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Kim Keppick

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Instructors, Trainers, Coaches: Is There a Difference?

Kim Keppick is a BHS II Certified Instructor and Pony Club A graduate who represented Ireland in international competitions all before age 19 when she came to America to work for Karen O’Connor. She was long listed for the Irish Olympic Team in 1988 with Morning Glo, and Biko was among the many horses Kim trained and competed for Karen. Kim has since built a career teaching “riders how to train their own horses,” with her students competing to the highest levels in eventing, dressage and show jumping. She is also the founder of Rein-Aid.

Kim Keppick has built a career teaching “riders how to train their own horses,” with her students competing to the highest levels in eventing, dressage and show jumping. Photo by Nick Snider.

Instructors, trainers, coaches. Is there a difference? Yes, although there is overlap, too.

Riding instructors typically teach people to ride on safe, school-type horses, even if they are privately owned. They provide an important introduction to our wonderful horse world for many people. The ability to keep the school horses ready and obedient for lessons is important. Knowledge of teaching the basics is essential.

There are also riding instructors who teach to a very high level, and most instructors work for stables with a string of school horses. Often riding instructors are employed by others and not self-employed.

Trainers usually teach people on their own horses. Their job is to improve the skills of both horse and rider. My personal feeling is that trainers have an obligation to teach riders how to train their own horses and not be reliant on every word they say. The rider should be able to school effectively and safely on their own.

The trainer or their experienced staff may be required to ride the horse at times to improve the horse, and they also can be involved in the stable management routine, tack choices and so on.

Coaches take the current skills of the horse and rider and polish it to maximize the performance for an upcoming competition. If the rider has a different trainer and coach, they need to be in agreement so a competition schedule can be organized and become a building block for the ultimate goal of the rider.

Riders should always discuss what the coach or trainer says with the other if they are not in direct contact. A coach and trainer must always be willing to talk if an issue crops up. The coach will be the person at the competition to help with warm up, walking courses, etc.

Many instructors, trainers and coaches do it all. It will be up to your desired lifestyle which path you choose.

It is a lot easier to train if you are not polishing for competition. You can allow the horse and rider to make mistakes as you teach them something new. Allowing time for this with kindness and compassion will move the bar forward. However, succeeding in competition gives confidence to both horse and rider, and also moves the bar forward by cementing their knowledge and ability to perform at competitions.

Some riders do not want to compete, and that is fine. They want to learn and improve, and the trainer is there to help them achieve it. Some riders simply love to compete, and I view competition as a measure of how well your training program is going. When your students do well, it means your training is solid.

A trainer needs to speak up if they are working with a student who owns a horse that puts the owner or rider at risk for injury. Accidents happen all the time for riders and their horses, but you can minimize the risk by making sure horses and riders are well matched for their temperament and skill level.

Can you teach more than one discipline? I hope so. It is fine to be an expert in your chosen sport and base your business in that field, but the more knowledge you have of other disciplines will help you have a broader perspective.

How aware are you of what others do with horses? In the Olympics we have dressage, show jumpin,g eventing and para-equestriam. At the World Equestrian Games we have the same, plus combined driving, reining, endurance and vaulting.

Do you know anything about show hunters, horse racing on the flat and over jumps, equitation, foxhunting, cutting, polo, sidesaddle and so many other tasks humans ask of their horses.

There are many different breeds, and they do not excel at all the same horse sports. Learn about those breeds. What if a client shows up with one you have never worked with and wants to train with you? All horses need to be trained well for the job the human chooses for them, but not all are suited for what the human wants. Many horses would be happier doing a different job. This is why it is so important for trainers to become educated in more than just one discipline.

Being diverse in your ability to train will also help your bottom line; you will keep clients because you can adapt to their needs. Round pen training, which originated in the the western world, is now widely accepted for training youngsters and dealing with unruly horses in many disciplines.

John Lyons influenced me on how to encourage horses to load on a trailer, stand quietly for mounting and so on. Buck Brannaman taught me about the one-rein stop, which is a lifesaver on a naughty horse. These are just examples of how reaching out to other training methods have helped my business. I have been very lucky to have broad experience riding many different types of horses and in many different disciplines, along with great teaching from Olympians and others.

For the young instructors, trainers and coaches out there, you can achieve a successful business with hard work and compassion for both the human and the horse. Always remember that while you may ride and understand horses better than your student, they have other skills you do not. Always respect them for that, and be grateful that they trust your knowledge to guide them in their quest for becoming better riders and horsemen themselves.

What’s in Your Ring? Arena Cross Country with Kim Keppick

What’s in Your Ring? is a new EN series in which riders share their favorite jumping exercises. It’s easy to get stuck in a training rut, and we hope this will inspire you with fresh ideas that you can take home and incorporate into your own programs.

This week’s edition comes courtesy of Kim Keppick, an Advanced level event rider who has competed internationally as a member of the Irish three-day team and is the developer of Rein-Aid Productions (www.rein-aid.com). She shares some ideas for improving your cross country skills in the ring, with exercises demonstrated by her student Wendy Bebie.

Wendy Bebie and Calero, "Roo." Photo by GRC Photography.

