London riders – places on Aspire programmes are coming to you :)

***Apologies for those of you who are waiting for Part 5 of the Gift Guide! I am on limited internet at the moment so uploading the pages is tricky! It will be up as soon as possible!***

Caitlin on Tilly
Trial lesson at a London yard. Caitlin on Foundation programme.

In the last few months I have been receiving more and more enquiries from London based riders who for one reason or the other can’t make the journey for Reading lessons. The challenge was on to find a place that would be accessible by public transport, had at least 2 to 3 horses available for share or loan, had an all-weather arena plus ideally some field riding and hacking and also be do-able for me to travel to regularly.

Having tried a couple of places and them not meeting the criteria, this weekend myself and a couple of my lovely clients tried a little yard not very far from a hub of public transport at Ealing Broadway. The initial trial went well so we are setting off with several places available from December 2014 🙂 More information will be included in our Newsletter tomorrow and details are available via email at

I will continue to search for more opportunities in and near London so if you don’t manage to get a place at this yard, rest assured I am on the case! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email any time 🙂 Wiola

Emma Z
Trial lesson at a London yard. Emma on Development Programme on a newly backed youngster.


My little mention in today’s Horse and Hound – if you struggle with no arena this winter, check it out :)

Horse and HoundHaving no arena is seen as a huge disadvantage for many riders who want to carry on training and riding through the autumn and winter months (or even through very wet spring/summer!). And indeed it can be if the surface is very slippery, the wind blows you out of the saddle and rain drives into you and your horse changing him/her into a Thelwell pony turning his bum against the gusts of wetness.

However, riding in open spaces has it’s advantages and sometimes having no arena can be the best thing that happen to your riding skills 🙂

Check today’s Horse and Hound magazine for full article with quotes from Lucinda Green, Steph Croxford , event riders and little me too! Page 14.

Taking this opportunity to say well done to my riders who has been braving field training sessions over the muddy months. It’s hard enough when you are a competent rider but these are Foundation level riders just learning the ropes so all more reason to feel good about learning very useful skills indeed!

Today’s Horse and Hound also have a great feature with Carl Hester and several great professionals in their respective fields (no pun intended here!) on “How to Get The Edge” which discusses the importance of diet, physiotherapy, psychology, fitness, biomechanics of THE RIDER in improving performance. Good read!

Chatting with Glenn and Helena from Horse Radio Network about my training in Portugal, blogging and…check it out!

How about a little horsey radio for you this evening? 🙂 My chat with Glenn and Helena from Horse Radio Network is now online – just click the image below to listen! I’m around the 0:20 mark but take a listen to the whole thing, you never know, you might enjoy it 🙂

I first spoke to Glenn and Helena six years ago…they were just starting out and I wrote a little blog about my life as a riding instructor…It was great to chat again although as I hear them a lot when listening to the shows it did not feel like not speaking for so many years at all!

I get nervous chatting live like that so apologies for a bit of a ramble! 😉


Planning your riding sessions for progress – 10 suggestions to try

GREY HORSE HEADDo you sometimes wonder about the fact that you’ve been riding/having lessons for years but you seem to feel and see no improvement in your skills? If so, you might find the below post helpful 🙂

I am a very goal oriented person and so are many ambitious riders out there whether the end aim is to get to Olympics, scoring personal best in an unaffiliated dressage test, mastering sitting trot in medium trot, jumping a winning round over 95cm, improving feel for horse’s movement so all transitions are crisp and harmonious, having a clear XC run in local horse trials or gaining trust and building relationship with a horse. Being goal oriented can simply mean that you don’t like floating around without purpose.

By definition, to train means to change.

Eventually and ideally – for the better-but sometimes at early stages of change things often get chaotic and feel worse. That’s why, the first thing I am prepared for when striving for progress is that things will go messy, they will feel like hard work and they will feel difficult. If they don’t, then I know I am in a cosy, comfortable place at which nothing is changing i.e. nothing is improving.

