Monday, 31 December 2007

New Year's Eve

After a lazy morning Ricky and I set off to the yard. I was quite surprised he actually agreed to
come along as he normally stays as away as possible ;) It was definitely great to be back into the
saddle and although I am still struggling with Hamlet and our sessions are far from smooth, I really enjoyed myself :)
Pic left.: On the way up the top field

Coming back home was less enjoyable as we realised we didn't think of the time the shops close on New Year's Eve! I planned to cook a nice dinner but we ended up doing a Big Improvisation meal which actually turned out mega tasty :)
As Ricky just have to do everything differently than everybody else we opened out Champagne while munching on Big Improvisation ;)

Although the New Year and its big plans haven't yet truly started I took a little step towards them by putting up a couple of adverts. I am dreading the busyness of my week as it can get pretty hectic with the clients I have already but I just have to try and see how I get on. So, I put one advert on YardAndGroom and one on BHS website Both have given me a very good response about a year ago.

Ok, off I pop now for a second helping of Champagne and some last minute celebrations :)
Happy New Year!!

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Reading This Week - "Tug of War - Classical versus "modern" dressage"

While at Olympia I made sure I bought myself a nice stack of reading projects ;) At the moment I have a pleasure to be half way through a mega interesting book: "The Tug of War: Classical versus 'modern' dressage". It's a truly engaging read on various schooling methods, including currently debatable "rollkur" - or hyperflexion, and their influence on horse's health, development and athleticism. If I could I would buy lots of copies and gave it as presents to all my clients.

Tug of War: Classical Versus Modern Dressage

Thursday, 27 December 2007

New Year's Resolutions - 2008

Well, Christmas break is almost over. I won't be going on about all the gifts, although they were all fantastic :) ;I will just mention that Ricky bought me one year subscription to Horse and Hound magazine!! :):):)
Horse & Hound cover
My first issue will be delivered in the first week of January :):)
New year is just four days away and the end of December is the time when I usually try to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard more likely nowadays) and write down plans, hopes and challenges for the coming 12 months.
Having read a NLP book (see my post here) I decided to give more attention to the words I use not only when teaching but when self-talking my plans. I would normally say 'I hope to take this and that exam this year' or 'I am going to try to fit more training for myself this year' etc. According to NLP theory (which, by the way, have some impressive sporting results when combined with sports psychology), the words and expressions you use on day to day basis have very specific actions on your unconscious mind. If I say to myself that I am hoping to take my Stage IV next year this is exactly what will happen - I will be hoping to take it throughout the year.
I guess, by saying that 'I hope', 'I try' etc I quietly allow various 'ifs' and 'buts' to enter the equation. In other words, I create a back door for myself so I can sneak out undetected without much trouble. Well, I hoped, I tried ...but it didn't happen...will try again next year...etc

I do think words have incredible power. You can observe it easily especially if you teach nervous riders - they will only respond to you and trust you if you use powerful, confidence giving language. This is, by the way, one of the many reasons why I find teaching in English frustrating as my words don't always come to me naturally and sometimes moments of hesitation cost you someones trust. The same frustration, however, pushes me to learn more, improve and develop my linguistic skills further and further.

The book I mentioned above says: "The meaning of your communication is the response you get...which may be different from the one you intended...what you say about yourself and to yourself are your beliefs, and your unconscious mind looks for reinforcement and justification of them..."

So, I am going to stop hoping and trying in 2008. Instead I will:

1) Pass further BHS exams:
2) Train and compete Elementary dressage
3) Attend The National Instructors’ Conventions 2008
4) Obtain UKCC (UK Coaching Certificate) qualification (Level 3)
5) Take more riders on and boost my earnings (which will in turn allow me to afford all the above!)

The above are my priorities for 2008 as far as teaching/coaching career is concerned. There will be plenty little goals and aims on the way but those will be my main focus.
Roll on 2008!

Monday, 24 December 2007

If you like Freestyle to Music ... will love this site - Music for Freestyle - plenty of videos from the best tests in the world!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Olympia London International Horse Show 2007: Dressage/Grand Prix Freestyle to Music

As usual Olympia delivered a wonderful show and I enjoyed every minute of the Tuesday's Grand Prix Freestyle.
Below are some videos and pictures (click on a picture to enlarge); for more, click HERE.

Anky Van Grunsven masterclass was in fact just a 10 minutes display kept light and with a humor.

anky masterclass

Anky's mastercalss videos (as you will notice there were plenty of ignorant people parading in and out during the show as if they could not wait for an interval):

Video 1

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 1

Video 2

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 2

Video 3

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 3

Video 4

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 4

Video 5

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 5

Video 6

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 6

Video 7

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 7

Video 8

Anky Van Grunsven Masterclass 8

Starting Order and Results

1) 20:10 Julia Chevanne & Calimucho FRA - 70.050%

Julia Chevanne & Calimucho

2) 20:19 Michal Rapcewicz % Randon POL - 67.800%

michal rapcewicz randon

3) 20:28 Emile Faurie & Dream of Heildelberg I GBR- 68.300%

Emile Faurie & Dream of Heildelberg I - 68.300%

4) 20:37 Evi Strasser & Quantum Tyme CAN - 70.450%

Evi Strasser & Quantum Tyme - 70.450%

5) 20:46 Iryna Lis & Problesk BLR - 66.400%

6) 20:55 Jeroen Devroe & Paganini BEL - 72.200%

Jeroen Devroe & Paganini - 72.200%

7) 21:04 Anna - Katharina Luttgen & Zancor GER - 70.650%

8) 21:13 Dahl Anders & Afrikka DEN - 73.550%

9) 21:32 Carl Hester & Dolendo GBR - 73.100%


Carl Hester & Dolendo - 73.100%


Carl Hester & Dolendo again

10) 21:41 Stephanie Coxford & Mr. President GBR - 71.150%


11) 21:50 Alex van Silfhout & Luxform's Nimbly NED - 72.200%

luxforms nimbly alex van silhout

12) Aat van Essen & Premier NED - 72.050%

premier aat van essen

13) 22:08 Anky Van Grunsven & IPS Salinero NED - 83.050%

anky and salinero


Anky Van Grunsven & IPS Salinero

Anky Van Grunsven & IPS Salinero

Anky Van Grunsven & IPS Salinero - 83.050%

14) 22:17 Laura Bechtolsheimer & Mistral Hojris GBR - 72.450%


laura and mistral hojris

15) 22:26 Kyra Kyrklund & Max FIN - 76.500%

kyra kyrklund and max

I loved Kyra's test - she and Max just danced together as if no one was watching.

Show Jumping on Saturday - World Cup Qualifier - Some great pictures from Olympia Show Jumping on HERE.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Reading this week - NLP in Sports Psychology

Since almost every rider comes with an individual set of different learning styles I like to read up on variety of teaching methods. One of my riders has recently been prizing the NLP (neurolinguistic programming).
I came across it some time ago when reading Mary Wanless's books but didn't really research it any further then. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an interpersonal communication model and an alternative approach to psychoteraphy based on the subjective study of language, communication and personal change.

On Sunday during my lunch hour I spotted a book in the office and decided to borrow it and am reading it this week.

