Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider

Hello everyone! There’s been a few quiet days on the blog due to various things taking over my time but the daily posts are back now. Meet Wanessa, the brave new-ish guinea pig on my Aspire Video Library project and her 10 year old coloured mare which I will just call J. as her name is unpronounceable 😉

Wanessa is 17 and together with J. jumps at regional shows at 1m and sometimes 1.10m.  In our initial chat she said she has had problems with confidence when jumps get bigger and speed control as J. likes to take over and run onto the jumps. They have problems with J. liking a long spot too and with Wanessa’s indecision as to which take off spot to direct the mare to as they go over a course of jumps.

29th July: Wanessa at her first session in which we define the starting point and things to work on…

Before you watch the below videos let’s have a think…

Motivated, keen riders often deal quite well with their own technique, riding style or methods and they go on to even have reasonable success at shows, winning or going clear. I believe that we have to be very weary of a difference between winning or doing well at a show and having training results.

I am fully aware this might sound a little controversial but here is why I think so. It’s not so difficult to do reasonably well at lower or even higher levels whilst skipping on own basics and/or have badly trained or fear trained horses. I am talking about show-jumping here. Dressage is somewhat more difficult to do well at under judges you respect if your training isn’t done correctly with long term soundness of your horse in mind.

29th July. Assessment. Getting an idea of the starting point in building a training plan

In jumping, you are pretty much successful if you go clear, win rosettes, get placed. You might keep going with a big smile on your face until you come across a horse that truly needs better basics or one that keeps going lame without apparent reason (often due to lack of correct gymnastic work) or one that demands that you have very solid foundations. The latter two are, in my experience, most frequent.

There are many very honest horses which keep their riders in a bubble. I must add here, please note, I have quite a strong view on what grassroots or otherwise equestrian sport I enjoy watching, doing and coaching/training. I don’t find a single pleasure in seeing a winner riding badly (i.e. out of balance, out of control, with bad basic seat, rough use of aids or a rider that uses fear motivated training). I don’t think a quiet, respectful riding is for professionals only, absolutely any rider can learn to ride well. Some will take longer than others and riding well doesn’t mean anyone can learn to school/train a horse well…They are some fabulously balanced riders who never school but hack out or trail ride and whose horses stay sound and supple until late twenties. Basic balance, own body control and awareness of how horse’s body needs to move to remain healthy is to me the least we should do in this sport no matter the level we ride at.

Such views have a big impact on how I assess riders who want to improve. I don’t like patching up. It’s like having a DIY object to put together, you’ve got to know which parts to screw together first so you don’t have to disassemble the whole lot and start over. If I get a DIY cupboard with a door that doesn’t close, there might be good few reasons for it. I like to find the one that is the cause of the situation, not a symptom. Sometimes it could be just one loose screw, sometimes it might be the back of the cupboard that is nailed on crookedly, sometimes it’s the floor in the flat that’s uneven…Depending on the cause, the action is chosen. If the floor is uneven and I keep trying to tighten a screw I will never have a result.

Finding the cause(s) of riding issues in such a way that it a) doesn’t destroy rider’s confidence b) doesn’t destroy the good bits, the current feel and c) gives relatively quick first results so the rider can gain reassurance he/she is doing the right thing – is, I think, an instructing mastery 🙂 I am yet to achieve this!

Nevertheless, I try to always focus on the real issue, not necessarily always taking the rider’s view on what problems she or he is having. let’s have a look at the below video of Wanessa and J.:

You can see that the rider has some gaps in basic seat education which leaves her with very few tools with which to work on improving her mare. We could have of course worked on many exercises that teach control and rhythm, alike the one at the end, but if you have ever tried to work on something from the wrong end you will appreciate that frustration, excuses and annoyance will show up pretty fast…

For Wanessa, I have decided to first improve her feel of a horse that works with a relaxed back. We will work on feeling the movement of J.’s back in walk, trot and canter, getting Wanessa’s hip joints, knees and ankles to become supple and her upper body to become her stability tool. Before we get to work on the horse’s issues, she will need to be able to be in control of tension in her calves, ankles and toes. She will need to be able to remain still with her upper body instead of rocking it forward and back (this is absolutely needed if she is to hold the mare with her seat in front of the jump without having to use her hands).

Once all this is established we will proceed further. Some of her training will be recorded for Aspire Video Library so if anyone of you have similar issues, do check back for updates on this pair.

Here is yesterday’s session:

If you have the time to leave your comment on how you approach your own riding issues please do! We never stop learning and I love hearing about other riders’ challenges so I can explore more and more ways of taclking them.

2 thoughts on “Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider”

  1. you’re absolutely correct about stadium! at the American Eventing Championship’s last year (its the nationals for eventing at all levels- you have to qualify etc.) I was in Beginner Novice and ended in 7th, but the person who won had a TERRIBLE stadium round and couldn’t ride worth a flip, just had a very very nice horse who repeatedly SAVED HER ASS. (there was lots of gasping going around.) he literally jumped just about every fence from a standstill because she wouldn’t stop HANGING ON and she was an over-weight rider bouncing all over his back. It was terrible. But anyway, so okay, she spent $$$ on a made horse that can tote her butt around but in the end will she go very far? Probably not. Not unless she does some serious work on herself.

    I’m always trying to improve and I agree with you about the symptoms v. the actual cause kind of thing. It’s easy to say ‘I need to sit the canter better” and try to force yourself to do it, but sometimes the actual cause has to do with something seemingly unrelated. Like I could have continued to argue with my horse about moving up into the bit all day but without a proper fitting saddle and a bit he liked it just wasn’t going to happen. (not correctly, anyway). I like taking a step back and viewing all of the angles and trying to figure out what the real cause is. I think I’d really like your teaching style!

    1. :-/ I do wonder whether I will live long enough to see no such performances like you described, many of them around!

      It’s a shame many horses submit so easily and are so motivated by fear, if this wasn’t the case I think we would see less of bad riding.

      And thank you 🙂

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