Something slightly different ;) Pre-Introduction to Christine Dunnigton Photography, a new guest blogger and Aspire’s “creative assistant” :)

Logically I’m thinking that for my first guest blog I should be introducing myself. However, as Wiola set me a photographic challenge when she heard that I was going on a short road trip to France, now that I’m here, it’s all I can think about and so I’m going to blog about that first.
“What’s the challenge?” do I hear you cry? To take as many horse related photos whilst on my mini break. That in itself sounds more glamorous than it actually is – my husband invited me to keep him company on his business trip and it was words like ‘just outside of Paris’, ‘nice hotel’, ‘good food’, ‘shopping’ to name but a few that had me immediately thinking how nice it would be. In reality, we’re not that close to Paris but our hotel is tres chic, it looks like a traditional French chateau and is over looking the River Seine, in a little town called Rolleboise, in Normandy.
My first sighting was obviously going to be on UK soil and yes, there were lots of horses in the grassy fields adjoining the M25 and M20 but I decided that was too easy and to wait…..
Having boarded the Eurotunnel train I must admit I felt disappointed not to have found just one creative horsey shot to send to Wiola. Literally as the train trundled forward, I glanced out of the window and ‘viola, une cheveau!’ Whoops, not in France yet, and there it was, a horse in the hill. Challenge accepted!
I soon learnt that mobile phone cameras are not ideal for taking pictures when travelling at 130km per hour on French motorways, I missed two tourist signs with images of horses simply because the shutter speed was so slow and even when I had time in hand, for example when I spotted a life size sculpture of a jumping white horse and jockey on a bridge up ahead the result wasn’t brilliant!
Today has been more successful, I’ve found and photographed one live horse, two statues and whilst wondering through Carrefare supermarche, not one, not two or even three, but four different Playmobil horse sets; something every pony mad little girl must surely have on her Wish List this Christmas.
I love photography challenges such as this, for me they help focus the mind (no pun intended) and make me open my eyes to seek out and appreciate my surroundings, and, it’s fun! Less than 24 hours in to the trip and I’ve even got my non-horsey husband  pointing out and finding photo opportunities too. Whilst channel surfing on French TV last night he came across the most fascinating documentary on Mongolian horse herders, their nomadic lifestyle, and their customs and traditions. Of course we couldn’t understand a word of it but we got the gist and I highly recommend looking up Mongolian horse herders on YouTube, which I’ll be doing when I get home.
I graciously gave up the use of the car the following day, so my quest for horse related matter has been obtained entirely on foot. I set out from our hotel, explored the grounds and then further afield down the surrounding lanes. 6,673 steps later I returned with my stash for the day.
I’d almost given up on finding anything horsey at our hotel, but hubby, who’d suggested a game of chess after dinner on the last night, was naming all the pieces to me and of course the rook piece is a horse!
The return journey home provided me with several more opportunities, including the white horse and jockey sculpture on the motorway bridge – the one I missed on arrival; a framed picture of Ascot on the wall into the ladies toilets at the Eurotunnel Duty Free terminal and the magazines were in WH Smiths.
Such fun and incredibly addictive!
Stay tuned – an actual introduction and more about Christine’s photography coming up soon 🙂 

Introducing Smart Horse Nutrition – the smarter way to feed your horse!

Jasper has a smart approach to life 😉 

Launched early in 2016 after extensive trials, Smart Horse Nutrition® is a new feed company with two primary goals – to provide your horse with the best quality nutrition possible AND to save you money.

Smart Horse Feeds are amongst the highest specification feeds on the market today and are formulated to allow you to take control of your horse’s diet. With feeds from the Smart Horse range, you can feed exactly what your horse needs easily and cost effectively according to condition, work done, temperament and the time of year.

Getting the foundation right 


Smart Horse Nutrition® started with the premise that your horse already receives a substantial proportion of the nutrition it needs, before anything is ever mixed in a bucket. This is because good quality forage provides the vast majority of your horse’s daily nutritional needs. As a result, the Smart Horse nutritionists formulated Smart rations from the bottom up, by analysing what your horse is missing once forage is taken into account. At the heart of the Smart diet, therefore, is Smart Balance – a high specification feed balancer that provides optimal levels of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients to support health and performance. Additionally, Smart Balance is low in starch and sugar, made without cereals or cereal by-products, is Soya free, contains non GMO ingredients and is molasses free, so is altogether a smarter way to feed your horse. Fed on its own, or alongside any other feeds in the Smart Horse range to increase your horse’s protein and energy intake, the advanced specification of Smart Balance supports muscle development, immunity, hoof, skin and coat quality, digestion and temperament.