The book:

The content is very interesting to read and all the concepts are simplified and made easily digestible. I started digging a little on the subject and I must say I was surprised to find quite a well of information.
If you would like to have a browse through the book click HERE.
What I found especially engaging was how NLP enhances sports performances. Click at the image below and have a read; who knows, you may benefit from the NLP :)


Saturday, 15 December 2007

“The best and fastest way to learn a sport is to watch and imitate a champion.” [ Jean Claude Killy]

Emile Faurie

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.Abigail Adams (1744 - 1818), 1780
Franke Sloothaak

Ulla Salzgeber


There is something magical about the frost and teaching people who really want to learn

I know it's cold and my toes are mostly in the state of constant freeze alert but I just can't help but be overwhelmed by the beauty of the frosted arenas when I teach late in the evenings. Don't laugh but on Wednesday, with the floodlights on, it all looked like someone has just dropped and scattered millions of tiny silver earrings all over the place! I kept staring at it now and then with some sort of childish admiration ;) I spent my childhood in the country where winter means snow and a lot of it. Frost like that is a different matter ;)
Horses take longer to warm up in this weather. Sometimes they are being a little fresh and playful and I have to be mega watchful with beginner riders. Sometimes we stop and while I explain things to the riders I am surrounded by the clouds of warm air blown out through the horse's nostrils.
One of the children asked me why she can see the horse's breath in the winter but not in the summer...At the moments like that I am quite pleased I spent four years in a profiled high school class studying biology and chemistry ;))

I found this online at : Why can I see my breath when it's cold?

The Kid's Answer
Kai, age 4: Because oxygen is in your mouth and you blow it out when it's cold. It's white and it comes out of your mouth and some people like to do that. In the summer, the oxygen is still in your mouth and it's sleeping, so you don't see it.

The Parent's Answer
Kai's mom: You have warm air inside you and cold air outside. When they mix, you get a white cloud.

The Scientist's Answer
Water has three phases: liquid, gas, and solid. Water vapor is the gas phase, and ice is the solid phase. What you are seeing when you see your breath, says Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the NOAA National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Maryland, are little droplets of water condensing out of a gas that's in your lungs. Our breath contains a lot of vapor because our lungs are quite moist. When we head outside on a cold day, water molecules (the vapor) in our breath lose the energy that, when they're warm, keeps them moving. Instead of bouncing around, they crowd up next to each other. And as they slow down, the molecules change from a gas state to denser liquid and solid states — the visible cloud of tiny particles of water and ice that you see when you exhale.

How to Explain It to Kids
Go outside and have your kids blow on their hands so they can feel how warm their breath is compared to winter air. When our warm breath puffs into cold air, tiny droplets are squeezed out of it like water from a sponge. The drops make a small, vanishing cloud.

After huffing and puffing out in the cold, head back in to warm up with hot chocolate. The plume of steam from the boiling kettle is like your breath: hot and wet. As the jet of water-laden warm air mixes with the cooler air of the kitchen, moisture in it comes out as a cloud of water droplets. The droplets are so small, they disappear from view before ever reaching the ground — just like your frozen breath.

It's handy to know little facts like that as, thank goodness, they earn you a little bit of attention and save you from frustration ( I am not too good with kids, you see).

On Thursday I had a really good session with Hamlet. There was a lot to like about the connection and the contact was better as well. I was particularly happy with the half-halts as I finally managed to get them actually going through him (half-decently) rather than stopping at the base of his neck in a jerky fashion.

Today was quite a busy day which saw me teaching riding club riders in Kent. Although I do have sessions with children/teenagers there they are so much more involved in riding that I almost enjoy teaching them as much as I enjoy teaching adults.
The thing with children riding since forever and without instruction is that they develop all sorts of quirky methods to deal with problems. Those methods are very rarely of much help for their further development as riders and in fact they very often work against them.
Standing in the stirrups, for instance, and pulling hard on a strong pony's mouth will indeed stop the pony but will not teach a child to use their seat, to half-halt, to communicate with the pony with their entire body rather than just the reins. Habits like that are mega hard to break and they desensitise the pony in the process but we are working on it.
What is great is how much effort and heart those young riders put into the lessons and seeing them and the ponies improve is an excellent reward.

The adults' lesson was my typical 'torture' session as I do make those people work hard. They are usually rather tired afterwards but since they love it and I am determined for them to improve, we have a lot of fun time as well as moments of serious learning.
We are continuing to work on flexion and stretching, relaxation and suppleness which is basically the same what I presently do with Hamlet. I do think it's such an important building block for any further steps that I am not going to get anybody to skip on it. The horses have a 'thank you' notes all over their faces, they snort, they chew the bits, they have foamy mouths. It's a privilege to teach people who put so much effort into the exercises and all the 'homework' I give them in between our lessons.
The great news is that I have finally managed to book a session with Anna Ross-Davies. It was difficult to fit the day that would suit all parties involved but I guess there aren't impossible things for those who are really determined. The 1st February 08 is the date. Still a long wait but I am told by everyone it will be well worth it!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Friday, 7 December 2007

FEI TRAINING SCALE AND WARM-UP with Withages & Schmidt

Forum with Mariette Withages, Chair of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Dressage Committee and "O" judge together with Hubertus Schmidt, German Dressage National Champion, Olympic rider, trainer and coach. In this session Mariette Withages provides the comments on the FEI Training Scale of horses. Hubertus Schmidt provides genral outlines regarding the warm-up of the horse.


British Dressage - KBIS Equestrian Convention 2007

Click HERE to read the British Dressage article on the British Equestrian National Convention with Hubertus Schmidt which ran on the 24th-25th November 2007.

If you like Hubertus' method have a look at the Developing power through relaxation article.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Working on losgelassenheit...

Lack of suppleness and looseness is what I am currently having problem with while riding Hamlet. Being my usual detective self I am now trying to learn as much as I can about achieving this elusive losgelassenheit with a horse that tenses up when I ride him.
Most of my half-halts stops somewhere at the base of his neck most of the time (although I had a few very nice moments today when he seemed more through and accepting). I don't feel him coming up with his back and loosening; when he does come round it feels more like neck only roundness rather than arching of the back underneath the saddle. Since I have experienced how it really feels to ride a horse that is 'through' I became dissatisfied with this whole 'arched neck only' situation.
What I do now is I am trying to achieve true long and low outline with Hamlet where he stretches down and towards the contact. We had about 5 minutes today when he actually chewed the rein out of my hand and it felt fantastic! If only I could ride like that for 30 minutes not just 5!
I am hoping Dressage Mum and Echo might be reading this and won't mind offering some exercises and advice? :)

Now, time to read this article: Functional Anatomy of the horse's back where a top German veterinarian discusses why the horse must be stretched forward and down to be able to raise his back. The piece seems pretty comprehensive yet concise and very interesting so I am going to spend a while on studying it tonight. There is something in the fact that some people, me included, learn better when they really understand why and what for something is done.

Can you make a living out of it?

