Through coach’s eye: Reflections Before a Clinic

I know of trainers who can just turn up and teach 20 riders over couple of days without much preparation and I do envy them! ūüėČ Although I could do it, I always think that a little reflection and some thoughts on the riders I only see twice a year helps me do my job better. Perhaps it’s an illusion and perhaps I run the same content I would have if I didn’t prepare at all but somehow looking through videos from previous clinics and my notes on each rider gives a peace of mind and a feeling that I have done what I could to offer best coaching help I am capable of.

Tomorrow I will hop on a plane to Poland to see some lovely riders whom I last saw 27-28 September 2014 (see photos from the clinic HERE) and meet some new riders who joined the livery yard this year. I can’t prepare much for the new riders since I will see them for the first time but I am spending today re-watching the video footage from September (another great bonus of filming riders! I don’t trust my memory so much to remember what I worked on with each person in detail!).

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Here is what I make mental notes of: 

1. How each rider and horse worked over the weekend – general overview (were the exercises useful, was the horse relaxed and content with work load, was the pair challenged enough/too much, what homework did I leave them with etc etc)

2. Skim through details of each exercise so I can see what improvement have been achieved when I see them this weekend

3. Rider’s seat – what did I work on with each rider, what effect it had on the horse. This again lets me compare with the now and make sure I don’t make assumptions.

4. Main training issues of the horse – many a time riders describe a plethora of issues and problems they want to work on but it is not possible to help with them all in one or two sessions so I normally focus on 1-3 aspects that I think have the biggest bearing on other problems. When I re-watch I look with a fresh perspective so when I go now I might have an idea if we focused on the correct thing at the time.

10648431_10152446397027659_5638156908634626799_o5. Main issues of the rider – as above in horse’s case but although I listed it as fifth,¬†this is the most important focus of all of my clinics. I believe strongly that it’s the rider who needs to know what to do and how to do it in order for the training to have much meaning once¬†the weekend is over.

6. Riders’ goals, ambitions and training needs. Although I have fairly good overall memory of riders’ I teach and once I see them I can recall the core training stuff we did in the past, I do like to reflect on the fact whether MY coaching met their needs and if not, how I can change that.

If you run clinics yourself, how do you prepare for them? If you attend clinics, what are your motivations on joining them? Always curious of your views and ideas ūüôā Please comment away!

All the best,

Wiola

From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider by Kathlyn Hossack (sequel to How NOT to pull on the reins)

Since the How NOT to pull on the reins post has now reached over 12k views and sparked some questions I didn’t feel fully qualified to answer, I asked someone who has the proper anatomical knowledge to pitch in and write a sequel ūüôā Here we go!¬†

Happy reading and please don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions!¬†

Wiola

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From the Top Down: Upper Body Stability for the Rider

Many riders struggle with poor shoulder posture; often this is from both habit and from muscle weaknesses/amnesia in the upper back. If you find that you tend to use movements at the elbow to pull back or have trouble balancing during transitions (and as a result tend to pull on the horse’s mouth instead) instead of using steady resistance (as discussed in¬†Aspire Equestrian’s article here) and slight hand/finger motion to accomplish a smoother (in look and feel) transition– you are likely not activating the¬†lats¬†the way you should.‚ÄĮSimilarily, if you experience trouble maintaining a strong shoulder and upper back posture, and/or experience pain in between the shoulders, neck, and upper back..¬†you¬†likely have forgotten how to use the rhomboids, traps, and¬†lats¬†properly.

Don’t fret! It’s a common problem with a simple fix for anyone willing to work at it!

EMGbackMuscle

ÔŅľThe¬†latissimus¬†dorsi¬†runs from the front of the shoulder, down to the pelvis.¬†It’s‚ÄĮtextbook function is to help with shoulder movement with their composite action being a pull-up, or a front crawl type movement at the shoulder. They also¬†stabilise¬†through the back. For the purposes of the riding athlete, the¬†lats¬†are stabilizer of both the shoulder and the back. We don’t require big movements at our shoulder or arms, but what we do require is a stable shoulder girdle and spine to create resistance and allow movement of our elbows, hands, hips, and ankles.

Another important part for the¬†riders¬†upper body is the¬†stabilisers¬†between the shoulder blades.‚ÄĮThe rhomboids run between the¬†interior¬†border of the scapula or shoulder blade to the spine and function to pull the shoulder blades back towards one another and stabilize the upper back. The trapezius is a diamond shaped muscle running through the neck, shoulder, and upper back and has many movements on the shoulder blades and spine- but again, for us it aids in keeping us stable and upright in the tack. As riders we want everything from the top of our rib cage (this starts at the base of the neck) down to our pelvis to be one stable unit, while our hip joints and elbows allow for fluidity and functionality at the hands and lower legs. To do this we both need a stable core and a stable upper back/shoulder area.

