Dr Inga Wolframm: Horse sports – almost like the Hunger Games

“I almost faint at the sight of my calf. The flesh is a brilliant red covered with blisters. I force myself to take deep, slow breaths, feeling quite certain the cameras are on my face. I can’t show weakness at this injury. Not if I want help. Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does.”

If you’ve read “The Hunger Games”, you might – as I do – consider this scene as one of the most pivotal ones in the “arena”. If you haven’t, allow me to summarise: Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian world, is one of 24 “tributes” – teenagers sent into an artificial habitat with the sole aim of killing one another until only one is left standing. However, once in a while the brains behind this most cruel version of reality TV lend a helping hand and come up with additional “challenges” for the contestants. In this particular scene, Katniss has just been caught by a fireball the size of a hand grenade.

The scene is gripping on so many different levels, but it’s Katniss’ reaction to her harrowing injury that struck a chord with the sport psychologist in me.

fallingOkay, I grant you, it is unlikely that, as a rider, you’ll have fireballs thrown at you. Still, there’ll be many instances where your equestrian career will feel as cruel, forbidding and dangerous as the Hunger Games (we even have arenas too!). At a show, you’ll be fighting to come out on top (at times you might even feel like murdering the competition or shoot an arrow at the judges), you’ll have to manage injuries – your own or that of your horse – and, unless you’re exceedingly lucky, you’ll continuously struggle to make ends meet.

It’s a lot to deal with by anyone’s standard. And the question is, how do you cope?

Researchers in (sport) psychology agree that there are various ways of dealing with problems, but which particular manner we choose really depends on the situation we find ourselves in and how we’ve dealt with things in the past. Generally speaking, coping can be divided, on the one hand, into two styles, i.e. approach- or avoidance-styles, and, on the other two, into two coping strategies, i.e. emotion- or problem-focused coping.

As the names suggest, an individual choosing approach coping aims to face the problem head on, while avoidance coping means temporarily sticking one’s head in the proverbial sand. Problem-focused strategies are action orientated, that usually involve some kind of cognitive element too. Emotion-focused strategies focus on dealing with the feelings a problem has evoked.

By the way, whether you should use problem or emotion-focused strategies depends quite a bit on the situation itself. If you’re facing an issue that requires thinking your way through, you should employ the more analytical problem-focused strategy. If, however, your emotions get in the way, you might be better off using an emotion-focused strategy.

As Professor Mark Anshel from Middle Tennessee State University demonstrates in his two-dimensional framework this leaves us with four coping measures to choose from:

Inga W photo

However, as interesting as such a framework is, you’ll presumably know from experience that there are ways of dealing with your problems that are more effective than others. Evidence suggests that, in the short term, both approach and avoidance styles have merit, but – and you’ve probably already guessed it – in the long term, the approach style wins hands down. The reason? If you keep running away from a particular problem, chances are, it’ll keep coming after you. If, however, you decide to come to grips with it, you’re much more likely to solve it once and for all.

I’m a firm believer in approach coping.

In equestrian sports, we continually deal with an animal approximately ten times as heavy as we are, with a will of its own. Sticking your head in the sand is likely to make things much, much worse. Much better to figure out a strategy of how to overcome a particular problem. This could be anything from letting your horse get checked out physically, taking lessons from a good coach, getting good, safe kit for yourself, or learning new skills, such as relaxation techniques (always a good one to improve fine motor skills.)

It’s what Katniss Everdeen did and it really worked for her. She refused to engage in the ultimate avoidance – lay down and die. Instead, she chose to fight, dealing with her problems the best way she could, winning the Hunger Games in the process (she also caused a revolution, but that’s another story for another day).

Coaching Young People – Parental Pressures

This morning I received a rather emotional letter from a young rider asking for advice. We have since had a bit of chat about the issue over emails but I thought the subject was interesting enough to bring to you all for discussion…I don’t teach many children and those I do teach generally have healthy parental support but I have in the past dealt with a few cases that are similar to the one described in the letter.

