Stablemate to Soulmate – Monty Roberts at Plumpton College. Demo review by Becky Hughes

1. monty roberts plumpton college demonstration venue england horsemanship

[…] However, this section of the demonstration was where I felt I began to understand the difference between showing and teaching.There are many nuances to horsemanship, whether you’re taking a natural or classical approach. Although Roberts mentioned that body language is important, he didn’t go into detail, and this was where I was glad that I have been part of some useful discussions surrounding this recently. Horses feed off our energy, and they like leaders. Walk confidently – not aggressively or even determinedly, but confidently – towards your goal, and the horse will follow you. Worry about it a little – no matter how internalised that feeling is, it could be in the deepest, darkest, least visible crevice of your body – and the horse will know. […]

Like all super-cool horse girls, I’ve started to spend my Saturday nights learning more about equine behaviour (previously, I’d spent them at home on the sofa, so this is actually an improvement). Earlier in March I went to what turned out to be a brilliantly enlightening talk by an equine behaviourist, but this weekend I saw someone many people have heard of. Back in January, I discovered that the great Monty Roberts was coming to my doorstep and, given my recent turnaround regarding natural horsemanship, I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Despite my best efforts, I failed to turn off my event manager (and extreme Type A personality) mode and got quite frustrated by the fact that horse people are apparently incapable of at least starting an event on time (I didn’t need Monty’s explanation that horses don’t have a concept of time and that the event might therefore overrun – I was keen to hear something I didn’t know!).

However, once things were underway, it was all a bit mesmerising. Although I’ve been to several professional equestrian demonstrations, it was my first experience of the human working with someone else’s horse rather than their own, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was something which, had I not developed a very basic working knowledge of natural horsemanship methods, I would’ve straight up written off as sorcery. It’s events like this which make the analyst in me recognise why some people won’t even try these methods by themselves: it takes confidence and a fantastic teacher in order to be good at this. By his own admission, Roberts has worked with thousands of horses – he’s got it down pat. He did state that he still makes mistakes and continues to learn, but nevertheless, he knows his own method inside out and he’s confident with it. Those things alone set him up for success: the addition of patience, physical skill and an ability to think quickly, mean his chances are even better. Anyone watching the demonstration and already in a bad place with their horse could easily have witnessed Roberts at work and lost more confidence, seen this as the art of a practiced master and failed to believe in themselves and their ability to resolve the problem alone. Because Monty’s introduction and statement regarding horses not sticking to schedules wasn’t the only piece of old news we heard during the evening.

We all knew that he could “join up” with a horse. We were all aware that he could calm a horse and render it rideable far faster than many of us could. And to an extent, we all knew that he could impart this knowledge upon others:

3. monty roberts horsemanship demonstration horse saddling plumpton college uk 2014

Monty’s British disciple, Kelly Marks, was present and worked with a horse during the evening, demonstrating her own ability to solve problems and soothe animals. But what I wasn’t convinced of was whether the owners of these horses would then be able to replicate the trainers’ successes when back at home.

Between them, Monty and Kelly worked with five horses which they hadn’t previously met. The first was a “starter” colt – a horse who hadn’t been saddled or ridden before. Monty demonstrated his “join up” method in the round pen with the colt, working at liberty (meaning: the horse and the human weren’t attached by a rope – Monty controlled the horse using gestures and body language without touching it) initially before encouraging the horse to follow him around (the “join up” part). He then saddled the horse successfully and worked it on a double lunge (interestingly, Monty referred to single-line lunging as the “second worst practice within horsemanship” – I felt like his opinion of the worst thing should’ve been obvious, but it didn’t feel that way to me and if I could’ve asked one question, that would’ve been it) before having a rider sit on the horse for the first time. Monty’s work with the first horse was the most impressive part of the evening for me: the horse was relaxed, eager and safe throughout – something which is fantastic for a young horse who was in a strange place with a huge crowd and using methods the horse hadn’t previously experienced. I was also seriously envious of Monty’s ropecraft – I could watch the guy have a horse change direction using a double lunge all day and not get bored, his dexterity was incredible.

