Muthoni Kimani began riding when she was just three years old. Her friend’s mother owned a riding school, and Muthoni adored it right from the start. She had a natural aptitude for the sport and caught on quickly, so she began competing when she was seven years old, first dressage and then eventing. When she turned fourteen, she started showjumping.
Like many riders with similar stories, who have fallen in love with the sport at a young age and spent their teenage years at the barn, Muthoni hopes to represent her country at the major 5* shows around the world and go to the Olympics someday. What sets Muthoni apart? She’s a rider from Kenya, where the riding scene is limited and opportunities are incredibly hard to find. “Here, the riding community is very small. Fences only go up to a 1.20, and there’s only one horse that can jump that high. It’s very difficult to find a good horse or a trainer who can train me to that level.”
It’s a dream Muthoni has dedicated her life to, even making the decision to stop school at sixteen to concentrate on the sport. Fortunately, she has her parents’ blessing to 100% pursue riding. “My parents were incredibly supportive, even though in African culture, riding isn’t considered as a good career one should want for your child. I know people have talked behind our backs, asking how they could let me choose horses over going to university or questioning if horses will ever earn an income.” Despite the negativity, Muthoni’s parents agreed to help her get a ride on one of the best showjumping ponies in Kenya, which meant the world to her.
Their commitment to her riding was tested early on, when they made the decision to allow Muthoni to continue riding even after her first major accident. “I was seven years old and hacking out with my trainer, and a car came and rammed into my horse from behind. I was rushed to the hospital, and my horse had to undergo major surgery. My parents were terrified.” Muthoni was young and recovered quickly, so she was eager to get back in the saddle again, and her parents supported her choice despite the scary incident. They could already see how much their daughter loved horses.
Three years ago, Muthoni had another serious fall. “My horse, a chestnut mare, was really fresh that day. She’s always had issues, so she was handed over to me to train. I was with my dressage trainer, and my horses ended up doing this huge buck. I went flying. I was knocked unconscious for a few minutes.”
Even though her fall as a child was arguably more traumatic for both Muthoni and her horse, at seven years old she was ready to hop back on as soon as she was physically able to do so. Now, as a teenager, it was different. “Of course after a fall like that, I needed a new helmet, and my head was a bit sore for a few days. But really, this time I had to recover mentally rather than physically.” Muthoni continues, “The fall really knocked my confidence.”
Again, her parents had her back. “They were very supportive of me returning as they know that these things happen with horses. But it’s the sport and it’s my passion, so they know I can’t give it up.” With options limited in Kenya, Muthoni’s mother suggested checking out Equestrian Masterclass, which she had come across on Facebook a few months prior. She began using the techniques Annette Paterakis describes in the Masterclass geared toward helping riders grow confidence from the inside out. “It was helpful because it really got me thinking of riding as more of a mental sport rather than just physical. The mental block after the fall was nothing like anything that had ever happened to me before.”
Muthoni says she consistently used Annette’s techniques before and after riding, as well as every morning. “I’ve been doing them consecutively now for almost three years, and I’ve just continued to improve. I’ve become a confident rider now. I feel like nothing really has the power to freak me out, whether it's higher fences or a buck or anything.”
Just because a rider loves horses and the sport doesn’t mean the mental aspect isn’t going to present a challenge, especially after experiencing something that shakes your self-confidence to the core. When it comes to physical injuries, we tend to view the game plan to recovery as more straightforward. We need to do X, Y, Z to get better, and when this or that part of my body is healed, I’m ready to go again. But when we are struggling to overcome the mental effects of an injury or accident, the path isn’t always so clear.
As Muthoni notes, just wanting to “get over it” isn’t enough. We need a plan and tools we can utilize to recover and even come back stronger mentally, just as we do physically. “I do believe everything happens for a reason. With horses, you have to be ready for unexpected things. When they happen, you learn from them and move forward.”
Annette’s techniques are what have allowed her to do that, and Muthoni says she’s truly grateful.
Now at eighteen, Muthoni is mentally in a better place than she was before the accident, and horses continue to be her whole world. To make her dreams of pursuing a career as a rider a reality, Muthoni is searching for international opportunities to find a job as a working student, and she hopes her unique background will help her stand out so that someone will give her a chance.
Although she has big plans to go far in the sport, she credits the foundation her parents have given her as the anchor that makes anything possible. “Their support means everything to me. They’ve put their all in this for me. Because they’ve never doubted me, I don’t doubt that I can do what I love. Their support has taught me that no dream is ever too big to achieve if you believe.”