I thought it might be an idea for those who don’t know me, to revisit an article (a rather long one at that) that I wrote a few years ago for Equine Distance Learning, about my travels the last few years, which led me to finally settling back in the UK and starting Idyllwild Horsemanship.
I’ll be posting snippets from the article once a month, in between my usual whimsical blogs about present times! I hope you enjoy, we could all do with a little escapism to non COVID times I think, so grab a cup of tea and get your time travelling hat on, here goes!
My name is Kimberly Dunn, I am 31 years old, and I am currently on a journey of ‘horsey discovery’ around the world, learning as much as possible from different horse trainers and their horses. My aim is to bring everything I have learned back to the UK next year, and do my very best to help people, and their horses, to be their very best selves….together!
I have worked with horses since I was 17. I’ve had a love of horses since I was very small, however unfortunately my family could not always afford riding lessons etc. This however, did not curb the obsession, and I still would sit and read books about horses, cut out pictures from magazines, and make scrap books full of horse facts, complete with pictures of pretty Arabs that I would dream of owning.
I was definitely born to be a life long, serious horse geek. I vividly remember on every car journey if we drove past a field with horses in, exclaiming “Horses! Cool!” pretty much every time. I’m sure lots of other horse people can relate to this from younger days, much to their parents dismay. We’ll not talk about the hobby horse that I borrowed from my cousin for months on end, named Lucky (show name; “Lucky Star”) whom I went to various imaginary competitions with (and won actually quite an admirable amount of imaginary rosettes!)
I had a number of equestrian jobs between the ages of 17 and 21, working with riding school horses, hunters and eventers. I gained a few horsey NVQs in this time too. I was also lucky enough to spend two summers in North Carolina,USA, working at an all girls camp. There, I met the most amazing group of friends, who I’m still in touch with now. (Any 18-21 year olds reading this, I can’t recommend doing Camp America or similar enough… it’s a great and (safer ish/more organised) way to start travelling and adventuring, it changed my life for the better and will nab you the coolest friends and experiences for life!
While I loved working with horses, and the lifestyle of a groom….honestly….something was missing, and really, as much as I was desperately striving to be a good rider, (I had a dream of being a super duper eventing woman) it just was not happening for me (I fell off ALOT). I was at a point by 21, that I was disheartened, I felt like no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t getting better, and I was seriously considering giving up horses for good.
While I was contemplating what else I could possibly do with my life, an ad appeared for a job at a local western riding stables. I didn’t even know this was a thing in the UK, and I had dabbled a little at camp, so I was pretty intrigued! Long story short, I got the job, and finished up Head Groom and Western Riding Coach at the place for nearly 7 years. I completely fell in love with quarter horses, their smaller size, big hearts, and calm, trainable, temperaments. I also fell head over heels for western riding and ‘natural’ horsemanship. Who knew that you don’t have to have a contact ALL the time on the reins?! And that you can lead horses around and not be dragged or pushed about?! I was sold.
An Introduction to Western Riding and Reining
I found myself completely embracing the ‘western way’ with horses, and wanted to soak up every bit of knowledge I could. It was all (quite literally) so foreign, with all of the different tack and equipment used, and I loved watching the horses being ridden around on a loose rein, seemingly with barely any cues from the rider.
I started off by riding on my lunch break, and from there with help from the Head Trainer, I managed to start learning more and more about western riding…which then peaked my interest in the western discipline…Reining.
I was very lucky in my time at my previous job, I worked very hard, and had a good relationship with the clients, and this resulted in me being able to ride, and show some client horses, something which I am still incredibly thankful for to this day. I learnt SO much with each of those horses and I had so much fun.
Whilst I loved reining, teaching, and helping to run the busy yard, the last few years of my time there I started to want more. I wanted to progress further in my teaching, and to learn more and have more involvement in training the horses. Unfortunately it became clear that this was not going to be possible for me in the job role I was in. I had been there such a long time and dedicated a lot of myself to my career, so this initially was hard for me to come to terms with. I see now however, that sometimes things need to get uncomfortable to allow change, growth, and to direct you to a new path. Luckily enough for me, my new path for the next few years included a considerable amount of air miles and some amazing new friends and experiences.
Another factor that helped me to decide to make a change in my life, was a major injection of INSPIRATION. This inspiration came in the form of a clinic I managed to wangle my way onto a few months before I handed my notice in.
This clinic, happened to be with one of my freestyle reining idols, also an incredible horse trainer, Australian but newly based in the US, who specialises in colt starting, liberty work/trick training, and reining. His freestyle reining in particular is really quite something to see!
(I should take a minute to explain ‘freestyle’. Whilst I love Reining, the class I love even more, is FREESTYLE Reining. Freestyle reining is similar to dressage to to music, in that you pick a song and choreograph manoeuvres to it, and this time, as well as the required amount of reining manoeuvres, it can also include other things such as jogging/trotting, refined moves such as shoulder in and side passing, props, extra horses, costumes….the world is your oyster, and you can be as crazy or subtle as you like! It’s a lot of fun, and let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like galloping around to one of your favourite Michael Jackson songs whilst doing disco moves! )
I am so grateful to this day, that I was permitted to take time out of work to attend this clinic, and that one of the owners so very kindly let me use his horse (a very cheeky and defiant palomino called Roy!)…..because there is no doubt, that those few days changed the course of my life.
I was completely in awe. I learned so much about ground control, some of the foundations of liberty work, and riding, and I was suddenly reminded that there was quite literally a WHOLE WORLD out there of different horsemanship and training…that I didn’t even know about! It was like a light bulb switched on, and I suddenly knew what I needed to do.
Shortly after the clinic I dropped the trainer a message asking if I could go and work for him (you don’t ask you don’t get! Right?!) to my surprise, he actually replied and said yes! I was over the moon. Unfortunately however, at the time of me asking, he was still getting established in the US, so I had 6 months or so to kill. Feeling inspired to travel and still needing a change, I jumped on a plane and went backpacking in Australia and New Zealand. (Another amazing experience….travel people, it’s the bomb!!!)
When the day finally came for me to fly to the US to go and learn from (ok I’m going to say it) one of my ‘horsey heroes’…I was SO excited but SO nervous. What if I got there, and I was a massive failure, and all my dreams were shattered, and they put me on a plane back home and told me I should definitely give up the day job????!
I needn’t have worried. I had the best time.
Lexington was BEAUTIFUL horse country, beautiful barns, expensive equestrian facilities everywhere, with picture perfect green countryside and the most ridiculously perfect and tidy fencing I’ve ever seen. It’s every horse persons dream.
I got to help at big, crazy, horse expos around America which the horses performed at, I was part of all the behind the scenes action, I loved being on the road, I looked after the loveliest (and funniest) horses, I got to learn different, new, training methods, watched clinics, and made some amazing and lovely friends. They were the most supportive and inspiring people to be around, and I have to say, I left that place feeling like I could do anything.
I also left that place, after the most amazing and inspiring 3 months, knowing that I had to learn more. Lucky for me, the other thing I left with, was a job offer, and a visa application in process….
End of Part 1! Part 2 will see lots more air miles and will be available next month. Stay tuned!
Over and Out,