Thursday 30 December 2010

The Look Back, The Look Ahead. The Past, Present and Re-thinking the Future.

One thing that is both satisfying and disappointing in looking back at the year that has passed is trying to figure out what one should have learned, what one should avoid in the future and how to make the year ahead glorious and better [right?]. 

For me, the 2010 was the year I failed myself in one very crucial way and that caused me to have a year not-to-remember. However, this year also gave me many reasons to not-to-forget it ;)

So, here we go. If you feel like a read, bring some biscuits, bring some coffee and feel free to comment afterwards.


2010 - The General View

"Never face facts; if you do you'll never get up in the morning"
~ Marlo Thomas 

As far as the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year I guess quite a few have been accomplished. I certainly have pushed myself by working every waking hour of the day, seven days a week for 8 months. I paid for it with the most horrid laryngitis which, physical pain aside, took my voice away completely for many weeks and made me realise how fragile my way of making the living is. The recovery was long and dreadful and it took a good couple of months to sound vaguely normal. When your job depends on your voice, it's amazing how powerfully depressing it is to lose it. I tried not to blog about it too much at the time because I was pretty sure whatever I wrote would be great for a Morbid Writer Contest! My surprise, or shock even, at the state of mind I found myself in back then made me face the Fact #1: [For me]Teaching riding is not a sustainable source of income. What I love doing most in life is not going to allow me to pay for the living. This was not something easy to come to terms with.

Fact #2: From what I've learned about this industry here, to be able to make ends meet you need to have different income avenues. If, like me, you have no own/rented yard, no own horses to teach on, low fee-per-lesson AND very high commuting expenses, the teaching alone is not going to pay the bills. Seems logical but I've always tend to ignore the 2+2=4 and tried to make my own calculations ;)

In January last year I wrote: The Thing to achieve in that next year is to launch and start developing my little riding academy project. It's something I want to put my heart and skills into and make it work.

This has definitely been done. After days and nights spent on taking the concept from my battered notebook and into the real world I was done too. It has been the most grueling task I've ever undertaken but it's now up and learning to walk. Fact #3: Should I knew how much work it took I would think four times about even starting it. Vision is one thing. Making it work is another. When you do something half heartedly and the outcome isn't vital to you the whole process doesn't have to be stressful. However, when you throw yourself completely into a project its success is your success. And it can burn you out.
Once the website has gone life I felt like someone had stuck a needle into my energy balloon. Many years ago I received a book from my aunt who is a lecturer and studied Polish Literature. The book was about learning to ride, it had a large photo of Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt in it, I was about 10 and was sure that one day I would be a professional rider. My aunt, who had slightly different view on such dreams, wrote a fragment of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz as a dedication for me. It went:

Cyrkla, wagi i miary

Do martwych użyj brył;

Mierz siłę na zamiary,

Nie zamiar podług sił.

I am not going to attempt to translate poetry but what it basically said was: measure your strengths in relation to your plans, not your plans in relation to your strengths. In other words, only aspire to achieve things that you are able to do...
It stuck with me ever since mostly because I've always acted against it. I thought it was such an old-fashioned, boring way to go about reaching your dreams. However, Fact #5: Measuring and knowing your strengths, possibilities and opportunities is simply the best way to go about setting up any business. It saves you a lot of stress. 

The Aims I had: 
1) Pass Stage 4 Riding & Care for full BHSII (Intermediate Instructor)
2) Get my head around the Stable Manager exam and get theoretically ready for it (and maybe have a go at it should finances allow)
3) Watch & Learn from the best out there (i.e. fit as many shadowing days into my year as humanely possible)"

Re 1: Never managed to save the money needed. Stage 4 exam costs £214. 
Re 2: Done fair amount of reading on the subjects and feel like I definitely advanced my knowledge but as above, didn't manage to save any funds towards the exam (£255). 
Re 3: Had some great opportunities that I managed to take advantage of and some that I couldn't make time for. Rode some wonderful horses this year and for that opportunity I am very grateful. 

2010 - Personal View

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

December 2009: "So that's what I am going to make my 2010 into - a journey I will love being part of." This is were I failed myself. I worked so much it made me ill and burnt me out. I truly believe that it doesn't matter how long something takes to achieve as long as you enjoy the present and the process of bringing your dream to life. I didn't enjoy this year as I would like to. It made me question what I do and why I do it.
Most of all, I started thinking that I can't do it. In my view, if you plan something big, something you know is way beyond where you currently are, you must believe you can. One moment of doubt and you're out. You almost have to be on a verge of a denial and for that you need to surround yourself with people who believe in your goal, no matter how unattainable it might seem.
However, you also need to know your stats. That's where I failed myself too.

Business & Finances View - 2010

No man ever achieved worth-while success who did not, at one time or other, find himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.
Napoleon Hill

Despite me ignoring all things numbers I managed to survive the third year of full-time freelancing. Survive is the word though and nothing more than that. Some months less than that.
The simplest thing about business is that Income should at least cover the Expenses. In more real terms, it should bring Profit. Although I *know* this I also know that in the horse industry some things only come to those who are willing to work for free or, if they are lucky, for very little. Your wage is the skills and the knowledge you gain.
I also have a soft spot for people who really want to learn but can't afford the lessons. This meant that many a time I would go to teach for a fee that just about covered my travel expenses.
As rewarding as it is, that's no way to run a business.
Here's the thing though - as much as I love working on the coaching side of the Academy project, I don't necessarily enjoy organising its business model. Planning financial success of it equals the most dire of duties.
And yet, my be or not to be as a freelance riding instructor depends on just that.