Apart from the obvious equine element, what I like about teaching to ride is the variety of people you come across. One day you teach someone who wants to be a forensic scientist, an autistic man who loves to stare at horse's eye, a vascular surgeon, a cello player etc to name just a few.
I find it fascinating how all those people who would never have met in everyday life, would have never spoken to one another, find a somewhat unique connection via four legged hairy creatures that bump them about.
So yes, I love teaching riding. Today, a city worker asked me whether it is possible to make a living out of being a riding instructor...Having recently thought about it a lot I had to admit that it's highly unlikely the pay would satisfy the enquirer.
This actually really annoys me. I find it infinitely unfair that something I enjoy doing, something I would love to concentrate on improving and making a career of, is not only badly paid but it's paid worse than my very dull, samey, brain killing, part-time office job.
Why can't equestrian coaches be equally regarded and well paid as football coaches? That would be great, wouldn't it? Ha, if only equestrianism got as much attention as football...or, for instance.
My part-time job involves a lot of conversations with a city firm. For every each of those conversations my company is charged per minute. We are also charged for the time it takes to write an email, print a paper, scan a document. I received some bills this morning. One, being for a couple of emails, couple of conversations and a few print outs - totalling 18 minutes - went up to £££...I should have studied law indeed and just teach riding as a volunteer instructor ;)

Out of curiosity I googled some advice 'an average person' would probably read if one was looking for widely available career resources on becoming a riding instructor. As an example Learn Direct/riding instructor says:
  • "Starting salaries for trainee and assistant instructors are likely to be up to £12,000 a year.
  • Experienced instructors are likely to earn up to £24,000."
The problem with this is that the above salaries usually have accomodation included in them. This means, that unless you want to live on the yard, you will never see the money mentioned.

Careers Scotland/riding instructor:

"Riding instructors earn in the range of £12,000 - £17,000 a year, rising to £20,000 - £24,000. Higher earners, including those who work as lecturers, can make around £23,000 - £33,000 a year. Some employers provide instructors with meals and accommodation.

Riding instructors usually work a basic 40 hour week. However, long hours, including early starts, late finishes and work on weekends and public holidays, may be required. Some posts are seasonal."

The lecturing path is the one I am personally interested in so if/when I explore it I shall drop a word about it for sure. However, having had a chance to chat to lecturers from a couple of top UK equine colleges I am aware that not everything is as good as it sounds...

Yes, I know it should all be about being rewarding and satisfying - and it is! - but it is hard to arrange for this satisfaction to pay the bills. Needless to say, the city worker will not be quitting his comfortable (yet deadly boring) chair just yet.

As to me, I will just keep plowing through what I enjoy doing. Who knows what opportunities wait around the corner...

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Just counted...

My hours towards the BHSAI...317 done (those last 7 today in a crazy rain and wild winds). 183 to go...

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Dressage today :) and some news

In the early morning hours I set off to Hamlet's yard. I plaited him yesterday and all plaits stayed put which I was really pleased about. He was rather excited about morning travel hustle and bustle so plaiting him in that state would be a very frustrating experience ;)
Wonderful sunshine made the whole day very relaxing. We arrived at Oldencraig Equestrian Centre well in time to be able to walk about the centre's lovely facilities, browse their saddlery (always nice to have a look at horsey stuff!) soak up the sunshine and get ready without a rush.
Hamlet behaved himself and was fairly settled (having eaten almost whole hay net!). Since
Ricky is still not keen on participating in my competitive endeavours and I wasn't going to have any pictures or videos, I snapped Hammie on its own, patiently waiting for me to fit in a weird hairnet (you don't need it for show jumping ;) under my hat.
Our test, Prelim 17, was in one of the centre's indoor arenas with a warm up outdoors. Due to a lovely weather it worked very well. Warm up arena was 20x60 so provided plenty of room and I must say it was one of the best warm up experiences I have had for a long time.
I started off from a nice walk on the long rein off the track and I could feel he was in a feisty mood but not running against my hand too badly. My guess was that our biggest problem would be tension and I was right.
The first part of the test went quite well and I thought 'hey, this is feeling good!'. There was a gentle music dancing through the speakers and I found it very relaxing. We walked down the long side where Hamlet caught his reflection in the mirrors and must have thought he looked well as he proceeded to soften his jaw and came rounder ;) The bell rang and I did a circle to set him up nicely for the the whole 60m of the centre line. We managed to go deep but balanced into the corners and he really bent well around my inside leg. The sequence of trot 20m and 15m half-circles went well too, he was quite happy with me regulating his rhythm but could have been much more supple and through (he was resisting my restraining aids in the warm up but I was expecting that as it has been a problem before). Walk transition at H was good but I could feel that he would have been happier if we had stayed in trot! In fact, he jogged twice in a change of rein in walk on the long rein and I don't expect high marks for the test. Canter transitions and canter to trot weren't bad but due to tension and not concentrating on me he stroke on left lead on the right canter :( It was my fault though as I could really feel him drifting slightly away from the circumference of the circle and loosing the shoulder. I wasn't quick enough to correct it and the spot for a canter was just then. I sent him right but he just wriggled and stroke left. I changed the lead immediately but again I am expecting a very low mark for this. Canter itself felt very good, bouncy, truly three beat, active and very rideable.
In general I was satisfied with the first part of the test and bits and pieces from the second half but once the tension had crept in it was very difficult to ride well.
The Test Score Sheet will be posted to me as we couldn't wait for the class to finish. I am interested in what the judge had to say. Personally I wouldn't mark myself highly on that test but I want to see whether what I thought was bad, was equally bad for the judge.
I am going to update Hamlet's blog with more details shortly and will add the scores there as well once known.
To summarise, I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. The organisation was great and it just felt like a treat to be out there.


Anna R.-D. finally let me know on the available dates and looks like I could have a lesson at 2pm on the 29th January the earliest. The problem is I work 9am-9pm on that day and can't cancel the teaching. It's not very easy to set up dates with top trainers, is it? I am now going to contact her again and see if she can do any other dates, eek!


One riding club's riders decided they enjoyed lessons with me and now want regular club rallies; so we will be doing a rally every month in the first week of each month. I hope they know what they have chosen for themselves by going with me ;) There is no lazy riding and doing-nothing on my lessons!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Arena surfaces and other elements of horsey life

Do you know what is best about fresh loose woodchips surface? It smells gorgeous. Unfortunately, the advantages end there! Oh, no sorry, apparently it is also cheap. The one I am working on provides very deep going, it's slippery when wet, it is hard for instructors to move about on not to mention for the horses, it's uneven as well as moves easily. In other words - it's bad. I would not be surprised if horses developed tendon/ligament problems on it. I have a doubtful pleasure to teach on such surface during a week. Apart from free aromatherapy sessions it doesn't provide much enjoyment.
An internet source says: Woodchip was the first riding weather surface ever to be produced. In these early days, chip could be purchased from any UK timber mill as it was not a specialised riding surface as such – simply, all those years ago, the only one available at the time. There were initial problems because of this – every timber mill puts different woods through their machines and cuts chip differently with different blades, they still do, so there is no regulation over the chip which is when problems can arise when using it…..the chunks are too large, they wedge in the horses feet, they don’t bed in an settle, the wood is too soft, etc
In comparison to what the modern market has on offer the woodchip is painfully old fashioned.
It is enough to watch horses working on it for few hours a day to know they would rather be anywhere but on it.
I personally adore light coloured surfaces alike Ecotrack of Martin Collins.