Here is the core of the problem of the young rider in question (I do have a permission to quote the below):

“[…] Could you give me some tips on dealing with my father please? I feel like I am doing the best I can and my horse goes well and we are improving loads but my father always puts pressure on me to do better, he shouts at me during my lessons and sometimes before lessons too. I love training and competing but recently I often feel like I want to give up […]

I wrote back with some tips and suggestions but the email made me think of similar situations all instructors (and teachers/coaches of other sports) come across at all stages of their careers so would be great to hear from other teachers on how you deal with scenarios like above – do you get involved? How? Parents with children who do a sport – what would you advise the young rider to say to his father? What arguments would convince you to step back a little?

From coaching perspective

riders in portugal
Aspire riders (young, very young & young at hearts 😉 at the end of training week in Portugal

During my sports science degree we had an interesting lectures analysing research on the influence of parents in youth sport. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to know it is huge. Riding especially is a sport were family involvement is very often a make or break of the participation not just because of the cost but mostly due to time needed for travel, proper training and horse care.

I have taught children whose siblings weren’t interested in riding at all or had other passions that were overlooked; children with no interest in ponies whatsoever yet being made to ride because it was a status statement; children of other professionals being torn apart for “not listening”; children trying their hearts out yet being criticised for not doing enough. In summary, I have seen a fair share of various child-parent issues that made me feel quite power less at times.

From coaching/teaching point of view I usually try to analyse calmly whether parent’s over-involvement have an effect on child’s enjoyment and progress or not and if yes then to what degree. Most of the time, at least with the parents I have worked with, they simply want the best for their son or daughter. They feel like they want to be the part of the child’s learning and help them get the most out of the experience. If they do interfere at times but if it doesn’t really have an adverse effect on my rider then I tend to ignore it. If I see the rider being negatively affected I would (and have done so in the past) speak to the parent(s).

Over the years I personally learnt to tune out any outside interference from parents when I teach because it helps me focus on the youngster, their safety and their needs. When I was younger I found it distracting and hard to deal with but I think experience does its job. From my own training and competitive teenage perspective and from talking to my fellow riding friends in my youth, I know that young riders seek support and unconditional approval from parents regardless of the sporting/riding results and I think that’s probably best use of family resources from coaching point of view. It’s no coincident that many riding instructors’ children are rarely taught by their professional parents but rather by a fellow instructor  😉

At higher levels of the sport, I believe it’s very important for a teacher/coach to be able to put some pressure and demand on the rider while the parent’s role is to be the buffer and the “good one” which unfortunately seem to have gone the other way round for the teenager who wrote that email…

Please share your views! When I look through my “search terms” on this blog various terms to do with coaching young people come up every day, it’s definitely a subject that I will come back to.

Until next time,


Exclusive content, first hand news and offers plus video tutorials await :)

Hello Just a quick one to say that Aspire Equestrian’s little newsletters are now out there in the cyber space and if you too would like to receive our exclusive content, video tutorials, answers to training questions and be informed of any exciting news and offers in first instance then pop over to our microsite http://aspir1.wix.com/aspireequestrian2014 , scroll down a tiny bit and add your email into the box 🙂

Bare with me as I make it better and better and more and more useful with each one!


Developing timing in riding skill aka How to “try better” ;)

Teenage rider on Aspire Equestrian Foundation Programme. Riding skills need more time to develop than any other motor skills because we are not only learning how to use our own body but we also learn the patterns of the horse’s body. To *know* this and to be at peace with that is to be a horse-friendly learner 🙂

This will probably be a short and sweet post but let’s see how we go 🙂 The content is, as always, inspired by my pupils so hopefully some other riders out there can relate with some of the issues discussed today.