If I go for a lesson to progress myself I expect to feel a little out of comfort zone, definitely struggling with some aspects and feeling rubbish at times! I expect to be mentally and physically challenged and in my case, I usually have the best sessions over few days after the lesson when I can quietly work out all the changes that have been made.

So let’s say, you don’t have regular lessons and you are unsure how to progress. Maybe you always feel that you have same problems every day you school. Here are a few things I would suggest doing regularly: 

1. Video your ride at least every two weeks.

2. Reflect on your ride every time. Feel free to use this reflection notes worksheet as an example: Aspire Equestrian – After Training Reflection Notes

SONY DSC3. Research your issue/training problem/seat problem once a month. Google is your friend here but be selective and critical when reading information online. Check the source well. Find 2-3 new exercises each month to try and give them a go. Reflect on their suitability as per No 2.

4. Find enjoyment in bad moments because it means something is changing. 

5. Invest in a physio session for yourself…so you can learn more about how your particular posture functions and how to improve your suppleness, flexibility, core strength and awareness of movement.

6. Always spend 10 min (for example while grooming) visualising the session, not just the good moments but also difficult moments. Visualise what will you do if you get stuck or bored or not sure what to do next and in your vision, decide what you will do.

7. Put your learning hat on every time you get on – think: what can I learn from my horse today. When you finish, try to come up with the answer and think what changes might be useful to make in your next session.

8. If you procrastinate in the arena a lot, keep your schooling sessions short – 20min + 10/15min walk warm up/cool down. Pick 2 things to work on. Divide the 25min into 4 intervals.

1 – warm up/easy version: first exercise

2 – proper work on first exercise

3 – warm up/easy version: 2nd exercise

4 – proper work on 2nd exercise

9. Once a week or as and when you need it, find something that inspires you to ride better: a film, a song, a short video, article, book. Spend a moment with that very thing 🙂

10. Be sure of why you want to progress, repeat that why to yourself before every ride, be honest and work your socks off to get there!

Feel free to add your own suggestion in the comments!


Q & A: “How do you stay motivated and inspired to ride in winter months”


The title question is from a reader of Aspire’s newsletter and I thought I would do a quick answer on the blog since winter months have a rather overwhelming influence on many of us. There are many ways of staying inspired and motivated to keep up with training, lessons and rides  but there definitely isn’t one perfect method for all.

Here is my key to stay motivated: I choose to fight for something I really want to become. It might seem obvious but many a time we decide we want something or be someone but have no willingness to do the work. We find excuses, obstacles, reasons against. When I want to achieve something, properly WANT it, then the motivation comes by itself. When you really want to improve your skills, your understanding of something, your method of doing something, your ability to change something, then you feel inspired by your own drive…You respect that drive and the journey you already made even if it hasn’t been a long one yet.

Yes, sometimes your motivation might be low but when you want something – really want something – even the low motivation is high enough for you to keep going.

builddreamsWhen you chose well on what you are focusing on, I bet you, getting up to run into muddy field won’t be nearly as dreadful. My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to not be too worried about how to stay motivated to do something but how to chose the focus, the “why”. When your motivation petrol runs low, remind yourself your why.

If you can’t see any meaningful why, then you might need to change your focus, alter it a little, seek what really makes you happy – then get into overalls and make it happen 🙂

Please feel free to share you views in the comments – how do you stay inspired and motivated?


Buying Your First Horse – An overview of suggestions for an Aspiring Amateur Rider

This guide is about the stuff that happens (or would be good if it happened) in your head before you go and browse the classifieds. Even before you know what colour of the horse you might want. Let’s be real – most first time owners have colour preferences and why not. After all, when we buy that first horse it does feel like buying a dream and not many dream in monochrome.

