Leopold The Last and his journey with Aspire Academy

Photo of Leo by Ceri Dickinson

I’ve been sitting down to write this post so many times in the last two days. Each morning, as I go to catch Leo from his field and he greets me with his cheeky face, I can’t help but think how unfair and cruel life can be.


The 11 years old, little bay New Forest X Thoroughbred gelding came to live with me last week because his owner’s illness means she is no longer, and will no longer, be able to look after him. Three years ago, Leo’s owner took a chance on an instructor who did some rider focused clinics. She could have booked a local celebrity rider/trainer but she was intrigued by what I was doing and we ended up running several weekends at her then work in North Yorkshire over a couple of years. She is the only person who managed to make me run on time with all the lessons albeit I still don’t know how!

When she asked me for help with rehoming Leo I knew it was my turn to take a chance on someone…

Leo having a roll and with me in the arena during his first week at Brackenhill Stud

I hope you will follow this little horse’s journey with me. He’s an interesting fellow with some physical issues to work through and my plan at the moment is for him to remain with me and become the Academy horse in near future.

I eventually would like to find him a rider interested in equine biomechanics and movement therapy as well as dressage so they can continue training with me and learn from Leo. When he is ready to be available for the coaching loan with the Academy, I will make this known 🙂

DYI version of the Equicore concept that I am using  – a theraband! #proprioception #muscleeducation #LeoAspireJourney

Today Leo had his physiotherapy re-assessment with Dr Tracy Crook of Chiltern VetPhysio and he is making a very good progress.

1. Continue with in-hand and ridden flexibility exercises
2. Continue to hack as before and use the theraband when lunging
3. “Work” for short periods of time, his muscles are still developing and too much work too soon will make him sore.
4. Review in 6 weeks.

Movement rehabilitation and training that enhances athletic ability is something I feel passionate about because it truly gives a meaning to schooling horses into riding horses…I will be posting updates on Leo via Instagram (@aspireequestrian) with a hashtag #LeoAspireJourney and weekly on here so if you are into movement education and schooling for dressage as means of achieving more harmony, suppleness and longevity – stay tuned!

Rider Fitness Series with Integrative Movement aka Kathlyn Hossack – 1.Core Activation for Riders

Welcome to this new series on Aspire Academy’s blog – it will be packed with quick tips, visuals, photos and videos, all in a form that can be easily replicated by most and in most places.

Your Rider Fitness Trainer for this series: Kathlyn Hossack



Certified Athletic Therapist, CAT(C) Kinesiologist, BSc. Pn1 Nutrition Coach. Rehab, training, and health consulting (online options) for all humans. www.katmahtraining.com/blog

She is off for a Nepal trek very soon so if you are into fitness, life challenges and travel, follow her on Instagram @integrative_movement for photo and video updates!


Stay tuned for the next parts and feel free to comment if you had a go and with any rider fitness questions you might have so we can choose exercises and tips to suit. We will also be having a go at the exercises with the Academy riders 🙂

Until next time!

Kate Negus Saddlery announces sponsorship of Summerhouse Equestrian Centre

Great to see training initiatives receiving support. The Prestige Training Schoolmasters project sounds like something I aspire to with the Academy’s Instructors’ training programme so I was really interested in learning more about it! Check it out if you are on the lookout for some schoolmasters lessons, sounds fabulous. 




Kate Negus Saddlery is delighted to announce its new sponsorship agreement with Summerhouse Equestrian Centre. The sponsorship sees Kate Negus support the Prestige Training Schoolmasters at the centre, and also sees the company sponsor the 1.30m class of the show jumping league.

Summerhouse Equestrian Centre’s Prestige Training has been developed by Centre Manager Sara Gallop, who is a qualified BHSII and BS course designer. She is an international dressage rider, holding regional and national titles, and trains with both Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin.

The aim of the Prestige Training initiative is to help accommodate riders looking to progress and develop their skills to a more advanced level, whether this is competitively or for their own personal development.

“We’re absolutely delighted to welcome Kate Negus Saddlery as a sponsor,” said Sara Gallop. “It’s lovely to see our schoolmasters sporting their made to measure bridles. Not only do these support their comfort, but they’re excellent quality and project the professionalism that goes through everything we do.”

“We’re really pleased to be working with Summerhouse,” said Julia Andrews from Kate Negus Saddlery. “Many of our sponsored riders go to Summerhouse, for both dressage and show jumping, and always comment on how professional and forward thing the venue is – qualities we strive for at Kate Negus Saddlery. When the opportunity came to work with the prestige horses, we jumped at the chance. We appreciate what a difference having a correctly fitted bridle can make to horses at every level, but when you’re wanting a horse to give his all, the fit of all of his equipment, and the comfort this provides, is so important.”

The Prestige Training Schoolmasters wearing Kate Negus bridles will provide riders with the chance to brush up on technique, learn new movements, train for a specific show or exam and improve confidence. Schoolmasters are available in dressage (up to Grand Prix), showjumping (up to 1.30m) and eventing (up to Intermediate), so there really is something for all riders.

For more information on Summerhouse Equestrian Centre and the Prestige Training Schoolmasters, see www.summerhouseec.co.uk. For more information on Kate Negus Saddlery and the company’s range of bespoke British bridlework and accessories, see www.katenegus.com, call 0780 115 0571 or email contact@katenegus.com.


Prepared by:  Rhea Freeman PR rhea@rheafreemanpr.co.uk 07980 757910

Dealing with a reactive/spooky horse – aggression vs mental obedience

Tilly eye

One of the most common rider frustrations is a horse that would not go in the corner of the arena or a particular spot when out hacking, not wanting to jump a particular jump, go into the water, or one that spooks a lot when fresh, or always “over-reacts” to various objects whether he has seen them before or not.

