Just so you know, I am a very ordinary person, who happened to have had a very powerful dream. Having a father who was a career Army officer was both a blessing and a curse. While all that traveling certainly gave me many people skills, taught me to be extremely adaptable, and broadened my horizons, it also left me feeling very frustrated, mainly due to the fact that I was born with a strong horse gene and equines occupied my every thought as well as my dreams. Not being able to have a horse due to all that moving around caused me to cry myself to sleep many a night.
Photo from Kim’s Private Collection
As soon as my Dad retired, I reminded him that he had promised me that we could get a horse, and God love him, he did just that. Afterwards, my parents certainly never had to worry about me and where I was during my teenage years in the 1960’s. I missed out on the whole “scene” of that time since I was always at the barn! After my first year of college I met my husband, Jack, at the boarding facility where we both kept our horses. He, too, came from an Army family, and his riding was based on an education gained in France. My riding, on the other hand, was based on books and the seat of my pants. At first it didn’t look like we could ever get along, but we gradually developed respect for each other’s talents, and were married in 1969. We settled in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern Virginia, where our daughter, Andrea, was born in 1972. Three months after her arrival, we were sent to Ireland for three years, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Photo by Kim’s Personal Collection
Photo from Kim’s Personal Collection
“Every Magical, Mystical, Wondrous event in my life has come about from inner guidance.”
— Kim Walnes
From the time I first heard about the USET, my dream was to ride for the United States. I didn’t talk about it much, for no one was very encouraging to me, but the desire was like a calling, and I never gave up the belief that I could do it. I used to say to Jack, “I want so badly to travel to Europe—I’ll just have to get a horse that will take me there.” And another thought that kept coming to me was a desire to find a horse who would become a household name in the horse world. Jack would laugh at me and shake his head, but several months later he was approached about starting up a factory in Ireland for the company where he worked locally, and two years later I started riding The Gray Goose. Over the next twelve years all of those desires became a reality.
We returned to the States in 1976, bringing home Gray and a black half-sister of his, Celtic Quest. We bred a wonderful colt out of her by a Hanoverian named Galaxy, and also imported another filly and colt from Ireland, both by Gray’s sire, Hill Tarquin (a Throughbred of Man O’War breeding). That filly, and the colt from the black mare produced Gideon’s dam. 1976 was a fertile year: our son, Brian, the black mare’s colt, Shetland Sheepdog puppies, and kittens were all born in the first half of 1977!
Our home was a very hilly seventeen-acre farm in Dublin Virginia, complete with a runoff pond from the Interstate, which rose high above us. Our neighbor had 600 acres that he let me use for conditioning. Jack built a coop in the fence line, and I had eight oil drums and four locust posts to use as cross country fences. If I wanted an oxer, I could only have three jumps. I used to move those oil drums all over the property, setting up balance questions, water, and ditch obstacles. We also had four sets of standards and eight poles that my dad had made me.
I lived under conditions that were the opposite of what I had heard were required in order to be a candidate for the USET: our home was in the mountains far from competition sites, I had two very small children, only one horse with obvious talent, had no instruction other than occasional sessions at the local college program, and I couldn’t leave the farm to travel for lessons. I tried a clinic with a German dressage instructor, but all Gray learned was how to grind his teeth! A habit he never lost, alas. As The Gray began to do better, I also started competing Celtic Quest. It wasn’t easy to condition and campaign two horses while raising two small children, but with ingenuity and creativity I managed.
Photo by Robert Frankenfield
Flush with success, I told Jack that now that we had made it to that level successfully, I needed lessons! He agreed, so once a year, I would park the children with the grandparents in Northern Virginia, and travel to Mike Plumb’s in Maryland with Gray and his sister. I would take two lessons a day and watch everything else that went on there for the week I stayed. My learning differences, such a plague in school, once again surfaced. I remember Mike pulling at his hair, and saying in exasperation, “I don’t know how to teach you!” Later, at a USET training session in Massachusetts, it took both Jack Le Goff and Bert de Nemethy, standing together in the ring for an hour to teach me how to do a crest release!
I’ll never forget my first day at my first USET training session. I was in the indoor arena with Torrance Watkins, Jimmy Wofford, and Ralph Hill. I watched them warming up, and then looked at myself in the mirrors. It was my first time really seeing myself ride. The differences between them and myself were very clear! As panic threatened to set in, I reminded myself that I had gotten where I was with all that “seat of the pants” riding and listening to the horses. Maybe I wasn’t a pretty rider, but I certainly was effective—and I was there to learn how to get better. Jack Le Goff found he had no need to give me any of the humbling lessons he was famous for.
I improved, and I continued to learn. In 1981, Jack was transferred to corporate headquarters in Connecticut. It broke my heart, as we’d just the year before bought our ideal lifetime farm property and now had to sell it. However, the move did put us a lot closer to the help I so earnestly needed. I knew I had to learn the science behind what I was doing by instinct, so I sought out instructors in Classical dressage and show jumping. We bought a video camera, I now had a live-in groom to help, and I took lessons five days a week all winter that year. Three days in dressage, and two in jumping—sometimes with two horses. I met Sally Swift and Linda Tellington Jones—those two ladies opened a whole new world of communication with Gray and made a vast difference in my riding skills. 1982 was our banner year, and we won two selection trials, were National Champions at Rolex, and came in third individually as well as with the Team in the World Championships in Germany.
