How to jot down meaningful notes after lessons/rides

How many times have you gotten off a horse after your lesson or ride thinking about something that really worked well or made your horse feel great? Or perhaps vice versa, how many times have you finished the lesson or a ride thinking it didn’t go as well as you hoped? Have you told yourself “oh I must remember not to do that at this moment in the ride” or “Ahh that’s what gets his trot better”, “that’s how I can ride sitting trot in a more supple way” etc ?

Now, how easy was it to remember those thoughts until your next lesson or ride? How easy was it to constructively use your thoughts to improve in next lesson/ride?

If the answer is “not easy” you might want to start a habit of 5min-reflection-time. It really doesn’t have to be complicated and if you on’t like writing you can record yourself on your phone or even make a short video with your thoughts just for yourself after each training session. You will be amazed at the results…

When I started doing little online coaching sessions in 2010/11 I created a short print out for my long distance clients which I titled: “After Training Reflections Notes”. 

reflection notes
The 2011 version of the After Training Reflection Notes

I noticed, probably unsurprisingly, that the riders who took 5-10 minutes to sit and jot the notes down after lessons, were able to not only progress faster but they developed a thinking rider mentality which allowed them to be much more independent and efficient in their riding. I also found the simple reflection method to be invaluable for any instructor who cares about improvement of own coaching skills.

I based the 2011 notes on a very simple model of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle which can be illustrated as below:

Gibbs PDF
Image source: Believed to be free to use but if you are an owner and would like me to take it down please let me know and I will remove immediately.

I have updated the Reflection Notes pdf and will be sending a downloadable 2014 version of it with 1st November Newsletter so if you would like to get your hands on it, sign up HERE for free 🙂

If you would like to learn more about the use of reflective practice check out this link:

If you are an instructor/coach you might like this tool to practice more thorough reflection:

And if you would like to read a more comprehensive article about reflection in sports, check this article:

Join in Aspire Christmas Gift Guide 2014 :)

laughter (2)

Do you have a great product or service that might appeal as a gift to a grassroots, ambitious, improvement driven rider who takes lessons, loves to learn, loves to be around horses and leads horse happy lifestyle? 

From 1st November until 24th December, I will post weekly gift guides posts and would love you to get involved! I will chose things I like all around the web but would love to have independent creators, artists, photographers, other instructors (as long as they share our coaching values), trainers, personal trainers, yoga teachers, stable manufacturers, small clothing brands etc etc showcased on those pages.

I will make the pages into downloadable pdf documents to be sent out with Aspire bi-monthly Newsletters as well as blog the pages weekly on Aspire NewsBook (this blog).

Email Wiola now at for format guide and bring your products or services to horse loving audience 🙂

All the best,


PART 1 2 AND 3

Tartar Build Up vs Bit/Contact Issues

gum issues in horses2The fact that dental problems can lead to contact issues and mouth discomfort is a pretty common knowledge among horse owners but having witnessed a great improvement in bit acceptance in a pony with tartar build up I thought I would make a quick note about it 🙂

The pony had mild head shaking issues coupled with a bizarre behaviour where he would try to spit/push the bit out of his mouth throughout lessons. The owner tried various types of bits and bitless. He was much better bitless but continued to be busy with his tongue and lips every time the rider used reins to turn.

I noticed he had quite a few incisors covered with tartar and his gums looked irritated a little and so suggested for his teeth to be seen to and tartar build up removed but in all honesty didn’t expect it to have much influence on contact as no teeth other than front teeth seemed affected.

A week later, with no other changes in tack, rider or style of tuition the pony worked without problem and with quiet mouth…

Has anyone seen similar problem before? Does your horse suffer from tartar build up?

While we wait for the arena…

Young rider on Foundation Programme – field based flatwork session

I love to work on good surfaces, who doesn’t, but the many voices of riders who have their lessons with me in a large field at Aspire’s little base while we are awaiting the new arena to be constructed saying how difficult it is to ride on uneven ground, made me feel grateful for this temporary situation… Here’s why.

Rider on Intensive Training Day working without stirrups in trot and canter

When a rider learns to ride in the arena on fantastically, artificially non-slippery, perfectly stable and beautifully raked surface, 99% of the riding theory can be as artificial and empty as the surface itself. The rider rarely experiences the “punishment” they apply to a horse with sharp use of aids or wobbly, unstable seat or rough turn to the same degree as they can when riding in a field. Every stiff movement causes plethora of issues that simply go unnoticed on an immaculate surface.

The same goes for the horses. When worked through basic paces and small jumps, the variety of surfaces teaches them to look after themselves, to pick their feet, to be aware and watchful.

Foundation Programme riders cooling down bareback in October sunshine 🙂 

Planning lines and corners becomes a necessity if any form of track can be ridden and thinking ahead is starting to have a different meaning too. Reaction time increases and so does body awareness in motion.