The most common ways of dealing with those issues that I observe as a teacher, are variety of aggressive aids from low to high intensity – from “encouraging kicking” until horse passes the offending object/area through shouting, growling to spurring and hitting with a whip.

Apparently, people who believe in smacking a child and generally submitting children through scaring them, are more likely to also have similar tendency when dealing with “disobedience” of animals too. In fact, there is quite a bit of research out there that analyses different behaviour patterns depending on person’s personality, temperament, upbringing and personal beliefs and if you have a good think about your own, you can probably figure out your natural tendencies too.


I think teaching riders gives a very good training in why fear driven methods and aggression in a trainer (of any kind) are not ideal educational tools. For sure, there will be some riders who do prefer being shouted at and “made do” what needs to be done and perhaps if we follow that logic there will be some horse personalities out there that pick up on a confident, aggressive style of a rider and draws some confidence out of that. However, try to shout at the rider to sit straight or stop fiddling with the hands or stop collapsing in the hip or look up etc (i.e. shout to create some change of behaviour in the body) and create a lasting, comfortable, sustainable effect…Unlikely to happen.  Most of the time, not only are the riders not aware of what they are doing or not doing but they might also often feel a bit resentful or upset that they can’t quite get it right. Until they get their head around what they are doing, then figure out how to deal with corrections and only then how to make it sustainable without contorting oneself into another pattern of crookedness (i.e. start learning not reacting), they won’t be able to change.

I see similar process in horses and they seem to also exhibit emotional responses like upset or resent. Since they don’t know they are “going wrong” or understand the need of being bent in the corner to the inside or that their legs don’t quite cross enough in a leg yield, punishment makes very little sense to them. Reactiveness and spookiness are very much temperament or previous experiences related for sure but regardless the horse’s personality, the more we allow them to learn, the more “riding intelligence” they acquire.

Learning only happens when thinking isn’t over-ridden by stress…

Rushing the horse to do something when he is apprehensive about it or hitting him because he doesn’t “want to pass that mounting block/leaf/a tree” can actually produce a long lasting issue and years of frustrations as it creates more insecurities and doubts in the long run, saddest one being a lack of confidence in the rider’s actions. This is most often seen when a rider who uses fear training, sells a horse to a rider who does not use that pattern of training. The horse might then tends to show “disobedience”, “dirty stops” that seem “out of character” but they make sense if we realise previous performance was not motivated by desire to figure things out but by avoiding more unpleasant consequences.

Fear and aggression trains more of a trick horse than an educated horse. Sadly, the blame usually falls onto a new rider who is branded un-confident or wussy and a horse is a bugger who takes the mickey and needs a good “telling to”.

It goes without saying I am not advocating praising dangerous behaviours or ignoring them, that’s another subject altogether.

Mental Obedience

There are many alternative ways of training horses than a fear based training and here are a few thoughts on dealing with situations the educational way. I do think many aggressive behaviours I see in riders are simply caused by feeling powerless and not knowing of any alternate way of dealing with an issue at hand. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments too so we can all learn from each other.

Some ideas to consider if you find yourself angry or frustrated with spooky/resistant behaviour: 

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  • let a horse think. This can be anything from taking a deep breath out in a moment of a well prepared canter transition instead of pushing the horse suddenly into it with strong aids “because it is known not to go” to asking the horse to stand immobile for 20 seconds or so the moment you feel it is about to explode into a jolly bucking round. The latter gives the rider mental control over the horse’s arousal rather than physical control that is rarely effective…
  • If you can control horse’s mind you can control his body in a way that makes him think it was his idea.
  • Calming a horse from point of high level of excitement is a skill in itself – spooking horse is a reactive horse. In that state, it doesn’t really learn, it reacts. Instead of adding to arousal by kicking or hitting with a whip, try bringing the horse’s mind into “learning zone” i.e. calm enough to listen and process information rather than simply react upon what it sees. Again this can mean literally stopping for a moment, wait for signs of relaxation (normal breathing, lowered neck, “softer” ears expression) and then attempt to address the issue by letting the horse investigate and learn.
  • Think about trying something new that worries you a bit. Like getting in a narrow kayak and going down a raging waterfall with boulders every 2m…you want to ask how to turn around the boulders and how to make sure the kayak doesn’t overturn but the instructor just whacks a life vest onto you, pushes you into the next kayak  and shouts at you to “get on with it!!!!” 😉




You have very limited information and experience but a hell of a lot of perceived danger and that’s how animals feel about many questions we ask them. If we let them learn according to their own learning patterns, we can end up with a dependable friend instead of an unpredictable partner…

  • Question instead of punishment. If a horse eyes up a piece of sand that’s been there for a century but right now turned into a dragon, instead of punishing it for creativity and brain power, ask a question (a leg yield, a small circle, a change of direction, a flexion etc) to put the brain cells back into more down to earth action.
  • Recognise your own frustration and underlying reasons for it. Don’t take horse’s  worry or fear or playfulness personally as then you will unnecessary pressure that is bound to make you want to rush to some result. Don’t involve yourself in horse’s problem, involve yourself in finding a clever solution.
  • Many crooked horses are also very reactive horses. This applies to horses in rehab from injuries. Sometimes what seems like a silly spooking behaviour is just a way of protecting what feels weak in the body of a pray animal…
  • Think like a horse, not like an army general 😉

What are your views? Do you think aggressive spectrums like stronger kicking when presented with a worry and/or using a whip to gain obedience are educational or not? Do they create lasting results?