Side Reins and how they can work against your best intentions (as seen at British Eventing Dauntsey Park Horse Trials)

I get it. We all want the best for our horses and sometimes we use different training methods. What works for one horse, doesn’t work for another and all that.

However, with all the world wide web education, with coaching becoming more and more professional, with training becoming more and more focused on equine soundness and longevity – why do we still see things like this at an affiliated British Eventing event…?

side reins main pic

I thought I would just jot a few points as shown by the bay horse on photos for those of you who perhaps do use side reins with best intentions but would like some help in knowing whether they really work for your horse or not.


side reins 3

Notice that even though the lunger is lunging the horse to the right, his whole body is inverted and twisted. I do have a video of this horse but I chose not to post it since it shows the lunger and it is not my intention to shame anyone. Suffice to say, the bay sustained this posture for most of the time he was lunged. This is not beneficial for the riding horse and in fact, can cause plethora of issues when ridden: poll discomfort/locking, avoidance of the contact, tight shoulder muscles, choppy stride upon rein contact to name just a few.

It also “teaches” the horse a very dysfunctional posture on a circle.


side reins 4

The same horse a few circles later, still going to the right…Notice how his wither is tilted to the inside, how he commits his weight to his inside shoulder and then rescues his balance by moving his neck out. Now imagine sitting on this horse…You would feel as if you were “falling in” and motorbiking around the corner/circle. You would feel as if you were sliding to the inside with more weight on your inside seat bone. The horse might feel as if he is “pulling” on your inside rein and you “have nothing” in your outside rein.

A lesson from Photo 1 and 2: a very unnecessary “training” is going on that teaches the horse to look after oneself in a way that is bound to make him load his limbs unevenly and potentially make him unsound long term.


side reins 5

Notice: the horse looks fairly upright through the wither (no more motorbiking) but notice an odd buldge/broken line at the base of his neck on the outside followed by a tilt at the poll to the outside. The horse is trying his best to mould himself into the contraption of the side reins and creates an unhealthy posture once again. Instead of curving the neck very gently to the inside and flexing at the poll to the inside, his neck takes a shape of an “S” letter and that is neither promoting soundness nor better marks in dressage.

Lesson from Photo 3: Look after your horse’s neck, once the horse learnt to be afraid of the bit and squashed himself into dysfunctional, ugly looking broken neck line, it is not easy to gain his trust again and re-train those “bonsai-ed” muscles.


side reins 2

At first glance you might say that from the wither on, the neck line doesn’t look too contorted but how much this is wrong and how constricted the horse really is you can see in the action, or lack of it, of his hind legs and in the stiff line of his back. The neck, that is an important balance tool for the horse, is blocked. His balance is non existent – he is forehand heavy and avoids adding any more push from behind so he doesn’t cartwheel over his head…His handles are “behind him” rather than “underneath him”.

The lunger is determined for him to go forward but he can’t having been restricted so much in front. The lunger chases him and an awful, disjointed, unbalanced, angry and inverted to the outside trot follows (Photo 5 below).


side reins main pic


side reins 6

Behind the light bay horse (who on Photo 6 is testing another option – tensing the muscles on both sides of the neck and leaning onto the bit and side reins) is a dark bay horse that is also being lunged in side reins. His are adjusted at the length that allows for natural neck carriage and they only come into action when he puts his head well above the bit or drops it well down/left or right. His whole biomechanics is much healthier, relaxed and his body (from poll to tail) follows the line of the circle fairly accurately.


side reins 1

Both horses undergo a training session but whilst the dark bay is potentially learning how to enjoy school or at least, just get his muscles warmed up well before the rider gets on board, the light bay is learning how to skive it and how to hate the subject of this lesson…

PHOTO 7 shows this lovely, athletic horse in a nice, forward, uphill stride which might fool you into thinking it’s all good and he just needs to learn to repeat that stride over and over.