2. monty roberts demonstration horsemanship saddling plumpton college uk 2014

I’m not sure whether he was building it up to the crowd to appear more impressive or whether he was being truthful, but Monty was open about the fact that he wasn’t looking forward to working with the second horse of the evening. The problem this time was that the horse’s owner had bought him at a market (alarm bells, anyone?) and he’d proceeded to violently buck her off twice. The procedure was repeated, but this horse behaved very differently – he was incredibly anxious and stressed, though I’ll happily note that I don’t think Monty caused this, it was apparent that the horse was predisposed to this behaviour. It’s for this reason that I think it was unfair for the horse to be used: in my opinion, horses deserve the correct amount of time and attention to address their issues and, with this horse in particular, a Saturday night demonstration is neither the time nor the place.

The horse was saddled and this time a dummy rider was ultimately strapped in – it was decided that the horse wasn’t ready to be ridden by a human being. Sure enough, the horse bucked repeatedly, trying to throw the dummy. In this scenario, I think the work was particularly rushed in order for demonstration purposes, so that the audience saw something “interesting”.

To be clear: the horse wasn’t hurt or damaged, but the training, in my opinion, should be completed far slower. The horse needs to become more confident, and he won’t do that by being worked quickly. The owner also needs to gain confidence, and she won’t be able to do that by trying to go as far as Monty did every day. They need to trust each other and develop their relationship – my aim for a first session would’ve been to have had the horse responding successfully to the owner’s requests when working him on a line. I’d have been satisfied with the horse backing up, moving forward, stopping and turning on command. Perhaps even less. I’d have praised him and put him away. I wouldn’t even be thinking about saddling him. But it wasn’t my demonstration, so I continued to sit and watch.

4. monty roberts horse loading demonstration plumpton college england 2014After the intermission, Monty chatted in front of the audience with a British Armed Forces veteran he’s been working with. I wasn’t aware that Roberts worked with Veterans in order to help treat what he refers to as PTSI (Monty doesn’t like the term PTSD – he believes Post-Traumatic Stress is an Injury rather than a Disorder), and was intrigued by this element of his work. Then followed what, for me, was the second-most impressive part of the evening: Monty talked the Veteran through a join up. A horse was borrowed from the venue for this exercise, and it went beautifully – it was clear that as well as being proficient at the implementation of his own methods, Monty is able to successfully pass it on to others, and that was a joy to witness.

The final part of the evening involved much movement of the round pen fence and the configuration of a trailer, so that Monty and Kelly could work simultaneously with two horses whose owners reported difficulties with loading. Unsurprisingly, both trainers managed to load their horses very quickly, despite the fact that both owners had reported taking in excess of seven hours to load the horses by themselves. I was pleased with Monty’s approach here: he used the fences to create a narrow space, re-framing the situation for the horse and ensuring that the horse moved backwards and forwards through a different narrow space before asking the horse to step onto the trailer. He ultimately handed the horse to the owner, who successfully loaded the horse twice.

However, this section of the demonstration was where I felt I began to understand the difference between showing and teaching.

There are many nuances to horsemanship, whether you’re taking a natural or classical approach. Although Roberts mentioned that body language is important, he didn’t go into detail, and this was where I was glad that I have been part of some useful discussions surrounding this recently. Horses feed off our energy, and they like leaders. Walk confidently – not aggressively or even determinedly, but confidently – towards your goal, and the horse will follow you. Worry about it a little – no matter how internalised that feeling is, it could be in the deepest, darkest, least visible crevice of your body – and the horse will know. Once the horse knows, he will worry too (there is one type of horse who won’t necessarily worry, but will take advantage here: like humans, some horses will only do things if they can see the benefit to them, and if you’re worried and the horse can’t see why he should do something, he’s got you where he wants you and you’ll spend a long time trying to talk both him and yourself into confidence and necessity – take it from someone who knows).