Picture this: you are standing opposite a person you have never seen in your life; you are about 10m apart and facing each other and you hold a tennis ball in your hand. You throw the ball at the person all of a sudden and they got to catch it. The mission is for the ball not to be dropped, be passed as many times as possible within 15 minutes and there is a reward for both speed and no-drops afterwards. Let’s say, you threw it a little awkwardly and the other person had to run forward to catch it. Did they do so? How fast did they run? Did they catch the ball? Next, they throw. How did they do it? Straight towards you or did the ball go a little sideways? You make these observations because the goal is not to drop the ball so you want to make sure you can throw and catch it well next time. If your other person was slow and sluggish you might make more effort to throw accurately and if they proved to be quick and agile perhaps you will go for faster throws. You observe each other and try to perfect your technique of both catching and throwing so you achieve the goals. The longer you keep going the more information you gather about each other’s skills and body language. You start spotting if the ball has a chance to be caught and when it’s most likely going to be dropped, you are getting to know each other’s dexterity, reactions and reflexes. After 15 minutes you are likely to have decent amount of information about each other’s movements and you start to throw more confidently. You are starting to develop better timing…

Anything that lasts longer than a rider’s body reflex when correcting reaction [of a horse] is already too late…Steffen Peters

When we are at the beginning of riding education – i.e. some good few years of regular riding – most of our reactions are either too slow or too fast. We don’t see how the ball will be thrown, we don’t have the capacity to imagine the trajectory of the flight of it based on random observations of an unknown person…In similar manner, our riding aids do not speak at the right time for correct muscle contraction, for the right weight shift that will create the right movement etc

The key lies in patient repetition and that’s where I am heading with  this post. Sometimes riders tell me, I have a problem with sitting trot and have tried to do it but can’t, can we do something else. The problem is not them not trying enough or being unable to get it but on the area of focus. To ride a good sitting trot, the body of the rider has to coordinate (time) intricate interplay between allowing mobile pelvis, retaining stable thighs, maintaining upper body posture AND remain supple.

Most movements and aids will require similar combination of body behaviours and when you keep “trying and trying” and you “can’t” do it, check what it is that you are training/practising. Break down a movement or exercise into elements that can be seen from timing point of view (for example: when you want to leg yield right but you start the movement by leaning left towards the aiding leg, you are messing up with your horse’s timing for weight shifts; he needs to momentarily shift his weight onto his right hind leg in order to lift and cross the left hind leg).

If you struggle with the left canter, check if in the moment of transition you are in fact able to maintain weight shift onto your inside left seat bone to help the horse depart from outside hindleg. If not, train that ability of timely pelvis positioning and weight shifts rather than “canter left” itself.

If you struggle with sitting straight in sitting trot, practice front to back coordination (timing of muscle contraction through your back vs your abdominal muscles) rather than simply “trying to sit straight”.

Break it all down to observation of timing and no other “trying” will ever feel the same 🙂

Leave a comment if you struggle with anything in particular and let’s see if we can “break it down to timing” for you!

Have a great ride!


If you want to learn with me, here is where to find me: CLICK ME 🙂


Improving your Jumping Position – Exercises to Add to Your Training Routine

The question of how to improve a jumping position has repeated itself in Aspire blog’s searches for the last few days so I thought I will share some generic ways to go about it. Please feel free to pick and mix the below suggestions to your liking and adjust them to your fitness level, your horse’s stamina and your general personal circumstances.

Let’s get to it.wiolajumpingugie


The first step would be to take a video of yourself cantering in light seat and jumping over a course of jumps. This will form the basis of your action plan for the next 3 months or so.


– your coordination,
– stamina,
– back and neck/head position,
– lower leg position,
– suppleness through ankles,
– knees and hips,
– independence of the hand,
– your natural reactions when things get difficult and
– overall ability to maintain your own centre of gravity over that of the horse.

If you are unsure as to how to evaluate all this, you can ask your instructor to help you. Don’t skip on this step because improving “something” equals improving nothing much at all…You want to end up with being somewhat clear on what you strengths and weaknesses are in this particular skill before you move on.