The problem here is he isn’t learning how to move better but how to avoid discomfort in a more clever way. Sadly for him, he finds ways that potentially will cause him neck pain, poll pain, limb issues, pelvis and back issues etc etc

Side reins have been around for many years. They are used by many trainers from classical school to plain abuse. Used in an intelligent way, they help the horse understand the concept of straightness and relaxed reach towards the rider’s hand.

Those aims can never be reached by attaching the side reins very low, very short and then chasing the horse around a “circle” – those would only teach the horse evasive, ill techniques that damage his body with micro injuries.

side reins end pic

P.S. If you saw a horse being lunged in such a way at an affiliated event (or any event) – would you report this as a misuse of equipment? If yes, who would you report this to? BE after the event? Stewards during the event? If not, why not? 


And the Winner is…

Huge thank you for all the entires to the “Perfect Mind:Perfect Ride” book Give Away.

REVIEWED main picThe winner is: Tanja from (please check your emails! 🙂 ) 

It was so hard to chose from many really lovely entires and I so wish I had several books to give away!

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the book Tanja and find it useful. I am really looking forward to following your competition adventures after you tried some of the techniques Inga describes in her book 🙂

To everyone else – If you can, please do get hold of this book, I think every single rider who wrote to me will find it a very helpful and enjoyable read.

All the best,


KEP Italia: buyer beware?

Really shocked by this post and experiences it describes. I was thinking of a KEP hat as a replacement for my own which took some knocks but I am now very wary of the brand. Have anyone had any similar dealings with the company?

There’s a thread on British forum Horse & Hound that has been making it’s way around the internet this week about an incident with a KEP helmet and subsequent customer service. If you haven’t seen it, go read it here. Be forewarned, it’s a really long thread. If you aren’t really interested in devoting that much time to being properly horrified, here’s a summary:

Girl falls off horse when he stumbles while trotting in the grass. She lands on her face/chest, impact somewhere near her temple area. It was not a hard fall. She was able to immediately get up, key in her phone’s PIN code, and call someone to catch her horse (so obviously not too terribly concussed or confused). The helmet looked like this

Her own words: “As you can see the panelled design of the hat cause the hat to fall apart on impact. In fact…

View original post 1,314 more words

BOOK REVIEW AND GIVE AWAY (Wordlwide)! Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride. Sport Psychology for Successful Riding by Inga Wolframm


How do you become a successsful rider? I’ve been asked this question many times and it’s never easy to come up with an answer. The rider, the horse, the training, the facilities, the support team – eventually all these elements need to come together to form a whole.

And yet, I’m convinced that it all starts with the rider. […]

I believe that, as riders, we’ll need to work on ourselves, every second of every day. Being patient and remaining calm and quiet at all times, regardless of whether we’re going for a hack around the block or are about to perform at a major competition, whether we’re at the top of our game or things aren’t working out quite the way we’d hoped. Anyone who wants to get to the top of their chosen discipline will have to deal with the inevitable highs and lows. They are all part of the experience: one day you’ll win an event and the next you’ll hit the deck. […]

Foreword by Mary King, Olympic three-day eventer

The above is a fragment of the Foreword by Mary King to Inga Wolframm’s brilliantly readable,  educational and engaging new book Perfect Mind” Perfect Ride.

When I first heard about this book I thought it was going to be a fairly dry and perhaps scientific material but I couldn’t be further from my assumptions. Packed with real life anecdotes and examples of experiences of top riders and amateurs alike, this book makes sports psychology enjoyably digestible and totally makes you feel like you want to try the stuff out rather than survive through a painful lecture!

Deep down, we all know that confidence makes or breaks our pleasure from riding, training and competing. The same goes for our horses. Shy, distrusting, worried and spooky horse is not one most riders would feel connected with and happy on. Yet, as riders, we could sometimes be described with exact same adjectives…

Inga’s book gives you a great tool, a starting point to sort your own attitude, develop mental skills that train your mind.

