Monday, 24 January 2011

London Horse Network Meeting 3: Your horse spooked because of something you thought about, before you thought it...How the coach can influence the rider, how the rider can influence the horse, training bursaries and Look Forward

Photo: Nosing around the lovely mini yard (see these trees so very close to the buildings? well, one of the stables has one of those trees in the corner of it :) My camera has no flash so I didn't take a photo but it looked rather interesting!)

At yet another inner-city riding centre- the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, the London Horse Network organised it's 3rd meeting.

Hoof Ride London. The London Horse Network Training Workshop

The Network is definitely growing more into what it aims to be: a facilitator of communication between London's equestrian businesses and instructors. I was looking forward to today's meeting and it was definitely worth coming to. The first guest - Andrew MacFarlane of Lead Change, gave a very interesting talk about "How the coach can influence the rider".  Coaching Psychology is absolutely fascinating because you realise that with the right approach you can achieve more than you ever thought you would. 

As coaches we have to learn how to change people's behaviour and/or actions to help them become who they want to be as riders.
However, it seems that change is a very complex key to improvement! Andrew quoted some medical statistics to us.
How many of every 10 heart surgery patients do you think change their lifestyle when they are told they will die if they don't?  
One. Out of ten.
Change is so difficult than even when facing death threat these patients were unable to alter their lifestyle. 

Andrew then proceeded to explain how we can help the riders to make the changes needed for improvement. It's something I am really interested in and read a bit about and I found the talk really insightful. 
We can't change something on the level it happened. We need to consider all the levels: the environment, behaviour, skills & competences, values & beliefs and identity. The latter constitutes the top level and that;s where the change has to start if we are to succeed in it. 
Andrew also talked about mental maps and the role of unconscious mind in actions of the conscious mind. This is another thing about learning to ride I am fascinated about. Horses are extremely perceptive animals. I've taught people who would try to convince me they weren't nervous or worried and yet their horse would be spooky and fidgety. A man can fool a man, you can try to fool oneself too but you can't fool a horse ;) 
Our conscious mind is way behind our subconscious. It's like when your horse spooks before you thought it might spook. In fact, your subconscious thought it before you became conscious of the thought itself...

We also talked about learning styles, what blocks the rider's progress and how to teach so we don't overload with information. 

Click on the below photo if you would like to read more about Lead Change. 

Next on the agenda was identifying the training aims of the London Horse Network. We divided into small groups and discussed our views on the challenges of running equestrian businesses in London. I have a feeling something really positive will come out of the LHN actions...

The next guest speaker was Janet Coe, the BHS London representative. It looks like BHS London has £12.000 to spend on Training Bursaries which will be available in form of £250 worth of training aids. From what I understood this will only be available at BHS Approved riding establishments and to be spent on training with BHS qualified instructors. There is no details as yet about the ways of choosing who the bursaries will go to but the ins and outs should be decided in February. 
I am keeping a watchful eye on anything like this as I would love to be able to take some more days off work to go and train with Anna R-D!

The closing talk of the day was by Minnette Rice-Edwards. 
The first time I've heard of Minnette was in 2003. I was hacking with a client whose horse had had to be put down some months previously and she was trying to keep up with the riding. I told her I wanted to sort my seat out and get into dressage more but I didn't know where to look for a trainer (it was just after I came over to the UK). She said "You just must go for a lesson with Minnette Rice-Edwards". My English wasn't very good back then and although I asked her to repeat the name I couldn't understand her accent and had no clue how the name should have been spelled. I found lots of other people under the name I thought was right but none had anything to do with riding ;) 
So now, in 2011 I actually got to listen to Minnette and all I can say is I wish I asked that client to write the name down. 

To learn more about Minnette have a look at her website: 

Fortunately, a year or so after the hacking conversation I came across a Centred Riding instructor who taught me many of the training techniques that Minnette uses. I would still love a lesson with her though! 
Some of her sayings I've never heard before and I'm sure they would be helpful for many riders. For example, many riders know they need to "let go" in the neck muscles to allow the shoulders and back to widen and release the lower back. However, it's not always so easy to do it in practice. Minnette discovered that you can imagine the roof of your mouth being like arches and thinking about it automatically releases your neck muscles (she did say it might not work for everybody but it did for me). 
Another one is for kids to keep their heads up and sit straight: imagine you have rabbit ears growing up and up and up ;) 

Not sure about my rabbit ears but my eyes are closing down, early night then two very packed days with late night teaching for me. 

Speak soon :) 


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Planning For Norway Training

Unbelievably it's only 4 more days until our departure for Oslo. I am sitting here preparing little folders for each of the participants as I want those three days to be as interactive as possible.
We have 10 riders booked for the full training, 4 for half of the weekend and another 3 joining for Theory Sessions only. That's the total of 17 participants and I want them all involved.
I sent out a short Questionnaire to the riders to get to know their goals, to understand where each of them wants to be as far as training goes and what their perceived riding issues are. This gives me an opportunity to "get to know" the riders and use the fairly limited time we will later have to help them improve as much as possible.
I don't believe in changing the riders in "one go" as I think we all develop certain amount of feel even if our position isn't ideal. Dramatic changes might result in a superb looking position but sometimes rider's feel is all they have and all they love about riding.
Many years ago when I switched from jumping to dressage I had this trainer who wanted me to sit with a "long leg", "long stirrups", all neat and tidy and super still. Well, it looked OK on photos but it felt like being made of concrete and losing all the timing and sense of rhythm. I have since learnt that small but accurate changes make the biggest difference. The difficulty lies in determining what to change first and how to do it so it suits particular rider.
The rider's answers tell a lot about them and help me adequately adjust my teaching style/methods or at least try to.

