Let’s Do It! Big Scary Goals for Aspire Equestrian’s 2014

Hi! You are now my most important witness. Thank you for reading! Let’s start…

There were years when making resolutions at some specific time didn’t appeal to me. I was making them all the time, making plans, ticking boxes. Dreaming. Doing. Failing. Getting Up. Driving on. The Tabula Rasa concept was not a day in the year for me but a state of mind. It still is, however, this year I decided to go with the flow here since this time my goals are more meaningful to me than ever.

Before I list them I would like to invite you to join me on my 2014 journey, as a supporter or a critic, co-traveller or ass kicker 😉 Your presence out there is important to me because it makes me triple accountable: first to the riders and horses I work with, second to myself and third to people like you who maybe, just maybe, believe in this whole project.


Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy‘s main goals for 2014:

1) To make a difference and inspire 100 more riders to join our residential training programmes and mobile Intensive Training Days.

I will create 100 more places on Aspire programmes for riders of all levels from complete beginners to ambitious amateur riders and provide them with an exceptional service meaning always striving to be bespoke, rider – centred and progressive but also friendly, non-violent and logical to the horse.
The most important part here is to connect with those people who share our values so we can improve grassroots services one rider at a time.

2) To continue providing high level of coaching services to current riders.

The riders who have been riding with us over the years have contributed to Aspire Equestrian being what it is today: a riding programme that will fight on to shake things around at the lower levels. I will create even more great opportunities for these riders to learn, explore and fall in love with riding over and over again every single time they smell a horse 🙂

3) To provide the same learning opportunities to riders without own horses as those available for horse owners.

This is something which has been at the core of Aspire’s existence from the very beginning but I want to do more here next year. Every person interested in learning to ride should be able to have a go at it in a quality way. Many wonderful people who might otherwise ride throughout their lifetime drop out of the sport not because they no longer enjoy horses but because they are too fond of them to carry on the abusive methods.

4) To inspire other grassroots riding instructors to make a change.

There are many fabulous coaches who leave the “riding school environment” because they don’t want to deal with the low level of service they are forced to provide. Grassroots, low level sport and recreation needs those coaches to speak up, seek solutions beyond what’s traditionally set. Horse Riding doesn’t have to become a “fast food” activity. It’s unique, interactive, fulfilling and educational but only when done with empathy. Leadership is not bullying. Responsibility and compassion are not born out of shouting and wrestle. Horsemanship is such a fascinating life journey which can be a lifelong hobby for so many and yet it is fast disappearing. I want to connect with more instructors out there who want riding schools to stop closing and instead be commercially successful, inspiring and value adding.

A side note: A couple of months ago I started yoga. There are hundreds of people coming each day to this little yoga centre. Each session is almost 2 hours long. They come to reflect, immerse themselves in something new, challenge their bodies and calm their mind. Horses can do all this for us and so much more…Yes they are more expensive to keep than a yoga mat but if we as instructors teach what we ourselves would love to be taught, there will be people out there ready to happily pay for the feeling they get during riding and afterwards!

5) To help Aspire’s young instructor in Poland with setting up her client base and support her with her own training 

I have a fabulous, committed young instructor working with me on Aspire’s courses in Poland. I want to set up a regular base in my home country which will be managed by this instructor.

 6) To put together a well thought out strategy for Aspire’s crowd-funding campaign so it can bring value to those who support it and provide the spring board for further goals

This is something I’ve been thinking of for a couple of years and finally have the courage to go for it. Part of me was always worried we wouldn’t get the support we needed but I’d rather try and fail than never know…The reason I will go the crowd funding path is that I want a project that other riders, instructors and people who believe in the programme can feel real co-ownership with. Crowd funding allows everybody to get involved with as little as a couple pounds/dollars/euro and it lets me give something in return too. I like the ethos of supporting causes we believe in and then giving back to supporters so the campaign will be part of the big step forwards for Aspire.

 7) To add value every time I teach 

The most important part of all this freelancing for me is to bring value and to make a difference; To bring smiles, enjoyment but also culture of discipline and respect for the horse.


8) To remain a student in attitude 

I want to continue to grow, learn and develop as a coach, rider and a business person.

9) To write regularly a useful content on this very blog!