Having said all the above, the content is not just or all about nerves control as such. It is also an insight into elements of a roadmap to essential mental qualities that any rider needs: commitment, focus, ability to deal with adversity, controlling moods, constructive approach to analysing performances.

Through conversational style, Inga sparks your interest in various concepts rather than simply telling you about them, which I personally found very captivating.

Imagery. It’s all about seeing yourself perform, right?

Wrong. Or at least, not quite right.

Remember the descriptionists’ explanation for why imagery works? It is our language that makes an experience come to life. But words don’t merely paint a picture. They also describe how something might sound, smell and taste. Most importantly though, the words used during imagery should describe how an experience might feel.

What does it feel like as your horse engages his hind quarters? What does it feel like when he is soft in the contact? What do ‘keeping a rhythm’ or ‘collection’ feel like? […]

The book will also help those who always strive for perfection not just in their riding but also in other aspects of life – for me, it helped me with understanding and easing off pressure I put on myself to deliver best possible lessons and blaming myself if the rider isn’t doing as well as I think they should. There is a fine line between healthy desire for excellence and unhealthy expectations that don’t deal a hand of responsibility evenly.

Physical fitness isn’t much without mental fitness. ‘Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride’ is like a jolly, personal mental trainer with whom you will get to know yourself in ways you perhaps did not consider before…a trainer who will take you for a fascinating session in understanding that confidence is not something you have or don’t have, it’s something you work on every day.

AND THERE IS MORE 🙂 Inga and her publisher – Quiller Publishing – has kindly sent me a copy of the book and I would love to offer it as a Give Away. If you feel you would benefit from reading ‘Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride’ here is how to snap it! 🙂 

1) Share this blog post either by Re-blogging it, sharing on Twitter or Facebook or by emailing link to it to your friends.

2) Email me at with a few sentences about why you would like this book and mention how you shared the post.

The deadline is 16th July 2015, 10pm UK time and I will email the lucky winner to ask for address and contact details by Monday 20th July.

Look forward to hearing from you and letting the book fly to someone who will make a great use of it 🙂

If you already read it, please share your thoughts in the comments!


Shadow Training for riders and coaches – an affordable way to priceless education…

Main pic 1

Many riders and instructors struggle with costs of training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) so today I would like to chat about a possibly most underused and undervalued training option that is available to all those who are on a budget but are wiling to put some effort in.

You can call whatever you like – auditing, watching, spending-the-day-with… etc etc – I like the name Shadow Training as it somehow defines to me the role you play when undertaking this training.

You do everything the trainer does and everything the riders do – the difference is, rather than physically going through the motions, everything happens in your mind. I suppose shadow training might even be treated as a version of sports/mental imagery when visualising certain outcomes, behaviours, emotions and actions, one can improve real life performance.

How to make it work

1. Find coaches who genuinely love to part with their knowledge.

This is probably the most important part.

You want someone who will make you feel excited about trying the exercises yourself or with your riders. Someone who genuinely wants you to get better and who is self-assured enough in their own skills to share the ins and outs. Someone who isn’t going to make their training foggy/mystical just to impress you.

There is nothing more disheartening and demotivating than shadowing a professional who simply can’t be bothered. Personally I would also avoid anyone who is overly sarcastic and/or bitches about their pupils with you (discussing strengths and weaknesses is very useful for your education and assessment of the rider and the horse but talking the rider or the horse down is a no-no in my book)

2. Find coaches whose training methods, values and work ethics appeal to you. 

Not everything you watch might agree with you and that is fine. Although you are watching to learn, you are also going to form your own opinions, teaching style and riding style. When looking for coaches to shadow train with, don’t look for a “perfect match” but rather “perfect complimentary knowledge mix” 😉 There is no one system, one horsemanship school, one rigid training scale that will suit every single horse and rider. You never know who you will teach in the future and what horses you will ride.

