Sunday, 28 November 2010

Taking Chances

Look at that cheeky fox, barely visible on the dark surface of the arena, daring me with his little foxy eyes, playfully strolling around during my 4pm lesson today. It was so cold I put a hot water bottle on top of my boots to stop my toes from freezing off. The walking helps a little but the chill from the surface bites right through the soles and into the flesh. And it's only as many hours that I am willing to trek a day.
The fox, seemingly cozy in his winter coat, danced around the arena for good 30 minutes, popping into the corners, laughing at my rider trying not to run him over, then having even more fun when we decided to chase him.

The cold, the scent of frost in the air, reminds me of home where the air can be so crisp and sharp that it almost hurts to take a deeper breath.
There are mornings and nights to the days now, no afternoons to speak of.

Taking chances in the dark is very much my full-time occupation right now. Several weeks ago I got contacted by someone interested in incorporating the Academy's assessment system and programmes into their riding club. We met a few times to discuss the ins and outs and although I wasn't sure at first whether it would work well, we decided it would indeed. It's funny as the more we thought about it the more we realised what a fabulous join up it could be for both parties.
There is this saying I really like: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity". I thought it could be one of those lucky moments you get in life.

But then I heard nothing for a long time so I assumed they gave up on the idea.
A few more serious enquiries from riders wanting to train on my programmes kept me occupied; we arranged for assessment days, the riders loved them so I am over the moon. They also decided to continue with the training straight away which will keep me rather busy over the next month.

I have also taken on another chance of a potentially fantastically challenging and interesting part-time job that would gel well with the Academy teaching but I won't know anything about this one until December.

Then the club came back to me.
Some details are still to be talked over but looks like we will go into some form of co-operation whereabouts they get my training whilst Academy gets their clients...
Once it definitely goes ahead I will post more about the club as I think they have a superb idea in place, together with Academy services it might get even better ;)

Still green in West London on a morning in late November...

....and the milky, frosty mist on my way to work that soon travelled from the Common over to the arena, hiding the riders and horses like a secret.


Friday, 19 November 2010

Few minutes on my soapbox...

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! :)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Kingsley's Barefoot Rehab update + VIDEO

Kingsley continues to grow a hoof of a very different angle to the one he had while shod.
Below is a screenshot from Rockley Farm's blog so if you would like to enlarge photos please visit Nic's blog:

One thing I find very interesting with Kingsley's hooves is that they have been changing a lot throughout the year we had him.

Have a look at the below photo (I zoomed the feet but left the full caption too so you can see the entire horse and the position he is in as it does changes the way he weight loads his feet).

The above photo was taken shortly after Kingsley's purchase in September 2009 and while he was already unsound. Although the toes are very long and he already has some event lines (not visible due to blurring of the photo) there are no deep ridges he developed later, possibly due to medications?
I don't want to speculate too much without having the knowledge but it is very fascinating to note how much the shape of his feet has changed. Different trimming and shoeing has certainly influenced those changes but now that the nature takes it turn it seems that the shape and the hoof/pastern angle are changing yet again.

Sometimes I wish we could just fast forward the growing time as I am really anxious to see if this new shape helps with re-educating the movement pattern!

And Video Update - look how much straighter his spine is! When I saw this I almost cried!
I have never before seen him walking with his spine and tail aligned in a straight line, his back has always been rigid and tense as a result. There are some little changes in the confidence in his steps and of course hind limb straightness has improved a lot too but the difference in the spinal column is the best of all to me. This has been my worry all together - that he is so crooked as a result of compensation that he won't be able to move straight again. And here we go...


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

London Horse Network Meeting 2: What's more likely, making The Equestrian British Team or Space Shuttle Mission...

The cold and the wet and the worries are making me feel a little under the weather but nevertheless I set off to the second meeting of London Horse Network organised by Hoof Ride London and BEF.

Every meeting is in a different London Centre. First one was at Mudchute Equestrian Centre and if you haven't already you can read my little report from it HERE.

Today the host was Vauxall City Farm, a unique miniature riding centre and a farm situated about 5 minutes walk from Vauxall Tube Station. I got totally lost under all the bridges outside the station before I realised the Farm was almost right in front of me ;)

Outdoor arena with an interesting background of London architecture...

The Aim of today's meeting was:

Find out how to make a successful application for funding. Introduction of the London Horse Network Capital Investment Awards

The main reason I decided to attend the meetings in the first place was to find out how to help one of my centres with organisation of the funds for building a cover over the outdoor arena. The business suffers a lot in winter months and any form of covered school would allow the centre to continue their lessons but the costs are enormous.
So that's one reason. I have very quickly, however, realised that the meetings will help me personally to understand the UK horse industry better from a business side of view. My passion is training and getting people involved in the Sport but I am very aware that the passion alone is not going to take my Academy project where I want it to be.
I was born in a second largest city in Poland, then went to University in the capital so I can relate to the problems London horse people face. It was (and is!) a grand struggle for me to pursue my hobby, sport and career, not only financially but logistically too.
The Academy came to life because my aim has always been to make quality training available to anybody who wanted to get involved with the sport. I now want to learn more about How The Hell to make it all work in the real world!

I am telling you all this so you can understand why today's meeting had a different impact on me than the previous one. Some ramblings below:

The guest today was Ros Spearing, the director of Ebony Horse Club, the club that won the FEI Development Award and is now able to build a £1.7m riding centre for children and young people in deprived areas of Brixton, South London.
Listening to her talking about 14 years of struggle, commitment and determination made me think you would be hard pushed to find many people as driven as Ros is.