The way I thought the weekend out means that each of the riders goes through a structure resembling a mini-format of the whole Academy. They get Assessed ridden on the first day to determine the "what's nexts", they have posture/chiropractic assessment with Kari on the first day too. The programme also includes video feedback alike on every Academy Training Day and Exercise Plan for each rider (personalised by Kari). We've accommodated 2 Equitation Theory sessions which I like to do with all Academy riders as talking through training problems and issues is one of the best ways to turn your head around them.
I prepared some materials which I hope the riders will enjoy but I won't share on here in case they are reading! ;)
The riders on full training will have 3 ridden sessions and will be under Kari's watchful eye to improve posture symmetry and biomechanics. As with horses, one of the cool way to improve the rider is to make them more symmetrical and body aware.

Four days to go!

Friday, 21 January 2011

New venture for me and Aspire Equestrian

Hello All,

I'm delighted to let you all know that Aspire Equestrian is entering a new exciting partnership with the Riding Club London!


"The Riding Club London is  a Private Members' Club which provides affordable access to quality horses for riders living in London. Collecting together like-minded, experienced riders in the Capital, we offer far more than pony trails, and specialise in taking enthusiasts to develop their riding at unique equine venues across Europe, whilst offering a buzzing social calendar within the city walls."


"Whether you prefer to be at the gallop, or at the extended trot, we bring our members access to top quality horses at carefully chosen locations across the UK and the continent. Meanwhile, back in London, the RCL host a variety of social events, ranging from lecture evenings to balls; accessing some of London's most exclusive venues."

I was first approached by one of the founders of the Club at last year's London Horse Network meeting. The Club was on the look out for a coaching structure they could offer to their members.
Several meetings later we agreed all the ins and outs and I will now provide all the willing members with comprehensive Riding Assessments. Click on the image below to have a look at some of the other instructors the Club uses -  there is a super mixture of some really top ones! It feels rather unreal to be listed next to all those great names!

I will be running two types of Assessments for Riding Club London members:

Short Format Assessment (available exclusively for the Club members only)

Two hour session in which the rider will be assessed on basic horse care, tack handling skills and riding skills. The rider will also be videoed during their ridden session for visual feedback.

Upon completing the Assessment session the rider will receive:

1) DVD with video content from the ridden session
2) Written Feedback describing the rider's skills as shown on the day.
The description will also allocate the rider to one of the Academy's Programmes for further understanding of the level the rider is at the time of the assessment  (for example: Rider who is described as confident at Development level will be conversant with majority of the skills listed here:
3) Short written suggestions for further training i.e. what's best to work on next and what type of lessons/training would aid the improvement of the rider's skills.

Long Format Assessments - Standard Option (which are alike regular Assessment Days already offered via Academy):

Five hours training day normally 11.30am - 5.30pm which includes:
1) Three ridden sessions: flatwork/dressage, jumping/XC or Hack out plus lunge session focused on seat development
2) Lunch break with meal and refreshments included
3) Horse Care and Video Feedback sessions
Upon completing the Assessment session the rider will receive:

1) DVD with video content from the ridden session
2) Written Feedback describing the rider's skills as shown on the day. The description will also allocate the rider to one of the Academy's Programmes for further understanding of the level the rider is at the time of the assessment.
3) Short written suggestions for further training i.e. what's best to work on next and what type of lessons/training would aid the
improvement of the rider's skills.

Long format Assessments  - All Inclusive Option (also already available via Academy)

Format: Five hours training day normally 11.30am - 5.30pm which includes:
1) Three ridden sessions: flatwork/dressage, jumping/XC or Hack out plus lunge session focused on seat development
2) Chiropractic Assessment
3) Lunch break with meal and refreshments included
4) Horse Care and Video Feedback sessions

Upon completing the Assessment session the rider will receive:

1) DVD with video content from the ridden session
2) Rider Performance exercise plan based on Chiropractic Assessment
3) Written Feedback describing the rider's skills as shown on the day. The description will also allocate the rider to one of the Academy's Programmes for further understanding of the level the rider is at the
time of the assessment.
4) Written suggestions for further training i.e. what's best to work on next and what type of lessons/training would aid the improvement of the rider's skills.
5) Written feedback on rider's Equitation Theory knowledge and summary of the concepts worked on during the day (for example: written explanation of particular exercises and the theory behind them)

The main Venue for the above Assessments will be HALL-PLACE EQUESTRIAN CENTRE

All the Club members will be able to take advantage of various discounts on Academy's Intensive Training Days and Training Plans across all the Programmes.
Likewise, every Academy rider has a discount on Club's Membership. Have a look at some of the events planned for the next few months:

I am hoping to encourage many new riders to train with the Academy and I am looking forward to meeting the Club's members at our clinic in March.
All the best,

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Writing for "Your Horse" Magazine :)

Continuing with the exciting news: starting January this year I'm writing for Questions & Answers section in the Your Horse Magazine :)
I'm not sure when my first Q&A will be published but I've already sent one Answer at the beginning of the month and had 2 more Questions sent early this week. They will let me know when my answers are in so I will let you know too.
If you are having problem with any particular riding issue feel free to email me at ridinginstructor at and you might have the answer printed in the mag.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Teaching children to ride, riding schools, the book about hooves, the ESMA video and Upecss