3. Make yourself useful and grow five pair of ears 😉 

In my shadow training experiences I made teas, coffees, brought biscuits, dog sat, mucked out stables for impromptu arrivals, dragged poles in pouring rain, held microphones, cameras, translated languages, altered tack etc etc Sometimes I just sat and listened during dressage lessons, sometimes I walked miles and miles during XC schooling sessions or walked distances between repeatedly knocked over cavaletti exercises.

I personally learn best in half-half situation: listening and getting stuck in, so if you are similar, go for it. You won’t regret it 🙂

4. Ask.

I used to be compulsively shy as a child and a teenager so I do understand an apprehension many people feel when seeking help or guidance. Pick a method you feel least uncomfortable with (jus don’t txt!) – maybe email (but take your time to do it properly) – and be pro active no matter the stress it takes. It will be worth it.

If you are a sociable, brave individual, lucky you 😉 Get hold of the numbers of the coaches you would like to shadow train with and give them a ring!

5. Make notes & reflect

Jot notes during or after the day. Many concepts or thoughts can be explored and developed for your own horse(s) or pupils but if you forget them, you will miss out on an opportunity to extend your learning.

Reflect on all the lessons you watched, all the horses you saw ridden. What you liked, what you didn’t like and why. This will develop your analytical skills and help very much with planning of the training for yourself and others.

Below, I copied a couple of my old blog posts from 2010 – 2011 to give you an example of experiences that can be gained. Some details have now changed (Pre Novice is now BE100):

SHADOW TRAINING with Brynley Powell. organiser of Tweseldown Horse Trials – XC and Jumping


“[…]Despite horrendous weather which brought rain, hail storm, more rain and more rain water everywhere I’ve had a super day. Since I decided that this year will be very much about watching higher level trainers/coaches and learning as much as I can I am trying to go by that aim.
It’s not always easy to swap a day of teaching (and earning) for a day of some unpaid training education but if I didn’t try to get better I wouldn’t see much point in doing my job.

Today I had a chance to zoom around Tweseldown racecourse and British Eventing XC venue ( with its manager and an international three day event rider-trainer, Brynley Powell. Bryn took two riders XC schooling on their Novice/Intermediate level horses to sort out some xc technique issues and boost rider’s confidence.

We drove around in a car equipped with heated seats while the riders took the soaking 😉 Well, actually I took the soaking too as I tried to film as much as I could both for my own reference but also for riders to be able to have a look afterwards.
I’ve never been to Tweseldown before but I must say the ground is keeping well considering how many buckets of water per square meter had already gone into the soil!
I will be grooming there for a friend and her horse at a Pre-Novice event on the 18th of April so it was good to be able to have a look around. I hope the weather is better for her (and me!) on the day!
This morning on the course was all about confidence and technique that allows the rider to feel the horse, that doesn’t disturb or worries the horse and that allow riders to ride a flowing round. The objectives were certainly achieved!
The other thing worth noting was how the positive comments were mixed with constructive help. There was no negative coaching there at all. There are trainers out there who, although might be good riders themselves and have knowledge to offer, the way they pass it on can destroy a lot of trust and confidence in the rider…and the horse.
As one of the riders said today: ‘If you have a relatively good rider who wants to improve more you can’t just strip them off everything in one go. Even if what they do isn’t ideal, it might suit that horse, that combination. If you take their skill and confidence away there is not much left to run on…’.
As Bryn later added, if you want to teach a rider something new, something better, you must first make sure it doesn’t take their confidence away. This is because jumping and XC are 90% confidence.

Some coaching techniques are really mind boggling to me and I wonder whether some trainers just try to cover up for own inadequacies by bringing their riders down.