My Foundation level riders don’t notice it yet so well but these weeks on grass already has had a great impact on their riding and although partially I can’t wait for the construction to start, the other part of me is very happy to have had to adjust to the situation.

In fact, I will now make it a part of all monthly sessions to have at least one field session whenever possible!

How about you guys? How often do you school out hacking or in a field? Are all your training/lessons done on artificial surfaces? What is your opinion on how often should we vary the surfaces for rider development and for the good of the horse?

All the best,


New website in progress HERE

Two simple proprioception exercises for young and/or balance challenged horses using poles

pro·pri·o·cep·tion  n.

The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.
[Latin proprius, one’s own; see per1 in Indo-European roots + (re)ception.]

STEP 1. Warm up: about 10min (5min if your horse is very settled and happy to get going)

Picture taken by Pure Essence Photography during my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

Start from walking with your horse around the arena or area where you will later set up the exercises. Your aim is for the horse to walk quietly next to you without rushing forward or lagging behind. You want him to be relaxed but attentive in a ground covering walk. The picture above shows a 3 year old ex-racehorse recently taken off track walking next to me in a nice, relaxed frame. Avoid moving on to any exercises until the horse is calm and pays attention to you – working tense muscles (and mind) only leads to further tension, possible disobedience and resentment.

STEP 2: Exercise 1

Pictures from my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

This is a very nice exercise that teaches the horse to move away on cue as well as coordinate each limb as they navigate the vertical line of poles. Place the poles on centre line of the arena near C (or A). Walk your horse down 3/4 line from opposite end and gently start moving him across shallowly leg-yielding towards centre line. Keep the movements slow enough that the balance of the horse is challenged and you don’t encourage forehand heavy way of going. Keep leg-yielding over the poles giving the horse time to get his feet out of the way. Repeat a few times on each rein.

This exercise not only helps with proprioception, balance and offers gentle shoulder and back end stretch but also teaches the horse to place the weight on one or the other front leg/shoulder on the cue of the handler which is later very useful when riding balanced turns and circles.

STEP 3: Exercise 2

Pictures from my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

You will need 4 poles and something to raise them on – we used mini blocks similar to these. Start with all poles flat on the ground and walk the horse back and forth letting him find his own distances and have a good look at the poles. If all good, start raising the ends one by one until all are up and start changing the pattern of crossing the poles – walk over the corners, slalom in and out etc Many horses really enjoy this exercise and the young boy above was no exception 🙂

Keep those exercises short and sweet, the above session lasted 20min including warm up.

Have fun and all the best,


New website in progress HERE

The language of aids – are we making things unnecessarily difficult?

Just a quick-ish post today on something that I’ve been pondering on for the last few years when analysing different teaching methods and tweaking my own.


I am going to hazard a statement that the only truly difficult and time consuming skill of all the riding skills is the development of a functional and horse friendly seat. Once the rider sits well (not just visually well – although let’s not discount that – but functionally well), the rest is down to hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks and years upon years of patient and well directed practice of imagination, understanding of horse’s locomotion, common sense and body awareness in motion.

My image of technically good seat is like a well put together watch where all the turbines and screws do their work as if by magic. From my experience and observations riders become frustrated most often by an inability to perform certain movements well or get certain amount of effort out from the horse. It’s not so much that they don’t know what to do…sometimes they even know vast amount of theory on exactly how to do what they want doing.

To make things picture rich, let’s assume a horse has that “seat” to master too…the horse’s seat (way of carrying oneself, way of shifting weight from side to side and from front to back) also develops over time and is most difficult skill for him. Not the moving away from the leg, not halting square, not stepping under upon leg cue. It’s the “seat” – the basic ability to remain in own balance with rider’s weight on board in all gaits, all turns, all circles – that’s potentially most difficult skill.


The issue arises when the rider (or horse) attempts something they have no turbines and screws for in the first place – in own seat and also in horse’s “seat”…Putting together the latter takes time and in horse riding language that equals hours in different saddles, on different backs, on differently pushing hindlegs. Similarly, the horse develops his posture through being ridden by rider with a better and better seat, the weight he carries becomes his best and intricate balance indicator rather than a burden. Eventually, the horse can potentially achieve better precision, rhythm, cadence, quality of steps with the rider than without one…

You know the old dealer trick that rider can make any horse look lame (er) or sound (er)? If we agree that skilled riding was about precise and effective weight shift, the rider’s ability to create (or damage) certain movement pattern shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Language of aids

All that seat development is like nursery, pre-school and primary school put together. Rider and horse work on their “seat” in similar ways to us learning to write letters, then sentences. From time to time, there would be a child out there who writes beautiful poems, play extraordinary music, wins professional golf tournaments and maybe even writes stories at the age of 9. However, we wouldn’t change entire schooling system to match that benchmark…From time to time, there are riders and horses that seem to flow together without apparent effort, time investment and long practice. Should this mean that hundreds of other riders and horses ought to jump the 2-3 or so years of decent seat development?