At the end, whilst discussing difficulties most of us face within the Sport she said: it is the kids have more chances to end up on a Space Shuttle than on a British [Equestrian] Team...

To me, this simple statement summarises all the frustrations that come with wanting to "do horses" as a Sport. Perhaps even with simply riding for recreation.
Ros is doing some amazing things bringing horses to young people who otherwise can't even dream of sitting in the saddle.

But what about everybody else...those who perhaps can afford regular weekly lessons but not necessarily a more frequent sports training or an own horse to compete? What about those who perhaps don't want to drop out of school at 15 to become working pupils but want to continue their involvement in the Sport? How and Where can they get more affordable, quality training, decent on-going development plan, mentoring and coaching help?

As a 13 year old kid I trained athletics and I rode at a local riding school. My Athletics Club had some good facilities, coaching programme, competition schedule, transport for all the kids and all trainings (3-4 times a week) included in a yearly fee of something like £20. My riding school, needless to say, had nothing of the above. Luckily for me, I later ended up at a Stallion Depot that was Government funded, the training was affordable and small Club membership fee came with many perks. That was in 1996. What about now?

Yes, it is more expensive to maintain a riding horse than a pair of running shoes but as it was discussed at the meeting today, part of the problem is that the riding as a sport is portrayed as elitist and available only to wealthy individuals. Media run documentaries showing shiny people on shinier horses. And yet, as Ros mentioned today, there are many people out there keeping their horses on DIY livery, going on holidays once in 4 years (if that) and quietly chiseling away at their hobby.

There are estimated 2.4 million people in the UK who ride regularly...doesn't seem that elitist to me...

As it was identified at the meeting, it's great to hear about British Teams winning medals but it is the Grassroots level that needs much more support and recognition as well as true portrait in media. Perhaps no TV crew wants to film those enthusiastic groups of people who, after full day of work, jump into their jodphurs and hundreds layers, trail through the muddy fields in the dark to fetch their horses in, scrape the dirt and off they ride in the driving rain and bitter wind...

The afternoon was spent on going through an Application Form for Capital Funding. Some very useful comments and advice. Sadly, the fund available is nowhere near the amount needed for a cover of the arena. It also looks like that's that as far as Capital Funds are concerned too...Disappointing but still think the Network is doing a great job to organise any funding at all.

Apparently there are many people in the industry who ask Why Ebony Club? Why did they get the funding to build a new centre from scratch? Wouldn't it be better if an existing establishment received the funds to build on the facilities already in place?

Ebony Club brought some life changing opportunities to the kids who might have otherwise ended up in gangs, murdered or in prison. They are as far from elitist as you can get.
I really hope that the Centre will become a great success and with many other fab London charities take the Equestrian Sports one step closer to a level where it can be enjoyed by all. In a quality way.

There was a moment though where I thought, right, I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be trying to find a way to increase participation and quality of experiences among riders who don't face being murdered next day, whose families aren't in prison or who have no food on tables and no immediate income crisis!

This is why I also hope that there will be more opportunities available from BEF, Sport England, UK Sport or whoever else distributes the money into horses so that the riding establishments, clubs and coaches can nurture the talents and enjoyment of an average rider, an average school kid or an adult with a passion for riding.

Next meeting is to be focused on Training. Looking forward to it.


Saturday, 6 November 2010


I don't normally get enthused with racing world and if pushed I would probably even be slightly on the against side but whatever you say about racing you can't deny the enormous passion and emotions that always go with it.

I've been following Zenyatta's victories for just a few weeks but she is such a beautiful horse that you can't help but admire the way she just eats the ground and charges in the last few seconds.

I won't be putting any bets but I am looking forward to watching that race tonight. I hope she finishes safe and sound...


Friday, 5 November 2010

Reason for not writing much... that I am battling with all sorts of other computer stuff. I have so much still to do with the Academy's Case Studies material that I barely know where to start each time I get my hands on it.
The moment I have a nice time when it feels like I know what to do with all the footage, what to write and how to put it all together that time runs out and I need to run to do another thing (like go to work;).

There is so many things I wish I could moan about but I learnt it's best not to ;)

For those of you who are interested here is the first Case Study material I put together for Academy's blog preview:

Now I "just" need to add all the video descriptions, add remaining videos and pictures and hope it does say enough about what we do and how exciting it all is!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Another Foot Photo

I've received this photo from Nic today and I think it shows much clearer how different the new horn is: not only the angle of the hoof but the thickness of it:


Kingsley's Feet Growing Own Way...

31st October 2010

You can see a centimeter or so of the new horn growing from the coronet. Note the different angle to the "old" hoof angle...

Kingsley is hairy and furry but seems to be loving his Rehab Retreat! Nic took a longer footage of him walking so I will leave it up to her to draw more conclusions. Keep checking Rockley's blog for more updates: :)

From what I see on some videos I watched on Pauline's camera he is moving straighter with his right front and is not moving it outwards as much as he did 3 weeks ago. He also seems to be loading each front leg more equally while in the shoes he landed heavier on his right fore than on the left fore.
His is currently short striding on the hard surfaces which is to be expected but free moving on the grass.
All in all, still too early to say whether the changes are going to improve him as a ridden horse but they are certainly happening.

And here is just a a cheerful photo of Pauline, Kingsley boy and I at Rockley:

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