Then off to watch Bryn teaching two show-jumping lessons to two very different combinations with different problems to solve. I liked the way he chose jumping exercises to help with particular issues rather than throwing plenty of tasks at both horse and rider.
I volunteered to drag the poles and jump wings around so I could get the feel for what he was setting up and what distances he was using.[…]”

SHADOW TRAINING with International Dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross

Watching James Burtwell’s clinic at Bury Farm while waiting for Anna to get back from the gym!

Over the years I spent many days at different yards with Anna including Patchetts EC, Bury Farm, her own bases in Banbury and now at Cholderton in Wiltshire as well as at private yards of her many clients’. All this thanks to her fabulous, ongoing enthusiasm for training. Below are a couple of my old blog posts, one with notes I made to give you an example.

April 2010

If it was financially possible I would happily just go and spend few days a week just watching the training sessions and anything involved with top horses and riders. It’s a fabulous opportunity and I love my days there.
This time Anna wasn’t teaching any clients but was focusing on preparing herself and horses for Saumur CDIO where she is selected to ride for the Team GBR.
After 4.30am start to the day I got picked up by Ali who also teaches and rides some horses for Anna. I groomed quickly the two horses that were to be worked at 9 and went to watch Ali riding lovely black mare. A couple of months ago she was a hairy, fluffy, unfit broodmare look-a-like, she is rather sleek now! And moves! Well, I thought it was quite good until Anna came, said a few things and the canter went from bum high to sitting on the hocks.
Then the rest of early morning was all about piaffing in hand with MK and watching very elegant Merrie learning half-steps. I’ve never seen a horse being taught half-steps in – hand before, fascinating. Simon, who does the in-hand work is quite a magician with the whip!

I was then left with Benji the dog with permission to eavesdrop on James Burtwell’s clinic (he is a Coach & List 3 Judge as well as Team Selector for Home Internationals and BD Regional Camp coach) while Anna dashed to the gym. Benji and I leisured in the sun while observing the training sessions. I must say James Burtwell knows how to be positive! He also seemed to have found that happy medium that allows him to praise riders a lot without sounding overly complementary and correct the problems without sounding too harsh. The skill I don’t think I have much of…yet…I’m trying 😉
The riders ranged from prelim to medium/adv medium level and yet again there was a lot of emphasis on correct basics but also a lot of freedom to play with more advanced movements despite a gap here and there.
What I really like about Anna’s teaching is that the basics come first. I don’t think I’ve seen many lessons when the gaps in rider’s position and the correctness in horse’s training wouldn’t be addressed first and foremost.
Having said that, all the horses on James’ clinic improved their way of going and finished on a very good note. He used a serpentine exercise a lot to work on horses’ balance, rhythm, bend and flexion and it was interesting to see how many riders/horses started rather badly and rode much better and more balance aware after several goes.
The afternoon started with Anna teaching Eppi who rides for her at home. Then MK, Borris and Anna’s riding were scrutinised by Jon Pitts who helps Team GBR with rider’s fitness & performance. Jon came to help with improving the canter zig-zag and one tempi changes. There is so many minute details in the training of a GP horse and a GP rider it is mind blowing, in a good way! To semi – quote Anna here, all the weakness that you have as a rider, all the gaps in the basic education might not show at Advanced Medium or PSG level but will hinder you at Grand Prix. Therefore she teaches riders at prelim as if they were going to make the GP level. It seems that once you’re there you better have your basics well in place or you can forget about improving your horse at that level.[…]
The day finished with setting up the dressage boards on grass for Anna’s lessons for eventers in preparation for Badminton. Wish I could see those. Maybe next time.

March 2011

As always when I do those days I feel like my understanding of the training increases and this in turn gives me a lot of refreshed enthusiasm for teaching. Being able to watch different riders on variety of horses and seeing how  issues are worked on has given me a lot of food for thought ever since I had the opportunity to shadow train with Anna. In fact, I feel it’s been so good I decided to try to incorporate shadow training with Altogether Equestrian into some of the Academy’s programmes so other riders and future instructors who train with the Academy can benefit from such experience too (programmes involved: Development, BHS and Performance). I am delighted to say Anna has agreed.