My second Sunday at the Barnfield Riding School went well. There was no accidents and I had a few very happy clients. There is one group however, which really needs sorting. They are so miserable that I bet the ponies feel it and have the worst time of the day. I really wonder why some kids ride if they don't enjoy it. Next time I am going to tell them that if they don't stop looking as if they were taking part in some funerary customs, they will have to dismount and lead the ponies around instead (I wish! ;).
When I was a child I was so happy and excited to be able to ride that I had a wild grin on my face throughout the whole ride.

I am still awaiting for dates for my dressage training. I presume they will be sometime in mid December. Waiting isn't really a problem for me but I would rather know earlier so I can arrange for transport and coordination of all the little things that needs to be put together.
I am in two minds as to the choice of the horse. Henry's owner is happy to give the training a go but she is yet to decide whether she thinks it will be good for her horse to be trained by one person and ridden at home by the other. Jenny is happy for me to take Hamlet but he is stabled an hour away from the trainer's centre. Considering I will event Hammie a bit next season I would love to take him but we will just have to see how it goes.
Once I know the dates I will get the action wheels rolling :)

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The essence of success...

Quotes are something of a miniature past time for me ;) They come with this certain interesting load of history, wisdom, cynicism and/or irony. I get one quote a day to my email and the latest one says:

The essence of success is that it is never necessary to think of a new idea oneself. It is far better to wait until somebody else does it, and then to copy him in every detail, except his mistakes.

-- Aubrey Menen

Friday, 23 November 2007

On and off

On and off is how I feel at the moment which I guess is because some sort of mild cold thing is trying to get me down.
If I am not too well in the morning I am going to spend half a day in bed and hopefully that will help - nothing works better for me than a good rest.
Hamlet went beautifully yesterday (and there was no rain!), I was so pleased with him. I am still trying to ride him in a longer frame for the first half of the session, then a little stronger and only pick him up properly for the last 15 minutes or so. It worked really well yesterday and he actually felt very good on the outside rein. I could leave my hands in front of me and he really took the contact. The right shoulder-in was rather laboured and he tends to turn his neck only to start with which is something I need to work on with myself first. Our left shoulder-in was pretty good if I can say so myself ;)
The canter was also good, not very good, not as good as I would like, but still better than the last time. Our canter-trot transitions are quite atrocious though.
We have a Prelim 17 outing planned for the 1st of December at Oldencraig. That gives us a few more days of getting to know each other and will see how it goes on the day of the test.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Could someone please stop this rain??!

I know it's winter and I shouldn't expect to be basking in the sun but deary me, this rain is making me feel bad! Since Monday I had spent about 16 hours in pouring rain. Today was the worst - I could barely see my clients behind the wall of water bucketing down. Thankfully my 8pm cancelled as I am not sure if my soaked body would take another hour.
I wonder if I should ask Toggi Extreme to explain why their waterproof trousers don't quite live up to the 'waterproof' bit in their name. They are great in general (and perfect for showers etc) but I can tell you that they definitely don't keep your legs dry after 6 hours of heavy rain exposure.
I am sitting here now with a mug of hot vanilla tea and a Cold&Flu Relief (as not feeling too good) and am hoping tomorrow will be a little drier.

PS. Historically spring starts on the day of the vernal equinox, which usually occurs on the night of 20/21 March. 122 days to go...


Monday, 19 November 2007

It's all in your head...

Anyone who is now somewhere in London vicinity will know how dreadful the day has begun. You don't really want to get up in the morning when it is as dark and gloomy as if the evening was already there, rain bangs against the windows louder than the boiling kettle and you hadn't really had enough sleep.
So that is how my day started ;) Far from nice.
I hoped for a nice ride but it looked like it was going to be either swimming session or none at all. Then, just when I left the office at noon, the sun came out and there is not much that can beat the joy of sunshine in the middle of a grey, miserable day!
Needless to say I was very happy that my ride was rescued! To be fair, it did get a little rainy when I got to the yard but nothing too bad.
Hamlet was lovely to ride. Loose, willing to go low and take the rein, soft and cooperative. For the last several months I have been riding being watched by various people and I noticed I started being over cautious of what I have been doing. In many ways it has been good as I have been working on my bad habits and trying to sort out various issues. Unfortunately, it also added to tension and I noticed I over analysed things as I went. The analysis of what I do is something I struggle with: on one hand I want to do it as it helps me to teach but on the other hand it stops me from being instinctive with my riding.
Therefore today I just decided to enjoy myself, stop trying to figure out what happens when and just 'be with a horse' once again. It certainly worked today and it was so nice to just get on with it. I really must do it more often and only do my analysing sessions once a while.

After the ride I chatted to Jenny (Hamlet's owner) and she said that her sister rode Hamlet on Sunday and he was very supple and loose. Just for the record, Jenny's sister is one of those people who don't even ride very often but get the tune out of a horse; as Jenny said 'she just sat there and he went beautifully'.
Maybe this is it - once you have acquired certain skills and can do certain things the missing element is hidden in your head - however you want to interpret it...
For me, it is trying too hard. For someone else it might be general tension, undefined stress etc

I wish I could just programme myself now and always ride in such a good state of mind like today.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Today was a rather traumatic day...

I don't know whether there are any instructors or teachers reading but if you do, have you ever had a day which went badly enough (safety wise) for you to question your career choice?
Well, I had one like this today. Some said it was because of the weather but I have reservations...
I have been teaching riding for over 10 years and I have come across many situations where the danger of the sport looked me in the eye. I had clients falling over with their horses, breaking this and that, people having ordinary falls and less ordinary departures from the saddles. And I managed to stay fairly unaffected, falling off has always been a part of this sport.
Today was my first day at a new place. I received an absolutely fab welcome and it must be the friendliest place I have ever freelanced at. They showed me around, told me a thing or two about the horses (I was told all of them were fantastic, typical riding school horses, great givers and tried their hearts out). I also had wonderful first two hours with adult clients working on their seat and helping them discover how to ride better.
However, at 11.00 I had two children on ponies and the nightmare day began. We had a nice walking about, chatting and playing games after which I asked the girls to trot. Off they went and a second later I witnessed something I have never seen before. The pony behind the lead pony went into a very fast trot, ears flat back, CORNERED the lead pony and started a series of double barrels straight into it (and a child on board!!)! It literally took seconds. I ran across the arena, pulled the kicking pony away and directed the other child to the middle of the arena. Both girls didn't quite understand what happened so I told them the ponies spooked and I went to sort a leader for a kicker-pony.
Next lesson and another set of very beginner children put in a group. One of the ponies jumped sideways (spooked at who knows what) sending a child flying.
At this point I started questioning the suitability of the ponies and the way the children were put in groups. I was told I can change it for the next week so I made a note suggesting all children being put into 30 minutes slots of lunge/lead -rein lessons (as some could not steer or sit securely).
My 12.00pm lesson - three children and a lot of mess again; none could make the ponies trot without the animals ending in each others bums or next to me in the middle of the arena. Ponies kicking out, napping and refusing to cooperate. I moved them to the small arena and did exercises in walk.
By lunch time I was so mentally exhausted by all this that I thought there could be no worse. But I was wrong.
My 2pm lesson was with two teenagers and it went really well for almost a whole session, they worked very nicely, ponies behaved and I started to feel a little more optimistic. Then Bang! One of the ponies takes fright and charges in canter across the whole length of the arena, puts a few small bucks and then stops dead sending the rider flying and hitting the ground with quite an impact. Girl is winded badly, struggles for a breath so I spend a few minutes just trying to calm her down (meanwhile, in the corner of my eye, I can see the pony still running about, reins twisted around his fetlock - great). I shout for a helper and go back to calming the girl. She finally gets her breath back and tells me she can't move and her back hurts...I wait for her to relax a bit and run through all the checks I can think off; she can wiggle her toes, have no pins&needles sensation neither in her legs nor arms, she can bend her knees (an inch or so) and move her fingers. However, she is in enough pain that she can't move at all. I decide to call the ambulance and we wait for it to arrive in the rein and cold. Twenty minutes later the paramedics arrive, give her oxygen as she is in a shock, check her over and decide she is symptomatic of spinal/pelvic injury. The corset goes on and she is transported to the ambulance - she still is in too much pain to move so they do it inch by inch.
I really didn't want to see any more of the 'excellent' ponies at that moment. I gave stable management lesson to 3pm kids and braved outside with 4pm teenage group. The moment we start trotting one of the ponies had a tantrum and refused to go anywhere but the middle of the school. The girl tried to execute my instructions bless her but I could see the pony getting more and more irritated, stomping its feet, hopping with its back legs and planting its feet. Thankfully I managed to convince someone to take that pony to the separate arena for a private session which worked well.
I finished the day with a massive tension headache and a long wonder about freelancing and not knowing the horses/ponies you teach on.