It was clear that Monty and Kelly are intimately familiar with their process and their ability to solve problems, to the point that they are perhaps unconscious of what they do and how they do it. It may be that they didn’t have time to share their complete knowledge but later did so with the owners. It could be that they thought the level of detailed commentary required to describe the events we witnessed would be boring in a demonstration environment, rather than entertaining. It’s possible that they aren’t able to describe everything, because it’s now so automatic for them that they aren’t aware of everything they are naturally judging and sensing from the animals.

My only criticism here would be if important knowledge and practical skills were being withheld from the clients – my belief is that what we witnessed was a truncated and sped up demonstration, and that the clients would have been supported independently and coached into achieving their goals when alone. As a trainer, one of the most important things is that you don’t just take over – your role is to give your client the tools they need in order to do what you are able to do without your help. If you do not do this, then all you are doing is demonstrating your own prowess, rather than teaching your client and helping them to become independent in their problem-solving.

Critical eye aside, I’m pleased that I went. It was an enjoyable evening – Monty Roberts turns 79 this year and will not be demonstrating forever, so I feel fortunate to have seen someone so proficient and content at work. I hope that other members of the audience were inspired to work with their own horses now and in the future in a similarly calm manner. My own pursuit of knowledge and skills will continue, and I look forward to seeing what I can achieve – one of the bonuses for me was the proof that, with practice, it’s possible to work with horses who are unfamiliar with certain techniques but can be taught them swiftly with patience and clarity (the time pressure within my summer job has been worrying me of late, but what I saw has given me more confidence).

But the big thing that has been confirmed for me is that there should always be a difference between demonstrating and teaching. I am happy to sit and watch someone show what they are able to do with their own animals – it doesn’t bother me that it may be rehearsed and perfected ahead of time, that is a skill in and of itself. If a coach is working with a horse which isn’t their own, I would prefer to know for certain that the client is confidently benefiting from the session, by watching them learn it, or that the session isn’t a public demonstration but a private learning environment.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, enjoy observing a master of their skill at work. If you then want to do it too, ask them how it’s done.

Becky Hughes is a blogger and equestrian career “explorer” who writes regularly on her own blog at

Pure Essence Photography

Meet new Guest Blogger: Susy Stark and her Eventing partner Tymor Del Piero aka Otis

Susy and Otis 1My name is Susy Stark and I am a twenty four (almost) year old based in Berkshire. I work at a busy riding school, teaching a variety of people of all abilities and ages to ride. I am a BHS AI and hold my BHS Stage IV, but am always looking to expand my knowledge and experience.

But enough about me; this blog for Aspire is about my journey with my horse into the competitive world. Firstly, let me introduce my horse. Formally known as Tymor Del Piero, and affectionately known as Otis; he is a 16hh bay Welsh Section D. Otis was bought for me when I was seventeen and he was eighteen months old, and our long and steady journey began together. I backed Otis myself slowly around my A-level exams and exposed him to as many stimuli as possible, with no specific goal or discipline in mind.

By the time he was four it was apparent that there was no way he could successfully compete in the showing world. Already touching sixteen hands, and being of a rangy build judges barely looked at him. He was also still quite immature and ungainly in himself. Friends often joked that he was a giraffe. As I began my training in the equine world I began to look at other alternatives for Otis`s career.

Obviously as a four year old he had barely jumped and was green as grass in the cross country field, so I went down the dressage route. I thoroughly enjoyed the twelve months I spent focusing solely on his flatwork, and we competed at local competitions very successfully at prelim and novice level.

As he grew older, bigger and stronger, I started to introduce jumping, and by the time he was five I was hooked by the idea of eventing. Yet to compete in an event, I focused on getting the basics right in each area and towards the end of 2011 we entered our first one day event. It was a local affair and only 2`3”-2`6” in height, but even so we came second. I was over the moon, and my dream of eventing Otis came within grasp.

otis 2010 2011
The next year we struggled with transport, my injury, and gathering more experience (particularly in the water complex department) and confidence. After a change of jobs I became acquainted with some more eventing enthusiasts who provided me with the contacts to start entering events. Last year with Otis aged seven and all grown up, we began eventing in earnest. I started at pre-intro level, but as it went smoothly I quickly moved up to Intro level, where we performed consistently over the season, ending on a high in eighth place at our last event.