Wendy Bebie and Calero, “Roo.” Photo by GRC Photography.

Whether it is an indoor or outdoor sometimes we must school only in an arena with good footing. This applies to Virginia in the winter when the ground is frozen and also to when the ground is SO hard in the summer that you do not want to train or condition on the grass.

Wendy Bebie has a super ring and I am privileged to be her trainer. We always mix up grid work, with course work and unusual visual challenges including turns, skinnies etc. This helps not only improve skills but stops them from being bored stuck in a ring an extended period.

Wendy and “Roo” clearly have fun when challenged with something new. It must of course be a progressive introduction to either a new question or new height.

When teaching skinnies I start really slow and small. Assuming the horse is ready to start working on skinnies, I use a barrel on its side with short poles or something else on each side under it to stabilize it and standards with a short rail over it. Remove the rail but keep the standards. Always remove the jump cups from the standards if there is no rail in them.

Once the horse is comfortable with that, take one standard away at a time. You can use a long rail propped on the side of the barrel at an angle away from barrel to act as a guide and then on the ground as necessary. Your goal is to have him stay straight and honest with no standards or guiding rails.

Once you and your horse are comfortable with the barrel then there are no limits to what skinny jumps you can ask them to jump. Just be fair and progressive in your training.

While this video collage does not show starting a youngster over skinny jumps it does show a confident horse and rider jumping a variety of them.

Video credit: Joey Snider.

Many thanks to Kim for sharing. Do you have an exercise to share or is there an eventer you would like to nominate for the series? Email [email protected]

‘Military’ to ‘Eventing’ to … ‘Iron Horse’?

The FEI's recent proposal to re-name eventing, presumably are meant to align with the FEI core objective to “ensure the competition to be the ‘best sport entertainment’ — attractive, modern, TV and spectator friendly,” have been met with a great deal of controversy. Kim Keppick suggests that maybe it IS time to "think outside the box" and package our sport for broader public appeal.

Kim Keppick representing Ireland with Leander in France in 1981 when the sport was still called Military there. Photo by Terry Baker. Kim Keppick representing Ireland with Leander in France in 1981 when the sport was still called Military there. Photo by Terry Baker.

Imagine the TV announcer’s introduction:

Welcome to Iron Horse, a grueling test for horse and rider. So grueling, in fact, that only military horses and riders were allowed compete until the 1956 Olympics.

The sport has changed some since those days but one thing remains constant: Only the fittest, the best trained and best cared for horses will prevail. The requirements of each phase:

DAY 1: Calmness, suppleness and harmony as horse and rider dance together with invisible cues.

DAY 2: A daring ride through open land filled with solid jumps, huge ditches, water complexes all on varying terrain. Horse and rider must be brave yet still have the technical expertise to thread a needle to clear all the jumps. You must jump clear and be fast. Otherwise you could be eliminated or rack up so many penalties that you have no chance of winning.

DAY 3: Your horse must pass a vet check to show that he is still fit and healthy to continue. Then horse and rider face a stadium jumping test, over fences that will fall with the touch of a toe. These tired horses must show great heart to give it their all.

If an announcer were to open with lines like this would it make the casual person scrolling their TV guide stay and watch? Does the word Iron Horse or even International Horse Trials encourage someone to at least click to see the info?

The FEI’s renaming suggestions for eventing (“Equestrian Triathlon,” “Equestrathon,” ” Tri-equathlon”) are too much of a mouthful and frankly I think the fact that TV uses ‘Equestrian’ to show dressage, eventing and showjumping does not encourage the casual viewer to watch.

We need to think outside the box if we are going to reach a higher viewership and keep horse sports in the Olympics.

Kindness for the Sake of Being Kind

Photo via Kim Keppick. Photo via Kim Keppick.

I join the chorus as a huge William Micklem admirer. His Lifetime Achievement Award is so well deserved and he is a brilliant man for all the reasons described in the coverage of his award. Some don’t know about the pure kindness of the man. I know I am only one of so many people he has helped along the way, not just with his good training and ethics but with selfless acts in order to help others.

Growing up in the early 80s in Ireland, he was my mentor. Not only was I lucky enough to be able to take lessons from him but he was influential in setting up and promoting the Golden Saddle Program. I know William worked day and night on that program, I think for no financial reward.

Yet the education I and my peers received by participating and the scholarships we got as a result helped launch so many successful equestrian careers. With his current Go! Rules he continues to innovate, motivate and encourage others.

Go Rules

It is thanks to William I have a great life in the USA. Over 30 years ago, he set things in motion for me to contact Jimmy Wofford and through Jimmy, I got a fabulous opportunity to work for Karen O’Connor.

William gained nothing by doing that, it was just kind. Jimmy and Karen go into my personal kindness category too.

In an amazing recent act of kindness, William and his lovely wife Sarah arranged for trees to be planted in memory of my late parents at the magnificent Powerscourt Estate. Right before my father passed they took in his dog and gave her a forever home. The relief this gave my dad is indescribable. Those of you that have lost loved ones know that peace in those close to death is a gift for those left behind.

So William, keep up the good work, you are an inspiration to us all!