As riders and instructors we can make things very difficult both for our horses and our pupils by asking them to speak a language they have no words for. We can also make things extremely frustrating for ourselves…

Seat differences

Sometimes I am asked what I think about that and this riders’ seat and although a beautifully sat rider with even body proportions might always look nicer on a horse than one with very short legs and long torso, it’s not that visual seat development that I am chatting about here.

bridle and gym ball

Some people have terrible hand writing yet write beautiful stories…Some have incredible calligraphy that never produces more than a pretty looking word…Good seat and language shows in the quality of work of the horse and in the harmony between horse and rider.

We might have different levels of that work and different levels of that harmony from a beginner to an advanced professional but when I start teaching someone I look at building those words first (seat skills) rather than ask for essays. This means I like to explore many avenues of skills acquisition and I might ask more experienced riders to do seemingly unrelated exercises but it’s really interesting to see the results of well thought out play 🙂

So, how’re your aids’ language skills? Do you know why some riding sessions are frustrating for you? 

All the best,


Photo report from Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Lindrick Livery, Ripon, North Yorkshire

I have just returned from teaching on Aspire Grassroots clinic at Lindrick Livery and what a great weekend that was! I hope the pictures tell the story well and that you enjoy the wonderful set of them taken by Ceri of Pure Essence Photography (Check her website HERE if you would like to book a photo shoot 🙂 ) I will be writing more about the exercises shown on below pictures in Aspire’s bi-monthly newsletter coming up on the 14th October so if you would like to read some of my thoughts on those simple body awareness techniques, sign up HERE 🙂

When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either sides). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
Fabulous, little 3 year old ex-racehorse in early stages of re-training. Learning to move like a riding horse.
Addressing posture and effectiveness of the leg
Intro to an exercise which helps with control of the horse’s shoulders
When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
When we sit on a moving horse, we don’t always feel how physics and motion disorganise our position and as a result destroy our balance. Testing Olivia’s front to back stability here.
When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
Introduction to a simple yet powerful exercise: “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
Awareness of own crookedness is a first step to understanding schooling of the horse – simple exercises can awake muscles that we didn’t know existed 🙂
Learning about horse’s posture via becoming a horse 😉
Another version of the “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints (hip, knee, ankle, elbow, shoulder) need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
In-hand work to help with crookedness
3 year old ex-racehorse Casper learning to yield from the “leg” in-hand
Laura having a go at “monkey” exercise
Searching for strengths and weaknesses in rider’s body as far as balance in the saddle is concerned 🙂
Cantering on foot to address excessive shoulder movement – fun and very effective to build awareness 🙂
As Ceri, the author of the photos said “Never too early to start 😉 ” My cracking little client – grand age of 5 – on his pony, preparing for simple and fun coordination exercises.
Everybody understand various instructions differently. How do you soften your hand/elbow/shoulder? What does it mean “give” with your hand? Here Louise is feeling the difference between locked and “soft” elbow.
Quick video feedback before proceeding with exercises. Visual feedback never lies and helps immensely with speeding up learning process.
Every movement of the horse needs to be absorbed by rider’s joints. If one or more joints “block” the motion, harmony can’t be achieved. Here the rider is experimenting with passive joint movement to determine which of her joints (hip, knee or ankle) is the one she blocks the movement with.
Learning to move on large circles in balance and relaxed posture without the rider. A 3 year old ex-race horse Casper – I can’t wait to watch his improvement over months to come. He has wonderful brain and fantastic attitude.
Learning how rider’s crookedness affects turns and circles – and finding ways to correct a few issues 🙂
Short in-hand sessions for 3 year old Thoroughbred, Casper.
Posing with a lovely young rider and her wonderful pony, Mouse, who sadly decided not to smile with us here!
Louise and the lovely Henry – great partnership! Henry is now 3 months into post kissing spine operation and looked and worked very well!

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If you would like to organise similar clinic at your yard, give Wiola a shout! Anyone welcome 🙂 More details below:


I am about to leave for a trek to North Yorkshire to meet a great team of riders at Lindrick Livery for the weekend clinic and stuff myself with some home cooked meals by Ceri but wanted to quickly share with you my last minute special coaching offer for lessons booked at Brackenhill Stud’s Open Day on 4th October 2014! Hope to see you some of you soon! Wiola — at Brackenhill Stud.

October afternoon at Brackenhill Stud
October afternoon at Brackenhill Stud


October afternoon at Brackenhill Stud