Why is Smart Horse Nutrition so different? 

At the heart of the Smart Horse concept is the fact that there are two key elements missing from the diet of a horse fed on an un-supplemented forage based diet: micro nutrients (key vitamins and minerals) and macro nutrients (protein and energy), that are needed for reproduction, growth and an intense work load.

While the majority of horse feeds tie these two elements together, the Smart Horse Nutrition® range has been formulated to keep them separate. It provides your horse with the 3 essential building blocks of a balanced diet – micro nutrients (Smart Balance), macro nutrients (Smart Muesli) and fibre. This means your horse’s diet can be tailored exactly to his individual needs, with a consistent level of Smart Balance satisfying your horse’s micronutrient requirements and Smart Muesli or Smart Linseed fed according to his or her protein and energy needs, which will vary according to age, work done, condition and temperament.

What does it cost? 

Tilly is usually shy with bags but dives in into Smart bags 😉 

Smart Horse Feeds are amongst the highest specification feeds on the market today, but they’re also incredibly good value for money. The team at Smart Horse don’t believe you should pay through the nose for a quality horse feed, nor should you waste your hard-earned money and compromise your horse’s health and performance with inferior quality feedstuffs. At a cost of less than 75p per day to feed an average sized horse the recommended daily amount of Smart Balance, Smart Horse are confident that you will not find a better balancer at a lower price. Smart Horse also offer excellent volume discounts where you could save up to £3 a bag by buying in bulk! So you can stock up and save, or group together with a couple of friends and buy enough for all of you in one delivery and save again!

Where to buy 

Leo loving his Smart diet 🙂 He is on Smart Muesli, Smart Balance and Smart Chaff twice a day and his feed is kindly sponsored by Smart Horse Nutrition. To read more about Leo and his mission within Aspire Academy see:

There are a growing number of feed merchants stocking the Smart Horse Nutrition range around the country. But if you can’t find supplier local to you, you and your horse can still enjoy the benefits of Smart Feed. Simply order easily and securely online from the Smart Feed Store and have your feed delivered direct to your door.

The team at Smart Horse Nutrition are always on hand and available, should you have any questions or need any specific feeding advice for your own horse. Find them on facebook, follow on twitter, check out, Tel 01497 570345 or Email any time!

Integrative Movement Series: Thoughts & Suggestions for No Stirrups November

Great read from Kathlyn Hossack below. I use no stirrups work throughout the year so all my riders, from children to adults are used to this form of training. I use the No Stirrups November as a fun initiative to delve deeper into balance, seat awareness and to push the riders that little bit more.

However, I couldn’t agree more with caution. I think all exercises, whether for rider or the horse, have their stages. First is when everything is a little messy but productive and is finding its ways. Second when it enters the “oh oh it’s working stage” and third when it’s back to messy but counterproductive this time.

Hope you’ll enjoy the read below 🙂



Don’t get me wrong… I’m 100% for feeling the burn and making those riding muscles work without the aid of those things we put our feet in.

I just have a few things I need to get out about the entire month dedicated to riding without stirrups.

As any rider who came up through a lesson program likely has experienced, No Stirrup November is a time where either someone suggests politely to you to ride withouts stirrups as much as you can, or (more often) someone literally steals your stirrups and you spend a month without them, hacking, in lessons, jumping.. you name it, you’re stirrupless.

In my professional opinion, I believe riding with no stirrups has a great place within the realms of developing position, strength, and function in the tack. Hunter/Jumper/Event riders, we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a line approaching a huge oxer or in the middle of a combo just having conveniently lost our stirrups at some point, amiright? Having some background in being able to keep your leg and your balance without weight bearing is hugely beneficial.

We know the pros to this. Increased balance, strength, and confidence. These are great pros! But if NSN is done wrong, you may not get the full benefit and actually end up affecting balance, strength, AND confidence.

Yes, there are safety cons to NSN. Falling, muscle soreness/strains, higher chance of injury.. etc. However, that’s not exactly what I want to focus on today.

Too often what I see happen with NSN is an immediate jump into absolutely no stirrups (as in the cases where stirrups mysteriously disappear from saddles and aren’t returned for 4weeks).