The notes in this post come from my own experiences of owning and loaning horses, my observations of thousands of riders I personally came across, my training beliefs and coaching philosophy so they might very well not be what you are after. But just in case you are about to buy your first horse and you don’t have a trusted trainer next to you or an unbiased advisor to call, let’s chat 🙂

Pour yourself some beverage first, we might be here for a moment…

coffee with smartie

First batch of questions: what’s your favourite way to feel alive? Are you adrenaline seeker or a cosy seeker? Maybe both? When do you feel alive? When challenged or when safely relaxed in front of a fire? On your own or with a group of friends?

Knowing yourself well is the first step to getting close to buying the right horse. Majority of amateur, ambitious riders don’t just want to go out and win. They want a friend, a companion, a partner in the “crime”. Sometimes we come across horses we can’t get on well with just to fall in love with them. It happens. But let’s not to be too romantic here – it’s hard enough to get up at 5am to ride and practice for the show or event before school/work with someone who you look forward to seeing and dancing with. It becomes an unbelievable chore with a horse you have no common tune with.

Matching your character with the horse’s temperament well means that everyday training becomes addictive, fulfilling and brings dimension to life that non-horsey people really do not understand.

Riding is an emotional experience. You will take it personally if your horse looks at you in other than loving way. Even if now you think this an unreasonable element, you won’t later. If you really are an ambitious rider, your training partner’s (the horse that is) disapproval of you, your skills, your aspirations will be quite an issue in your life.

That is why, a first horse for an aspiring amateur rider should be a well formed adult, one with well established needs and wants that most first time buyers can identify. 

The Why

The why is important because of a heartbreaking truth i.e. many ambitious riders can and do progress their riding skills. The first horse is always very special. If you buy a horse to grow old with and only do what that horse is capable of, that’s beautifully noble and let’s you be less obsessed with the right choice.

If you are buying your first horse so he/she can go with you in your chosen direction for a while progressing as you go, you have a more difficult choices to make. You might want to look for a horse that is educated beyond your current skill level, with a brain that has capacity for patience with your inexperience and yet with body that has the mileage at your chosen field, possibly even purpose bred for the sport you want to find your challenges in.

A semi-professional or professional rider can buy and sell many horses to find the right one. As a first time buyer you are highly likely to fall in love with a completely unsuitable horse that loves doing what you are bored of or scared of and you won’t have the heart to sell the horse on. Pick wisely while you can.

If you are unsure about your temperament, character and why you want to buy a horse, give it a moment or two, get those described and then start searching. Take one for loan.  Be aware of cute 😉 

Annabel and Kingsley

Now, second batch of questions to ask oneself before buying that first horse, batch that comes down to one – what type of horse you sit best on? A deep chested, short backed horse? A leggy, narrow backed horse? One that moves big? One that moves small and smooth? Be honest here because a one-horse-rider that you are likely to become once you buy one, relies on staying body healthy…Spinal and pelvic and joint micro-injuries are an unspoken issue among riders…we don’t all have suppleness and core strength to “safely” ride big moving warmbloods. If you have a desk job and hate exercising other than riding, choosing the right built of a horse is important.

Go for an uphill built horse regardless other aspects. Educate yourself with several good books as to what areas of the horse to look at to determine how sound it might be in a few years time of not-so-great-riding. Don’t trust 2-3-5 stage vettings. No vet will tell you that if you buy a horse with weak loins, slightly strained sacroiliac joint and dodgy feet, your riding skills will make the horse lame in 6 months. Yes, let’s be honest here, many first time horses endure our “polishing of skills” and do get spoiled/broken before we get good enough to help them. Pick the one with good feet (educate yourself on that – sorry for repetition but it’s vital), strong back and big ears (ok, the last one is just personal preference 😉

Kingsley watching

Many amateur riders buy horses from yards they already know. Then they stay to livery (board for my American readers) on that same yard. Pick the place wisely and make sure there are like minded people around you. This is probably one of the most important elements of horse ownership that you will come across. As an ambitious, amateur rider you will enjoy being around people who understand your drive, who won’t belittle your attempts at getting better and better, who will cheer you on and who you can cheer on. You want to know what level of motivational spirit you need around you to get on with things and what makes you go lazy and too cosy.