The riding I get is another gem of those days and as this year is pretty much sacrificed to development of the Academy business I only really ride Kingsley (which means walking with tiny bit of trotting at times) and some riding school horses and ponies in desperate need of schooling. Riding something that moves like a real horse feels amazing and I love every minute even though I feel all-over-the-place. In many ways though, in the same way as my patience with horses increased immensely, my frustration with my own issues has proportionally decreased. I feel like I have much more constructive approach to what I do on a horse and this allows me to enjoy finding a better feel, better way of doing something rather then simply be annoyed at my own lack of self-satisfaction. It’s so much better this way even though I am more demanding on myself than ever before. 

 Some Thoughts from today: 

– be clear with every aid, always know what I want to ask for

– suppleness, suppleness, suppleness

– less is more, especially with mares

– if horse isn’t supple in the back in canter, go back to trot and ride deeper for a moment, then return to canter

– bend always starts with outside aids, no short cuts. Loads of circles with frequent changes of rein. 

– on big “long” moving horse keep hind leg active and a little quicker to improve the quality of the paces 

– 1000 half-halts on a horse that leans on the hands

– deeper frame with neck out makes room for the hind leg and improves the work of the back; use to improve  engagement

–  10m circles before and after medium trots avoid unnecessarily strong hand, help rebalance the horse by itself

– there is always a moment in training when the horse will find an exercise hard, perhaps he/she might even argue/resist but to get to that next level we need to push for that little bit more. It might spoil a nice picture for a few days but then the horse should realise it wasn’t as impossible as it seemed. Without pushing those boundaries there is no improvement. 

– shoulder fore for straightness when working on changes 

– check canter quality and canter-walk/walk-canter transitions when figuring out problems with changes

– ride a change early enough [before the wall] so the horse remains straight

– if neck feels lose and easy to bend but there is a contact issue and inconsistent bend/flexion then the problem is at the poll/top of the neck; work on that slowly

– [on young /green horse] slight outside bend on straight lines can improve thoroughness in transitions

– [walk-canter transitions] canter must be immediate, no trot step(s) or it’s not good enough for changes

– {green/young horse] keep the canter forwards. Keep everything clear and the same as you would do at home. The horse will find reassurance in the routine. Same contact, same aids. 

– frequent rests on long rein and periods of long-low trot stretch in between exercises

– ride front legs to the markers [for straightness]

– [crooked horse] ride on inner track as much as possible and keep mowing the shoulders in front of the hind legs

– [crooked, yield-y horse] don’t ride too much leg-yield, aim for straightness and push both legs to both reins

– bend and flexion always together for correct bend

– when leg-yielding and losing throughness always “interrupt” the bad quality movement – ride a circle to push from inside leg to outside rein, then continue the leg-yield. “Interrupt” again if horse goes hollow or evades in other ways. 

– if soft, round and through in leg-yield aim for more expression and forward movement; same trot as when going straight, don’t compromise the quality of the gait

– [horse that lacks attention, set in the mouth/neck] move the neck, don’t let the horse chose the position or amount of bend, push the neck down and out, keep walk lose and free and forward

– keep everything positive but quietly challenging

– transitions within trot to improve contact and thoroughness in medium trot

– trot:canter and canter:trot transitions with a lower neck/supple back to improve thoroughness in transitions and acceptance of the aids before going poll up again

There is more but it’s almost midnight and I have a 5.30am start again…loved the whole day and the weather was so beautiful, just perfect 🙂

February 2012

“On Saturday, I took seven riders with me to one of Academy’s unique Shadow Training Days with Anna. Few years ago Anna gave me a chance to learn from her and I realised there and then what a wonderful training – by – watching opportunity that was. It’s not just sitting and starring, Anna always gave me a running commentary on what was happening, the why’s, what’s and what for’s. As well as many other riders, I learn by active observation and wanted the Academy riders to experience the educational and inspirational element of such days.