One thing that I find the most difficult in business planning is the highly unpredictable nature of the horse industry.
For example, I lost over 60% of my income this summer/autumn due to an outbreak of Strangles at one of the yards. It closed for a month and re-opened but operated at low intensity as horses take a long time to physically recover after the illness.
It was a stressful and sad few months because despite many educational materials available and protocols on dealing with the disease, Strangles still come with a big stigma attached. I wasn't involved in looking after the ill horses but it still made for a tiring process of thorough disinfection, keeping separate set of clothing and footwear and washing my hands hundred times with alcohol based hand wash. I feel that there isn't enough (if any) decent information out there for freelance grooms and instructors who work on several yards and/or mix with large numbers of horses from different places. I'm a BGA member so contacted them for advice at the time and got given some very useful info as well as the reassurance that I was doing the right thing.
Another thing I feel strongly about is to be honest and open about any contagious diseases at any yard. Yes, you might lose a job or two if someone decides they don't want you to work for them whilst also working at an affected yard. However, I think the more open the horse people become the less situations like this will occur. There are procedures to follow by the vets and there is no reason you can't follow them too to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.

Then there is the weather...

The fact that the industry literally freezes whenever the temperatures drop and snow arrives makes it for one hell of a job to make the business work.
My income is based on 90% of teaching and 10% of schooling/yard work. Although horses always have to be looked after and that part of income is pretty much constant there are two problems with it:
1) It pays close to nothing
2) In many cases you need to live at the actual yard to be able to get to it through the snow!

The last two years have been disastrous in that 80% of my work got cancelled. In 2009 the snow stopped the play in early February, then again some freeze in December, this year January brought the snow then again more snow in November and December. It seems like about 4 months a year the business is severely weather
The challenge now is to figure out the way to stay afloat...the obvious solution would be to work some insane hours in the spring and summer but something tells me it might not be enough to cover for the winter loses.
Any thorough risk assessment for a self-employed horsey person might be long enough for a fat novel...



Although the 2010 brought a lot of difficult moments on many levels it also made for a good shake up. What doesn't help for sure is living in London. I am very aware the City is making me progressively unhappy. However, I like its multicultural, multinational crowd, the fact I don't feel "foreign" here. There is certain joy to the lit up streets and colorful shops. The materialistic aura to it is tiring and empty though, the commute depressing and living here is generating substantial expenses. 
If the move was to happen the question is, where to? Perhaps the New Year will be the year when we find the answer. 

General Goals for 2011: 

1) Continue developing the coaching side of the Academy project. 
2) Make friends with numbers, business models etc 
3) Find a suitable yard for Kingsley where we can continue his rehabilitation
4) Budget for Stage 4 Exam
5) Re-think my work structure and come up with a system that is more sustainable than the current one
6) Ride more and learn more. 
7) Look for a yard base for Academy and myself

My ultimate goal has always been to create a training yard. From a very realistic point of view it is pretty much an impossible task but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it. The experiences with Kingsley and getting to know Rockley Farm inspired me to look in more detail into a possibility of setting up a yard that was both horse and human friendly but one that catered for amateur performance horses and their riders. A sort of yard which comes with good facilities enabling comfortable all-year round, all round training to the riders and stable environment for the horses that can be kept as naturally as possible. A type of yard I would want for Kingsley. Such venture would of course need a very strong financial backing and an even better business plan. 
Verging on unreal but life without big dreams would be a boring pit! Facts are good to know but sometimes it is better to just believe you can. This has nothing to do with arrogance. It's just a self-defense mechanism against the world that wants to conform you into identical shapes and sizes. 

Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway.

Mary Kay Ash

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Post Xmas

Photo: Finally the time to catch up with all the World Cup show-jumping series my Mum recorded for me - bliss! This was more hours in front of TV in one day than I spent in the whole year!

It was my sixth Christmas in the UK. You would think it should be easier and easier to adjust to being away from family in this most family oriented time of the year but in fact, it's harder each year. Not complaining, just saying.
Cheshire was beautiful when we arrived. Trees painted white with frost and the air fresh and sharp. Three days of eating, sleeping, resting, walking. Nice to open the door and be greeted by the sight of fields and horses.
Finally the time to catch up with all the World Cup show-jumping series my Mum recorded for me - bliss!

Photo: Golf Course under the snow. Love the background!

Photo: Dusk descends over frozen pond

What you really need on those walks is a dog running like mad playing with the snow :) 
The yard I suppose to be teaching on Tuesday txted yesterday to say all lessons are cancelled. A few hours of work tomorrow and then nothing much over the rest of the week and the weekend. 
To say it's crippling is an understatement. All this time without work is making me restless and even though it's good to put my feet up I need my mind to be at peace to truly benefit and appreciate the moment. 

I know I'm not the only one who works with horses and struggles through this winter. Hello to you all and hope you're holding on. 

A very long year in review post is coming soon... 


Friday 24 December 2010

Last Post Before Xmas

This week finally brought some work with it and I haven't enjoyed being out in the cold so much for a long time. I gave up on breeches and riding boots and started teaching in my fleece lined leggings, Toggi overtrousers and trekking boots with Gore-Tex cover. The difference was spectacular! For the first time in years my feet were actually warm even after 10 hours outside!
Yes, I know there are some fabulous riding boots with all the technical inserts but they are way too expensive.
The conditions out there make you very creative as to what sort of work you do and there is surprisingly a lot that can still be done, even when surfaces are far from ideal.
I had to stop my little riders though for some hot-chocolate-intervals to keep them warm but it seemed to have added to the whole excitement of unusual lessons ;)

Some of my adult clients thankfully turned up too. The commitment of the riders in the time when the industry suffers so much is keeping us all going. If people stop riding in winter times riding centres and instructors will have to have a damn good Plan B!