The first step is teaching you how to properly establish a connection and feeling for these muscles on the ground. If you need a reminder for how your shoulders should be sitting in a proper posture, simply have your hands at your side and rotate so your thumbs are facing outwards. Feel how that immediately puts you into a more open, tall posture at the shoulder?

Now, let’s start with those rhomboids and traps between the shoulder blades. Standing, or sitting in a good, tall posture bring your arms up straight in front of you until the shoulder is at about 90degrees. Here, keeping the arms straight, you are going to retract the shoulders (or bring the shoulder blades closer together). Remember to keep the arms straight. Hold here for about 5seconds, and then relax forward. Repeat this at least 10 times, and do it as much throughout the day as you want. This is a very small, simple movement..¬†but¬†some of you may find that it takes more concentration then you’d think it would. This is a rebuilding exercise to get your brain reconnected to controlling those¬†muscles,¬†from there we can begin to build stability in the shoulder.

scapretract

ÔŅľMy next¬†favourite¬†exercise to teach riders about postural¬†stabilisation¬†through movement in the¬†lats¬†and arms is called a Wall Angel. For this, you need a wall. Start in a half squat position with¬†you¬†back against the wall and feet slightly in front of you. Now, flatten out everything from the pelvis up to the neck/head against the wall. This may be the most challenging part for some. Many riders like to hinge from their mid back, and this can often be a source of pain or instability within the spine. Getting into this “flattened against a wall” posture brings us back into a neutral posture and allows us to begin rebuilding¬†stabilisation¬†(using the¬†lats¬†and other shoulder¬†stabilisers) through the torso and upper body. Now that you’re in that half squat against the wall with every part of your spine against the wall, or as close as you can get, bring your arms up as you see them in picture A. This is the second challenge. You may find your back now wants to pop off the wall, or that your shoulders are too tight to bring back to the wall. If the latter is the case, some¬†pectoralis¬†major stretches may be in order for you. If you can’t get the arms so they are pressing flat (or close to) the wall, instead bring them in front to a similar position to the retraction exercise we discussed earlier. Now, back pressed flat, neck straight and head against the wall with arms up and also against the wall, you are going to slowly slide them up as far as you can keep them flat, and then back down to the start position.

wall slides

ÔŅľRepeat this between 5-10 times, a few times a day. I like to have riders do this before they get on their first horse, in between horses, and after their ride to encourage that tall, strong posture. This also helps to teach activation of the¬†lats, strengthen all the postural muscles in the upper back, and build postural awareness.

Fitting these into your daily routine is a great way to begin rebuilding your ride in the saddle. I also like to have my riding clients ride with their inside hand behind their head, pushing their elbow back. This creates a tall posture, and encourages activation of the¬†lats¬†to¬†stabilise¬†in the back, and the shoulder¬†stabilisers¬†in the upper back through movement on the horse. Try it out next time you’re on and see what it does to your position!

  • Kathlyn Hossack¬†has her BSc. Kinesiology and is soon to be a certified Athletic Therapist. She started¬†Katmah¬†Training (www.katmahtraining.wordpress.com) to help equestrians train and move like the athletes they are. She consults athletes and riders at all levels on position/biomechanics, injury recovery, strength and conditioning, and improving their movement to better their performance.¬†

Introducing first “How to be The Gadget” [instead of using one] course by Aspire Equestrian

A few days¬†ago, I wrote a blog post on my Diary blog titled “Be The Gadget“. It got some insane amount f views and really lovely comments so I started thinking about putting together a little course that I could run and teach anyone some basics of groundwork without gadgetry…

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Most horses require no additional leather work but a well fitting cavesson and a lunge line to learn how to move in balance, with engagement, relaxation and looseness in the body. ANYONE can learn how to be the gadget and create a positive connection with a horse that is so much more than standing in the middle of a circle and let the horse run around.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Bailey (your learning partner) and the first Aspire Equestrian How to be The Gadget course ūüôā¬†

THE COURSE

Overview: The course consists of 16 private sessions and will cover: lunging, in-hand work and long reining. Sessions are 1h long and include both theory and practice.

Suitable for: anyone who looks after/exercises horses – riders, parents of riders, nervous riders, non-riders

Perfect for: anyone who wants to learn how to structure groundwork training without use of gadgets and achieve lasting results in horse’s posture, attitude and quality of work under the saddle.