Photo by Elisabeth Presnekoff
Photo by G. Estin
Photo by Lothar Heidtmann
Our daughter, Andy, was also competing at this time. She started riding and jumping at the age of 2 and quickly progressed. She did her first event at the tender age of six, and kept on going. We were a very busy family with all the trailering needed for both of us, and I was also teaching lessons during the week. Brian, though a gifted rider, decided as so many boys do—horses were too much work.
1983 saw another dream of mine realized: we competed at Badminton in England. Alas, it was a very muddy course, and Gray reached too far under himself setting up for a vertical wall at the bottom of a slope. One hind leg stepped on the pastern of his foreleg, and we somersaulted over the wall. He landed on his head, throwing me clear, but then his haunches fell on top of my head. We both suffered concussions, along with other injuries. We recovered, however, and came back to be second alternates for the Olympic Team in 1984. Because we were non-traveling alternates, we were available when the phone call came with an offer to stand in for Melissa Gilbert and Sylvester in filming the movie of the same name.
In 1985 we journeyed to Holland for the Bokelo CCI***, where we placed second. 1986 was the grand adventure to Australia for the World Championships. The weather took a disastrous turn there, and we were one of the many pairs who were affected. Although we finished cross country with no jumping penalties, we had many time faults due to Gray losing two shoes on diagonal hooves. I withdrew him before the last day because of his resulting sore feet. He did his last Advanced Horse Trial in 1987, coming in third at Ship’s Quarters. He was sound and fit, but he was bored with the same old courses, and the joy wasn’t there anymore. It was time to retire him. He had a wonderful ceremony in 1988 at Rolex, up to his old antics in front of all his adoring fans.
Photo by Findley Davidson
Photo by M. Kaiser
Photo by Mary Phelps
Photo by Anaclato Rapping
In the meantime, all our lives were changing. In 1989 Jack and I separated, and we were divorced in 1990. The next year was the worst: our beloved Andy was practicing with her vaulting team at her college in the mountains of Virginia. They took a break on July 4th to go tubing on the New River, and she was abducted while briefly separated from her teammates. I was in West Virginia at the time, and had woken that morning with a terrible premonition of disaster, but not knowing the source. The next day the police called with the news that she was missing. Her team went on to New Mexico to the Championships, and gallantly won. It was four months before a deer hunter literally tripped over her leaf-covered bones in the woods, and every day of those four months was Hell. At least in finally being able to put her to rest I could truly begin the grieving process.
It took me three years to start coming out of what I call the “Grey Zone.” Although I continued to teach and function, life simply had no colors. It took me more years before I came fully back to total awareness of my environment and the people around me. Faith, friends, and the unfailing beauty that surrounded me in West Virginia finally brought me through.
I poured myself into my teaching. I also delved into researching learning styles so I would be able to impart what I’d learned to anyone who wished the knowledge. I was joined for a while by a kineseologist in my teaching, and she helped me understand biomechanics, as well as evolving a method and pattern to the instruction. The horses kept teaching me, too, of course, and I researched any area that would broaden my skills in helping people and their mounts. I bred my mare, The Lady Destiny, to an Irish Connemara stallion named Grange Finn Sparrow to get the next generation started. Gideon Goodheart was born in 1993.
Photo by Tom Yetter
Photo by Melanie Powell
Photo by Linda Bayne
The winter of 1996 was harsh in Pennsylvania, where I had moved two years earlier. As a result, I drove out West and traveled to various places teaching. It was a wonderful trip until I had a terrible accident. Diagonal tires blew out on my 4runner, rolling it 2 ¾ times at 70 mph. I was on an Interstate in the middle of nowhere, Texas, and only a series of miracles saved me. As it was, I had to be revived and taken by Medivac to a trauma center in El Paso. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in surgery for two hours while they picked out all the glass from my head and removed some shattered bone from the front of my skull. I couldn’t ride for a year while recovering, and during that time arthritis set into Gray’s spine. His hindquarters also began to curl to the left during this time, and I found when I tried riding that he could no longer tolerate weight.
During these years. Gideon had been farmed out with people I knew in Virginia and Maine until he was a late four-year-old because I wanted him to be able to mature in large fields with other horses. He and I were both very excited about working together when I was finally able to pick him up. I kept him a stallion in order to keep his line going, and he was unlike any other horse I had started. He was gentle and cooperative, but he also made it clear that I needed to expand my skills in order to communicate with him better. As a result, he steered me into whole new fields of learning, including going to life coaching school to gain more tools for coaching, since helping humans heal emotionally is his Gift.
Currently, I continue to learn from the horses, whose focus lately has been not only on human/equine biomechanics, but relationship and communication skills that help folks to truly be able to form deep bonds with their equine partners. Nothing makes me happier than sharing what Gideon has taught me about the energetic component of horsemanship, and the incredible kinship and peace which that brings. From that connection, magic happens, and a dialog begins that can take you places that before were only possible to be felt in dreams.