On Wednesday evening I had another meeting with a riding club I will be working with next year. I will be providing them with a coaching structure via Academy Programmes. It's all a bit of a tiring process to organise logistically but we are now pretty much done! All the details will be announced in January :)

To add to New Year excitement I got a superb proposition of being "an expert" on a Q & A panel for another top monthly equestrian magazine! I am not so sure about being called an "expert" as I don't really regard myself as one but I love solving training problems and finding ways to improve riders of all levels so I am very much looking forwards to it.
My first question arrived today and I am guessing it must be some sort of a test question ;)
Details to follow soon.

On Monday night we had a grand fun with the Barnfield riders. The mad Xmas party seems to be a tradition now and the Zarlas family makes a wonderful job of it. The only person who missed it this year was Anja who had fun at the hospital instead giving birth to her baby boy! (They are both fine so Congratulations to new Mum and Dad! :)

Dimitri does some Greek cooking which is always delicious and we all bring some bits and bobs to put on the table. Being a rather international crowd we often end up with some interesting culinary specimens. Like a Beetroot Chocolate Cake...Anyone? It was actually quite good!

To "deserve" all these goodies we set off for a snowball fight in the garden. You can never be tired of the simple, child like fun with the snow. It might be taking away the livelihood, crash the industry and cause businesses to cease their activities but if you can't beat it you might as well enjoy it.
In some twenty minutes we all got attacked several times and I managed to plaster Suzanne's face with some snowballs just to be absolutely sure she deserves the cakes. Both her and Katya made doubly sure I deserved mine too.

The Zarlas' have some interesting costumes so we took turns to have a go at the Viking Look.
Nothing better than new hairstyle feeling ;) It was decided I should change my hair colour to red and although the hopes are high for many grand changes in the New Year, my hair will most likely be left as it is.

I will, however, consider the red head option for some mid-life crisis should I have one.

For now, I am wishing all my wonderful clients, riders, blog readers and friends a fabulous Xmas time!

See you all in a few days :)

P.S. If you are snow bound and looking for a good book, try The Brave by Nicholas Evans. Took me just about three days to read it, he's a genius.


Thursday 23 December 2010

If I ever had to be snowed in at a place this is the one I would chose! Merry Xmas Kingsley Boy!

Happy Christmas! from Nic Barker on Vimeo.
I suggest you click on "full screen view" and pop your speakers on full volume and dance with Kingsley's ears ;)
For words visit:

Monday 20 December 2010

Meet Case Study #3: Suzanne

Meet Suzanne. An endlessly jolly character who absolutely loves having lessons and learning new things. Suzanne helps out at a riding school by managing the whole operation on Sundays. She pretty much does everything from mucking out to meet & greet, open and close, feeding the ponies and hacking out with clients. In return, she gets the lessons, mostly on a Cleveland Bay mare, Rosie.

Photo: Suzanne also has a very non-horsey job in London but here is what Rosie thinks about it!

Suzanne introduces herself

I am from Zimbabwe where I was introduced to horses at an early age, plodding around a farm on a horse that was way too big for me. I started lessons when I was about 6 and pestered my parents for my own pony but to no avail. I was lucky enough to have a friend with horses so my teenage years were spent on crazy hacks and hanging around shows being my friend’s “groom”. For a couple of decades I barely rode. However, the bug returned and I started riding again at a local riding school. I have always loved horses; they are huge and majestic but so trusting and generous. Being outside, riding a horse you love, what better thing is there?

Horses She Rides:

I ride at a small riding school where I generally ride the same horse in my lessons, Rosie, a Cleveland Bay mare. Rosie is in her teens, a bit stiff (like me) and sometimes finds things a little tricky. However, if I get something right, she tells me and we float off on cloud 9. I also hack some friends’ horses, a gentle giant called Thomas (also a Cleveland Bay), the handsome Phagan (an Irish Draught x TB) and Clarissa (the most comfy cob).

Suzanne also comes for Intensive Training Days at Hall-Place Equestrian Centre a few times a year.

Easy and effective exercise to become more aware of what each side of your body does. Suzanne tends to collapse her waist in the saddle so here she is stretching each side to trigger her awarness of being symmetrical.

Suzanne BEFORE the Academy training started:

Why does she like having lessons?

I enjoy hacking, being out and about and taking in the surroundings. But I LOVE lessons. I need to be pushed to try to achieve those things that I don’t think I can do, I like to be challenged by the technicalities that lessons bring even if it takes time for me to get there. Most of all, I want to ride quietly and effectively, respecting and in harmony with the horse, and for that lessons are vital.

What are your riding ambitions? Would you like to compete or do you prefer training at home?

I’m happiest training at home, progressing slowly. I don’t have ambitions to compete although I might eventually be persuaded to try something like Interdressage or Dressage Anywhere.

Photo: Suzanne on Bella on one of her Intensive Training Days. Hacking is a great addition to lessons especially when you have instructor on another horse next to you who drills you now and then ;)

Did you enjoy participating in the Academy’s Case Study?