Get a knowledgeable instructor to guide you into the desired posture in jumping positions (remember there are three stages to the jump and therefore three different positions: take off-flight-landing) “in halt” so you can build your awareness as to where each part of your body needs to be at each stage of the jump. This will be your benchmark “feel” as you work on your exercises by yourself.


Second step would be to improve the way you ride your horse in canter. I like to think that, at lower levels up to some 1.10m, a jump is like a one, very round, very elevated canter stride 🙂 Keep working on various exercises in canter and you might be amazed at how this improves your dexterity, coordination and stability over the jumps. Below are some exercises that can be of help but it’s important to adjust them to your needs and your horses’ fitness:

Transitions within canter with changes of seat

Establish a forward going stride with your horse staying in front of your leg. Next, choose certain distance (for example between quarter markers on a long side of the arena or from one tree to another some 25-30m apart) and ride in powerful, extended (but controlled) canter in two-point/light seat. At the marker (or at the tree) start sitting in the saddle and start collecting each stride so as your turn onto short side of the area (or field) you can ride the next 15m or so in collected canter. Do it couple of times on each rein. Aim at perfecting the way you come up from the saddle when you add power to the canter and the way you sit deep when you collect the strides. Remember to always maintain good quality canter i.e. your horse should not drop behind your leg when you sit to collect.

Once you are both familiar with the exercise start increasing the amount of transitions you do: ride 5-7 strides in medium canter/light seat and 3-4 in deep seat collected canter, then back to medium, then back to collected.
I use the word “collected” here loosely – just aim for a level of collection that your horse is ready for. You want a short stride with plenty of power, bounce and joy not a flat, pulled-in posture in a four beat caricature of a canter. Keep your horse happy 🙂

– Rising canter on the flat and over poles.

Great exercise to improve mobility of knees and hips as well as quickness of reactions, dexterity and joint suppleness. Start by establishing a good working canter around the arena and ride in “polo canter” for as long as you can. Aim to rise on every other stride as you would in rising trot. More on rising canter here.

Once you can do it well in working canter, add transitions within canter to it and maintain rises in “collected” strides and medium strides – it is a great exercise to practice in order to improve fluidity and feel for take off and landing.

Adding canter poles makes this exercise even more interesting. You can scatter poles around the arena in no particular order but so that you can canter patterns over them. Start in working canter and deep seat on the approach, canter rise for ONE stride as your horse canters over the pole, then slide gently back into the saddle and continue to the next pole. The key here is to try to rise for ONE stride only, then land lightly back into the saddle.wiolaonradieuse

There are many exercises you can follow this up with, for example: build a line of canter poles where your gymnastic line would be later (build 2-3 bounce distances to 2-3 at one stride distances). Establish working canter that is suitable for your horse and approach the line in two-point/light seat. Over each pole canter-rise ONCE paying attention to you your lower leg position, suppleness and general sync with the horse’s stride. Repeat coming in deep seat and rising ONCE over each pole. Maintain rhythm and speed of the canter so that it doesn’t change whether you sit and rise.

Many riders do very well producing a nice, powerful canter in light seat but have problem maintaining it when sitting back in the saddle. If this too is your issue, observe whether you sit without holding the horse back through your seat bones. When you sit in the saddle, you should feel that your seat bones still maintain the diagonal weight shift needed for forward momentum and it is the positioning of your body, the incremental “hold” of your thighs and weight distribution through your back is what “brings the horse back”.

Gymnastic lines

Jumping over gymnastic lines of fences that are on a bounce, one and two stride distance helps immensely with riders’ jumping position. The repetitiveness of the exercise allows the rider to focus on themselves and let the horse learn from the exercise too. The fences are usually low and coming quick after one another which teaches the rider to concentrate and relax through the joints – especially ankles and knees, which often want to hold on to the horse and prevent secure jumping position from developing.