These are my main goals. They seem huge to me right now but there are also many mini-steps I have set myself up to help me take Aspire’s programmes to the next level. Apparently, if “If Your Dreams Do Not Scare You, They Are Not Big Enough” Mine are plenty big and scary. The 2014 goals seem very realistic in comparison 😉 [thank you to Becky from http://kickingon.wordpress.com/ for sending me link to the above article].

What are your scary dreams? 

Now that I got you as my witness, critic, pressure putter, observer etc please do share your goals with me! You can leave a comment or just post a link to your blog with your own 2014 game plan 🙂 I would love to read it, whether it’s horses, travel, food or fashion. Passion is passion. It’s addictive and exciting!

To end I would like to share this video with you because I want it to be my go-back to footage if I feel like hiding under the table sometime next year 😉

Schooling With Traffic Cones To Improve Jumping

We will probably all agree that there is no good jumping without good quality canter i.e. one from which the jump is relatively easy for the horse to perform.

The required tempo of the canter will wary and depend on the height of the jumps and individual power of the horse but for all average horses with average jumping talent the key to efficient jumping is how the rider rides the canter in corners and turns immediately prior the actual jump.

When I say efficient I mean riding in such way that looks after all structures of the horse: muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons. Turning sharply to a jump, allowing an unbalanced, forehand heavy canter when jumping, sitting heavily on a horse or letting it lean in or fall out in the corners all have its price even if the poles stay put…

Riding a good turn to a jump is not as easy as it often seem and if you watch show-jumping shows you will notice that the riders who rides their corners and turns well is usually the one with sounder and more supple moving horses.

Today I’ll share with you a simple exercise that you can try at home and which can literally transform your approaches and jumping style in a few months of regular practice. 

You will need four simple traffic cones to work on your ability to feel, visualise and focus on every part of a 20m circle all of which you will then carry over to your jumping turns.

Start with walking 21m line one way and 21m way the other way so they cross in the middle. At each end of your imaginary lines place one cone. You will then ride on the inside of the cones.

The quality of the above photo isn’t great as I took it off a video footage from today’s training but you should see the idea of the set up if you have never tired this method before.

Your mission is to ride each quarter of the circle with your horse bending gently around your inside leg whilst putting a lot of emphasis on eye-body steering i.e. you look around to the next cone and the next cone as you circle so the horse isn’t over – steered and over-directed but starts to tune in to your pelvis and upper body position as well as weight distribution in your body that follows direction of your eye contact. This is very important when jumping as you will be paying attention to leaving the horse’s head alone to some extent.


I find this exercise is of great use with riders who want to jump but are a little weary of leaving the ground. They often ride with quite tense and restricting hand when approaching the jump, trying to ride every inch of the horse and every centimetre of the stride. This sort of jumping will usually only work for very confident rider with very good eye for distance who can place the horse accurately at every jump. This style takes away horse’s choices altogether and is rather useless for nervous or novice jumper.

You want the horse to be an intelligent partner in your jumping adventures and he must be able to have freedom of its head and neck at all times. The cones circle exercise takes some of the rider’s attention from the horse to the task. It helps to teach directing the body of the horse with power of intent rather than millions of aids.

When jumping, I also ask the rider to ride every turn to the jump as part of the circle as they recall from the exercise which helps the rider stay on top of the impulsion, engagement and relaxation at each stride.

Practising trot and then canter (in full seat, half seat and rising canter) between the cones improves feel for rhythm, concentration and ability to focus rider’s eyes on an object while continuing to ride effectively.

If you try this (or have tried it already) do let me know how it went and if you found this helpful 🙂

Continue reading Schooling With Traffic Cones To Improve Jumping

The Beauty of Imperfection

It’s certainly not easy to buy a horse but to sell it once it became part of the family comes with its own challenges. I am reblogging this great post with fun comparisons between house and horse buyers…

The Katie Chronicles


When people start shopping for a horse (or a house), they are looking for perfection.  The horse must be between 5 and 15 years old, at least 15.2 hands tall, tie, clip, load, bathe, pass a vet exam and be safe on trails, good in the arena, not buddy sour, and have a rocking chair canter.  They must be a gelding and have no vices.  The horse must respect fences, get along with other horses, not be too alpha and ride well in the surf and on the beach.  They must also highline and overnight camp and not need shoes.  If they also are patterned on barrels, work cows, jump and do Western pleasure that would be good.  They must be schooling at least first level dressage.  Four white socks and a blaze would be a nice touch, as would a show record.