I went away with several tasks for the winter months, and have focused on improving our dressage – culminating in an elementary class a couple of weeks ago – and increasing Otis`s fitness and stamina. He has now matured and I feel confident in his ability for the 2014 season.

So what are my goals for 2014?

susy and otis collage

Firstly, I aimed to improve our dressage so that we were competent in Elementary classes. Secondly, I aim to move up to Pre-Novice level this season. I may end up having to compete in a combination of BE90 and BE100s due to work commitments, but I want us to have a couple of successful runs at the higher level under our belts by the end of the season. I have already partly achieved my goal of stepping up to Elementary level and will continue to intersperse the eventing with unaffiliated dressage competitions. The first event (BE90) is entered for the beginning of April – I enjoy eventing and am not a professional, so didn`t want to rush our fittening and have a problem by entering a March event with uncertain conditions, so aimed for an April start. At this event I`m planning on walking the BE100 cross country course to get my eye in, with the thoughts of trying the higher class next time. I`ll also try to use my free weekends to jump round higher showjumping courses in preparation.

I hope that you will enjoy reading about our competitive career this season on Aspire blog.

You can read Susy’s own blog over at The Rubber Curry Comb or follow her on Twitter @suse717

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So You Were Told You Need To Improve Your Core Stability – How Strong is Strong Enough?

Have you ever been told or thought to yourself that you ought to work on your core stability? If so, how do you know when you are strong enough? How do you know if you are too strong..? Is it that you look at your horse’s way of going to determine your success in this area? If so, which aspects of that performance do you focus on?

I am sure each one of you will have some answers to the above questions, please share in the comments! I shall share with you my take on it and how I evaluate the riders who come for training with me 🙂

core stability


Just to be on the safe side, let’s look at the definition of core stability:

CORE STABILITY, noun; the capacity of the muscles of the torso to assist in the maintenance of good posture, balance, etc., especially during movement. “skating requires great core stability—strong abs, back, and hips for all of the one-legged moves”

How does it work for riders?

The way I see it, rider’s core needs to be strong enough to maintain neutral pelvis position during motion…The reason for it is similar to the one why we need our joints in middle positions…Neutral pelvis allows for most efficient movement absorption through hip joints and lower back. As such, it gives rider a skill of a dancer – the ability to feel, follow or lead as and when required.

It seems pretty straightforward but you will I am sure notice how great influence horse’s movement generally has on rider’s body. Every contraction and release in horse’s back will cause reaction in the rider’s back, pelvis and legs. Think about sitting on a horse that rests one of his hind legs at halt. Think back to how this tilts your pelvis, angles your shoulders, changes the “length” of your legs…The same happens to any rider in motion as each hind leg moves off the ground. The difference is that it happens quickly and to lesser degree and so often passes unnoticed or simply feels like one big mess 😉

Don’t let him move your torso 

The answer to how strong is strong enough lies therefore in question: how much strength do I need and where so I don’t allow the motion of the horse dictate what happens to my upper body…If your horse’s walk, trot or canter causes you to lean forward, hollow or round through your back, grip with your thighs or knees, lose basic side – to – side symmetry then you are very right to investigate which parts of the core you need to address…

Some riders indeed need to strengthen their abdominal muscles but this is not as common as it might seem…many have theirs abs in good enough shape to ride at the level they wish to ride but might have, let’s say, dominant pectoral muscles which happily slouch their shoulders effectively putting the rider “on the forehand”. There are riders that are strongly one-sided and it’s the crookedness that stops them from remaining unmovable through the torso. Some have very low muscle tone in general.

Investigate…my suggestion is to try to find own individual needs, weaknesses and strengths. Generic advice might not cut it here. That’s when waking up your awareness comes in…

Can you lift your eyelid using your calf muscle…?

pole work
Using poles on rider’s shoulders and changing weight distribution through the pole to increase awareness of the importance of “fighting for own torso position” in maintaining balance…

You might be going to the gym four times a week and build yourself fantastic six pack and flat belly to have breakfast in bed on but if these are not the muscles that you actually need to strengthen no amount of effort will bring lasting, desired results. Instead, search for any exercise routine that builds awareness of own movement as that’s a great part of riding training. If you feel how to change your weight distribution and postural alignment off the horse you are much more likely to be able to have your eureka moment in the saddle.

