My First Clinic with Philippe Karl

Well I got back late last night from my first riding clinic with PK and what can I say!? Wow! My head is still spinning…. and Buffy was Awesome!

But the question, of course, is did I find the Holy Grail at the clinic? Well, I think perhaps it’s too early days for that. There is a lot to do yet! However, I do feel like someone has just shone a light on the route to base camp!

Having been a “listener” on the first UK teacher training course, I’ve spent the last 3 years studying PK’s work. PK’s passion to educate riders to train horses in a better way is nothing short of inspirational. As well as teaching the riders (trainee PK teachers) on his teacher training course on their own horses, he gives theory lectures and also there are “guest riders” who come on and are given a lesson by the trainee PK teacher, under the close supervision of PK. On many days he’ll start at 8am and carry on until not far short of 8pm. Truly, there is a lot to learn and PK’s wish to educate is clear.

However, if my first riding clinic with PK has shone a light on the route to base camp, what has also become crystal clear to me is the difference between knowledge and understanding. As Albert Einstein so rightly said:

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

In the last 3 years, I have come to know a lot. PK is clearly not just a great horseman but he is also a gentlemen of very high education. He has in particular studied all the great Old Masters that history has to offer and he has taken a lot from their work (what he believes to be the good bits!). He also has an excellent understanding of biomechanics. This knowledge is all backed up by many years of experience, schooling horses to the highest level. PK is very generous with his knowledge and, as I say, I have learnt a lot.

It’s amazing, though, isn’t it? – you think you know something and then you then look to take that to the next level and realise there are holes in your knowledge that first need plugging….. and that of course it’s not just about “knowing” where to put your hands or your legs, etc – its understanding why you are doing what you are doing. Only with that understanding can you then truly own that knowledge, and apply it appropriately.

For example, one of the key principles of PK’s work is that he wants the horse to give his mouth – so basically lightly mouthing the bit in a relaxed manner. Indeed, his point is that the lightness in the reins should be the lightness the horse gives you through gently mouthing the bit (rather than dropping behind it!). To achieve this, PK will often initially ask the horse to work in a higher head position, with an open poll, and the rider having raised hands, using the reins in the corner of the horse’s mouth, to instigate a light mouthing of the bit. When I first watched the course, I couldn’t quite get my head around this – I could see that riders were encouraged to take a high hand position and use the reins in the corner of the horse’s mouth (rather than on the more sensitive tongue or, worse still, the bars of the mouth), but I couldn’t see why they would hold the position for any length of time. Now I understand they were just waiting for the mouth to give and then could move on to the next steps of flexing the horse’s neck laterally and then later flexing the poll. PK has a clear number of steps leading to having the horse give at the poll – he doesn’t want the horse to start flexing the poll simply when you pick up the reins – for many reasons, not least because then the horse will often then just give at the poll rather than in the mouth. By the way, have you ever clenched your jaw? Try it. Then think about what happens to the muscles in your neck and back.

What I love in particular about now being on PK’s teacher training course is that I truly believe that PK has a clear path to taking all the necessary steps to get from where I am, right up to the high school work. What he is teaching us now will stand us in good stead in 3, 5 or even 10 year’s time. No holes.

I have used an entire notebook during the course of not just my own 4 day riding clinic, but then staying on for an extra couple of days to watch the original UK trainee teachers carry on their work – and in particular their exams. I’ll be writing up those notes and for those interested in the more technical aspects will be producing a series of more detailed training articles (did I mention I was a study geek?).

I must here say a big thank you to those original trainee teachers as they have very graciously allowed me (and everyone else watching) to learn from their mistakes. It’s not been easy for them. I’ll try not to make the same mistakes – though I don’t doubt I’ll make plenty of new ones!  One of the trainee teachers successfully completed the last of her exams (well done Catherine!!) and became the first licenced UK teacher for PK’s school, though other students were not so successful with their exams.

From my point of view, watching the exams, I am in the lucky position of being able to learn as much from the failures as the successes – possibly even more from the failures. However, it did get me back to thinking about my own fear of failure! As well as realising that I just need to man up about my fears, I did get to thinking about something else, though, and this has cheered me up a lot. You see, one of the things about having a big fear of failure, but yet actually having successfully completed a lot of exams in your life (as I fortunately have) is that you get pretty good at doing exams, and studying for those exams. If there is something I know how to do particularly well (in addition to riding, of course!), it’s how to study!   So perhaps, as I have done with so many exams before, I can turn my fear into something positive.

So, I’ll be taking my notebook full of manuscript notes and writing them up in detail on my computer. I’ll be reading the texts from the Old Masters (taking into account PK’s well made comments during his lectures that one was be mindful of certain difficulties of translation of some of these texts – not all the Old Masters wrote in English, after all!). I’ll be furthering my studies of biomechanics. I’ll also be attending as many other clinics as I can to still keep watching the original group of UK teacher trainers continue their work. Above all, though, I’ll be practicing the list of homework that PK has given me as if PK were still there watching me, to make sure that I come to a full understanding of that work, ready for the next clinic!!

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”. Socrates.

I think the Holy Grail of Horsemanship might just look a lot like this.
I think the Holy Grail of Horsemanship might just look a lot like this.

2 thoughts on “My First Clinic with Philippe Karl

  1. Tom Widdicombe September 15, 2014 / 9:31 am

    I enjoyed reading your post Janet. Although I’ve never watched PK work I feel like I have got to know him quite well over the last few years. He is a true professional!

  2. janetpaterson September 15, 2014 / 9:52 pm

    Thanks Tom. You should come watch PK some time!

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