By Kelly Gage
Deep within the lush English town of Billingshurst, Kyra and her troupe gather each day to pay homage to long-held classical principles that are often neglected in modern competition.
In a sport that is seeing unprecedented growth, and change around the world, it is rare and refreshing to see an individual who, with passion and zeal, follows classical principles but blends innovation that benefits horse and rider alike.
Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1951, Kyra grew up as a horse crazy little girl. After she swung her leg over the first horse, her fate was sealed.
Riding relatives' horses, she developed a passion for the sport, and a little over a decade later, she participated for the first time in the National Show Jumping Championships for Junior riders with Dragon, a polish gelding.
Eventually, she moved to Stromsholm, leaving behind her home and began pursuing her equestrian career over being a veterinarian.
While in Stromsholm she gained a thorough understanding of military principles that dominated the European scene. She jettisoned her career when her late mentor Herbert Rehbein, trainer of legendary, Pik Bube and Donnerhall, took her on as a student, giving her much of the theory that she still adheres to today.
“Even if there was a problem he would never get a horse upset, he knew what he wanted and could make any horse understand. He gave great confidence as a trainer because he could get on and do it, there was never any doubt, you believed it 100% because he could get on and do it...you believed 100%.” (quote from Dressage Clinic Magazine).
In 1980 she made her first Olympic appearance with Piccolo (Pilar), and has participated or nominated for every Olympic Games since then.
Kyra, The Rider
Because of the lessons taught to her early on, Kyra is continually striving to improve her "tool box". "I try to do a step ladder progress, if the goal is to do a certain movement, I look at the foundation, and build on that. My goal is to increase the amount of tools in the tool box and not throw away the old tools."
Increasing the tool box has meant diversity in training and thinking outside the box not only for the horse, but for the rider. Incorporating techniques used by equine and non equine disciplines (such as dolphin training), Kyra has been able to expand her tool box and keep her horses happy and interested in the subject at hand.
Because of the emphasis on strong foundations and getting the horse outside the box, daily riding routines at her Billinghurst stable, Snow Hall, are tailored to the horse.
Warm up and cool downs are done on a groomed path around the property. The schedule is varied throughout the week, and horses are never drilled. Youngsters to Grand Prix, they all get treated as individuals.
"A horse is a horse," she states "We have to make it easy for the horse. A lot of horses want to please and you have to make it easy and enjoyable for them to do their job."
Her current star and WEG competitor, Max (Master) is by the same sire that Leslie Morse's Tip Top (Master out of Hortensia), who was also trained by Kyra until 2003. Max, who was purchased sight unseen as a three year old, came to Kyra as a difficult and skittish colt who had a past, but under Kyra's guidance and understanding, he came around and placed seventh this year at World Equestrian Games.
“He's a sensitive horse, and you've got to understand that and work around it. I had to work to have his trust."
The Competitor and Teacher
Classifying herself as a competitive person, Kyra has had a series of 14 mounts over the many years on the international circuit.
Notably, the potent sire, Flyinge Admiral (by Napoleon out of Flamkelia), a Swedish warmblood stallion that took her to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Matador (May Sherif out of Susan Bakkely). But on any given day, she will get on horses of all levels and abilities, whether it be her Grand Prix mounts or her set of her up and coming youngsters.
“I am a competitor, and I ride the best when I have a goal,” she states.
But for all the success, she is quick to credit her partner Richard, whom she met while training years ago, and her students who have supported her through the years. With pride, she states that she has never had a corporate sponsor backing her, it has always been her students and herself promoting and competing. Allowing her actions and methods to speak louder than words.
Because her parents weren't supportive, Kyra found herself turning to teaching as a way of supporting her career as a rider.
“For me, I always wanted to ride and compete, the more I taught, the more I found out.”
Soon, she found that the more she taught the more she learned about herself.
When she and Richard, moved to England in 1998, the student and horses in training expanded exponentially.
Most students are from all corners of the globe, as near as around the corner and as far as away as Australia like the Warwick McLean, a son of Equine Behaviorist Andrew McLean, who just spoke at the Global Dressage Forum.
However, unlike traditional stables, students are invited to ride. They come for a month to two months at a time, and come back in six months time for a refresher.
“It's important to be in an environment to get the mental image of what correct is,” she says “Being around it you develop more by watching and learning from others, and you can continue and grow from that."
Fashion Designer - The Kyra K Line
There is no denying that the sport of dressage has changed, and with that change, the demand for practical wear for both barn and arena and tools for riders in all situations emerged. Prior to the burst of equestrian fashion, riders often rode in clothing that wasn't designed to do the job, or designed to do another job.
Kyra has been on the forefront of the start of the practical tools for the tool box.
"A friend of mine was into clothes and he wanted to do something with the rider that was practical," said Kyra. "What we wanted was practical, durable and it had to fit in for everyday."
Since its inception, Snow Hall has been the testing grounds for breeches, whips, jackets, shirts and an assortment of items that have become increasingly popular in Europe, and now the United States. The Kyra K Clothing line is one of the most popular and enduring favorites for riders around the globe. Every detail in her jacket is thought out, including the famous "sugar pocket" where treats are stored for reward.
"t is rare to see a rider who is truly passionate about the horse and his training, taking a profound interest in dressage with self-abnegation, and making this extraordinarily subtle work one of the dominant motivations of his life." Nuno Oliveria.
Legends aren't born, they are made. Kyra Kyrklund, is a self made, but selflessly dedicated, rider, teacher and student. With the proof in the pudding, her popularity of all three has been on the rise since her published book Dressage with Kyra, and the uber-successful companion DVDs.
Kyra has since then holding steadfast to her principles to an increasing world-wide who is thirsty for simple and practical training methods that keep a happy equine athlete.
Her current goal is to compete in the upcoming 2008 Olympics, and "there have been talks" for the 2007 USDF Symposium. Until then she remains an charismatic figure with a dedication to the sport and its horses.
Text by Kelly Gage
2003 National Dressage Symposium with Kyra Kyrklund
2006 Global Dressage Forum: Understanding the Horse with Dr. McLean
Leslie Morse Uses USET Grant to Train with Kyra Kyrklund
DressageDaily Rider in the Spotlight Kyra Kyrklund
Flyinge Amiral Passed Away