Here are some questions I ask myself when evaluating a rider during training and planning improvements: 

– do they need to use their shoulders and lower back in rising trot to rise well in the rhythm?

– do they need to move their upper body forwards in canter transition to go with the movement well?

– is the horse able to move their seat bones backwards/forwards and hollow/round their back in transitions?

– do they lean or collapse one way or the other on circles and turns?

Yes? Then core stability might need a good MOT.

However and Finally: 

– do they use their core muscles as they need to be using them? (you might be stronger than you think but are simply trying to open your eyes with your lower leg’s muscles…)

Next time you are told you need to “strengthen through your core” ask your instructor what will this improve specifically, how exactly they want to see you get better in that particular moment, what movement will more strength take to the next level…It might be you just need to know where to use the tools you’ve already got…

All the best,


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A Story Behind The Story: Emma Barnes guest blogging about self-publishing her heart warming book and turning fiction into reality…

While Emma’s ex-race horse is out on loan with a girl who had nothing to ride, she has a playful young cob to keep her entertained!

Up until recently (into my 30’s) I have never been able to afford my own horse even though, like for many thousands of girls they have been the passion of my life since the age of three.

My longing as a child was made a million times worse as I grew up on a farm, in the middle of an enormous country estate surrounded by girls who owned multiple ponies and had money to burn on all of the latest gear, trailers, shows and everything else that as a child from a poorer family I lusted after. I could only read about such luxuries within the pages of magazines and the occasional trip to the doctor’s which usually had a selection of various country literature and occasionally I would find an article about horses or ponies and just stare pretending to be the girls in the pictures living life like so many in my community.

Nearly 4 years ago my beautiful little boy was born and I started reliving stories from my youth and the passions that engulfed me at the time, and I started writing it all down.

I had been a trainee journalist with Calendar News based in Sheffield straight out of university after doing a joint honours degree in Classical English Literature and Broadcast Journalism. However a critical illness in my early 20’s lead me to taking a desk job within Estate Agency and a subsequent degree now puts me in the roll of Financial advisor.

The result of my stories to my little boy mixed in with a little magic and a lot of horses became my books ‘New Beginnings’ and ‘Past Echoes’. They are very personal, but also hopefully heart warming stories of a pre teen girl desperate to fit in and feel like she belongs, but most of all it is about her love of horses…. my love of horses.

A very close family friend is an author called Gervaise Phinn and after I sent several chapters to him for his advise he has been encouraging me to get it into publication.

Last year I finally bit the bullet and self published my book on and due to quite nice sales figures and the fact that copies have also been sold in both America and India I was invited by Amazon to turn my book into a self published paperback which I have done and it is now for sale as a paperback with free postage and packaging.

2 years ago my lifelong dream finally became a reality and I was able to purchase my very own horse, an ex racer who I absolutely adore and along with my little boy, has made my life complete.

I could not afford any graphics for the front of my book so when I was approached by Amazon to turn my book into a paperback I just took an image from my mantle piece of myself earlier on in the year at a local cross country competition and this has now been used as the main image for ‘New Beginnings’.

I do not make much money at all from this project and everything that I do earn will go straight back into writing, promotion, and trying to find the correct literary agent to work with. But because horses has been such a huge part of my life for many years I really wanted to share my stories, the first me finally getting a horse of my own, and the fiction behind my childhood fantasies.

