The magic of a virtual training programme

Seeing I have a lovely winner of the Hay-Net competition starting her virtual coaching with Aspire I thought it is only fair that we chat about the magic of online training today 🙂

There is a gentle buzz about with regards to online coaching/training and not without a valid reason. Apart from obvious benefits of being able to have lessons from virtually anywhere in the world whether you have a fancy lorry to travel with your horse or not, there are many more deceptively small pluses…

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As I sit here analysing videos from a client from Scotland, I would like to share with you my experiences with virtual coaching from the provider point of view. I would like to chat about what it looks like for an instructor to run a virtual coaching programme like Aspire E-Academy.

The Less Known Benefits of Virtual Coaching

The first biggest advantage I noticed since using video analysis with riders in 2008 is that re-watching the videos allows the rider to better assimilate the knowledge. Apart from well known benefits of visual learning, I wondered why else this was the case. Surely when you are right in the thick of something you really get the message.

It turns out that  if the riders are no longer emotionally and physically engaged in the actual act of riding and they can watch themselves as if it was someone else riding… amazing mind opening commences!

It is perhaps not surprising that when we detach ourselves from variety of emotional chains we start seeing things much clearer. Where excuses stop, the creative process of corrections starts.

This also totally applies to an instructor…any good trainer is passionate about improvement and development of their riders and wants them to do well. Although this is great on the whole, I would never underestimated the quiet moment of reflection with my rider’s video footage. In a heated moment in a lesson when everything goes really well it’s easy to push on that little bit too much or, after months of working on something, no longer notice seemingly glaringly obvious issues that should be addressed before next steps are made.

When I first start the programme with a rider and so don’t know them and never seen them before, I ask for a series of video clips through which I can get to know the rider. Last month I was told by one client that providing those videos made her look at her own riding in many more dimensions than she did previously, helped her correct long-standing habits in relatively short space of time and gave her an appreciation of reflection.

The latter is, in my opinion, another fantastic by product of working with video footage.

What else? Watching and analysing videos trains an eye of an instructor and rider not just for current moment but for a whole educational process…it is easier to see how over time certain exercises are working or not, how the rider changes or not. You know when you have a puppy and you take it out for walks and one day someone who haven’t seen you both for a while sees the puppy and says “wow, he/she has grown so much”! You look but you don’t see what they saw, you are accustomed to progressive growth of your puppy and you just take him/her as they are…

With video footage, even if you become accustomed you can look back and check how some things happened, why all of a sudden you can’t sit to the trot? When did this happen? There were tell-tale signs of this way before you started to have an issue and from an instructor point of view, knowing what could have caused a problem is vital. If correction is made at the right area of rider’s body it is immediately more effective than symptomatic guess work.

Videos are powerful.

Next wonderful benefit from my point of view is that video lessons teach the intermediate and above rider to take responsibility for own learning. They empower them and build confidence in own action. When I assign tasks for each schooling session the rider needs to go away and ride with camera quietly following their every move. However, they don’t get immediate help, they don’t have the comfort blanket of an instructor standing in the middle of the arena and always telling when things go wrong or how to solve something.

The rider needs to be like a detective and focus on own body, own feel so they are able to talk to me about it afterwards. I can watch their ride and see if my suggestions were clear enough, whether the rider understood how to perform this or that. I can self-test myself on my ability to pass knowledge rather than simply direct the rider around the arena.

As riders in training session, our ability to assimilate instructions is not high when at the same time we need to use many areas of our brains to both feel oneself, feel the horse, listen to instruction, process those instructions etc

Riding is all about feel – for own body awareness and for the body of the horse. It’s difficult to do ones best when being directed, talked to, requested to think on the spot. It’s rare to be able to both feel and be analytical.

Virtual training comes with both – rider has the environment in which they know they will receive feedback and yet they are in a position to really dig deep into own feel, perception and understanding of the horse. They can focus on doing whilst taking full charge of all actions and knowing they will be checked on it.

From trainer’s point of view, I am educating the rider who is able to educate the horse. The ultimate teaching outcome as far as I see equestrian training.

Holistic Approach

As some of you will know I do not normally do one-off video analysis. Aspire Equestrian virtual lessons are always as part of a programme, minumum 1 month long. The reason for it is that to me, training is only enjoyable when I get to know the rider and the horse. As all coaching I do is heavily rider-focused I need to know many details of individual movement pattern in the rider. I also don’t believe in successful schooling of a horse without knowing some basic stats about it like conformation, way of moving without rider, their feet condition, saddle fit etc etc

The beauty of video coaching is that you can have all of that plus the process of filming teaches the rider about all these aspects of training somewhat automatically.

 But how to film oneself…

The ultimate solution would be to have a system like FilmMe in the arena. If you haven’t heard about it but you are into video analysis get clicking on that link and let me know what you think! I am hopeful they or others alike go global and make virtual coaching accessible to many.

Failing use of superior self-filming system there are many creative ways in which to video oneself. There are super cheap, plastic tripods that also double up as fasten-me-anywhere-to-anything devices. I will show you how they can work in a couple of days. They allow you to fasten your camera to practically anything and voila – footage made without a helpful, willing volunteer.

Teaming up with another rider at your yard works really well too – I have had riders taking Aspire virtual programme at the same yard which meant they could film each other and help each other with the exercises I sent them.

Biomechanics and Technique

Position in UP moment
A frame from one of Aspire internal videos recording an exercise that helps improve the mechanics of rising trot – the most common issue in many riders. The video is a visual homework which riders on virtual programme need to do, video and send back to me 🙂

Significant amount of Aspire’s homework is off-horse to build rider awareness and feel without bothering the horse, a friend on hand to share experiences with is motivating and fun. However, if nobody around you is as focused as you don’t worry. I am very picky and persistent while making sure you are enjoying the process.

Technique can be worked on in many various ways not necessarily in the saddle. When you meet a novice tennis player who is training to be better his programme doesn’t involve holding a tennis racket and a yellow ball at all times. They will be running, going to the gym, maybe swimming or cycling. Equestrian sport isn’t that much different and all riders, including beginner riders(!) need a small amount of cross-training to ride comfortably and well AND continue to improve.  That’s another area where video feedback is both fun and extremely useful. Many movements needed in the saddle can be trained off it so once on horseback rider can focus on feeling the horse rather than frantically working on own balance.

You can do the assigned exercises at any time that suits you, record them with a phone propped on a chair, send it over for feedback and then implement it at your own schedule again.


I guess potentially you could also fasten a camera to your dog’s collar and train in to always face you as you ride – but that is possibly quite an advanced option 😉

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