Finally, to close this little overview, leave some money for further training. There is nothing more depressing, disheartening and frustrating than wanting to progress and educate oneself and having no means left to do so. Even the most carefully chosen horse stabled at best suited place won’t make up for a an unfulfilled drive to be challenged that every aspiring rider has inside them. 

Please share your advice, notes, experiences in the comments 🙂 Do you agree with mine? Disagree?

All the best,


Pippa Funnell answers my question…

It’s not a secret I am slightly obsessed with quality at grassroots equestrian sports so when an opportunity arose to ask a well known and well respected rider to answer my question in that area, I couldn’t not go for it. You see, that’s why I love Twitter – it’s short, concise, to the point and allows you to connect with people you might not normally be able to.

Here is my question and Pippa’s answer:

The above Q&A was organised by #EquineHour (@EquineHour) over two Sundays and facilitated by Pippa’s publisher, Orion Children’s Book.

As you might guess, I loved the answer…! What would be yours? What do you think we can all do as riders, trainers, instructors to raise standards at those levels of equestrian sports that fuel the whole sport…?

Sitting to the trot, sitting to canter – 5 min exercise for riders who block the movement through lower body [video]

exercise loose stirrup

Elastic, sympathetic and effective seat – who wouldn’t want one! Today I would like to show you a simple, short awareness exercise that is very easy to do and can make a big difference to the way you feel horse’s movement and are able to join it.

I chose to video one of my riders with ankle stiffness issue so the video below is a very real, true representation of this problem.

Why this exercise can help you? 

Good seat is about relative stillness i.e. the ability to stabilise ones body in motion. This means that it requires constant, supple, consecutive, elastic micro movements through every joint in rider’s body and continuous interplay between many muscles surrounding those joints. I do like how contradicting this is 😉 As long as we are in motion that mimics horse’s motion, we appear still and graceful…Perhaps that’s where comparisons to dancing with a partner is so apt. Any blockage,stiffness,motion avoidance will result in further seat discomfort and lack of effectiveness.

The loose stirrups exercise engages the rider into creating a motion pattern in the leg that is similar to one created by the horse’s movement. As a result, the rider is able to start feeling that movement and allow the joints and muscles to embrace it.


How to do it? 

You can do it at home first with a rope/towel – create a sling. bend one leg and then rest the ball of the foot on the sling. It helps to keep the leg up in the air for a bit to tire the muscles so they really want that rest! Allow the weight of the leg to drop into the heel (your arms muscles should feel that weight now). Lift and lower the rope/sling to create up/down motion that requires flexion through hip/knee and ankle. Start from big movements and follow up with tiny, barely visible lifts and drops so you just feel your joint opening and closing in millilitres rather than inches. Allow the joints in your leg to be fully moved by the sling.

Structure your training 

If you have issues with sitting to trot or canter and generally would like to improve suppleness through your seat (or perhaps you get lower marks in dressage test due to lack of suppleness?) I would suggest doing this exercise for 5 min (2.5min or so on each leg) after your warm up walk and before you start your trot work. You could have a loose, old stirrup leather handy (with or without stirrup) in the arena so there is no need to remove your stirrups on/off. This exercise is about creating awareness and perception so it is best done with the actual stirrup.


If you have this issue and you are going to try this exercise do share your results! Feel free to tweet me your pictures at @AspireAcademy or post on Aspire’s Facebook HERE. I believe it is a super easy and safe exercise but if you are at all unsure/have serious orthopaedic issues then by any means consult a professional physio before attempting it.

With many thanks to Moira on Aspire Foundation Programme for taking part in the video! 🙂 

All the best,