I never thought I would say this but I've started to really enjoy teaching kids and teenagers to ride! If I had to chose I would still go for adults but I'm enjoying educating my little riders way more than I used to. When I say teaching children I mostly mean teaching them in a riding school environment. Freelancing at riding schools is my "safety belt". Horse owners are a great part of industry to be involved with but horses go lame, riders can't be bothered riding through the winter, or when it rains, or when they have a headache - you get the picture ;) And the bills have to be paid, sun no sun.
Riding schools are always there and as I've been teaching in most of "my" centres since 2007 I have a lovely group of very regular clients at all the places. Another thing about teaching at riding schools is that 'feel-good' factor when you know you can introduce more people into a lifetime hobby, sometimes passion and sport. There are of course many down sides but you can't argue with the fact than many London riders simply can't have horses and riding schools are their only option.

Children and teenagers make up about 60% of my riding schools teaching. Some I've been teaching since they were 6 or 7 years old and four years on they are still riding with me. Some come and go. Some I've only got to know recently. This varied bunch have one thing in common - they love the ponies and/or they want to be good riders.

The more I learn about how they learn to ride or learn the movement/skill (and I really think you get better only by observing a large number of different children, their particular problems, fears, balance issues and the way they develop coordination) the more patient I become. Several years ago I found it frustrating when they couldn't sit without bashing poor ponies in the back. Now, I have my own system of teaching them which is both fun and educational and as it works it makes both of us happy whilst the pony remains in its comfort zone. I learnt that it's possible to teach kids the seat aids and  correct rein aids even on some unruly/insufficiently schooled ponies.
Kids have the best stories to tell too and as they seem to like to chat with me I get to hear rather interesting things ;) They are also much more tune in into the ponies than adults are which makes teaching them about horse behaviour a really good fun.
The only time when I don't enjoy it now is when I have to teach little kids on unsuitable horses or large ponies.  To keep them safe they have to learn to be strong and fairly rough and I hate teaching this sort of riding.

The hoof book. I received the Feet First book last night (Thank you Nic!!) and I'm already well into it. I think it should be included on every BHS career student compulsory reading list and be on every horse owner bookshelf. Seriously. It's written in a very reader friendly way and is a great hoof care manual.
I've also heard that the Polish publisher went with my title suggestion for the Polish edition of the book :))
The especially intriguing parts I've read so far are the quotations from Farriery books and manuals which advise the farriers about the ill effect the shoes have on horses' feet. The Foreword to the book is also written by Mark Johnson Dip WCF, a Registered UK Farrier who says "[...] I would wish, that for the sake of equine welfare, barefoot movement continues to grow and takes its rightful place as one of the prime educators for domestic horse-keeping throughout the world [...], that my profession of farriery will move forward to embrace the information , which so generously available and so beneficial to the horse which we serve, as part of its training." Throughly recommend the read to anybody interested in horse husbandry, care  and management.

The Equestrian Social Media Awards. OK, I received an update email from ESMA that they send to all finalists (Aspire Equestrian being one of them in Cat 13).
Look what we have to do:

"As you may be aware, we'll be announcing the winners in a video
ceremony. To add to the sense of occasion please send us a couple of
videos - each no more than one minute in length. An acceptance speech
in case you win, and a general message of support to all participants
in case you don't. You can be as imaginative as you like, thanking
Mark Zuckerberg, your first pony, or even your granny - for making
this all possible - anything you like... surprise us! Make sure you
introduce yourself and your business at the start of each clip."

Now, this is almost a punishment to me! I don't mind being filmed ridden so I can improve my riding but I am not a big fan of being videoed otherwise.
Pauline and I spent an absolutely hilarious hour coming up with the footage for this video and neither of our ideas is suitable to be printed on this blog ;)
We also managed to conduct the most unproductive lesson ever as I was almost on the floor with laughter seeing her riding a new horse. This gelding is something we should charge more for people to ride and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He rides as if his breeders experimented with genus Camelus,Giraffa camelopardalis and possibly as if his early schooling was conducted with him wearing this piece of training aid.

I call him Upecss which stands for Unique Personal Extensive Core Stability Shock. If you think you have a strong core and want to test yourself - drop me an email ;)

Kingsley edited to say...

Hello everybody! Let's not be fooled, this blog has never been as popular as when I came along with all my problems. This blatantly suggests I am way more important than any other waffling my auntie puts on here.
With this in mind I thought I would pop in to personally tell you to have a look at a new post about my hooves that Nic made after Wiola put some stupid lines on my perfectly growing feet!

If you look at my hooves closely you will see I am growing more horn on my now shorter side and less on my now longer side. So no more stupid lines. 

Pic: Another photo. Yet another photo. Booorrriiinnnggg. On your knees and take some feet pics!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Finding Own Feet - Kingsley in January

I've been trying to find a moment to write an update on Kingsley all day today and finally here we go.
Here is a link to the post made by Nic which includes photos of his feet.

And here is the footage Nic and Pauline managed to take in between downpours. I've watched it many times but have a look yourself before reading the rest of this post. Feel free to comment on what you think about his movement. I think his soundness issues are rather unique and complex so in a strange way make for an interesting analysis. Remember that before being sent to Rockley Farm he had had 4 different vets giving 4 different opinions and even more treatment suggestions. Including PTS. 