Just before I left we got a phone call from the mother of the girl taken to the hospital. She turned out to be severely bruised but nothing else. My thought was, what if she did break her spine and was paralysed?
I think my 'safety first and foremost' awareness has now gotten into a new level. I am going to pay extremely high attention to the ponies used by places I teach at and will never ever again believe in one thing I am told about them. I am also going to ignore what I am told on the groups capability and will keep the clients in walk only if necessary.
My quest on teaching beginners a secure position as a first thing has also jumped up a few steps on priorities ladder.
I hope there are no strong winds next Sunday...
All I want to do now is to collapse on my bed!

PS. There is a little spin to the story with Henry, a horse I am to ride at trainings with Anna, but I am too exhausted now to write anymore. I will post more in a week.

Friday, 16 November 2007

I found a horse and waiting to hear from Anna Ross-Davies now...

A few weeks ago I contacted Anna Ross-Davies and to cut a long story short she agreed to train me if I find a horse.
Today I went to see one kind owner who offered for me to visit her yard and try her horse.
It was quite a nerve wracking experience for me as I desperately need a horse to learn on but I also know I am not a dressage rider and have hundreds of bad habits. Due to that I rode far from my best abilities and was pretty sure the owner would not be too happy for me to train on her horse.
Fortunately, the owner agreed and so I am now awaiting to hear from Anna on the available dates!
I am also going to ride the horse once a week and will get some instruction from his current rider which is great as she rode the horse beautifully :)

The horse is called Henry, is a 15hh grey anglo-arab who has been shown as a small hack (HOYS placing including) and the owner is keen for him to do dressage now.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Posterior pelvic tilt

Well, the pelvic tilt in riding is something I have been reading up on and analysing for a while. The Pilates exercises I have been doing call for a neutral spine and vertical pelvis which is great for engaging of abdominal muscles.
However, for riding, the secret apparently lies in posterior pelvic tilt achieved by the use of abdominal muscles (or forward scooping of the seat bones, or 'bringing your belly button towards the spine', or 'growing tall' or whatever else trainers call it) - not the gluteus muscles! . Have a look on here to see a person performing a pelvic tilt.
I have been trying to 'listen' to my body when riding so I can understand what I do or don't on some horses that make them go better (or worse) for their owners.
What I noticed is that I seem to naturally have my pelvis tilted backwards and abdominals engaged (i.e. have posterior tilt) but because I don't really think about it I keep loosing the tilt in crucial moments: just after half-halt and before the halt, in canter to trot transitions, sometimes in walk if I am too relaxed which tends to have adverse effect on the quality of the walk and probably other times but I haven't identified them as yet.
Today I really paid attention to how I sat and got quite impressive results especially in trot to canter and canter to trot transitions.
While teaching in the evening I paid mega attention to this in the rider and her horse also improved. It is not always easy for me to spot a rider loosing the correct tilt (if the degree of the tilt is small) so I am trying to train my eyes all the time. The definite sign of incorrect pelvic position are legs in front of the rider (instead of aligned and underneath the rider) and horse behind the leg. The response of the horse seems to be so far the quickest confirmation of correct/incorrect tilt, especially if the riders wears a massive coat ;). The biggest difference seems to be in the willingness to stretch, soften, chew the bit and offer the back.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

"Do they teach us what we need to know?" PART 1

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on teaching of equestrian sports. I received interesting comments which, together with feedback I get from my riders, made me want to undertake a translation of a series of articles from a Polish Equestrian magazine - „Świat Koni” . The articles were written by a coach and an FEI International Judge, Malgorzata Hansen. Her sometimes bitter but often very true observations of the equestrian sports coaching system are worth a read.
Here we go then.



Meticulous, diligent and structured approach to anything seems to be rare nowadays. This modus vivendi past its sell by date. We lack patience, some would say - time; the truth is we are just strongly socialised into having everything handed on a plate, immediately and without effort. This even includes skills which used to require practise and experience. In this day and age, everybody can climb Mount Everest, hunt lions, conquer waterfalls. Emotions of the the extreme sports are now delivered all ready made alike a packed dinner. They come accompanied by self-satisfaction after mastering diving or skiing in just a weekend...

From such perspective it seems that we can somehow justify riding instructors and coaches' inclination to follow the trends. They simply listen to their instincts and self-perseverance (to keep the clients!). From the variety of teaching tools they use only a few instructions that will allow the pupil to stay in the saddle, to direct the animal around in, more or less, desired direction and speed. If, somehow, an instructor manages to get the rider to a point when he/she can make (bully) the horse into jumping a few fences and move from letter to letter in the dressage arena, everybody becomes ecstatic and convinced they are now dealing with "equestrian sport".

Such situation is very sad because those who loose are foremost the misunderstood horses as well as those people, who could ride very nicely should they were given a chance to learn proper basics. This in turn would give them much more pleasure from the sport as a greater understanding of what we do always gives more satisfaction. Torturing our bodies when trying to respond to orders given by an average ignoramus seems a little more than pointless.