Duration: 16 weeks (weekly sessions available on Tuesdays, Fridays and/or Saturdays)

Cost: 

Share of Bailey: ¬£160 payable to horse’s owner

Coaching: £25 per session (£400 per course) If you are already training on Aspire programme and would like to do this course please chat with Wiola about special fees for current riders.

THE HORSE

Bailey is a 15.2hh Welsh Section D bay gelding who will be your learning partner on this course. He is very accustomed to wearing gadgets so let’s see if we can get him to work well without them ūüėČ

Bailey

For further information and to book your place email Wiola at aspire@outlook.com

Look forward to meeting the keen learner – horse person ūüôā

Wiola

NOT TO BE MISSED :) One coaching space on Aspire programme in London is coming up!

Hello dear Readers and Friends ūüôā

A rare space on Aspire programme for non-horse owner is coming up in London (West London) with a 14.3hh all-rounder small horse!

Larry1

Larry will be available from next week and will suit a teenager or a small adult who would like to join the Aspire coaching programme at Foundation or Development level (please see Aspire website for details if you are not familiar with the programmes: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/#!riding-programmes-for-non-owners/czxg )

Days available for lessons: Tuesdays and/or Fridays (early evenings also a possibility)

Location: Northolt, West London

Great opportunity for someone who loves to train regularly and is after consistency, progress and ‚Äúown horse‚ÄĚ experience¬†ūüôā¬†As usual, minimum 3 months commitment required (preference will be given to a rider¬†wanting to join in for 6 months +).

How it works:¬†All non-horse owners on Aspire programmes share their “training horses”. You will become a sharer of Larry and your lessons will be on Tuesdays and/or Fridays. You can change between the days too or go for twice a week training. Your lessons will be private or shared with one other rider depending on lesson content and your experience.

For more details please email Wiola at aspire@outlook.com

Larry2

Look forward to introducing¬†a new rider to our London team ūüôā¬† Please share this post with anyone you think might love Aspire coaching and would like to sign up!

All the best,

Wiola

Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma and Shabhash at BCA Horse Trials (BE100)

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Event location: Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA), Maidenhead, Berkshire

The 2 weeks prior

Two weeks before BCA¬†Shabby’s ran at an unaffiliated Novice (1.10m) event at Hambleden. He excelled at his dressage and got 34 in it but then proceeded to knock most show jumps and was not allowed XC to `Emma’s despair since the XC was the main reason she wanted the run anyway.

It was the final nail so to speak and we decided to turn more attention to the show jumping phase in our sessions. I knew there was a little chance we could make much of a change before the June event at BCA but we had a go anyway.

There are several main issues that we need to work on Рboth long and short term:

1. Nerves – Shabby easily goes rigid and panics under pressure. It can happen at home to some degree but is hugely amplified at the events. Emma has now had Shabby for over 5 years so she knows the second he goes into his panic mode and has similar reaction herself. So nerves are something that needs work in both of them. We discussed some sports psychology techniques options after Aston where he did dreadfully tense test but didn’t follow the thoughts with any actions as yet.

2. Quality of the canter – there is a weakness in Shabby’s canter that needs addressing. He gallops well but cantering to the jumps in a rhythm and through tight turns is a different matter. The right lead canter is not only weak but panic inducing for some reason.

3. Connection and thoroughness – in a calm state, Shabby works very nicely now staying in front of the leg and on the bridle with his back relaxed but his connection and thoroughness and very volatile and depend largely on his mental state. He is not the horse you can bully into cooperation and get good results and even if he was, Emma would have to change her trainer to go for that as I am not prepared to go back to the “hold him and push him into the bit/contact” methods for the sake of short term results.

4. Balance on undulated terrain – he is unsure of himself on grass especially when it’s slippery or on a slope and especially in trot and canter. His movement can be soft and fluid on surface and go into rigid and wooden on the grass – almost like when you walk on ice and you worry you might fall over and you then anticipate slipping with each step. The problem is, the more rigid your joints and limbs go, the more difficult the balancing act is.

Then there is one element that is very positive and could be improved on: Shabby’s heart and willingness to “do”.

Even though he goes overexcited and is consumed with nerves in the arena and the jumping ring, you can tell he looks to Emma for reassurance and that’s something we could build on further.

This is what we did before BCA…

PLAYING WITH SHABBY

I want to use Shabby’s trust in Emma so I get them to play to see how deep rooted his nerves are. He is great on foot. Relaxed. Bored almost. Happy to pop over little jumps with Emma running with him. His coordination isn’t great to start with, his jumping awkward. But is as cool as a cucumber and is not hot at all.

emmandsjump

She mounts and I take Shabby’s bridle off and give her a neck strap. He doesn’t react to her seat or legs correctly when in his panic mode so I want to see how he reacts. It’s amusing and he is not very responsive at first but we get to the point when she can walk and stop with just a little cue from a neck strap.