Kingsley - walking comparison from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

Kingsley - trotting comparison from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

I think that in the grand scheme of things he is improving non-stop. As with any on-going process there will be slower periods and faster ones and moments when discomfort increases for one reason or another.
The January lunge footage is after he went for a hack so I am guessing he was tired. He looks much more confident in trot on the circle in both directions and despite the fact he rushes the sequence remains correct (which it didn't in October when he was unable to trot on a circle at all).
He is loading his forehand a lot which is either due to tiredness or perhaps he somehow figured out stretching down is comfortable for his back.
He moves freer through the shoulders and his stride is longer in both walk and trot.

There is also something I can't quite put my finger on but the only way I can describe it is that there seem to be more propulsion going from his hindquarters onto the forehand. When you see him in December video he trots calmer without rushing but whatever push he creates behind doesn't seem to travel through his body forwards. On latest January footage he looks like there is some beginnings of impulsion and his body is being pushed into each step rather than pulled into it by the shoulders/front legs. What do you think?

The main problem is of course the way he uses his body. He is built downhill but so are many other horses and this isn't the reason not to move in a better balance. His hindlegs show a lot of weakness and if you watch him on the right rein you will notice he doesn't really have much pushing power in the left hindleg at all.
The added issue of lunging is that, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't help with bending/lateral stretching of the horse. In fact, the horse can happily move his body at an angle to the circle line even with all the gadgets in the world.
We briefly chatted about it with Nic and she suggested going back to long lining which I agree would be a good idea.

In November I felt a little impatient and really wanted to see the changes in him quickly but the more I watch him now I feel that he is doing some grand work there and he needs time to adjust. His feet are still growing and as you will read from Nic's blog, the medial lateral balance of his hooves isn't good.

I had a little play with one of Nic's photos, not sure if I did it right but look at the difference in the hight/shape of the inside and outside hoof walls:

If you take into consideration how much this hoof still has to grow to allow him to balance better then I think the improvements so far are more than we could ask for.

He continues to carry his tail in line with the spine which is great as he used to crook it to the side. His hocks remain straight and he doesn't move his right hind leg sideways in walk as he used to.
I guess all we can do is to remain patient and let him find his own feet.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Meet Sam. And some other news.

After painfully slow couple of months the work is slowly coming back. I ran my first Intensive Training Day of 2011 yesterday and it was great to get back into it. According to my records it was the 150th Intensive Training Day since I started doing them in 2009. When I get to the 200th I am going to celebrate I think ;)
The rider, who has been riding with me regularly as well as Case Studied the Foundation Programme for me is now being moved onto the Development Programme. I'm adding lunge lessons for her again to further improve her seat and she is also ready to learn about the whole new world of schooling the horse.
We were both rather tired at the end of that day!

I have another very interesting Case Study coming up this year - but first, you just have to meet Sam!

Photo: Rosie meet Sam. Sam meet Rosie. 

We had a lovely visit from Anja and J. today and the three weeks old Sam [aka EdGal] who was nice and quiet around horses as a good horseman would ;) He is sporting an all-orange attire because he is well and truly Dutch (well, half Dutch actually but orange seem to have dominated over the German and English part!). Rosie approves.
Now we just need to wait a couple of months for Anja to be allowed back in the saddle and we shall proceed with 'Coming back into riding after having a baby' Case Study! Can't wait :) 

On Thursday I spent another fantastic day with Anna Ross Davies and everybody at Altogether Equestrian. Having so little opportunity to train and have lessons myself, those days are my way to switch off from everything and enjoy my very own learning experience. I watch lessons, listen, ride and try to absorb what I am told! 

Going back to the weekend and more news - on Saturday I met with one of the managers of a riding club I am going into partnership with. R. came to visit the venue I will be using for assessments and Intensive Training Days for the club's members. It was a final "inspection" before all the formalities are ticked off and we are officially up and running the services for them. Thankfully she loved the friendly atmosphere, the horses and the set up so their website will be updated over the weekend. I will post the link as soon as it goes online :) 

Yet another interesting thing happening is a Polish edition of Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite book:

Nic mentioned this back in October last year shortly after we took Kingsley to Rockley Farm and I thought it was a great offer from a Polish publisher and offered my help if there was anything I could do. 
It turns out the biggest issue has been with translating the title as well as some parts about nutrition and feed stuffs. 
I've received emails from Polish publisher with some pointers as to how they want to see the title and I must say choosing the right combination of words is not as easy as it might sound. For example there is no word like "performance" in Polish language or at least not the one that would convey the same meaning. I made some suggestions but I am not sure what their final decision is going to be. Large section of Polish equestrian industry (and certainly the competitive part), not unlike here in the UK, still sees barefoot as "some hippy way of keeping horses'. Having an unshod horse is considered a good thing for someone who follows Parelli and other "natural" horsemanship techniques. The title has to appeal to wide audience and grab attention of 'traditional' parts of the industry as well as the already curious one.

I am very much looking forward to the Polish edition! 
My personal view is that we have still a lot to learn about management of horses. There are no mentions of metal shoes by Xenophon and I doubt he had Martin Collins surfaced arenas to train the military cavalry...
I am not saying we should de-shod entire equine population but perhaps there is something we are overlooking since there is more and more evidence of lame horses becoming sound after barefoot rehabilitation. 

P.S. Pauline saw Kingsley boy today and she managed to find him among his himalayan bear fur ;) Photos and videos to follow as soon as I receive them.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Equestrian Social Media Awards - Aspire Academy through to the Final!