Short video from the day below 🙂 “

ONE YEAR ON: From a very nervous beginner rider to 12 months later…VIDEO STORY


On the 5th of May 2014 I received an email with this opening line (I hope Nigel isn’t going to kill me for quoting him! 😉 :


I’ve looked at a number of riding schools and they mostly seem to stick you on a horse and let you get on with it.  From what I’ve seen on your website it looks like you take a more fundamental approach, which is what I feel I need, given my confidence issue.

Fast forward several email conversations and organisation of a suitable start date, we set the first session for the 8th of July 2014.

First session for Nigel – learning basic balance on the simulator

At 6ft4 (1.95m), low fitness level and with some serious confidence issues ever since being bolted with and bucked off a horse as a child, Nigel certainly has been an interesting coaching challenge from the word go!

I can’t say I specialise in nervous riders. There are many much more capable coaches out there who can do a much better job with confidence issues.

I do, however, specialise in the go-getters, triers and dream chasers 😉 With all his disadvantages, fear being most dominant, Nigel had from the start what many riders are missing: incredible dedication and the drive to conquer whatever limitations came his way.

He probably doesn’t even see it like this but having taught thousands of riders I know many who give up at slightest obstacle be it nerves or physical disadvantages. I used to think it’s down to guts and courage but now I think it’s rather down to grit and determination.

Nigel and Star, one of the two of his horse-teachers so far. An amazing mare in her late twenties who was sadly put to sleep in June this year.

We have had some great rides where progress felt easy and fluid and we have had some very challenging sessions where everything seemed too much effort or appeared too difficult or too scary to achieve ( the first time I asked Nigel to ride without a bridle for example – I am sure he must have grown a couple of grey hairs 😉 ) Such experiences are a part and parcel of this sport (and any other) when trained as one and for me, they are as necessary for full enjoyment as the eureka and on-top-of-the-world moments 🙂

Nigel canter
Nigel today – 6th July 2015 on the other of his horse teachers – Percy.

If you too are a nervous rider, having riding related confidence issues, think you can’t achieve something due to one or other physical limitations do take example from Nigel and forget about needing talent and bravery. What you need is patience, dedication and a go-getter attitude 😉

Below video is a series of clips from many hours of footage I took over the year. I chose some moments that were both good and difficult, some that brought happy achievements endorphins and some that potentially brought the “I can’t do thiiisss!!” experiences 😉

Happy Aspire Anniversary Nigel!!

Happy watching! Personally, I am really looking forward to what next year’s video will be like 😀

Forward Thinking Hand continued – Exercise with a “Bridleless Bit” to improve rider’s perception

bridleless bit

The Aspire blog posts about contact, whether about how not to pull on the reins or improving a forward thinking hand have been incredibly popular this year so here is yet another suggestion, albeit quite unusual, for an exercise on those “hands that just don’t feel”…

The exercise has some very good results with a few common contact issues like:

– lack of symmetry in the seat (showing in one hand being more dominant than the other/pulling/dropping connection)
– lack of awareness of neutral connection that is neither resisting not dropped but is simply supporting and “closing the circuit of energy from leg to hand”
– lack of awareness of a forward thinking hand that simply “carries the bit” while the horse moves towards it


I am sure many of you recall Luciana Diniz and recently Nicole Pavitt riding is a Carson bridleless bit…


I immediately thought about trying this with those of my riders who are almost moving to Development programme but are still working on quality, forward thinking hand that can offer the horse a neutral contact to work into.

Here are the results of this experiment with one of the riders.

Please note: I have known the horse in the video for over 8 years and have taught many different riders on her. I would not recommend this exercise with a nervous horse or a rider who isn’t ready (i.e. does not have the good beginning of an independent seat). The bit is her usual bit with the rest of the bridle unclipped. The exercise lasted 10 minutes and was done at the end of the training session. 