I was honoured to be asked to be a Case Study. I’ve learnt that it’s all the little things being knitted together that make a difference. The Academy’s training is holistic, structured and fine-tuned to suit the individual. All aspects are interlinked and I enjoyed the whole experience.
1) Intensive Training Day(s) - Riding different horses at a larger yard. Riding one I had ridden before and finding the feel more quickly. Hours in the saddle at one time and being given the luxury of learning something and then being able to try it again a bit later on that same day.

2) Video Feedback - Invaluable, really instils what one is trying to learn and connects the image of how one imagines one rides with reality.
3) Written homework and links to articles on the theory chosen to help with particular element of training - Widens all round knowledge. Exposure to alternative methods.
4) Fitness programme/Stretch Exercises/Chiropractic assessment - The stretching exercises make a huge difference (I just need to remember to do them!).
5) Was taking the programme motivating? Did you feel like you were more/less focused on tasks & training? - Highly motivating and very addictive. The way the programme is organised certainly concentrated my mind and helped me to see the progress I was achieving.

Considering what Academy’s Programme is all about would you consider purchasing the Training Plans? If yes, why? If not, why?

I would. Having definite aims and a structure is so beneficial to learning. For me, time is an issue but the Academy programme is flexible enough to fit around a full time job.

Long term goals:

Improve flexibility and suppleness in the rider to help with her seat and influence in sitting trot and canter. Ride a good quality Preliminary level Dressage test, being able to control the horse's way of going, the tempo in all gaits, increasing the feel and awareness of when things are working well and when they start falling apart. Getting to know as many aspects of Preliminary dressage as possible, understanding the Scales of Training and the process of basic schooling for dressage and soundness.

Training Plan Goals:

1) Develop fundamentals of deeper seat. In Suzanne's case the areas to address were:
- confidence in sitting trot and canter!
- address the usage of psoas muscles and abdominal muscles and understanding their role in rider's stability
- hip flexibility
- body suppleness
2) Understanding longitudinal and lateral bend in the horse and being able to ask for both.
3) Ride an accurate BD Walk & Trot test with full awareness of gymnastic value of dressage movements included in those tests.

Photo: Giving Piriformis muscle a nice stretch. This exercise makes you feel like your legs lengthened by good few centimeters once you've sat back in the saddle!

We had several months to reach these goals so the first thing we did was to implement a lot of fun off - horse exercises into Suzanne's daily routine. She was to sit on a gym ball at work and keep her hips mobile ;) She did say her colleagues were quite amused.
She was also to do some very simple and gentle stretch workout programme which she found very helpful.
Suzanne tends to stiffen her wrists too so she got a special series of wrists movements several times a day which also met a few bemused comments ;)
It took several weeks but we soon started to see the benefits of these little routines. As the body of the horse constantly moves, the joints in the rider's body have to be kept mobile and relaxed. It takes a lot of confidence to just "use" ones skeleton for balance rather than applying constant muscular effort sprinkled with nervous tension. Suzanne isn't particularly nervous rider but tends to grip and "hold" when unsure or when the movement gets bigger.
As with all other riders, we also introduced lunge sessions. On a trustworthy horse these are the perfect way to develop supple seat and improve balance in motion.

Photo: Suzanne and Boss - "squeeze down the rein"...but how? Suzanne learns how to keep her wrists "soft" while changing the pressure on the inside rein to ask the horse to yield to the bit and produce inside flexion at the poll.

Suzanne is happy to canter on hacks in light seat but arena work is a different matter for her. This is why we simply made a point of cantering in every lesson. To keep Rosie comfortable we did all the canter work in light seat at the beginning and only once Suzanne was able to follow her movements more comfortably we started introducing deeper seat.
Suzanne's lower leg lives its own life so we addressed the balance and lower legs control first.

Here is a short clip showing the improvement in upper body balance and lower leg stability in a light seat in canter.

Photo: Keeping the horse "in front of the leg" in trot is becoming easier and easier for Suzanne. She also developed a lot of feel for the moments when "things are about to go wrong" and is able to correct herself even before I say anything! I still have no idea how she can stay warm in just a T-shirt in the winter but I can only guess that all the enjoyment of hard work is keeping her toastie ;)

Photo: Snapshot from one of Suzanne's Video Feedback sessions. The seat in canter is coming along!

We were going to film Suzanne for one of the November's BD Walk & Trot tests for Dressage Anywhere but the weather spoilt our plans. I will keep you updated and will also add the video once Mr Snow and Mrs Freeze decide to go away.


My early Xmas present - Video of Kingsley

The week before Christmas... from Nic Barker on Vimeo.
Please visit for the words :)
I can't wait to see little boy again. I'm being busy here looking for a DIY yard we can keep him at where we can continue the lifestyle he seems to enjoy and thrive on.

Sunday 19 December 2010

My meeting with Memotion Ltd - could equestrian world have finally found an affordable way to professional filming system?

A few weeks ago I received an email from the owners of a new, exciting start up company - Memotionsports Ltd. They wrote to introduce their product and we arranged for a meeting a week later.
How I wish I had a venue of my own to get Memotionsports involved in straight away! The product is potentially excellent and I thought they deserve some additional publicity so here we go.

I will let Memotionsports tell you first what they are all about: motion...emotion

memotionsports™ is a video recording and editing service aimed broadly to the world of sports people and in this case, the hot spot being the scope of Equine and dressage.

Our system records the relationship of a rider to their horse, focusing on the movement and posture of the event. The recording is achieved through multiple cameras located around the arena, capturing all the important actions and this footage can be replayed and benefited from at a later stage or be used for training purposes. memotionsports™ captures the equestrian experience of you and your horse rather than focusing on close-ups of the rider so that your skills in handling the animal can be enjoyed.