I have a few news stories to pass to you all and I decided to just write separate posts for each :)
The first to go is a fabulous news for my little Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy!

Thanks to everybody who nominated the Aspire Equestrian Academy for this Award we are now though to the Finals :)
Equestrian Social Media Awards (ESMA) is a brainchild of Rhea Freeman and Abbeyview Equine. If you haven't yet heard of the ESMA please click the photo below to read a short intro to the big new buzz in equestrian industry:

Aspire Equestrian is through to the Final voting in Category 13: Riding School. The 'riding school' is taken widely here as a training services. If you have a moment please give us a vote, it's quick and easy but only one  set of votes per person! It would be great for us to win the Category and raise the profile of comprehensive holistic coaching for all grassroots riders out there :)
If you believe in our concept or like what we do vote for us - Aspire Equestrian, here:

Thank you!!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Kingsley - length of stride. October 2010 vs January 2011

Being a biomechanics geek as I am I had a little play with stills from the video footage.

Photo 1. Top October 2010. Bottom January 8th 2011

Photo 2. Top October 2010. Bottom January 8th 2011

His movement in walk used to have quite a distinctive character. It would be either pottery and short strided or very large and very unbalanced. He had disturbed medio-lateral balance of his feet (that is when the hoof wall on the inside of the leg is a different hight than the hoof wall on the outside of the leg). If you looked at him from the front he would look as if he was "paddling" sideways before allowing his feet to land. It was a peculiar way of going. He is a little croup high but the way he moved would make you think his withers are about a meter beneath the croup line!
One of the things I am watching with him (and there are plenty!) are the changes to the length and evenness of the stride in walk. In October 2010 he made shorter steps with his right fore (although this sometimes changed to the left fore). One fore leg was almost always striding shorter than the other.

A little legend to my creative lines ;)
Yellow Photo 1: Front limb angle
Red Photo 1: Distance in between the knees (within the yellow lines) in a relaxed walk stride
Pink Photo 1: Toe to Toe distance

I measured the above on the January photo (bottom on Photo 1 and 2) and copied the lines onto top image (in Photo 1)

Photo 2 is just a simplified version with lines running down. Now, I know it's not super accurate and hardly a scientific paper but I think the changes are rather great!

Another thing: look at the way the pastern joint and fetlock absorbs the movement on October Photo (rigid joint, not much give) and January (plenty of 'spring').

I'm dying to see the trot footage!

Kingsley Update

Kingsley continues to get better and better! Pauline will visit him this weekend so there will be much more footage to come. For now, the lateral view of his limb placement.
Have a look at Nic's write up about his rehab HERE. She does say that the improvement is much clearer when evaluated on circles and front/back but what I love to see is the proper V in his walk stride where his hind hooves land in the same line as his front feet. So far his walk was always verging on lateral as well as being very crooked. Add to this an odd sequence every time the terrain changed and you might get why I love to see that correct feet placement on this video! It makes me want to see him on the circle right now!!! ;))

Kingsley from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

I've shortlisted two yards that would potentially suit him once he is back with us in March so fingers crossed there will be spaces available when we need them.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Glossary Judging Terms 2008 - an interesting publication

I came across this and thought it was an interesting read! Press full screen view for reading convenience.


Monday, 10 January 2011

If only I can get through the winter this year is going to be The Year!

*My Internet went bust yesterday while I was writing the below blog - this is a Sunday post*

Just look at this sky! Today was the first day of true all-day sunshine since the Snow Age came in November. It was fabulous. Suzanne did one of her best sessions to date which I must mention. One main reason: Rosie's mouth remained closed, relaxed and frothy - she tends to open it and gape in response to rider's wrist stiffness and too much hand work/incorrect rein aids which we are working on.
After some thought I went back to longer walk warm up with her at the beginning, then letting the trot work unfold slowly taking into account the mare's conformation, age and current abilities and it worked a treat today. We've been experimenting with lots of other warm ups, including earlier trot long and low but due to her conformation, use of the body and schooling level it just doesn't suit her at the beginning of the session. In the end, 20 minutes walk with plenty going on, moving sideways and controlling the weight on her shoulders from inside to outside, 1 minute long breaks on loose rein, short leg-yields in straight lines and on circles plus transitions proved to be the winner.
Experimenting fairly with and learning from a "less-than-a-perfect horse" is one of the silent New Year resolutions I made with myself. I don't know about you but most of the riding I've been doing for the last 6 years is on horses with no correct basic schooling and plenty of problems as a result. My role is pretty much degraded to "patching their issues up". When I go to school horses, their riders normally ask for reasonably quick fixes. You can do as much with a horse as you can with a circus animal. Tent roof's the limit. I witnessed other trainers applying their quick fixes too and although it might work for a bit it will never be a foundation to further training. Other issues will pop up as a result and it's just a viscous bad training circle.
My main problem with this is that I love to ride a horse with good basics. I was spoiled forever by fantastic jumping stallions in my teens and then spoiled again by riding some superb young dressage horses that didn't cost a small fortune at all. They were just beautifully produced. There is no better feeling in this world than riding a supple, balanced well schooled horse.