Click on the image above to Look Inside Emma’s books

Follow Emma on Twitter at

Losing stirrups in canter and sitting trot? Read on for 4 ideas to try…

losing stirrups

One of the most common questions among riders who try to improve their effectiveness is how to stop the annoying issue of lost stirrups in canter and sitting trot. There are many various explanations for this problem and in fact, each rider will have slight variations in how they can correct the issue but let’s look at some things to look into:

1. Bracing against the movement?

Watch for any form of bracing through your legs and hips against the motion of the horse as it will pretty much for sure stop you from being able to retain your stirrups. Visualise the motion of the horse’s back and his sides – the ribcage swings slightly from left to right in every gait albeit differently in walk, trot and canter. Be aware that to absorb this swing you need certain amount of pelvis mobility and the bigger the motion of your horse the less you will get away with bracing/stiffening up.

To practice mobility without tension, try feeling the swing as it happens by relaxing all the muscles around your knees and allowing the lower leg to follow the movement of the ribcage – let your legs “breathe” with your horse.

2. Dance with your ankles…

It is all well to feel mobile and relaxed through your hip joints and perhaps even in your knees but if you were one of the riders taught to push your heels deep down, you are very likely blocking the suspension mechanism in your ankles. If you do, you might get away with your sitting trot and canter on fairly flat moving horses but the moment the motion increases, the blocked ankle joints will eventually cause you to bounce. You might retain your stirrups but you are unlikely to remain in harmony with your horse.

The exercise I like a lot for getting rid of “jammed” heel is allowing your ankles to “dance” – in both sitting trot and canter your seat bones lift and rise on alternate sides in the rhythm of the motion of the horse’s back. As your inside seat bone drops half an inch, so does your knee and so can your ankle/heel. A moment later, however, that seat bone will be lifted half an inch, so will your knee and so will your ankle/heel. Allowing your joints to open and close in response to the lift and fall of the seat bones create a “dancing” effect which the rider feels much more than onlookers can see.

To be able to open and close through your joints you need them to be in the middle position…think about extending your elbows to the point of them locking and then trying to catch something thrown to you. Locked joints are in their end positions, they have no rebound, no suppleness, no suspension. This is why riding with your heels jammed down at each phase of the movement will never let you also maintain a supple, deep seat in sitting trot and canter.

3. Engage outer thigh muscles

Learning to engage outer thigh muscles to achieve stability without gripping or tension

It seems that “using ones core muscles” became a bit of a fashion nowadays and although I do agree we need a healthy upper body stability and reasonable strong core, it’s not the be or not to be as far as the sitting trot and canter and retaining stirrups goes.

The key here possibly is not just the core strength but the ability to connect the stabilising effect of the use of upper legs (thighs) with the mobile, supple pelvis and stable upper body.

Try taking your legs away from the saddle (about an inch) whilst at the same time feeling them very gently taking a “knocked kneed” position (thigh bones rotating inwards ever so slightly). Keep them away like this for count of 2-3 deep breaths in and out. Release and repeat 2-3 times. Next, only start taking your legs away but quit before your inner thighs leave the saddle. Can you feel the outer thigh muscles switch on as you plan to take your legs away and rotate them inwards a few millilitres? Good, you found your stabilisers. Lightly engage these muscles in sitting trot and canter so you are in absolute control of your thigh position and you should notice a huge difference in stirrup retention.

4. Allow your legs to “drop” but one at a time…

On a standing horse, take your feet out of the stirrups and lift your knee up a couple of inches as if you were preparing to tighten your girth, then let one leg drop down as as if it completely lost use of all muscles. Repeat 10-20 times on each leg. Make movements small but let the legs truly drop with their own weight taking them down. Loose and limp.

If you have a suitable horse, jog him on and try this exercise in very slow trot. Lift your legs ever so slightly on each side in the rhythm of the trot: left-right, left-right and let the gravity take them back down. You should feel as if you were cycling on your horse 😉

Now again if your horse is suitable, canter and try to repeatedly lift and drop your inside leg in the 3 beat rhythm of the canter: 1-2-drop, 1-2-drop etc try not to “drop your legs yourself” but let the gravity take them down – if you start pushing your legs down you will be putting your joints in the stiff end positions.

Now re-take your stirrups and jog on. Feel your legs being dropped by gravity on alternate sides, the joints dancing in the rhythm of the movement. The ball of your feet feeling the stirrups irons and heels feeling heavier than the toes. Once you feel comfortable in the jog, try the same in working trot only switching on as much muscular strength as you need to maintain stability.