STEP 3: Keep Reassessing

In most generic terms, spend as much time in canter as you can on as many different horses as possible. Change often between two-point (light) seat and three – point seat (dressage seat). Focus on developing fluidity and ease in those canter exercises. Work over the poles in light seat often, both in trot and in canter. Have eyes on the ground, a knowledgeable friend or your instructor to give you feedback on how you are doing – many a time what we feel is very different from how it is…

I hope these few tips were useful for some of you out there 🙂
Have a great day!

Are you struggling with regular training/lessons at your yard?

If you are at a DIY yard or one without regular training option, I would love to invite you to try Aspire Grassroots Clinics at your location. One or Two and Three Day Clinics available for amateur, grassroots riders seeking professional, horse friendly and rider focused training that truly makes a difference.

Give our clinics a go : )



Dr Inga Wolframm: “When Things Go Wrong…”

Off for a XC schooling…

It doesn’t matter what it is: an important show, a training session with the world’s greatest trainer, a once-in-a-blue-moon trip to the beach with your mates. You’re really looking forward to it. You’ve trained your socks off for it. You’ve planned the whole thing to within an inch of its life. You’ve worked so hard on your mental and physical fitness that you’re considering changing your middle name to “Nijna”.

And then, on the big day, it all goes TERRIBLY wrong.

The weather, the judges, the organisers, the traffic, the quite simply enormous waves – everyone and everything seem to be conspiring against you. To add insult to injury, as you pull your horse of the trailer, you discover that he’s undergone a personality transplant without your prior knowledge. The polite, well-behaved equine gentleman (or woman) you’ve known for years has morphed into a fire-breathing dragon and you forgot to bring the fire extinguisher. Or your superman reincarnation on four legs suddenly appears no bigger, nor fiercer, than the average field mouse. No coaxing, pleading or bribing can persuade him to go near his own shadow let alone any other horses…

It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. It’s enough to question your preparation, your planning, your training. Enough to doubt anything you’ve ever done with your horse.

You know what? That’s both normal and understandable. If faced with circumstances we’ve never had to deal with before, even the most confident among us might get a case of wobbly knees for a a second or two and worry what we should do.* But it’s what you do next is that counts.

And for many riders, the thing to do next is… errr…panic!

All at once, they stop doing what they’ve always done. The routine they’ve built up over the years and their horse has got used to vanishes in the blink of an eye. No more tacking up in a specific order (for example), no more walking for 10 minutes to warm-up (for example). No more 15 minutes of easy loosening up, before horse and rider start to work in earnest (for example).

Oh no! Circumstances change, and the temptation to adopt a state of emergency is simply too great. Tack is thrown on, riders jump on board. Reins are tightened and the horse is told to “behave” in no uncertain terms.

And the horse? He quite literally has no idea what’s going on. He simply reacts to a situation that has now gone from a little scary to absolutely terrifying. And we all know what that means … The rider, already in a state of heightened arousal (to put it mildly), more often than not interprets such behaviour as yet another reason to take drastic measures. A vicious circle of behaviour ensues that is tricky to break. I think we can all agree that it’s much, much better to not get sucked into it in the first place!

“[…] So especially in situations that are different to “normal”, you should try and stick to your tried-and-tested routines as much as possible. That way, there’ll at least be some things your horse is familiar with and derive feelings of security from. […]

Horses thrive on routine, especially in times of stress or uncertainty. Doing the same thing, following the same order of events, applying the same aids, using the same cues and rewards will help a horse settle much more quickly than any abrupt changes of proceedings ever could.

So especially in situations that are different to “normal”, you should try and stick to your tried-and-tested routines as much as possible. That way, there’ll at least be some things your horse is familiar with and derive feelings of security from.

By the way, there’s an added bonus too: reminding yourself of how you always do things in times of crisis, will also help you feel more secure and keep that feeling of rising panic at bay. Really, it’s just another behavioural circle, only it’s not vicious: a calm(er) you resulting in a calm(er) horse; a calm(er) horse resulting in a calm(er) you.

And even though things might still not go quite the way you might have hoped, they’ll at least not turn into a complete disaster!

