Farm and Paduka Run on Roots Tavern Road, off Route 39 north of Geneseo. No admission or parking fees. Food available. For more information go to www.gvrdc.org.