It would seem that the times when only the fittest survived the riding clubs' drill were far gone [please note: riding clubs in Poland were/some still are, different organisations all together from the British Riding Clubs. They were connected with studs and stallions centres and their aim was to educate future champions of the sport!hmm]. It would also seem that those screaming, yelling instructors, who competed against each other in the game of using the least decent, colorful adjectives when referring to riders problems, were long gone too.
In modern world such practises should belong to the past. Unfortunately, judging by the results of instructors and trainers of current generation of riders, nothing has improved. This lack of progress seems to be exacerbated by the growing popularity of the sport, by the numbers of private horse owners, the accessibility of shows and competitions etc.
Instructions like 'push, PUSH, leg, LEG, Stronger!!', the tendency to kick the hell out of the horse and to pull its mouth in all possible directions are all going strong.
What is worse, it is very hard to find riders who will know - or better still, understand - what they want to achieve when working their horses. Questioning itself makes them uneasy and if pressed they say:...'uhm, I want to put it on the bit'. 'Sure, but what do you mean by that?'. ' he works with his legs more underneath him?'. 'Ok, so how do you ask him to do so?' - there follow two versions: either the riders shrug their shoulders or confidently say '...more leg and more push from the seat'. However, when asked 'How much more and what this push mean?', they offer the shrug only. If you happen to ask a rider off the horse you may be shown what they mean by pushing with the seat but it is only comic when seen for the first time.
If the rider is on the horse, the conversation will go on whilst the rider will be pulling on one or the other rein. Left, right, left, right. Those movement seem as natural and automatic for the riders as breathing. I ask: 'What are you doing this for?'. Answer: 'So he collects; comes on the bit; supple'. Question: 'Supple what?'. Another shrug.

There is no such thing as good riding without understanding for actions, how to perform them and why. Everything a rider does on a horse relies on their understanding of the psychology, physiology, character of the horse as well as the riders' role in the saddle. It is not even that hard to understand as long as it is explained in a friendly manner. The rider must understand that it is absolutely necessary to learn to know their horses; that the animals don't just wake up one day deciding to be uncooperative, aggressive and awkward.
What doesn't cease to amaze me is that intelligent people, mature adults, just stop thinking logically when moved into an arena. Sometimes, they even stop thinking all together! Otherwise, how would they willingly agree to expose themselves to months or years of physical pain, language and nomenclature they don't understand, jargon which is not explained yet expected to be adhered to...
Some are even convinced, that despite all the above, they are actually learning something and those Olympic games are within their reach!...the rest looses confidence and think they must be useless since they just can't get it right. They keep trying though.
I really don't know whether to admire those people or to pity them. What keeps them around horses? Love for them? Adrenaline? I think that the latter is a substantial magnet. And that is good. But it would be better if those riders are shown that the source of the 'kick' doesn't have to come from wild jumping-about the fences, that the adrenaline can hit much stronger when the horse starts cooperating, to willingly listen to us and when all this happens without the fear, pain and tension; when the horse stops moving and starts dancing with the rider.

Fear from boring the client makes instructors conduct their lessons in a very specific manner. They close their eyes on the fact that most riders lack basic skills. In this way, the horses get spoiled and those riders who really want to learn end up confused and ignored.
There is a way to include both good education and spark but it requires a lot of honesty towards riders.

Both teaching and learning the basics of equestrianism needn't be boring. In contrary, for the rider, learning about their own body, about control over it, about getting to know the horse underneath, can all be a fascinating challenge. However, it is the trainer who needs to help the pupil to awake the drive for improvement and work on oneself.
For the good trainer every rider should be like a game of puzzle; putting all elements together should be the reward and satisfaction in itself.
Sure, there are times when it is hard to come up with new challenges but there is always a possibility to vary the sessions by finding new ways to send messages across. The instructor should never give up on training their eyes. They should be like an X-ray machine.
It's not difficult to see that a rider sits badly but it's an art to know why it is happening and what to do to remedy the situation. If the teacher doesn't know why something happens then there is no good training involved. This is because the training of the rider consists of working on various faults within their bodies and mastering of the body language.

The good, correct seat is an investment for a whole riding life and is therefore worth getting right. It is extremely important to make riders aware of the significance of those basics, to explain and give examples, to engage in the whole learning process.
An individual approach is critical. From my experience, every rider can be corrected as long as their 'head' is OK. Unfortunately, the latter is not always straightforward. The most difficult to teach are those the most determined who think that wanting something very badly will mean achieving it. They don't understand that all they need is time and that they cannot just skip on it. Other difficult riders are those who have a very sharp brain, they think in an instant but...they lack the feel. Such riders have great difficulty to come to terms with their lack of improvement. Unfortunately, in equestrian sports feeling is of utmost importance.
Difficult are the riders who are overly self-critical, who don't believe in themselves. If they don't, should the horse believe in them?
The worst of all must be the group of riders who think they know it all but the horse doesn't want to this and that (i.e. it's horse's fault). They defend their rights aggressively refusing to take responsibility for their mounts' problems and such riders never stay with one trainer for long. They just can't/don't accept the truth and will search for an instructor who agrees with them and helps them 'correct' the horse. Attempts at correcting the rider often cause strong, negative emotions directed against the instructor. The irony is, that often the latter group consists of so called 'top' riders whose faults might be minor and workable.

I think that emotional aspect of teaching riding is substantial and often trainers find themselves sighing: 'Please, just let me teach you'. One hour with negative pupil can suck more energy out of an instructor than a full day of trainings with dedicated riders. For this reason I think psychology should be an intrinsic part of any instructor's courses. Many good, intelligent trainers learn plenty using common sense and via experience but life is too short to get to know everything single handed. It would be much easier to have quality psychology training included in standard courses for instructors.

The process of learning is another subject often left alone. Instructors need to understand the differences in how the information is absorbed by children, teenagers and adults.
Why do they need to know all that? Quite simply, so they can optimise the process of learning, to understand the specific problems of the learners and to find ways of overcoming them using the best possible methods.

Further parts to follow shortly.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

What Makes a Top Instructor

What Makes a Top Instructor (my comments in green)
Lendon Gray and Gerhard Politz help you answer the question

Lendon Gray
1. Flexibility is the quality that makes you successful as an instructor. It's the willingness to try things differently. (Well, this is easy. I quite like to do things differently. problem either:)
2. I think goals are a basic necessity for both dressage students and instructors, but there must be a constant willingness to adjust them. (Ha, I am very goals orientated!)
3. As an instructor, you've got to present to your students a sense of confidence and a sense of humor. I know when I teach, humor helps my students get through the difficult times and not take themselves too seriously. (Humor is not a problem; confidence among riders - I can only hope so!)
4. Technical skill and knowledge of the system are all-important. I've found one of the best ways to develop your knowledge and make you aware of what you know and don't know is to teach. I don't think you really know something until you can put it into words. (Now, that is very true - I have learned So much more since I started to analyse what I am doing on a horse. However, my own level of skills is still very much behind of what I would wish it to be!! Way out from the top!)
5. To be effective, a good teacher has to be a psychologist. We all have different ways of learning. It's been proven that some riders learn by visualizing and some by verbalizing, and riding instructors often don't know enough about that. (It seems handy that I am very interested in psychology then :) Not sure if I can top B.F. Skinner but I am getting there;)
6. My approach doesn't work with everyone. We can't be everything to our students. I've sent people to sport psychologists or posture experts or T'ai Chi experts. (Well, I haven't sent anybody anywhere just yet...but I always tell people to go and read things up just in case they think I am talking nonsense...! ;)
7. We need to understand that without [the horse's] incredible generosity and willingness to put up with us, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing. Fairness to the horse goes without saying. (Absolutely agree).
8. Teachers have a great influence over their students, and it's a humongous responsibility. You gain a lot from your celebrity, and part of what you must give back is being a role model. (It might be a good job then that I am as close to being a celebrity as to riding PSG test).