I suggests she does this a couple of times a week but I am not sure how realistic this is with her schedule.

nobridle

It might seem crazy but I am thinking, we might as well try to utilise what he is good at (connecting with Emma) and improve that further rather than focus only on the things he really drives us bonkers at ūüėČ

Few days later, we take him to the field and start the boring process of trying to stop and stay halted in front of the jump. Shabby does various things NOT to stand in front of it. He piaffes, twists sideways, tries not to look at it. Eventually, he sighs and stands still for a few seconds. Then for several. Then for long enough that I can take a sharp picture ūüėČ

shabby 10th JUne

He jumps the jump very well, calmly, waits and doesn’t become creative with his stride. We call it a day and he even eats his dinner and breakfast the following morning (he has been on an on/off food strike for the last few weeks).

There are small changes Emma notices in his behaviour. He starts grooming her back when she brushes him (he generally detests being groomed. patted etc). He lies down in his stable and has a proper snooze.

shabbyrelaxed

We add some work on changing bend in trot and canter on large circles in the field to make him realise his posture doesn’t always have to correspond directly with direction. It’s a good preparation for counter-canter which I know will strengthen his canter overall.

He becomes panicky at first but settles well enough and lets Emma ride him. Again we finish with pole work and little jump which he deals with calmly.

On Wednesday before the event we practice the dressage test on grass and he is tricky – unsettled and rigid like he can be at events. I take it as a good sign – if he doesn’t do something we just can’t work on it so I am almost pleased that he is all over the place. We go through the test and amend it, put medium walk for a few strides longer than in the test as he likes to jog, educate the corners through hind quarter yields and put in circles when he goes tense to help him release.

Eventually we get a decent work and call it a day.

On Thursday he is so incredibly relaxed we are wondering what’s going on. He warms up spectacularly, all his muscles like a fluid jelly, soft. His canter looks so relaxed we are laughing.

Then we repeat his halting in front of the jumps. He halts like a pro, and reins back beautifully. I can hardly believe it and start to think there is a trick somewhere.

We jump him on the left rein and he reacts very well to Emma’s half halt and makes a very good (for him) shape over the jump. I still wonder where the trick is.

Emma changes the rein and approaches on the right rein. All hell breaks lose and we see where the trick was. It takes 20 minutes for him to calm down and approach the jump without jumping invisible jumps on the way. We sigh.

THE EVENT

Warm up & Dressage

emmawarmup

He warms up quite sweetly, nothing amazing but all looks manageable. The only thing that rings alarm bells in my head is that Emma looks down more than usual and this tells me he probably isn’t feeling very connected and is volatile in the contact. She always sits proudly on him when he switches his little trot engine on but she looks like she is hiding somewhat.

We are quite happy with him upon his time coming up and off Emma goes. I watch them enter the area where the arenas are and I can see him tensing up. They get the bell almost immediately and he likes a few minutes to adjust to the change of space so that’s not a good sign.

The moment they enter down the centre line I know all is not good. He goes rigid and tense and although I know Emma hides it very well, it must feel awful. I almost stop filming after the first 10m loop because it’s just dreadful and I know Emma will be so disappointed (as you watch the video below you will see the cut in the test – nothing is edited out, that’s the moment I switched off the camera for a few seconds). i start filming again almost immediately because it might be good to re-watch it anyway.

He gets better in places, then worse again and I know Emma is hoping to be over and done with. He halts square at the end as if he wanted to add a joke ūüėČ

We are so deflated by his performance that if Shabby has any sense of human emotions he must wonder who died! As Emma says, months ago there were no expectations and she would be ok with the test like this. Now, we know he can do so much better. They both can.

I decide to put them through their paces as he needs to release all that tension anyway so I ask Emma to stretch him in trot a little and then work on his right canter. She rides him the best I have ever seen her ride, partly angry at him partly surely relieved that she is out of the arena but I make a mental note to tap into whatever is possessing her now and put it to use…

I ask her to canter him all the way the imaginary centre line of the warm up field which is massive, maybe 2 football pitch length and off they go. He looks great, powerful and never once goes disunited. She stretches him in trot again and this time he really wants to reach the bit.

Good job.

Warm up & Jumping

BCASJThe set up at BCA is that there is a grass jumping warm up of sorts and the main warm up on surface. We make a pit stop on the grass warm up and do our halts in front of the jumps – first from walk, then from trot, then they jump it a couple of times. He looks good!