Reality drops like a ten ton brick. …

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“Dead to the Leg” / Not “Going Forward” Issue

This post somewhat follows the one I wrote last month (click). Here I wanted to reflect on something which I often hear from riders and which goes a little bit like this: “If I don’t give him three or four whacks to start with he just drags along for entire lesson. I hate doing this but it works and he just goes great afterwards” or I really don’t want to kick her so hard but I have to or she just won’t go“…

Understanding what to do and how to do it is the key for the rider to progress. What about the horse…?

I am yet to meet a rider who says “I love that bit at the beginning when I have to whack him properly so he goes well later” or one who says “I ride for the workout I get from booting her along, what a pleasure” so I thought it might be a good idea to write down the “what to do instead” suggestions…

There will be no quick fix recipe in this post, just reflections on where to direct our efforts when re-training a horse that became dull to the leg aids.


When dealing with a “dead-to-the leg” horse or pony it’s important to establish how we are going to get it to understand what is required all over again. It goes without elaboration that I don’t consider such horse stupid. Something happened either during initial training or further use of the horse which made him respectively confused about or unresponsive to the “go button”.

There are so many different training methods out there nowadays that it’s easy to get confused oneself and become unsure as to what system to follow and therefore what might be a good approach when fixing things. I personally am more of an animal science enthusiast and prefer to go with horse friendly equine behaviour science angle with a pinch of open mind added in for good measure.

This helps me decide if I “like” any new training method if I get to try one as well as let’s me mix and match what I see works well in whatever systems I come across be it classical, modern, Parelli, Monty Roberts, Intelligent Horsemanship etc etc whatever names it got given.

I find this works very well because it eliminates illogical training methods and those based on over stimulation of the wrong motivational drives in horses, like fear.

Most often, the dead-to-the-leg horse was either:

1) Never taught to react to the leg touch properly in the first place

2) Withdrawn into himself due to incorrect leg use or abuse by the rider (not necessarily current rider)


3) Movement is uncomfortable to him due to crookedness or rider’s low level of riding skills

The leg aids, and rein aids, are generally trained by negative reinforcement. This means the horse learns that reward comes in a shape of removal of uncomfortable pressure. Leg wrapped around his belly and touching with pressure will relax if he moves. Pressure on the mouth will be immediately gone if he slows down or stops.

My advice would be to make a list of your beliefs connected with horse training. Anything that comes to your mind as to why your horse does or doesn’t do as it is asked. This little exercise, when confronted with behaviour science, should give you pointers as to where to start re-training…

In the process of figuring out how to make your horse be responsive to the leg, you will need to figure out what motivates him and to what extent. Not all horses are food motivated. Some just like to be left alone…if you have a horse that prefers peace of mind then you will have to learn how to be a very quiet, logical and sympathetic rider…If your horse climbs a roof for a carrot you might get away with bouncing about now and then yet provide a meaningful reward for desired [go] behaviour.

To figure out your own horses motivation and way of learning you can pick something new you can teach your horse to do. Chose something that you have no clue how to teach and give it some thought. Research it. Read on it. When I first did this with my own horse I decided to teach him to lower his head to the ground when he saw a bridle. He wasn’t into snacks at all but through trial and error I found out he really enjoyed being rubbed on the side of his head where cheek pieces go so that was my reward trick for him.

Teaching your horse something from “scratch” helps you understand his learning process. Here, a young rider is teaching her pony to move specific leg when it is touched with the stick and then immediately stop to a certain body stance and momentary pressure of a headcollar. The exercise helps her with being more precise with her aids when she rides.

Anything we teach a horse is about achieving a reward. The horse must understand how to obtain that reward and the rider must be clear what the horse prefers to be rewarded with.

This is where we move onto:


Again, there are many styles, systems, methods of riding but there always need to be one simple rule: the rider needs to aim to make her horse comfortable. If an action of putting the leg on the horse’s side in order to ask him to do something unbalances the rider and changes their weight distribution in such a way that it disturbs the horse’s way of going, the understanding of the aids suffers.

If the leg remains aiding after the horse moved, the understanding suffers.

If the leg aids act together with hand tension and body tension (99% of novice riders tense their hands and other parts of their bodies when using their legs), the understanding suffers.

