A Clinic with Kristin Hardin

Silver linings are kind of my style.

This week we trucked Kingston down to Marcly Farms Equestrian Center in Nipomo for the opportunity to ride with Kristin Hardin. I've been pretty down about not getting to jump or ride Kiva so I've been trying to focus my energy on Kingston and Fiora. Knowing some of the horses that Kristin rides, I thought she wouldn't mind his "enthusiasm" and might have a few helpful hints to work through some of our sticky spots.

For those of you who haven't seen or met Kingston, he is, well, very strong. He is quite possibly the strongest horse I've ever ridden. We do the flat work like we're supposed to but he's just big and very strong. He's also very eager to jump so when you put a strong horse together with one that wants to jump all the jumps RIGHT NOW it makes for a very mental and physical ride.

Without a whole lot of knowledge about his background, I have always felt like he wants to be an honest horse. I know he jumped some big jumps with some good riders, but that's pretty much all I know about him. He likes his job and he's very kind but somewhere along the road started to mistrust his pilot. That coupled with how strong he can be fairly intimidating, especially since I haven't spent many hours jumping him myself.

Kristin affirmed my feelings about him and gave me a lot of useful tips to deal with his desire and anxiety to jump well. We worked on keeping the counterbend towards the jumps to keep his eye off the jump until a couple strides away to keep him from grabbing the bit. I basically rode from one outside rein to the other and it helped tremendously in keeping his attention on me and off the obstacle. Long approaches and long bending lines are kind of tricky with him; if you keep the counterbend, he'll swap leads but if you let him see the jump, you're sort of a goner. Sometimes it feels like I'm herding cats with a hairdryer (or camp children with a lunge whip). We will be adding cantering to a pole along the diagonal without expressive tempi changes to the list of things to practice. In the meantime, she had me focus on the jump while trying to get his focus on something else (much easier said than done!).

Another thing that was incredibly helpful was being more specific about track. When he's bouncing all over the place and doing unwanted tempis and jumping imaginary cavalettis, it can be difficult to keep your eye and mind on the track. She set out placement rails three strides away on the backside of the jumps and made a point for us to ride over the middle (never being overly concerned about distances or striding at any point in the lesson). It helped focus my attention which, in turn, focused his. She had me pick a very specific spot on the jump (a paint chip or clod of dirt) to focus on so that he stays more focused and rideable. It's always been my impression that to ride him well you have to not get caught up in his "drama", sit very still, and ignore the bouncing beach ball. It was nice to hear that I have been on the right track in that regard.

You only really learn from mistakes so when things go wrong it can actually be a blessing. We've had a few issues with stopping at home. It's always a specific sequence of events that leads to the stop but identifying how to fix it before it happens has been tricky. I was very happy to have him stop at the liverpool while we were riding because it gave us a chance to address the problem we've been having. It was also a good stop because I didn't fall off (I attribute this success to my safety vest which I wore more as a good luck charm than an actual piece of equipment). Kingston wants to be very careful and black liverpools can look very scary to a careful horse. When I felt him back off, instead of keeping him bent, I added leg and dropped the contact. It all happens so fast but it was definitely the wrong thing to do. Kristin lowered the obstacle (we had jumped it before at the lower height without issue) and worked on keeping him bent while adding leg and supporting him to the base. Of course it makes sense, but it's always easier to analyze it afterwards than living it in the moment. We managed to get over it several times without issue at the higher height before moving on. I'll have to remember to ride confidently to spooky obstacles and not take away the contact in front.

I have to say I really enjoyed Kristin's teaching style. It was simple, quiet, and effective. She gave us one task to accomplish and let us go out and try to do it over a course. If we messed up, she had us stop and try again. If there was a trouble spot, she had no issue spending whatever time necessary to accomplish the task successfully. Every horse and rider improved over the two days which says a lot about the instructor. Admittedly, I don't remember the last time I was that exhausted from an hour-long lesson.

Having always ridden lower level jumpers and green ones, it is quite a treat to have an experienced, albeit difficult to ride, jumper in my barn. He's very different from my preferred style (I prefer to ride with less contact and keep my arms securely attached to my body) but being a budget rider and a trainer, I must be able to ride as many different styles as possible. Kristin said that if anyone ever said I make Kingston look easy, then that is a huge compliment. Now that's one hell of a goal.

As always, I'm incredibly grateful to my clients for their support and trust. Without their support, my dreams and experiences wouldn't be a possibility. A huge thanks to Stephanie for taking on Kingston and trusting me that she will be able to successfully ride him one day. And I'm thankful to Alex for letting us keep Kingston. It's very rarely easy, but it's almost always worth it.

Video Below. I included the stop at the liverpool and the sequence of working through the problem. Notice how no force, whips or spurs were used in the process. Just slowing things down and getting us both to understand how to ride the fence better (and lots of confidence-boosting pats!).