The main warm up is crowded but not as chaotic as some others we have seen recently and again they warm up well. He is backing off a little and Emma is riding a bit backward in anticipation of him running but all in all he looks calmer and fairly settled.

They enter the ring and are able to start on the left rein which is what Emma planned. I can see him starting to boil up and now I just hope he doesn’t drop 6 poles so she can go XC. He ploughs on attacking the jumps with all his might, jumping them by Braille and rolling 5. Initially we think it was 4 but 5 it was.

I wish I could say something good about an improvement in his jumping but I wouldn’t be honest. He gives the jumps some air but his pace is so frantic his legs just don’t come out of the way. The good thing I see is that Emma tries to stay more upright and keeps her upper body well out of his way more. It’s something we discussed after last event. She also says, he was more rideable than two weeks ago which is good but I know they can do much better.

The improvement in the warm ups is comforting and In fact, I am more than pleased with warm up in the jumping. The disappointment lingers because we still can’t confidently pin point his tension triggers. We explore some breathing techniques with a fellow rider and I make a note to look into this more seriously as Shabby is very responsive to Emma’s state.

XC

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Shabby is fabulous XC and Emma continues to experiment with time. He is so far either too fast or too slow. She ends up trying for the middle pace and gets 3 penalty points for too slow (6 for too fast at one of the previous events).

He likes fast pace but she needs to bring him back early to set for the jumps which costs valuable seconds. More experimenting needed with the speed.

VIDEO

Here is a video from the day. I thought it would be nice to invite some of the other Aspire riders to come along for a taste of eventing and we had a great time. Huge thank you to Tatiana and Gary for an awesome picnic!

POST EVENT PLANS

Shabby goes to Farley Hall BE100 nest weekend so he is resting now for a couple of days and we meet on Wednesday for the lesson.

I plan to show Emma the videos from her riding him after the dressage test and for her to figure out the difference in her riding so she can replicate it. We will continue with canter work and pole work as that’s a mission for good few months rather than days.

Breathing exercises and some sports psychology perhaps. Shabby just likes to make sure we explore all sort of training avenues. He is a thorough fellow like that ūüėČ

Improving turns and circles using a small balance exercise

Repo turn
An ex-racehorse Nordic Run learning to turn in balance. You can see the rider here keeping her weight dropped through her outside thigh and shoulder to help him do the same. He is still leaning a little too much to the inside but few weeks ago he struggled with any response to the left leg so this is a fabulous result for him ūüôā

If you have problems with balanced turns and your horse often cuts the corners or decreases the circles as if some magical forces drew him in, you might find the below tips useful.

Pre-requisite exercises: 

1) leg-yield (for the below exercise to be helpful your horse needs to be familiar with leg-yielding on both reins even if it’s just a few steps yield with limited cross over. They don’t need to be able to be performing dressage test standard leg-yield but need to know what it means to yield away from your inside leg when you ask)

2) Lateral flexion at the poll to the left and right (your horse needs to understand how to react when you ask for flexion left and right. They can’t think you are asking for neck bend or a turn)

The Exercise 

(described on the right rein)

Ride down 3/4 line of the arena and prepare to ask the horse for the right turn on a line of a half 15m ish circle. To do so, ask for inside flexion at the poll. When the have horse responded, ask for the turn. As your horse moves his inside front leg to turn, ask him to drift away from your inside leg as if asking for a mini leg-yield.

You want to feel that:

– he shifts his his weight ever so slightly to his outside shoulder, lightens the inside one and slightly curves his neck to the inside.

– you ground/anchor him to his outside shoulder

Рyour torso stays, what might feel like, on the outside of your horse’s neck (not leaning to the inside)

Repeat those leg-yield/drifty turns until you get your head around riding the horse’s balance a little towards his outside shoulder as he turns and you feel that you are able to ask with your inside leg for his inside hind leg to step deeper under his barrel.

Once you can do these turns with a small drift (think of increasing the circle a couple of meters, no massive leg – yields until the end of the world ūüėČ ) then try to only use the ability to shift your horse‚Äôs weight off his inside shoulder and onto his outside one as he turns.¬†

As he does it, continue on your turn with no drift/leg-yield.

Benefits

Lighter inside shoulder allows for an easy, relaxed inside flexion and vice – versa. Ability to shift your horse‚Äôs weight laterally will help you in many situations, not only to ride better corners and circles but also to approach the jumps in better balance ūüôā

Hope this is helpful – happy training ūüôā

Wiola