*Please note: A little bit of self-doubt once in a while can be a good thing (but only when you’re not smack-bang in the middle of a stressful situation). It makes you reevaluate the status quo, question where you’re currently at and where you want to be. It might even make you think outside the box and allows you to come up with innovative solutions (this, incidentally, is why I’ve argued in one of my previous blogs that a bit of trauma can be good for you – it teaches you how to cope).


More about Dr Inga Wolframm: HERE

The All-Rounder Training Series: Relax, Supple Up, Collect. Part 2: The “forgotten” groundwork?

Relaxed readiness is how I like to describe a horse and rider’s state of body and mind that is best suited to learning. Not every one, however, is able to achieve such state in the warm up part of their training session and that can lead to arguments between the rider and the horse.

Even if you are not a skilled, professional rider with a seat that can change the horse’s back, you still have a very good tool you can use in order to warm your horse up towards relaxed readiness and that’s in-hand /groundwork exercises.

You should find groundwork of great benefit if your horse:

– is easily distracted, spooky and unfocused
– is crooked
– has a naturally high and tense neck carriage
– tends to warm up and/or jump with hollow, tense back

It seems that nowadays, groundwork is considered to be suitable for those who are “scared” to ride a fresh horse or simply “the worriers” or “the anxious” or otherwise an opportunity to tire an exuberant horse. Then there is the lunging “in shape” with pessoa and the likes.

I would really encourage you to look at groundwork afresh 🙂 Forget “doing Parelli”, “doing Monty Roberts/natural Horsemanship”, “doing [enter another brand here]; forget what others think if you walk with your horse for 10 minutes before you get on him or that you don’t put equipment on to “get him to work from behind”. I would also like to challenge you to really look those phrases in the eye and question their true substance and meaning…have a think back to times and circumstances of Nelson Pessoa producing his gadget…think what marketing ideas would sell such products and to whom he was selling… Just question this and that, you know.

Try to look at groundwork or in-hand work as an integral part of your training that develops communication and trust between you and your horse…

In this post, I will describe 2 very simple yet potentially powerful exercises you can do with your horse regardless of your ridden skill level.

Exercise 1: Walk your horse in relaxed posture (loose, relaxed neck and purposefully moving body)

laura in hand
6 year old TB, been in training but have not raced. Here walked by her owner at the beginning of the training session.

This might seem simple but the key to this exercise is the quality of the walk. You might need a long schooling whip and your horse can be fully tacked up in his usual tack ready to be ridden after the groundwork session. Make sure your noseband is loose enough for the horse to be able to chew easily and move his tongue without restriction (see here for reasoning behind that).
Start by walking purposefully alongside your arena fence or on a chosen line. Observe if your horse keeps up with you or whether you need to energise him forwards or calm him down to slow down and act accordingly. You want your horse to walk besides you in a good medium walk.
Leave the reins on the neck of the horse and encourage him to lower his neck by applying small amount of on/off pressure on inside rein (you should see that this action puts pressure on the poll and does not cause any backward pulling on the horse’s mouth. You can equally do it on a headcollar or in a bitless bridle). The pressure should be slight and lasting just about the same time as it takes the horse to move his foreleg forward and put it on the ground. Most horses react by dropping the head in response to an equivalent of the weight of the hand on the rein.

Avoid tugging on the rein and forcefully lowering the horse’s neck. You should feel like the action of the rein is suggesting rather than telling…

Ideally you would want a few minutes of walk with your horse consistently moving at given rhythm with his neck level with his withers. If you have never tried this, please do and you might be amazed what effect it has on horse’s relaxation. The lowered neck position is generally already a mental relaxant for the horse and as a result, it helps him focus on you instead of on the world around him.