We understand that impulsion, suppleness and rhythm are important factors within this sport and hence provide a mechanism for those performance criteria to be recorded and viewed in a user friendly way.
It is a straightforward and simple process to create a professional quality video. This can be viewed instantaneously for immediate feedback or we offer a post production editing service. This service will extract the key sections of your riding session; enhance the relevant aids through creative techniques and produce a professional film that you can be proud of. This is for you to keep and can be used for seeking further training or as a souvenir for your special event.

Small Print

Users seek our service in order to have a nice memory of them performing at sports. We take data protection and privacy issues very seriously and memotionsports™ have secure processes in place to protect that. We guarantee that the recordings will not be made available outside of your specified network without your permission.

All recorded footage is stored securely on our computer servers and we do not disclose the content to anyone who are not memotionsports™ approved organisations. From time to time we may use some recorded films as promotional material but only after we have received written confirmation from the owner that we can do so. For your added peace of mind, we are legally bound by the Data Protection Act which sets out specific controls for the handling of your personal data.

For and on behalf of memotion™ Ltd.

If this information intrigued you enough I suggest you email memotionsports and ask for a nice little PowerPoint presentation they have :) It has a lot more insights into how the system works including photos of proposed set up and the way the revenue can be raised.

I am looking forward to further working with the company to help them build more contacts in the industry. I think the concept is fantastic and exactly what our sport is missing on at the lower levels (and higher ones too actually).
The TV coverage of Equestrian Sports is very unlikely to improve any time soon and in my opinion there are a few things we need now:

1) A way to provide the coaches, riders, training centre owners, parents of young riders and competitors with a long lasting, visual record of training sessions, lessons, clinics.
Such records are not only highly informative but are also a powerful motivational tool. They are also a relatively inexpensive way to learn the skills.

2) A way to extend the exposure of the sponsors of equestrian events. I don't know the statistics but it's safe to assume the exposure is low and the attraction even lower. Companies in general don't see the benefits of sponsoring equestrian events unless they have national or international rank.
The thing is the horse sports need the keen sponsors at lower levels to pump the energy into the industry. Having banners around the arena on the day of an event is great but they are gone the day after. If there were videos of such events made for rider's families, friends, fans(?), breeders of the horses taking part etc and certainly for riders themselves so they can post them on their websites (as many amateur riders now have some great ones) the exposure is immediately extended and immortalized.

3) A tool for coaches to monitor the progress of their riders. As I'm sure many of my riders know I am a big fan of video feedback. There is no question about the benefits and educational value for the rider.
The videos are, however, also a very useful tool for the coaches. If I see a rider every week for 3 years a lot of the things that shout at me in the first few months become less and less noticeable. You start making allowances for the rider and perhaps close an eye on this and that.
Looking through video footage over months' time is very helpful in making sure what I teach is helpful to that particular rider. Is the rider improving or is he/she still at the same level as a few months ago?
It's much easier to assess performance in competition riders where the judges give their feedback or where you have more double clears etc
In a non-competitive, training environment the stagnation in the progress is much more likely.

4) A way for trainers to monitor the horses they school.
How many times did you think: I wish I had someone to film me today? Perhaps you wanted to show your horse's owners how great he/she is schooling. Yes, you can have a great feel on the day and be sure the horse is getting better but you have no visual reference, no way of appraising your own riding, seat, horse's way of going from the place the judge will later look at you.
Lessons are expensive but if you are serious about improving you must have "eyes on the ground". Good video system can give you the opportunity to monitor your training, sharpen your training skills and an eye for detail. You ride the horse so you know how it feels. If you can "see the feel" you not only getting better as a trainer but as a teacher/coach too.

I think it would help enormously with planning the training. For example if I could monitor my own progress by myself on day-to-day basis and attend a few days long intensive training with a pro (like those organised by Anna Ross-Davies at Altogether Equestrian ) every two-three months or so, it would create a way more affordable training system.

5) A tool for trainers/coaches to show their methods to wider public. If you move to an area you don't know, yard full of riders you don't know and you have to find an instructor what do you do? It's easy to say you would go with "word of mouth" but this still pretty much means blind testing. Top names in the area are likely to be known but not everyone wants and needs to have lessons with a "top rider" or "top trainer". If local instructors have web videos showing their clinics/lessons etc you could watch them and decide who is likely to suit you and your horse.

6) A tool for BHS Training Centres to monitor progress of trainee instructors and help them progress. Many young people I have taught for Preliminary Teaching Test exams in London, Surrey and Berkshire have two main problems a) they are worried about what to say and when and how will they sound, will they be heard by their riders b) confidence in the arena whilst teaching. If you can see what you do and how you sound you can correct many things way quicker than by doing guess work.

7) A tool for Virtual Coaching. Part of Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy training plans is a service whereby a rider can submit an unlimited amount of riding videos from when they ride at home for instructor's feedback. It means that if they only come for lessons/training once every two weeks they can still stay on top of the training plan and monitor their progress. Everybody loves the idea but many have one primary problem: no one to film them! Not everybody has a non-working parent or a ever present helper who can come with a camera and film every time they ride. I want them to be able to submit those videos! :)

8) A tool for Riding Centres, Riding Schools, Competition Centres and Livery Yards to promote their sponsors, services, shows, riders, horses you name it!

9) A memory, something tangible to take with you after you had a time of your life and mum, dad, friend, BBC wasn't there!