So my resolution for this year is end to quick fixes.
Today I schooled this pony that can be a worried little thing, all 14hh of it and very sensitive. In ideal world, when I work with riding school horses my main aim is usually to check on obedience, ride through the exercises they are required to do in lessons, make sure they do what they are told and make sure their rhythm, suppleness and contact are there and easy for intermediate riders to get the feel for. More often than not, those basic are barely there. I get 30min slots every several weeks with each pony or a horse. I can't plan any progression or continuity in this schooling.
This is why my decision is to simply work these horses on the day and only ask for what they can give on the day. Challenge them if possible but don't ask for movements their bodies are not ready for. It's a totally different thing to school a horse from the beginning and showing him things can be done. Sometimes those school horses' bodies are so crooked the simple things like cantering on the correct canter lead is an issue. You can "kick them into it" but it feels a bit like making someone do a split when they are not ready.

Schooling them as if I had unlimited amount of follow up days with them makes me feel way happier.
The little pony tried so hard and stayed so relaxed throughout that it was one of the most enjoyable schooling sessions I've done for a very long while.

Nine days of 2011 has gone by. I am never really the one to hurry up the time and it's good to enjoy every day as it comes but this winter has been so slow and business destroying I wish I was done with it. The very positive feeling I have about the rest of the year is still somewhat muffled by all the worries of the next two months. If I can survive them, this year is going to be The Year.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few wonderful people who offered to help me with my further exams, training and business planning - I feel extremely fortunate to have them. You know who you are so I won't do the name run - a huge Thank You! :)

Friday, 7 January 2011


There is a definite bonus to quiet winter time - I have the time to nurse my cold. It's gone I think but I still feel tired and slow.
I have the time to wander around some of my all favorite places, like Holland Park.

And say hello to some of my favorite critters: 

I also have a lot of time available to spend on organising all the Numbers...January is a lovely month: I get to do my tax return and that alone speeds up the appearance of grey hair on my head. 
On top of that, I had to re-think and change all the Academy prices because we are entering a partnership with a company I will for now call XYZ (details very soon!). Everything had to be ready in the first week of January so together with the Norway adventure it had kept my brain very busy. Thinking in numbers is good for my pocket but not for my mental well-being. I feel like I've been put in a bubble and exist in a zombie like world when I have to sit in front of spreadsheets for any length of time. It has to be done though. 

I miss messing around with Kingsley as just being with horses is one of my best ways to relax. The little boy will be staying at Rockley Farm until the end of February, he is doing so well there that it would be a shame to interfere with the progress. Despite my efforts I can't find a yard that would fit the bill. It worries me as I would really love to have the opportunity to see him more often and see properly to his later ridden rehab.
One option that I am investigating is to find a yard that I can also hire out as and when needed for Academy coaching purposes. It needs to be a facility centre with all year turn out for long hours and not far from London. 
One promising yard has just replied to my email so I will arrange a visit but they have no part-livery/assisted DIY spaces right now. We can't have him simply on DIY so there must be a trustworthy team on the yard. They have a waiting list though so we shall see. Until then, I will continue searching. 

Grooming and yard work gives me some physical work out and horses' presence is nicely calming. 
The work being quiet means I had breaks between lessons which let me spend more time with some school horses before schooling them. I gave them thorough cleaning and chatted with them each for a bit. Working horses do love that interaction. When left alone they stand looking depressed and lackluster but as you show them some interest, after a moment, their ears point towards you and they nuzzle you from time to time, turn around and sniff your pockets for treats. 
It's also interesting to see how some of the horses retreated into themselves while in isolation during illness. They are now being brought into work and one mare in particular, from a cheeky, boisterous almost character stood indifferent when I scrubbed her coat. Normally she would be on top of me begging for polos. It took about 20 minutes before she started to react to grooming at her favorite spots at the withers, stretching her neck and nudging me for goodies. 

Ok, more dealing with numbers for me now. 

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

There is a very valid reason for not standing behind a horse...Oh and update on Norway trip!

There might be a mare around who dislikes your horse and you get a swift double barrel before you have the time to think "oh shit!". I've learned that 10 years ago so it wasn't me today (you simply don't make THIS mistake twice). My evening riders today went a little complacent about this rule and one ended up with a very accurate, embedded drawing of a hoof print on her thigh. We drove to the hospital just to be on the safe side but looks like there are no broken bones. Phew!

Now, the exciting training trip is now all booked up, flights and all! Even more amazingly, we have all the 8 places booked up already (30 minutes from when Maria sent the poster out!). No pressure then ;)

Here is a little snapshot of Maria's poster:

You can see the full version on her blog if you click on the image above. And this is our venue, looking all snowy from outside - thankfully they do have an indoor arena too :)

Photo by Maria of Horse Of Course

Monday, 3 January 2011

An Amazing Start To The New Year!

Apart from the cold that is! I was so determined not to succumb to any more colds last year and I almost succeeded! Almost. On Thursday the 30th I woke up at 4am with a raging fever and a cough from nowhere. This is why I spent the New Year's Eve watching London's fireworks on TV. Admittedly, seeing the crowds gathered by London Eye I was very glad we didn't go there. It looked impressive and jolly though:

I then spent the first glorious hours of New Year's Day on watching a brainless Lara Croft movie ;) As you do when you are sneezing all over the room and would rather feel invincible.

Now onto the amazing part. I was sitting in a Cafe with Rick checking my emails in hope we won a lottery of any kind or Santa had remembered us in his far away Lapland, you know.
Well, an email I started reading wasn't quite from Lapland but not far from there...