Exercise 2: Lateral poll flexion in – hand

Remember the old instruction : “when turning, make sure you just about see the corner of your horse’s inside eye “? That’s what lateral poll flexion is – not a neck bend and not too much flexion so we can see entire nose from up the saddle. Many tense, hollow moving horses are also laterally tense at the poll. This could be an effect of crookedness where the horse compensates for lack of correct alignment of the spine in relation to the shape the rider is trying to ride by tilting his head or carrying it outwards which in time causes strain, muscular tension and joint pain. The poll being a joint needs the same level of suppleness as any other joint in the horse’s body in order to function without problems.

If you look closely at any grassroots event whether it’s dressage, jumping or eventing you will notice a large amount of horses with some degree of tension at the poll. Ideally, we want the right flexion at the poll when going right and left when going left. All you need to teach the horse to do for it to happen smoothly is to make sure he/she is not tense in the neck when being asked for flexion. A healthy, sound horse should have no issue with turning his head slightly to the left or right.

Flexion at the poll is hugely helpful when riding circles, serpentines and turns – it helps the rider maintain better balance in the horse (inside flexion limits ‘falling in’ onto the inside shoulder/foot) because is helps control the amount of weight the horse is transferring onto each shoulder (inside flexion “lightens” the inside shoulder).

When asked for from the saddle, it can cause confusion to the tense horse who might offer immediate turn in response to the movement of inside rein. Flexing the horse’s head (poll) from the ground allows the rider to observe what is happening step by step.

When your horse stands with his neck relaxed and lowered slightly (top of the neck about level with his withers):

Flexions in hand blog
Young horse doing the exercise for the first time. He is tilting his head a little too much but is otherwise soft and relaxed. For the ridden flexion this would be done to much lesser degree.

Stand by your horse’s side like you would when preparing to put a bridle on. Place your inside hand (decide which way you will flex first and that will be your inside hand) on the horse’s nose and outside hand on his neck just behind the atlas bone. You will be gently stabilising the horse’s neck with this hand to make sure he is not bringing it to the inside but that it stays straight.
Now with your inside hand move the horse’s nose towards you until you see the muscles in front of your outside hand becoming concave (the other side of the top of the neck will become convex)

Don’t pull hard if you feel resistance from the horse. Try to move his nose slowly as if you wanted to do so by millimetres. Then release the nose to straight position and repeat until the movement feels soft and easy (might take many days of patient repetition with very stiff horses).
You will very likely notice that one side is much easier for your horse to flex to than the other…

Some trainers call the change from convex to concave arrangement of the neck muscles a nuchal ligament flip, some question this. Whatever the anatomical correctness – when changing from left to right flexion it does indeed look like the top line of the neck “flips” from left to right.

The lower the horse’s neck, the easier it is to achieve soft, pliable flexion and that’s because in the upright and tense neck posture with head held high, the bones which constitute the poll (atlas and axis) are in a “locked” position. The lower the neck and more relaxed the surrounding muscles, the more open the joint is.

Poll flexions, when done from the ground slowly without rushing or force, and then applied from the saddle, can revolutionise the way the horse moves on circles and in turns.

Done consequently for a few weeks, these 2 exercises coupled with their incorporation into ridden work can help break the cycle of hollowness and stiffness in the horse in the warm up phase and allow the rider to develop further training exercises that are based on relaxation rather than tension.

If you try or have already tried these or similar exercises with good results please share your experiences in the comments 🙂 Until next time!


Aspire 2014 Coaching microsite


Part 1 of this little series can be found here: The All-Rounder Training Series: Relax, Supple Up, Collect. Part 1 – The forgotten “light seat” ?

Check this out if you would like to get away for a few days and spend them with horses…

It’s my great pleasure to invite anyone who feels like spending several days doing nothing but the horses to the second Aspire GetAway to La Fiaba in Tuscany, Italy…

If you would like to wake up and start your day from bringing horses from the field, feed them and groom them; if you would like to follow this up with half a day over challenging Tuscan countryside, rider technique focused lessons, sessions on your body awareness and feel as a rider as well as use video feedback to help you progress – you might just love to check it out 🙂

Click HERE or the image below for full details:

September Aspire getaway Poster