Gerhard Politz
1. Making the correct assessment of his students is crucial to the instructor's success. The instructor must be able to pick one or two things in a lesson situation that will enable the student to improve and then build up from there.
2. Instructors often want to train the horse and are inclined to forget to train the rider. As a result, many riders sit in contorted, stiff, inelastic, unbalanced positions with their hands and legs in the wrong place and wonder why they aren't effective. (I think I score here as I very rarely try to start with a horse - for me the rider is the key and 99% of what they do is replicated by the horse).
3. Praising at the right moment creates thinking students. In a lesson situation, don't let the rider go away without his moment of success--even if it's only a small thing.
4. Always keep safety foremost in mind.

This article originally appeared in the Dressage Today magazine.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Working on tension and relaxation in sitting trot

I am quite pleased with myself today as I managed a few minutes of good work with Hamlet ;) The feeling of a tense horse rounding and giving in is so good, even if it took me 30 minutes to get to that point. The full report is on HERE.
Most of the work was done in sitting trot as Hamlet responds better to it than to the rising trot. It makes me work on relaxing my lower body and keeping my upper body strong which is great. Only now I need to find some good equestrian underwear to get me through all those hours of sitting trot...!
I concluded that I need a good digital camera which could be rested on the post and rails and so I can watch myself riding. In this way I will be able to coach myself and correct those mistakes that I don't feel immediately by the time they become habits. I will try with my old one on Monday but I have a feeling the picture won't be good enough unless I stay really close to the camera.
If it comes up watchable I will post it on here too.

The Rally...
...went really well and everybody signed up for the next one in a couple of weeks time which is great :)

Friday, 9 November 2007

Teaching my second RC flatwork rally tomorrow

Tomorrow at 2pm I will be teaching on my second RC rally and since I now know the riders a little better I decided to work on the following:
  • How to structure your flatwork training at home
  • How to work on your seat when there are no "eyes on the floor"
  • How to work on your horse's rhythm and suppleness
The reason I choose the above is that the riders' basics leave a lot to be desired and I am a strong believer in extremely strong basics. I reckon that concentrating on what needs to be done and why should help the riders in planning their riding sessions instead of just jumping on and move in circles. We will also run through some preliminary tests movements to continue on our last rally.
The work on the seat for me is an ongoing process and I hope to instill a few exercises and will advise they do them during warm up every time they sit on a horse.
The work on rhythm and suppleness is again a very basic thing but there is nothing you can do if your horse is tense and moves all over the place.

As giving riders some "homework" has become my habit I printed out some interesting articles that match the content we will be working on. It will hopefully give the riders a nice summary and a reminder they will be able to run through the next day.
One of my riders keeps calling me her 'torturer' - well, I guess I am quite demanding! ;)

Update on 'searching for a dressage lessons partner' quest

I wrote recently about trying to find a dressage horse for training with a dressage trainer. Well, someone, who lives very close to the said trainer, contacted me and invited to their yard to see a potential candidate...I will be going there on Friday the 16th and see if we all get on well enough to start my introduction to a proper dressage training.
The worrying bit is that the owner would ideally also prefer me to school the horse three times a week which would be very, very difficult for me to fit in this year.
I shall see how it goes though and of course will post more updates.

The trainer's first available slots are in the first week of December so if this owner doesn't like my riding I will still have a little bit of time for a search.

Inspirational rider

My Horse magazine arrived this morning and one of the features in this month's issue is an interview with Stephanie Coxford, a dressage rider who hasn't even learned to ride until she was 24 years old.
I saw Stephanie and her horse Mr. President live at Olympia Grand Prix in December 2006 and I thought they performed beautifully.
The fact that Stephanie is a true amateur, a mum with a full-time job, who has made it to the top (and is doing well there) is truly inspirational.

Have a look at her blog, it's a great read: Below is a short video of Mr. President and Stephanie Coxford at Olympia.


Thursday, 8 November 2007

The Joys of Fireworks

Some of my novice clients yesterday experienced unpleasant effects the fireworks have on horses...The culmination came during my lesson with two beginner ladies who all of a sudden found themselves on top of those prancing, snorting beasts ;) They had a chance to feel how a quick spin and 'riding school passage' feels like. We tried to continue for a few minutes but people whose gardens are parallel to the arenas decided it was great fun to scare the horses. When one of the staff tried to intervene saying 'these people can't ride, please stop the fireworks as it is very dangerous for everybody here', they received a rather arrogant response - 'If they can't ride they shouldn't be riding'. And the next colourful firework went up.

The worst came when someone decided that blowing things up in their own gardens is not enough fun and they threw a massive rocket-style firework over the fence! To say that the horses' eyes were on stalks is an understatement! We had to take them back to the stable as even staying in the furthest arena didn't help to settle them.

What is it about blowing your money up in the air that is so fascinating?

PS. I was also told by one of the little riders' parent that they couldn't place my accent and that my English sounds posh ;) They concluded that I must be mixing in with the wealthy and well educated of this world. Do I say it's listening to audio books, ounce of northern accent from your partner and avoiding stupid TV programmes that make a foreigner sound 'posh' or do I keep it secret? ;))))

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Thoughts on working life

This will probably have very little sense but all those thoughts seem to run around my head.
I noticed that for the last couple of days I have been pondering heavily on where to work so I have enough money to keep me happy and allow me to continue with my teaching job. The part-time office job I am stuck with at the moment (think: accounts) gives me financial support and reasonable security but is not what ticks all the boxes.
The difficulty lies in finding something mentally challenging and engaging but in the same time complementing my major interest in life (yes, equestrianism, horses you name it).
Let me tell you, finding a job like that is near impossible.
First of all, I am almost impossible to please with office jobs. I feel trapped, limited, bored and can almost feel the slow disintegration of my brain cells.
Even if I find something slightly interesting I get bored with it the moment I get the hang of it. In other words, I like learning new things but once I have learned they stopped fascinating me and am done with them.
I wish I could just teach and ride but realistically it won't be possible for a long while (if not for longer than long while).

Ideally, the part-time job (or flexi-time one) that is creative, challenging, dynamic and well paid would be good. Unfortunately, in real life, jobs like that consist of all absorbing activities and are for dedicated full-timers.

I wish I just knew what to look for but to be fair I have no idea. The only job that gives me total satisfaction is teaching and coaching. You probably think that I should just take a full-time Instructor post and stop moaning.
Ha, the problem is, I do like the variety given by both the equestrian world and the non-equestrian world. Working full-time at numerous stables didn't challenge me enough .
It felt slightly restrictive and single minded.

Right, I shall keep browsing the Internet for inspirations...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Reading This Week

Some time ago I asked my friend who lives in the US to buy me something I have spotted on the Internet. It was a programme of Pilates based exercises but designed specifically for the equestrian use. The programme is called Equilates Stretch Workout and although I haven't been very thorough when doing the exercises (read: I was too lazy to do it regularly) I must say it made me feel very supple and flexible once I did!
Pilates helped me enormously when battling with weakness in my leg due to the injured knee many years ago so I am familiar with the concept and benefits.