I got invited by a lovely lady, Maria, who writes a blog Horse Of Course  to do some Academy training at her yard near Oslo, Norway! She is pretty much organizing everything from flights to food - thank you, Maria!
I phoned Kari who is in the middle of re-decorating her very own Chiropractic Clinic she recently bought and was doing some wall painting when I asked her if she had anything planned for the end of the month as we are flying to Norway ;) Since my work is so low intensity right now the timing for me is perfect. Once Kari has cleared her busy schedule we will be free to go.
Just in case you wondered what's Kari's role in Aspire Academy training you can read all about it here: 

The plan is to fly out at the end of the month and I will keep you informed on how we do. I put a loose suggestions together for the programme for the 3 days we will be there and Maria made it all into a very exciting & neat schedule. I am really looking forwards to it although having checked the weather over there I noticed it hasn't been above 0 for quite a while! Anyone has a spare ski suit I can borrow??

Once again huge thank you to Maria for such amazing opportunity. It's great for me to take my training approach further and financially it will of course help enormously.

Back on the planet Earth, I finally have some work tomorrow and the day after. Progress.
Happy New Year Everybody! :)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Case Study # 4: What Academy Can Offer to Teenage Enthusiasts

Photo: Katya and one of the ponies she regularly rides at a local riding school.

"Equestrian art, perhaps more than any other, is closely related to the wisdom of life. Many of the same principles may be applied as a line of conduct to follow. The horse teaches us self-control, constancy, and the ability to understand what goes on in the mind and the feelings of another creature, qualities that are important throughout our lives. Moreover, from this relationship with his horse the rider will learn that only kindness and mutual understanding will bring about achievements of highest perfection."

Alois Podhajsky, Former Director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

Horse Riding can be a wonderful, rewarding sport for any teenager. Being an outdoor, varied activity it is a great way to keep fit and healthy while enjoying relationship with very intuitive, sensitive animals.

Whether you are passionately academic or prefer life outside of school, equestrian sports bring a variety of different challenges and contrary to popular belief, provide a great activity not just for the girls but for the boys too!

One of the most rewarding elements of taking part in any sport is to see and feel an improvement in your skills, knowledge and technical understanding.

There are many very good riding establishments in the country that have a clear, progressive programmes or courses for young riders. However, there are also many that have no structure in place at all. A riding school can have qualified instructors, state of the art facilities and nice horses but if they have no progressive system in place you will find yourself riding at the same level for many years.

If you are after pony rides it might not be necessary to be too worried but if you are serious about getting the most out this fabulous sport, make sure you find out HOW the lessons are taught, WHAT is being taught and WHETHER there are courses/programmes in place that will allow you to trace your/your daughter's or son's progress. If you have very little experience of horse riding think about other sports and browse football schools, tennis schools or swimming classes and assess how do they deliver their services. The activity might be very different depending on the kind of sport but generic coaching system should always be easy to identify.

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy is just one such system. It offers Quality riding Education that is Progressive and Enjoyable.

Photo: Angela on Saffron having a short break for a drink of water.

As with training for adults, there are 5 Training Programmes and the only difference for teen riders is that the sessions are primarily shared (2-4 riders sharing the lessons). The exception is the Start Programme which is conducted on a private lessons basis simply because most of the sessions are lunge lessons which requires a one-to-one teaching.

The reason for shared sessions is that it helps young riders to learn from one another, it gives them a feeling of team work as well as individual effort and increases the enjoyment and motivation to attend the training.

Here are some snippets from Foundation Programme with two of my regular riders: Angela and Katya.


Both girls mostly ride once a week at a local riding school and none of them have their own pony although Angela helps out at the yard whenever she can. They've been riding for several years: Angela is quite a gang-ho rider with very little worry but when I first started teaching her we had to focus a lot on her position and riding technique as she picked up decent amount of bad habits. Being tall with long legs and long arms, she struggles to find a good position on smaller ponies but is a determined rider always willing to learn more. Once her balance perception improves she will be able to be significantly more effective. Angela does get a fair amount of drilling from me but that is mainly because I know she can be very good!

Katya has been riding with me for the last three years but only recently we began more focused training. She has a good position for a recreational rider and a very good feel for the horse but lacks confidence and assertiveness with often opinionated ponies. Having said that, she likes to prove me wrong now and then and rides with surprising determination!  Riding a familiar pony brings the best out of Katya's abilities and she feels more at home doing flatwork than jumping.


As most of the lessons that the girls usually have are on the flat we decided to focus on pole work and preparation for jumping as a main task for our 5 week Case Study training plan.

We've been doing occasional pole work and light seat/jumping position training as part of usual lessons but I wanted the girls to experience a structured series of progressive, themed lessons so I've made arrangements with the riding school to make sure we had the same ponies over several weeks. Although this is rarely possible on regular basis, riding the same horse over a period of time helps experience a connection with particular animal that is absolutely necessary in this sport.

WEEK 1 & 2: We went back to basics and learned about the importance of a correct pace, well thought out approaches ending with straight lines and always heading into the middle of the pole. We worked on the rhythm of the trot coming in, going over and away from the poles making sure the horses remained in the same tempo. The aim was to feel when the trot was becoming slower and weaker or speedy and rushed and act on those feels accordingly. This sort of work helps the rider to concentrate on the quality of the line to, over and away from the jump. It is their job to "navigate" the horse in the best possible balance and best possible line. I always tell them that the actual jump is not the rider's job - it's the horse's job. The horse can only do their part of the job if the rider does theirs. Such focus also helps less confident riders as it takes their mind off the scary bit (the going over the jump).