There are probably more points I could come up with but I don't want to make this post too long ;)
Come on riding centres - contact memotionsports and set the wheels in motion!

I am hoping for some exciting collaboration in between Aspire Equestrian Academy and memotionsports in the near future. I have now agreed a feature for the Academy in a top selling monthly equestrian magazine and it will require video footage so watch this space...! :)


Saturday 18 December 2010

Insight into a novice rider's personalised training plan

Beth contacted me enquiring about Academy's coaching Programmes because she felt she wanted a motivational, continuous training to help achieve her riding goals. She started riding 9 months ago and has managed to learn a few naughty bad habits but is a rather fearless and jolly rider with very quiet manner in the saddle :)

After her Assessment Day we decided that the best option for Beth would be to base her lessons on both Start & Foundation Programmes which gives her a fun mix of balance and seat education on the lunge as well as some influence training on the flat. Beth adores her current riding school and would like to continue riding there which of course is not a problem.

The option we went for for Beth was to schedule regular Intensive Training Days at Hall-Place Equestrian Centre where she gets a bit of a boot camp! She then works on the exercises and skills we introduce at Training Days during her weekly lessons at her current stables.

Here you can see one of the issues we are working on and that are quite common in riders who either don't have lunge lessons or have only a few of them at the very beginning of their riding education. The focus with Beth now is re-educating the mechanics of her rising trot as Beth has some interesting technique under her belt :) She pushes upwards from her stirrups which immediately disturbs her balance. As a result she is having to work really hard to lift herself out of the saddle!

First Balance, then Position, then Influence.
Beth is determined, committed and fun to teach!

This is a screen shot of Beth's Video Feedback session. Beth is practicing standing in the stirrups to find her vertical balance and feeling of symmetrical weight distribution. It's one of my favorite balance exercises, you can do it both with and without the stirrups (for more advanced riders). I use it both with long, medium and very short stirrups to train body and weight awareness. I am yet to see a rider who doesn't find it beneficial in one way or another.

Beth's long term goal is to take BHS Stage 1 exam. I will keep you updated on Beth's progress :)

All the best,


Video Snippets from Academy's jump lessons

Although Annette trains on Development Programme for her flatwork and dressage skills, she has had a long break from jump training. I always make sure even flatwork enthusiasts keep up with very basic jumping sessions unless they specifically ask not to leave the ground. On one of our sessions Annette decided she actually really enjoyed herself so Jump Training is now part of her ongoing Training Plans.

The exercises are kept low key and she will work towards Foundation Programme's jumping skills first.

Here are some short snippets from her lessons:

We are starting from re-establishing confidence, enjoyment and making sure she keeps positive canter rhythm as well as trying to get rid of the rider's reliance on her hands.

As you can see the rider isn't giving with her hand but instead secures herself on the contact. This causes her to be behind the movement of the horse which in turn makes for rapid weight shift on the landing.

All these stem from balance problems which we will address throughout her jump training.

VENUE: Hall-Place Equestrian Centre (

Friday 17 December 2010

Job Interview

December is running out fast and there are quite a few things I still have in mind to write about but first a quick update on the current events.
At the end of November I applied for a job at one of the top agricultural colleges in the South East. It was an Equine Lecturer position, a great sounding post, part-time and a one year contract which would suit me as I could continue running the Academy. I don't have any college teaching experience which was mentioned as a desirable on application but I thought I would give it a go. There was a mention that short-listed candidates will be invited for an interview but I hadn't heard from them for almost 2 weeks so I assumed they had some more suitable people applying.
On the 10th of December we went off to Poland and when we returned home after midnight on the 14th (so I guess the 15th technically;) and I could finally check my phone messages, there was one from the college asking me if I could confirm my attendance at the interview. I looked through our post from the last few days and found a letter from the college saying they would like to invite me for the interview. Great.

The date of the interview was the 14th, 3.30pm.

I've been trying to contact them ever since to apologize and explain but the person dealing with the applications never seem to be there and didn't reply to my email or answer phone messages. I do feel awful for not making it but even if I wasn't away it would have been really difficult to arrange for a day off a couple of days before they needed me there. I can only guess the weather has delayed the post which is why I only received it in the last minute.

Not really sure whether to continue trying to get in touch or assume they have already recruited someone?

Photo: Just in case you weren't sure it's Xmas time...Decorations on one of the Notting Hill's pubs tonight. Only thin cover of snow but black ice everywhere :-/

As I'm sure all horse people know the work is below bad right now. As I write I had another cancellation for tomorrow. I will leave my thoughts on this for the year in review post in a couple of weeks.


Thursday 16 December 2010

Dirty Dancing at Olympia International Horse Show

As always, Olympia was fantastic. The crowds on Dressage Freestyle day were impressive which certainly confirms the growth in the discipline's popularity. Since I've only ever ridden to Elementary and the only GP - like movements (though a fair selection!) I experienced was on young jumping stallions when hacking them out behind mares I don't really feel like I should be appraising any performances at the Grand Prix level.

So here it is a light hearted view on my Olympia evening.

The atmosphere proved too much for quite a few horses, including Emile Faurie and a very impressive looking Elmegardens Marquis.

Photo: Emile Faurie & Elmegardens Marquis. I didn't take any "proper" photos so I played a little with the ones I snapped on my phone ;)

This horse seemed all muscle power with control panel broken, the arena was definitely way too intimidating for him and Emile resigned soon after commencing the test. I don't think I would ever contemplate sitting on Elmegardens Marquis!