A stretch workout designed by Betsy Steiner specifically for riders, focusing not only on flexibility but also on core strength & stability. Includes Equilates tips from Betsy. Easy to incorporate into your daily routine at home or at the barn. The kit comes with an EquiStretch band, detailed descriptions & stick figures of each exercise.

Also available with Teaching Guide (In the Teaching Guide, Betsy gives additional tips about how to teach & perform the stretching exercises to achieve the maximum benefit for riders.)

As I am on my quest for better dressage riding I am pretty determined to do the exercises throughout the winter and hopefully see some improvement in my posture and later, the way of going of the horses.

This week I am reading Betsy Steiner's book: 'A Gymnastic Riding System Using Mind, Body and Spirit - A Progressive Training For the Horse and Rider'.
Link above allows you to browse the book.


Saturday, 3 November 2007

Meet my new ride

Hamlet belongs to a friend of mine and he will not exactly be a new ride as we know each other from our on-off competition outings in winter 2006. I did some BSJA BN classes on him, went round Munstead xc course which was great and rode him a little when his owner broke her leg (ouch!).
Hamlet is a 15.2hh TB cross, Pre-Novice eventer and a sweet person. He is a very intelligent chap who gets bored quickly; a very skilled escapee who can unbolt most door fastenings, gates etc so he can explore the world.
He had a very quiet season this year due to some confidence issues but finished 10th in his last event at Pulborough in the end of September. We will be working on baby challenges over the winter and hopefully set him up nicely for the next season. I am hoping to work on his dressage too and, finances permitting, do some BE events next season.

The big bonus is that Hamlet is stabled at a yard where I teach so there will be less travelling involved!

Hamlet and I at Royal Leisure December 2006

royal leisure10th December '06

Hamlet and I xc schooling at Munstead January 2007


Talking about the dressage training - amazingly I found someone who stables her horses near the centre where I would like to train and is willing to lend me one of her horses for lessons. This is very much an arrangement in progress though so I will only confirm once/if it goes forward. There is a lot to be tuned in, for example the owner, the trainer and I will need to be available at the same times/dates and the logistics might also be quite complicated. I am therefore not expecting too much.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Would the teaching be more effective if we make riders think? ;)

I smirked today when reading Pammy Hutton's column in today's Horse & Hound.
She says: 'Coaching was the way forward at "A view on coaching and the power of questioning". Instead of barking commands, a gentle "so how could you improve the trot" is recommended. I tried this out the next day. "What do you think is the problem with the canter" I enquired in my best empathetic coach's voice.
"I've no idea" replied my pupil. "That's what I pay you for - to give me the answers..."

New teaching job

On the 18th of November I will start teaching at Barnfield Riding School and Livery Yard.
It's a BHS and A.B.R.S. approved riding centre with a very friendly feel to it. I visited them back in July but didn't have the time then to commit to the hours they required. I certainly can now so I am looking forward to meting all the clients and the horses.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Exciting Opportunity

I haven't posted any full update on my whereabouts after loosing the ride on Wilastra because there is nothing yet that has taken shape well enough to be discussed.
The vague plan is to take more teaching, starting from the next week. I am also going to help a friend with one of her eventers over the winter.

There is also a very exciting opportunity in the pipeline. I have a chance to train with one of the leading dressage riders/trainers in the UK - I just need to find a horse now which I could borrow for lessons!
I am working on it and will be back with more information as soon as possible.

Anthropomorphism and spirituality in the horse world

I finished the book I wrote about earlier. It's rather a brave book to be published onto equestrian market which is often full of 'getting on with it' and 'you have to show him who is the boss' people. I must say, I also believe that horses need a firm leader and yes, many a times I told a rider 'you have to be more bossy with this horse as he is taking the Mickey!'.

Julie Dicker's book is a documentary written by one very unique woman who says she can talk to the animals. She says she can tell you what your horse thinks about you, your training methods, the shoes you put on him. She says she can tell you what exactly is wrong with your horse, what hurts him, why he is afraid of certain things, what was his past.
She can talk to the horses and she can heal them...
The book describes various situations where very sceptical horse people were converted to Julie's methods after seeing the woman healing their horses.

What do I think about it? I would love to be able to talk to the animals, that is for sure! I think I am also fairly spirituality friendly (please don't confuse this with religion, as in human-created-activity, friendly!) and very keen on intelligent/natural horsemanship (or common sense as some call it). I would really have to see Julie's methods working on my own horse to be convinced though. And even then, my rational part would probably try to dig deep for some scientific explanations of the healing.

There are many interesting concepts and observations in the book which can stir your thinking even if you are more of a all-things-scientific supporter.
I hear at various yards how people undermine those horse owners who anthropomorphise their horses. They say you shouldn't attribute human emotion like love, compassion, grief, hate or ability to reason to the horses (or any animals for that matter).
And yet...:

[Below fragment comes from Julie Dicker's book 'What Horses Say']:

" 'You mustn't let him get away with it', 'He is just playing you up', 'You have got to teach that horse a lesson', 'they've got to respect you!. All these well-worn remarks actually indicate that we're ascribing human emotions and thoughts to an animal. In other words, we are guilty of anthropomorphism. Negative anthropomorphism, that is. We're attributing the horse with undesirable human characteristics. "You've got to show him who is the boss". This suggests, given half a chance, the horse will run the show and take over our role as a leader. Indeed, he might, if we prove to be ineffective at the task. It also implies "he" has a mind; that "he" is capable of making choices and is equally capable of asserting which choice he wants to make. [...]. Nobody would deny that horses require and appreciate strong, clear leadership but that doesn't mean domination.[...] We are sometimes encouraged, if we are to behave like a 'proper' leader, to inflict some sort of punishment on the horse in order to 'teach him a lesson'. But, of course, the deed that we're so keen to correct, the act that "he mustn't get away with", is more often than not caused by fear, pain, or failure to understand what we want him to do. But the implication of "not letting him get away with it" is that the horse has given thought to its actions and is now deliberately trying to thwart us in every possible way it can.
"He is just playing you up" is another favourite, often used when a horse has successfully performed some operation umpteen times in a row and then declares it has had enough by saying so in the only way it can. Unfortunately, this declaration of independence can take the form of depositing the rider on the ground or simply standing stock still and refusing to budge in any direction.
However, "He is just playing you up", is another indication that we consider this to be deliberate, thought out action on the part of the horse; thereby implying not only does he have mind capable of reason but is also manipulative, rather than simply responding to discomfort, boredom, or plain misunderstanding as a result of the often confusing signals we're sending him.
Followers of the "you've got to show him who is the boss" school often advocate some form of punishment for many kinds of so-called equine misbehaviour, since it is believed this will then bring about the ultimate aim, namely that the horse will "respect you".
We're sanguine enough about attributing negative traits to the horse, like stubbornness, aggression, laziness, stupidity, a tendency to manipulate, all characteristics, alas, well known in the human race. In short, we are comfortable with negative anthropomorphism."

I enjoyed the book. It's unbelievable at places but there are things that make you think and wonder and look for more questions and more answers. Exactly what I think a good book should do.
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