Retraining responsiveness in the horse must generally be closely accompanied by re-training or up-skilling of the rider. It’s important that the rider is taught how to non-violently create certain level of urgency or energy in own body that matches the temperamental needs of her horse. This takes time and certainly requires giving up on “he needs a good whipping” attitude.

Horse watching
Horse watching (Photo credit: @Doug88888)


To sum up, “switching on” the withdrawn horse takes some studying of horse’s learning methods, some observational knowledge of the individual horse we intend to re-train as well as willingness to improve own equitation skills so our aids are clear. If we demand that the horse moves from small muscular tension in our legs against his body we somewhat demand that he reads our muscles like a blind person reads Braille…There are approximately 642 skeletal muscles in our bodies…The horse needs to learn not only to react when some work but not react when others work.

Dead to the leg horse either never learnt the alphabet or finds our story too dull to read. We need to find out which one it is and either get on with teaching the letters or learn how to be a more motivational companion.

To learn more about equine behaviour science see:


If you have any good books to recommend, links to articles etc please share in a comment 🙂 They don’t have to fully agree on what I wrote, there is always a space for good debate.

Embracing Podcasts – For all house and yard chores…

If like me, you love reading and dislike wasting time, you might like to embrace the incredibly varied and interesting world of podcasts 🙂 They are perfect to listen to during all sorts of chores we need to do everyday when reading is out of the question and they let you learn something new even while you seemingly “wasting your time” washing floors, hoovering, cleaning tack or poo picking the fields.


I first really got into listening to audio books and podcasts when I worked on my own as a groom and had to muck out 10 to 15 stables a day. There was pretty much no one to talk to and there is nothing more boring than a repetitive shovelling. Manure really doesn’t need acute concentration and I was so bored with the radio in the barn which pretty much repeated songs to the point of brain death, I loaded my phone with various files and gave it a go.

And I still love it. It’s great for washing dishes and tidying up around the house (which I also find infinitely boring but like everything to be clean and tidy), great for when you travel London style (i.e. a’la sardines) and reading a paper book or a magazine is out of question, for driving long distances etc etc

I have since started to listen to all sorts of podcasts from business through psychology, coaching, marketing to, of course, horses. I will list a few equestrian titles which update regularly in case you wanted to give them a go:

http://www.thehorse.com/podcasts – great for anyone interested in equine medicine, latest research and general horse health

http://chrisstafford.podbean.com/ – very enjoyable podcast with interviews, educational segments, book reading, veterinary episodes. A little bit of everything from UK and US.

Horse Radio Network: http://www.horseradionetwork.com/  These guys have many shows within the network and here are some I listen to regularly:

horse radio

Dressage radio: http://dressageradio.horseradionetwork.com/

Horsemanship radio: http://www.horsemanshipradio.com/ (new addition)

Eventing radio: http://eventingradio.horseradionetwork.com/

They also recently started a kids show too but I haven’t listened to it yet. Here’s a link if you wanted to share it with your pony mad offspring: http://www.blazekidsradio.com/ 

Thank you to Hay Net Social Blogging site for Featuring Aspire’s blog post…

hay net
Click on the image to read Aspire’s post which got featured on Hay-Net

I would like to send big thank you to the social blogging website Hay-Net for featuring one of our recent blog posts in their “Blog Posts Not to Be Missed” section.

It is extra special to me because they chose to feature the post which talks about subjects that are at the core of existence for Aspire Equestrian Academy. In fact, the Academy exists exactly because of the issues discussed in that post.

If you don’t know of Hay-Net and you write an equestrian related blog, I really recommend joining this vibrant, diverse, multicultural and fun website where you can share your blog posts, views as well as network with other riders and owners in a friendly atmosphere.

Thank you and Happy Boxing Day to all our readers and to Hay-NetContinue reading Thank you to Hay Net Social Blogging site for Featuring Aspire’s blog post…

The Second Life of Show Rosettes / Ribbons…

Pretty great idea for re-using your show rosettes (or ribbons as they are also known) instead of hanging them all over the walls or hiding them in the drawers 🙂


Click on the image above to go to the Etsy shop by TheRepurposedRider who makes these 🙂

Rein Bows Rein-Loops – Can they help with improving feel for contact?