Every test was different and the music adds so much emotional content to the whole performance that you were pretty much bound to prefer the combinations which music took your fancy.

I loved Anna's choice which included bits and pieces from Dirty Dancing (the absolute classic!) and although handsome MK looked a little distracted by the surroundings it was such a vibrant, fun test to watch, one of my definite favorites of the night. I'm sure Anna's final centre line to the "now, I have the time of my life" tunes will have stayed with many spectators long after the music stopped :)

Photo: Anna Ross Davies and Pegasus MK

Rintje V ridden by Hans Meganck was quite a revelation among the crowd - being a Fresian with his feathers left flying he certainly stood out. I've read a lot of critical opinions on his music but I thought it really suited him and somehow had a bit of a comic feel to it. If I was very critical I would say there could have been more flow and better changes in between the pieces but overall the effect was interesting and kept you watching :) Here is the video of the same freestyle but not from Olympia:

Another test I really liked was the freestyle of Amy Stovold and Macbrian (video of the freestyle at another show)I have never seen this pair perform before and it was definitely the case of "please don't stop the music" :))
And then there was Mikaela Lindh on Skovlunds Mas Guapo who simply danced so gracefully you could just sit and stare!
Charismatic Rubel 13 ridden by Fanny Verliefden to the kind of compilation that takes you places was one more example of how well music goes with horses. I even looked his breeding up as he reminded me of my very first horse. Turns out Rubel is by Rubinstein I who certainly did not have anything to do with my Trakehner stallion ;)

Edward Gal's mare Sisther de Jeu looked as though she moved on air. I am not personally a great fan of Dutch style of training/riding/seat but she is poetry in motion. I especially loved the passage.

Mr. President's tempi changes were so effortless that if he was the only horse you ever saw performing them you would think you could just go back to the yard and try it yourself. He looked happy, relaxed, swinging, having fun. I watched him and Stephanie Croxford winning Dressage Horse of The Year here three years ago and he certainly still has the X-factor!

Richard Davison and Hiscox Artemis: beautiful, serene almost music and they both impressed me with the relaxation and suppleness. Peaceful was the word I would put to it. He made it look easy too which is, at least to me, what's the most difficult in Dressage.

Mistral Hojris looked unnerved and strong. It must have taken a grand skill for Laura to win the Grand Prix as he seemed really tense on Freestyle night. Shame for them but I guess it proves what an amazing job she does to curb his tension when you can't spot it!

The winner, Adelinde Corelissen rode pretty much a flawless test on Jerich Parzival. Leggy and elegant Parzival reminds me of a ballet dancer. The pair's music didn't stay with me at all but his trot half-passes and canter pirouettes certainly had!

Louis D'or is almost pony look-a-like and adorable. Henriette Andersen rode a jolly test and was a firm crowd favorite judging by the prolonged clapping :)

And finally Winyamaro - the horse I would take home with me given half the chance. Love the cheeky, show-jumper look to him, the white face (which I adore since I fell in love with Weihaiwej fifteen years ago), the canter work. This is not Olympia footage but it's the same Freestyle. The tempi sequence was fab to watch.


Tuesday 14 December 2010

Weekend in Photos

Above: the cool thing about standard Polish horse mags is that they include thorough reports from 100 days performance tests and other breeding events so you don't have to buy five different mags to read what you want to read.

On Saturday night we had a momentary snow melt which lasted until Sunday morning ;)

Below: With my Grandparents. Going strong despite many scary health moments in the last couple of years.

Above: With my parents. Ricky refuses to have his pics published anywhere which is a shame as we have lots of great ones together :)

And below: having reflexology massage by my mum! Bliss! She does reflexotherapy so if anybody traveling via Lódź feels like a bit of pampering let me know. I am in the process of introducing my mum to the world of blogging, websites and Facebook ;)


Monday 13 December 2010

I CAN trot on a cricle!

Hello guys! It's Kinsgley here. My auntie left me to go to Poland and my mummy is off to Scotland soon so I thought I would sneakly improve some more to give them both an early Christmas present!
Nic has been working me on those damn circles which I really see no sense in but ehmm hmm I must say all this gym is making me a little bit more athletic! Wonder if the mares notice too? What do yout think?

Kingsley - 12th December from Nic Barker on Vimeo.
Have a look at the full write up I got from Nic on her blog:

My fabulous yet very horsey holiday camp now has its Facebook page so please support my resort owners by joining in: Rockley Farm Facebook Page.
If I don't speak to you before Christmas please tell Santa that I would really like to have all four feet and my body doing a good job. I would also really like to prove to all these mares what a cracking little man I really am when I am free from discomfort. I can jump too so if Santa doesn't mind I would also like to go back to that hobby. I saw that Badminton is running Grassroots Championships and I am told there are many mares there...I am only young...Call me a dreamer...
Happy Christmas and please let me know what you think of my hard work?

Saturday 11 December 2010


Photo Blog:

My wonderful, lovely Mummy making an apple cake for us :))

Walking the streets of Lodz with Ricky:

And this one is for Suzanne (at the Lublinek Airport at the baggage reclaim):


Tuesday 7 December 2010

Exmoor Diaries - December Visit

December, 6th

The road goes up and down, wet from melting snow. Hedges and trees on each side, space just about wide enough to drive Pauline's Audi without worrying about scraping the door.
Exmoor is beautiful and sunny today. Blue sky and patches of snow like sheep scattered all over the fields.
We are lost and totally sure we missed the signs we were suppose to be looking for. Steam Railway. Ehm, what?