The rider’s contact and symmetry perception improved as the exercise progressed. She realised she was not really carrying her own hands before and discovered some muscles she needed to use to provide stable, sympathetic hand position that wasn’t reactive to losses of balance.

I noticed an overall improvement in the rider’s awareness of her hands – their position in relation to the horse’s mouth, their “connection” to the seat and their relationship with the seat.

The exercise also taught her how to release the connection without dropping the rein and how to follow neck movements in walk without allowing the rein to go slack and taut alternately.

I will be including this exercise in education of my riders as and when possible and when other perception exercises don’t have a desired effect.

CAUTION: Use your common sense if you try this exercise. Observe how the horse deals with having just the bit in his/her mouth. Always have horse’s welfare a priority when training yourself. Always have someone experienced with you on the ground and be ready to stop the exercise at any moment if needed. Performed well, this exercise shouldn’t change the way the horse feels the bit in his/her mouth. 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A HORSE SUITABLE FOR THIS EXERCISE you can still try it: simply imagine that you have no cheekpieces holding up the bit…imagine you have to hold the bit for the horse…

tilly and larry
Little chat with fellow session member after strutting her stuff without a bridle 😉

Photo Report from Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Stajnia Sabat, Poland. JUNE 2015

-To have and keep in one's grasp- held

Alison and Gejzer over a simple cavaletti exercise in walk – he takes the “no touching the rails” very seriously 😉
Agata and Galka – here in a self carriage exercise in a very short trot leg yielding towards me. Testing rider’s suppleness and coordination of aids.
Short session with 4 years old PRE mare
Flatwork session with a lovely “heavy” horse who moved as if he had no idea about some cold blood crosses running through his veins 🙂
Flatwork session with a lovely “heavy” horse who moved as if he had no idea about some cold blood crosses running through his veins 🙂 
My cousin, Karolina, working on similar exercises as Agata and Galka. Learning about being precise and accurate with shapes of circles and figures of eights to improve self – carriage. The horse chooses his frame to some extent but the rider has to maintain line of travel, tempo and rhythm.
Ola doing some fun coordination exercises to improve the feel for diagonal use of aids.
Chatting with Dominika about her super mare 🙂
De-brief after flatwork session
The Sunday jumping session – working in a line that can be ridden for 3 or 4 strides depending on the length of canter stride chosen by the rider. Here Dominka went for shorter stride that didn’t fit either option leaving Falkata to decide and go for a long one. Very athletic little mare.
Myself with my lovely Mum and 4 years old niece 🙂
Tea time 🙂
More tea time 🙂 
Jumping session – understanding a feeling of “uphill canter”
Jumping session de-brief
Karolina and I working on ironing out a postural crookedness through her upper body
Eye to eye with Krater. I am using the whip to touch Karolina when she collapses her upper body to give her proprioceptive reminder about where her seat becomes weak and ineffective.
More posture corrections – here with one stirrups very short and the other foot out of the stirrup to wake up different feels through the pelvis in relation to back motion of the horse.
Flatwork session in the sun 🙂
Ania and Zarys. Jumping session – planning a dog-leg to improve rider’s ability to ride a correct line and tempo – here ending up too close to the left wing.
Jumping session – same line and exercise as with Dominika and Falkata.
Same dog-leg line as above – testing the ability to plan a line and tempo of the canter for most optimal take off before the second jump
Natalia and Jaron – flatwork session

Fabulous weekend. I ended up doing 18 lessons in two days as we added a couple as we went and I am seriously considering investing in a portable sound system that I can use during clinics. We worked in a large outdoor arena so to limit my shouting I walked all the time which gave me a serious amount of steps per day in a rather deep surface 😉

All the riders worked so well and are so eager to learn, I wish I could teach them more often. Alas, next meeting is in October so they have plenty of time to practice what we did during the weekend.