Image source: http://www.equiport.co.uk/products/horse/training-aids/reinbows-rein-loops-l14/

Very few rider’s errors are more damaging to the horse than a busy, insensitive hand and therefore the development of good feel of how much connection is too much and how little is of no help, is something many riders work on for years.

Although I dislike horse training gadgets, the rider training gadgets always have my attention. I am all for trying anything that helps improve and heighten awareness without negatively influencing the horse  and so when I spotted these rein-loops they intrigued me.

They are not completely unfamiliar to me as I have seen similar rein bows being used by para riders and I also known someone who used reins with several loops at different places on her very fizzy jumping mare. I decided to give it some thought and try a home-made version to test the “device”.

My observation are as follows (I didn’t use the loops pictured but made a pretty similar DIY version of them; my version wouldn’t be good long-term and I am guessing the rein bows rein-loops are much easier to clip on/off than my rather imperfect imitation):

– the device certainly helps with maintaining rein length. It gives a very defined hand position, steadies it and makes the rider more aware of the hand placing which I liked for my Foundation level riders who generally don’t ride with meaningful rein contact.

– it helps with relaxation of the lower arm, wrist and hand muscles. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the rider no longer focuses on keeping the reins from slipping or perhaps somehow holding a loop feels “softer” and alike carrying something than when rein is held conventionally and invites a downward pull

– speaking of downward pull – this is another bonus I noticed. Riders were less likely to carry their hands too low or putting pressure downwards towards their little finger. I really liked this effect because downward rein pressure not only stiffens the horse through the neck and at the wither but also starts a vicious cycle of the rider haunching through their shoulder, sitting on the fork of the seat and “riding the head” instead of the entire horse.

– it was easier for some riders to understand and feel the concept of “riding the neck away” from them rather than shortening it in transitions. It seemed they were happier to relax their upper and lower arm in transitions perhaps due to the fact the loop gave them more “contact security” to fall back on if they wanted to hold.

– the riders had more awareness of “left hand being connected to the right hand” and so they tended to feel better for the position of the bit in middle of the horse’s mouth as well as for “carrying just the weight of the bit” and not pulling it up/out/down. I noticed better use of supporting outside rein and less tendency of inside rein over-use. That I found very interesting.

– the effect I didn’t like was that when the rider wanted to exert more backwards pressure they could and they would hold it for longer than with a single rein. I am guessing this is why in the product description the seller advertises that “Rein-Bows can be useful on horses that tend to lean and pull, as they prevent the reins being pulled through the rider’s hands. “. However, as I strongly disagree with using stronger pressure on pulling horses (except for when you are approaching a tree/car/train and you have no other option but hit it!), I see this feature as a counter-education for both rider and the horse. 

Horses that lean on the rider’s hands or pull on the reins need re-education by an experienced and tactful rider who can school them to use their body correctly under the weight of the rider. Using the loop reins in this situation would be like adding fuel to the fire. Pointless. Dangerous. Not even remotely horse friendly.

Based on my little experiment and considering the negative effect mentioned above I would not want to use those reins for re-training riders who tend to be “handy” and correct all body issue in the horse by manipulating the mouth as I found this device to be counter-productive in such situation. 

To sum up, I would personally be quite happy to use these periodically with some riders to train awareness and relaxation in the wrists, fingers and arms.

Has anybody tried this product? What did you think?

Continue reading Rein Bows Rein-Loops – Can they help with improving feel for contact?

Video Day Tuesday Christmas Countdown Day 1: The Joy of Being Santa :)

When I am in the UK I follow the habit of gifts on Christmas Day but in Poland it’s Christmas Eve that’s the most important of festive days. For this reason I think it’s only fair that today’s video is about the joy of gift giving 🙂 Bringing happiness to people must be one of the most rewarding and uplifting of careers so if I was to ever stray away from equestrian industry I think I would look into CPD in Santa stuff.

The video below is barely a couple of weeks old and yet it has been watched by over 32 million eyeballs. It means that you may have seen it already but I think it’s one of those short stories that one can watch it numerous times and smile.

Dream Big. Think Big. And believe in Santa 😉

Happy Holidays everyone! Thank you for reading Aspire blog, commenting and writing your own great blogs which I love catching up with on daily basis 🙂

Continue reading Video Day Tuesday Christmas Countdown Day 1: The Joy of Being Santa 🙂