All these and many other exercises can be done as part of our training courses so if you struggle with your seat skills, check out how we can help 🙂 – Aspire Equestrian Coaching 

Mixing Disciplines to Improve as a Rider

Kate racing2

We often say that for a horse to be athletic, healthy and interested in his work he needs variety in his training. However, we don’t always apply this to ourselves as riders and tend to carry a label of a “dressage rider”, “jumper”, “eventer” (the latter having probably most varied training routines from all) and stick to certain schooling patterns.

I have experienced the benefits of cross training myself having tried different disciplines and riding styles so I am very keen on developing my courses in a way that allows for many different elements to be included. Ever since Pippa joined me to work with me I knew I wanted her to bring in her racing experiences and knowledge into our training mix. Race riding requires fitness, balance, stability and mobility all in one and when done within reason can have a fantastic results on riders who struggle with the above in their usual discipline or riding style.

mixing disciplines
Pippa demonstrates different variations of racing seat on a cantering simulator

In the same way in which we can’t improve a horse’s trot or canter by simply trotting or cantering more, in the same way many aspects of specific ability needs wide lenses and multidisciplinary approach when planning improvements. It makes learning fun, interesting and challenging – both for riders and for the instructors 🙂

What discipline do you focus on? Do you mix and match different ones to develop as an all round capable rider?

Being stretched

Becky writes about her experiences over two Intensive Training Days with me:

Kicking On

Frustrated with my lack of progress at the local riding school, I booked an intensive weekend of lessons with Wiola of Aspire Academy.  Last weekend, she finally got a chance to look at my riding, rather than reading about it, and tried to help me improve it.

Over two days I rode three different horses – four if you count the simulator – and managed to clock up more hours in the saddle over that period of time than I have in months.  I knew my body was in for a shock, given that I’m pretty unfit and my position needed a lot of work, but I tried my best to ignore the fact that various muscles were being painfully reawakened and make the most of it.

Even when I’m in the situation of being a client, I get nervous when I’m riding for someone new.  At the start…

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Give Experiences not Things This Mother’s Day :)

mothers day offer 1

SPECIAL MOTHER’S DAY OFFER! If you like the sound of our monthly courses but are worried to commit to 4 sessions straight away, here is a fabulous way to test Aspire’s training AND bring your Mum along! Book by the 30th of March 2014 and use any time before the end of August 2014. Days and times subject to availability, please contact Wiola at for more information or to book your wonderful experience now 🙂 
Location: Cullinghood Equestrian Centre

Preparing for Lessons and Training – for the nervous, the ambitious, the under-pressure or stressed rider

wiola riding yorks

Quality coaching is often expensive and you are likely to be determined to get the most out of your lessons. Many horse owners will only have 1 or 2 lessons a month and it can often take a great deal of planning, arranging for transport, time off work or certain amount of gymnastics to fit a busy family lifestyle around horsey ambitions.

As a result of the above, many riders put themselves under considerable amount of pressure to do well, to learn as much as possible, for their horse to be “on his best behaviour” and generally, for the entire universe to conspire so the training is as beneficial as possible 🙂

If the above rings true to you, read on as I share some tips and suggestions that I collected in the last twenty years of teaching vast variety of clients with tiny to huge riding ambitions. I feel that as an instructor, I learn from each and every rider and horse. Some routines that work perfectly well for one person might be completely unsuitable for another. It’s useful to pick and mix until we find the right preparation tactics that let us enjoy the entire lesson process.

1. Shift your mindset from one needed when riding on your own to one needed when having a lesson.

aspire clinic1

If you ride with certain goals in mind, be it improvement goals, relationship or pleasure goals or competition goals, you are likely to get on your horse with some plan in mind of what you will do during the session. You might even map out exercises you want to practice on the day and spare a thought to an outcome you are after. You probably accounted for how your horse might feel on the day and you might even have a plan B/C/D depending on what feedback your horse gives you during warm up.