We also focused on the stability of the lower legs in canter and the technique in the light seat in trot and canter. This in turn let the girls work or independent hands so needed in jumping.

Video 1 showing the work described above. The girls aren't riding their regular ponies here. We did an Intensive Training Day as part of the training so they could practice on unknown horses as well as on those they knew well.

You will notice that not everything is going according to the plan but both girls remain calm, focused on keeping the horse going while maintaining quiet hand position and looking up and ahead. At their level they don't have much influence over the horse's balance or shape but they are learning to feel the difference between being in control of the tempo or starting to lose it, between enough and insufficient impulsion etc.

Katya (blue t-shirt, cream jods) has some difficulty adjusting to Molly, a very big moving mare she is on, but she is doing a great job by letting her legs relax and avoiding the gripping. Many riders feel unbalanced on big moving horses due to weak core stability. They compensate for lack of balance by squeezing with inner thighs in an attempt to stabilise themselves. Unfortunately that causes more discomfort and even greater loss of balance.  It takes some courage for novice riders to believe there is no need for gripping.

Angela (navy blue t-shirt, black jods) is on Saffron, smaller, fairly highly strung TB mare which she adored but it took her a while to get used to the mare's erratic way of going. You can see when I zoom in that there is no stability in the rider's lower leg which we worked on a lot with some very good results.

How important it is to anchor your lower leg and remain independent of the reins shows this sequence:

You can see Saffron here taking off on a long stride which Angela wasn't ready for. This causes her to stay behind the movement with no rein release on the take off and over the jump. However, notice that she managed to remain reasonably secure in her lower leg position and this enabled her to advance both arms forwards and let Saffron use her neck upon landing. The mare's mouth stayed quiet and closed and she dealt with the whole thing as if nothing happened.

Getting left behind the movement is something that will always happen to every novice rider from time to time but it's how they deal with it that's important. I like to teach an absolute respect for horse's mouth over the jump which is why I do a lot of work on automatic release in light seat, over the poles or even as part of flatwork lessons. Whatever happens the rider has to give the horse the freedom to use its neck. Under any circumstances  should the rider hang onto the horse's mouth when being left behind - it's not only dangerous but highly unpleasant for the horse. If I see that the rider can't immediately push their hands forwards when in trouble, I take them back on the lunge for some balance training.

Week 3 & 4: The following two weeks were dedicated to control. Control of the canter, of the horse's body in the corners of the arena, control of the rider's seat and reaction in front of the jump and further control of the lines. The poles were replaced with small jumps and we rode variety of very simple courses focusing on everything we learned in Week 1 & 2 i.e. the pace, rhythm and lines. Unfortunately I managed to video the ground instead of the girls doing the exercises so no video footage.

We also continued with variety of exercises on the flat targeting the riders balance and core strength. Here is a short clip of a fun little exercise where the riders pretends to be cycling whilst sitting centered in the saddle. This exercises really underlines the role of the upper body position and how straight, vertical back improves general stability. The leg movements keep the hips mobile.

Video 2: You can see Angela doing it in walk here but if you have a suitable horse and an instructor to see to your safety you can try this in trot and canter to further challenge your balance!

Week 5: Intensive Training Day.

The Training Day is an action packed experience and the task for the girls was to test their skills on horses they weren't used to. It was a very hot summer day and we had to make frequent breaks to grab some water and rest the horses but both girls rode really well and proved the training they doing had paid off.

Each rider had some off-horse exercises to do to help with their performance in the saddle. For example, Katya had a tendency to ride with her heals up a little so she had to go up any stairs she found in a way that slowly stretched her calves.

Angela, battling with weak core and leg muscles had to cycle on her bicycle without sitting on the seat for 10 minutes a few days a week. She wasn't a big fan of this routine but it does do wonders for jump training ;)

Both Angela and Katya improved their technique and strength throughout those 5 weeks. Jumping position remained a bit of a weak spot for Angela for further few months but by the end of November 2010, after determined practice she now as a secure light seat position which she can stay in comfortably.

Video 3: Field Session. Riding & Jumping in the large open field is often very exciting for both the horses and the riders. The terrain, being uneven, rides very different to a manicured surface of the arena and there is a lot to be learned about balance when cantering on the grass! The size of the field means that the riders can't rely on my help every minute and they have to start making own decisions. I like doing those sessions with riders who are ready for some independence as these are the moments when the rider can experience that wonderful feeling of being out there "on their own" with the horse. It is great for the horses too as it provides them with variety and breaks monotony of arena schooling.

Young Riders are also encouraged to keep a simple Training Log Book and make short notes on what they've learned during each training session, what they found difficult, what felt easy.

The riders are videoed for visual feedback purposes and they can keep the DVD to compare their riding skills as the training progresses.


Did you like this way of training/improving your riding? Here is how you can learn with the Academy.

We can travel to your yard if there are 2-4 teenagers with own ponies interested in the training. Get together and feel free to contact us for any further information.

The regular sessions run throughout term-time with optional Intensive Training Days during school holidays.

Don't own a pony? Not a problem. We use some lovely horses at Hall-Place Equestrian Centre near Reading for the non-horse owners.

Photo: Riding is one thing. Another is being able to look after the horse or pony that you train on. All the riders on the Academy Programmes learn Horse Knowledge and Care (relevant to the Programme they are on).

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