For the past two weeks I've been doing what you could call an unorganised, layman market research. I've talked to twelve different riding schools' proprietors and managers to find out what their views might be on incorporating the Academy into their offer.
The reason I did this was because I received fair amount of enquiries via Academy's website from people who don't have their own horses and who would love to do the Programmes somehow.
My idea was that if we involve more riding schools in different areas we can make the Programmes even more accessible for all those enthusiastic horseless riders out there.
We have one large and very supportive Training Centre on board but I can't expect riders from let's say Sussex to travel to Berkshire for regular training. The whole idea is to make the training/ lessons as workable and easy to manage as possible.
Another reason I spent all that time on talking to the riding schools is also because I thought the Academy might be a good way to compliment their services and take some work off their hands. Having worked in many riding schools in my teaching life I know it's difficult for an establishment to offer truly personalised training. Not because they don't want to but simply because they are first and foremost a commercial business that needs to be profitable to survive. They might not have the time to write personalised training plans for each rider, analyse their videos and help them choose exercises off horse that are truly going to help with the rider's particular issues. This is thought to be unnecessary at "this level"...
The latter view is what saddens me the most. I think more could be done to help nurture talents, enthusiasm and love for the sport at riding school level because the stronger the bottom of the pyramid is the stronger the top will be too...
To be fair most of the RS owners I spoke to loved the Academy idea and were very supportive and encouraging but didn't particularly want to participate.
A few concluded it would be a threat for their business. They explained why they thought so but it didn't make sense to me. I have to assume they have more experience and knowledge about their business so know what's better for them...
The funny thing is that the way I thought it out means that the RS earns their money as they would normally, I get paid independently by client and the rider gets the service. Nobody loses out, the client is happy so comes back for more etc
Most said they already have very similar system in place (this was my biggest surprise because having spoken to over 300 riders now - probably more even - and having asked them specifically if they know of any riding school providing training in such form, they all replied 'no').
I might of course be wrong and there are some great systems in place there that I haven't been told of.
Yet another reason why I thought involving riding schools is a good idea is that they already have the facilities, the horses, the knowledge and it would a shame not to bring more riders into the sport and into those particular establishments.
A couple of people asked me why do I think the Academy system is the best...well, I don't! There is no "the best" system and I am sure someone out there will do something better/different in no time. What I did was simply combining the knowledge and experiences of teaching at variety of centres in two different countries and what I learnt by training across different sports.
Riders love it and it's fabulous to see them improving so much.
If you are one of the lucky some who already has an instructor/trainer who suits you, who brings the best out of you and you improve and going where you would like to be going with your ambitions and aspirations then no reason to change anything. However, many riders don't find themselves in such situation. Many don't know what their goals could be.
I am certainly learning a lot about the behind the scenes area of the industry. Some views the RS owners shared with me were really surprising if not a bit shocking.
As it is I can honestly say I have never felt as disheartened as I feel at the moment. It's not that I feel like that for myself but for all those horseless riders who would want to do it but they can't! When we went live with Academy I didn't think we would get many non-horse owners enquiring but for 1 horse owner there are 5 non-horse owners wanting to do the Programmes. This tells me that niche is definitely there...
I am reluctant to keep on the riding schools idea now because it sucks the motivation and energy out of me. Of course there are plenty of establishments I haven't yet spoken to. If someone knows of a Centre that might be interested in getting involved please feel free to contact me.
I probably should step down my soap box but before I do, one more piece of waffle.
The Barefoot Thing
A couple of people said to me recently that they saw videos of Kingsley and how great that he is improving so much. The next question was: when can he have shoes on again?...
The answer is: hopefully never.
There seem to be a lot of buzz about barefoot on various equestrian forums at the moment. Many turn into heated debates or manic arguments. People do ask me what is my view on keeping horses shoeless and some even suggested Kingsley will be lame forever being barefoot.
So far, he is improving thanks to fantastic work of Nic Barker at Rockley Farm and have never moved better.
For now, I am of opinion that EVERY horse, including competition horses, should be first given the chance to live and work shoeless before other options are considered.
Many crookedness problems and soudness issues might need to be analysed from feet up i.e. taking the shoes off and letting the horse grow the foot it wants not the one that looks good. I am not saying this is the "cure" for all problems.
I don't agree with wording that 'riding barefoot horses is natural' as oppose to riding shod horses is so against equine nature. Natural to the horse is living in a herd, stuffing its guts and never be ridden. That's what I regard as natural to the equus caballus ;)
This is also why I think keeping horses barefoot is another (better;) way of managing an animal that we chose to ride for sport or pleasure. It should be based on holistic approach and look at the horse's diet, turn out, exercise routine etc not on simply taking the shoes off.
If Kingsley ever needs any additional hoof support, the boots like Easy Boots will be the thing to look into, not metal shoes.
Yes, I am already worried about the further maintance of his feet as we are yet to find out who could look after his barefoot hooves once he is back home.
Having searched for materials on barefoot trimmers it seems that many horse owners are very much against them as apparently trimmers training doesn't stand up to farriers training and there is no actual trimming qualifications as such. Someone's statement on a forum went: Nobody without formal qualifications will ever be allowed to touch my horse.
Now, this got me thinking and correct me if I am wrong but how many horses have you seen that end up with inexperienced owners who know very little about equine management, horses that are very badly ridden, bounced around on when riders are learning to ride, sawn in the mouth non stop in a belief this keeps the mouth soft and rider's hand is "communicating", kicked in the ribs or hit with a rasp if they don't stand quiet for farrier, the list goes on.
If we agree that "nobody without formal qualifications should ever touch our horses" should this be extended into rider licences (so only qualified rider can exercise our horse when we are ill or go on holiday?), only qualified instructors are allowed to teach (no more experienced competition riders training others if they didn't take formal coaching exams), only qualified nutritionists are allowed to devise our horse's diet... Should we press on horse owner licences so we are all fully qualified to handle and care for our horses?
Surely we can't class bad hoofcare as the only abuse to the horse...
Time to get off the box ;)
The very good news is that we have agreed a potentially fabulous feature on Academy's training with one of the leading equestrian mags! :)