Melting snow turns into sheets of white ice where the shade kept everything cool. The road starts twisting and dropping down.
Pauline takes another careful turn, we can't see what's around the corner but whatever it is it must be better than what's already behind us.

We seem to be going on forever. Sat Nav shows a long windy lane with a confident arrow climbing up and even more confident voice cheering us on. Never, ever, EVER listen to the Sat Nav in Exmoor countryside.

- Just don't touch the breaks - Pauline instructs herself quietly.
It's not like we can turn around anyway so the only thing to do is to keep sliding and hoping the road will even up.

For a long while it doesn't. And when it finally does, the fields open before us. Sat Nav still confident about going forwards, this time up the considerable hill. In a matter of seconds the wheels can no longer take the strain. Audi slides sideways, fights for a moment or two, then gives up. Pauline puts hand break on and we sit in silence looking around.
- we're sliding backwards - I say feeling the car descending slowly down the hill. Hand break up a bit more and we grind to a halt at last.
It's so quiet that all you can hear is a playful sound of water meandering around the stones in the ford below. Carefully, we get out of the car. It stays put. We are stuck.

Just 15-20 minutes away from our destination - Rockley Farm.
Just as we look up the road, a big beautiful stag jumps across, stares at us for a second and continues on its own path. I aim my camera at him but as quickly as he appears he is gone. Effortless escape.

Pauline goes up the road to investigate what's around the corner. She comes back laughing.
- OK, basically, there is no road up there. It all disappears under feet of drifted snow. Even if we managed to drive up there there is no chance of going through such amounts of snow.

We phone Nic at Rockley who arrives to rescue in her 4x4 truck, much more suitable for the
terrain. Impressed Pauline nursed the car that far, she drives past us with a plan to pull the Audi out of the mould.

First things first - we got to find the tow bar...the back one is rather obvious but the one one in front seems non-existent until Pauline consults her Manual ;) I am having grand fun taking photos of this!
Tow bar found, Nic is having a go at pulling Audi out. The truck tries and makes an effort but it only takes a few goes for the wheels to lose the grip on ice. No luck.
We decide to abandon the car and go to see Kingsley.
- He better be pleased to see us - says Pauline when we transfer our stuff to Nic's truck.

Kingsley does seem pleased. He looks like a native pony, hairy in a herd of other hairy "native ponies" ;)

We take him and two other horses, Felix and Angel, in and get ready for a ride.
Kingsley gets a quick brush off, his coat is gleaming under the rug anyway. He looks well and content and very interested in any potential treats that we may have brought with us.

New horn growth:

It's cold but so beautiful. I ride Felix first, he is a fun chap, easy and cheerful. I feel like in a western movie! Felix wants to go everywhere and the only time when I realise we are cantering on the rocks is when I look down.

Pic: What I see from my spot on Felix.

Pic. Kingsley and Pauline rock climbing

Pic. Just before we swapped. Kingsley isn't keen on Felix inching too close to him ;)

We have a great fun and swap half way so we can both have a feel for how Kingsley goes.
I watch him under Pauline. He looks stronger and surer in his steps. The front feet still move in a bit of a waddle but his shoulders are in line with his back end and there is more purpose to the gait. He gets even better the more we go. The trot looks weak in front but powerful behind. He seems to be happier in canter but nevertheless keeps the trot for a considerable distance. The sequence looks correct!
The first thing that hits me when I sit on him is how straight and even he feels. He moves confidently down the hill, no attempt at taking it at an angle as he would have done last time I rode him (August?). He doesn't throw me sideways either as he would have done due to severe one-sideness. He doesn't trip!
We attempt a little canter but Angel decides slow is not in his dictionary...Just to check what happens I put my leg on Kingsley. He responds immediately, third gear in and we have wonderful canter that feels just as it should - happy, straight, bring it on.

We walk them all down in one of the large fields and I try some large circles with Kingsley. At first he tries to push into my leg instead of yield to it. It's not great at first but it feels the same on both sides, second time round he does try to bend! He doesn't hang onto the bit for balance in downwards transitions, he feels so confident about the gradient of the field I barely notice it.
All in all, an amazing improvement all round.

Visually, his gaits still don't look well. But - they look better. And from the saddle the movement has changed 100 %. He is now comfortable enough and happy enough to tolerate some gentle schooling under the saddle. That is once the arena thaws...

To watch a video from our ride visit Rockley Farm's blog at:

Pic. Back in his stable. Getting ready to yawn - tired pony.

Ok, I am done yawning, where is my food?

I am already looking forward to my next visit whenever that might be, hopefully end of January/beginning of February. Maybe I could convince Rick to a weekend in Devon for my birthday...Are you there Santa?

About 6.30 pm we go back to the car. It's peach black but when you look up the stars seem so low it feels as though they can be brought down and held like torches. There are thousands of them, big and small, flickering.

We decide to pull the car down the hill from the back. I dig all the snow from under the back wheels, Nic drives the truck up and Pauline takes the driver's seat. Handbreak off. Nic moves forwards and Audi makes a small move. The truck keeps going. I stand half way up the mauld with my hand on Audi so I don't slide underneath it but I can keep pushing it away. Slowly, it slides, At first it seems to want to go up the mould, for a second I consider shouting stop to Nic but decide against it. Audi resigns itself to horizontal position and follows Nic's truck backwards, wheels locked, no steering like a naughty puppy dragged on a leash.

We are free to go :)

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