Now, the lessons come with a different challenge altogether. You very likely book them to work on something specific or to progress in general terms. You don’t have full control over the exercises chosen by the trainer. You can of course give feedback to them as and when you ride but you will most likely be pushed to some extent out of your comfort zone in order to improve. You will be listening to your instructor, your horse and your own body – it takes a lot of practice to be able to give enough focus to each and at the right time and so you are likely to feel less coordinated and with your aids less timely than if you rode by yourself. At the same time, if your instructor has a style of teaching that “rides the horse for you at each step” you might feel huge improvement in your horse’s way of going but not be quick enough to process the information to the point of being able to replicate it later.

Then there is your horse. He will have to adjust to all your emotions and increased pressure and that means his reactions might be out of character, both in plus and in minus.

All the above and many other factors that I am sure you could add here yourself mean that it really helps to shift your mindset from control to curiosity…

The best results I have seen in both riders and horses while teaching myself, riding and observing coaching sessions happened when riders arrive for training curious as to what they will discover in their horse and themselves on the day. This allows for reducing or eliminating frustration that comes from not being able to live up to own expectations and lets you focus on there and then.

You can just loosely think about it as you groom your horse and prepare for the lesson. Try to define your state of mind, thoughts, wants, ambitions for the session ahead. Then find a way to shift your mindset between “I WILL DO it WELL this time” to “I WONDER what we can learn about each other this time”.

2. Have a stretch!


Once you found a short routine that suits you, you will not want to school without doing it before getting on. The level of body awareness and ability to act upon what we feel is what differentiate “riders with feel” from those who apparently “don’t feel”.
The three simple stretches/exercises I recommend are:

1. Piriformis stretch
2. Upper body stretch
3. Balance exercises

3. Catch Your Breath…

If you are a busy amateur rider with a non-horse related career you are likely to be in a bit of a rush. Even if you are not, spare 5 minutes to just sit down and do nothing but breathing…It’s something I am learning through yoga and it’s unbelievable how influential this can be on ability to control emotions, both negative and positive as well as having a very interesting effect on the horse as far as his own concentration on the rider goes. I will write a separate post about it this month but do catch your breath before your training. Whether your a hyper type or a more phlegmatic person by nature, it works either way.


During the lesson:

1. Focus 80% of your energy on listening

Give 40% of your listening attention to your instructor and the other 40% to your horse. The remaining 20% focus reserve for telling things. I see many riders who tell, tell and tell and who might as well ride by themselves because they listen to neither the trainer nor the horse. Some try so hard to listen to the instructor they forget to listen to the horse. Practice the listening balance and you should see the effect in increased skill acquisition for a long time after the lesson has ended.

2. Stop and Think then Ride and Feel

It is a well known fact that horses learn best not during but after the activity when pressure have ceased and brain is resting and processing. It is no coincidence that many good trainers give their horses a complete break on a loose rein during training session or even get off and walk with the horse for a minute or two before going back to the exercise. It helps to apply similar tactic to oneself…It’s very tricky to engage both our analytical and sensory skills. You might find it useful to stop and think about the exercise or what you are after, understand it in the way that lets you visualise the outcome, then proceed to try the exercise or movement just letting yourself feel and make mistakes…

3. Be determined to help your horse understand


Many a time riders try so hard to help the horse DO something instead of helping them UNDERSTAND that something. Try to focus on how to explain it better in the way that an animal can process the request. Forget humanising the horse and telling yourself “he knows how to but doesn’t want to do it now because [enter a good excuse here]”. We “know” many things, it doesn’t mean we can “do” them as well as we know them every time we try.

Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Lindrick Livery, North Yorkshire; 15-16 March 2014 – Photo Report by Pure Essence Photography

After an epic road trip we returned from North Yorkshire. It was so much fun teaching riders at Lindrick Livery and we are delighted they invited us to come back next month!

Here are some lovely photos from the weekend by Pure Essence Photography – if you click on the collage below you can view all photos separately as larger files 🙂

Aspire Yorkshire 15-16 March 2014