While, yes this is a sure way to commit… it’s also a sure way to develop bad habits,

compensations, and put yourself at risk for newly developed poor equitation come December. Think of it this way.. if someone took away your desk chair and you had no way of modifying the desk height or finding another seating device, so you had to still get down low enough to work at the desk.. Let’s say you’re ambition and you try to maintain a seated position (now squat) position (because we all sit in that nice posture, right?!)… you probably wouldn’t last long, and soon you’d start trying other weird things just to keep functioning. You’d probably start out by hunching or crouching, then maybe try to kneel and crane your neck, then maybe standing in a lopsided posture looking down…

Now think about the last time you rode without stirrups. Were you fluid and efficient with your movements? Or did you immediately lock up your hips, clamp with your legs and knees, and stiffen your arms and the rest of your body in an attempt to maintain your “normal” eq? This is before muscles even got tired!

Sofija and Ozzy. Aspire Development Programme

If the above didn’t happen immediately.. it likely happened as soon as you got fatigued. Which is very normal. My issue with this? Now you’re training bad habits, and strengthening in your position in the wrong ways. Yes, the more the month goes on, of course the stronger you’re going to get. But if you build that strength on top of incorrect equitation.. it’s not really benefitting you. Also, your horse won’t appreciate you bouncing around all stiff and clampy for the first few weeks either. Think of their back and yours!

All this being said.. I’m still in favour of no stirrup training. If it’s done appropriately. Here’s my recommendations for NSN.

Week 1 (3-4x/wk):

● Regular warm-up with stirrups

● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work (or as long as you can until you find you begin to lose good equitation and posture.. this could be only 1-2min to start!). All gaits. Trot is obviously going to be the most difficult gait, with walk and canter being a little easier to maintain.

● 10-15 min regular riding. Do any jumping or more intense work within this time.

● 1-5 min of no-stirrup work. Focus here on things like sitting trot and transitions to build that core stability. Make sure you’re still letting the hips move, and keeping the legs in an appropriate position and of course maintaining a correct posture!

● Cool down. Or continue with a regular ride with stirrups.

● Repeat this every second ride (if you ride every day) or 3-4x/week with days in between.

Caitlin and Jasper. Aspire Development Programme

Week 2 (3-4x/wk):

● Reg. warm-up with stirrups.

● 10-15min regular riding with stirrups.

● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting, 2 min canter work and transitions from trot to canter no stirrups. ● 2 min break

● 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting.

● 1 min break

● 1 min trot work with out stirrups, OR transitional work (walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to sitting trot, sitting trot to canter, canter to posting, posting to walk.. etc).

● 1 min break

● 3-5 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity!

● Cool-down.

Week 3 (3-4x/week):

● Reg. warm-up with stirrups

● 10 min reg. ride with stirrups.

● 2 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity. Trust me you’ll feel the burn in your legs!

● Jump-work with no stirrups (if you jump), or lateral work or advanced work with no stirrups. Do this only until you feel your position slipping… Take breaks as necessary.

If jumping, start at a level you’re comfortable with (obviously). Ideas here could be: ○ small gymnastic exercises or grids or small course work.

● 1-2 min break.

● 5 min regular hacking or jump work with stirrups.

● 5 min hacking with no stirrups, all gaits. ● Cool-down.

Week 4 (3-4x/wk):

● Reg. Warm-up with stirrups, including 3-4min two point position work at trot.

● 5-10 min no stirrups, all gaits.

● 5 min regular hacking with stirrups.

● Any jump work or advanced skills with NO stirrups. If you’ve been working on jumps, work towards a full course at a comfortable height for you within this week!

● 1-2min break.

● 5-10min no stirrups, all gaits.

● Cool-down.

Some general rules of thumb for this progression:

1. The times are a suggestion. If you feel you can do more or can only do less before your position and posture get poor, by all means modify!

2. The point is to challenge yourself, but not to the point of training a bad position. Be aware!

3. The two-point position holds will challenge your position in a similar way to not having stirrups. I recommend throwing these in at the beginning and end of every ride you do for 2-5 minutes. Challenge yourself to control your horse with your legs, while keeping good position, and maintaining balance. Use your saddle or horse’s neck for balance IF NEEDED ONLY. This will work legs, core, and overall postural stability.

4. Perform the above progressions every second ride, or 3-4x/week. On days off from no stirrup work, add in the two-point holds and ride as usual otherwise.

NSN is often viewed as a month to go hard or go home. While I’m all for challenging riders to improve their fitness in the saddle.. it has to be done appropriately and smart. If it’s not then that’s where we end up with injuries, chronic pain, and perpetually fixing bad habits!

If you’re interested in a consult and a more personalized program for your NSN… contact me at

Happy Riding!