If Horses Could Vote: Using the System in a Lesson Program

by Pam Whitfield
(This article appeared in Riding Highlights.)

Kathy Kowalski of Eldamain Farm in Plano, Illinois, uses the forward riding system to keep her school horses sane and her students progressing through the levels. “If the horses could vote, they would vote that this be the system,” she says. Kathy was so frustrated with her riding and teaching that she nearly quit the industry. Then the late Jimmy Cantwell came along. “If anyone was there to make the horses’ lives easier, it was Jimmy,” she states.

“He came up here three or four times a year for twenty years,” Kathy recalls. “He gave me a lot of physical riding and teaching tools. But it wasn’t until he encouraged me to do the ANRC clinics and really learn the system that it all came together for me.”

Kathy took her first rider rating at Dacia Funkhouser’s Foxton Farm in Romney, Indiana. “The ANRC is the reason why I’m still in business;otherwise I’d have been too frustrated,” she explains.

The ANRC allowed Kathy to find an order and a system that brought all the elements together. Now she says that she has plenty of tools for instruction–“I never run out of ideas”–but that her horses have also benefited tremendously.

“My school horses stay here forever, need less freshening up, and remain sound and happy. This system saves their minds and bodies, let alone my own mind,” she laughs. She also recalls other instructors asking her how she keeps her lesson mounts for so long, when they have to sell and replace theirs continuously. When Kathy runs into schooling problems, she usually goes back to the elementary level to solve them.

She also sees the value of rider ratings for her students. “You get a wonderful high at a horse show when your students do well, but boy does it pass quickly,” she admits. “The elation people feel when they pass a rating is nothing like that momentary high; it is like a character-building step up the ladder.”

Kathy was not a “hotshot junior rider” herself, but learned to jump during college and still remembers what worked for her, which influences her teaching. Her goal is to help other riders feel positive about their sport and to establish communication with the horse. “I hope to help people ride better, but now I have gotten to the point that when customers leave the barn, I want them to simply feel better about themselves-and to enjoy a constructive relationship moment with the horse. If nothing else happens, I want that to happen,” she explains.

“What makes it a joy to get up in the morning is that I love what I’m doing and have no frustration anymore. I never feel at a loss with horse or rider, and I know how to solve problems because of the tools I have. So I’m forever grateful to the ANRC for that.”