Gilly’s journey back to fitness & eventing after an injury – rehab diary

My loan horse was off work for two months after an injury and I’m blogging his rehab – fitness, suppleness, flexibility – sharing successes, exercises and more. 

Gilly January 2017. Stage of rehab: 40 minutes walking hacks

This is Gilly. He’s a 10-year-old, 16.2hh Irish Sport Horse gelding who I’ve had on loan for just over a year. He’s a character and a great horse to ride: Sensible but with enough attitude to keep things interesting 😉 He also happens to love jumping. I returned to riding in my 30s after a hiatus of 20 or so years and he’s taught me loads. He helped me progress to the point where we competed in our first one day event at the end of last summer.

Mairi and Gilly achieving their 2016 goal to take part in One Day Event

We were planning what we’d be doing over the Autumn when Gilly came in from the field lame one day last October. “Hopping lame” is probably a more accurate description. The vet later worked out that he had somehow punctured a tendon on his right hind leg with a huge thorn from one of the hedges that line the fields at our yard. While the wound itself wasn’t that serious, he got an infection that proved tricky to shift and ended up spending two months on box rest.

I didn’t expect that he would take him so long to recover from the injury and it’s been frustrating to watch him lose his fitness over the weeks and see our plans crumbling. But there’s a old saying that every misfortune is a blessing in disguise: In this case it’s that Gilly has soft muscles right now and is a bit of a blank slate so it’s a great opportunity to work on his suppleness and flexibility and improve his posture while bringing him back into fitness. Maybe I can teach this horse (and myself) some new tricks!

Over the next few months, as I build up his exercise regime from long walking hacks up to canter work and jumping, I’m planning to incorporate lots of pole work, stretches and work in hand. I’m hoping that these gymnastic exercises will help improve our focus, communication and skills and help us prepare for a successful summer of eventing.

Some of Gilly’s exercises & stretches suggested by his physiotherapist, Rachel Keeble. Photos: Christine Dunnington

I’ll be investigating different issues and trying out different exercises over the coming weeks and I’ll share some of them on the Aspire blog. Major areas I’d like to work on with Gilly are:

  • Getting his hind legs more active so that he really steps under himself, can push from behind and come off the forehand, which he can be quite heavy on. He’s got a relatively long back conformation-wise so he’s a horse that finds this harder than some.
  • Activating his core and encouraging him to work over his back more to improve his posture and make him stronger. This is a long-term, ongoing project but I’m hoping to work on more in-hand exercises to encourage him to lower and relax his neck.
  • Lateral work like leg yields and shoulder in to help with mobility and suppleness particularly through his shoulders.

I will be working with my trainer Wiola on all of this and we’d be really delighted if you join us on this journey to bring Gilly back from his injury even better than he was before.

If you have any questions or ideas or would like to share exercises that you think Gilly and me should try, leave them in the comments section below. We’ll report back on the blog. 

Mairi Mackay & Gilly aka Farmer’s Boy

Gilly looking smart after his clip on Saturday – ready to slowly step up the work 🙂 

Groundwork exercise for distracted/unfocused horses

Here’s one fun idea for a groundwork exercise that works very well for horses that are:

  • easily distracted and unfocused when ridden
  • spooky and generally either too much in front of the leg or behind the leg
  • uninterested in the rider
  • uninterested in communication with the rider


You will need:

  • a lot of random things to clutter the arena with!
  • go for objects that are safe when knocked
  • possibly boots or bandages for your horse
  • lunge cavesson or a headcollar and a lunge line (don’t use any gadgets for this exercise. You want to cut the horse some slack and believe he can handle life without those)
  • lunge whip


The play “rules” :

  • you lunge the horse navigating around the objects
  • you let the horse think for himself, you suggest the route but don’t wrestle, let the horse make mistakes and learn that when they listen to you, life is easy
  • the more distracted the horse (or inattentive) the harder routes you can suggest for them


Horses learn very fast that the game is about thinking and problem solving. They start looking to you and communicate with you which directly translates into more focus when ridden. “Lazy” horses can become much more forward, spooky horses, come more “on the aids”, unfocused horses start finding “chatting” with the rider more interesting.


The most important rule is to have fun with this. Use body language, voice, lunge aids to communicate, not to tell. Invite the horse to play with you as an intelligent creature not like one you need to tell exactly where to place the feet.


You might get into trouble at first. If you work with a horse like Mojo (the chestnut) they will be looking around and noticing everything but you at first. They will bump into the objects but they learn fast 🙂

Mojo preferred to look over at the horses being brought from the field instead of listening to my suggestion to go around the barrel…;) He didn’t make that mistake again!

They might, like Jasper (the black cob), just want to find their own routes at first.

Play. From this communication you can create much more refined aids.


For Sale: Dressage Saddle El Caballo de España (Ideal/Peter Maddison-Greenwell)

Beautiful, 17″ black, dressage saddle El Caballo de España. In a very good condition, well looked after and lightly used.

Incredibly comfortable with deep seat and large knee blocks with soft leather cover – this saddle makes it impossible to sit badly!


Each dressage saddle is designed with the horses comfort in mind and with an eye for classic design that demonstrates quality and finesse throughout

All our dressage saddles are manufactured by leading saddle manufacturer Ideal and are designed by International Dressage Trainer, Peter Maddison-Greenwell,  is considered a classical rider who has a true understanding of the way we should sit and how it affects the horses way of going.

Good width to the gullet all the way through provides superb spine clearance, wide panels sit the saddle very well.

£1.500 ono (collection from Henley on Thames or Northolt; can also post at cost)

Collage the saddle 1.jpg

saddle for sale detail.jpg



“Something new and rather exciting is going on in my world”

New Year – New Adventures! One positive thing that always comes from having no driving licence is that I get to meet some fab people and always think outside the box 😉 This time, I decided to finally do what was on my mind for a while and get a creative soul involved so I can awake some of my so far sleeping projects!

Over to Christine: 

Chris taking photos of me schooling one of my four legged clients 😉 


Something new and rather exciting is going on in my world…by Christine Dunnington Photography

I confess to spending far too much time on Facebook, I don’t consider it a waste of time – okay, sometimes it’s a waste of time – but I belong to some really interesting groups, some relating to the equestrian world and many connected to photography; there’s always something to learn, tips to share, inspiration to gain and for me, horses for sale for me to drool over and only dream about.


It was whilst I was scrolling through the recent news feed on EEN, that I read with much interest a post by Wiola Grabowska at Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. Wiola was looking for somebody to assist her two days a week. Not having a UK driving licence, she wanted somebody who could drive her from her base near Henley on Thames to Northolt; somebody who could photograph and video record clients during their lessons – something Wiola offers as a useful learning aid for her clients as well as the educational blogs she writes; somebody with the desire to follow Wiola and learn her methods and techniques and naturally, somebody who enjoys horsey chats, coffee and banana cake!


It took me a couple of days to think about it and for the seed to germinate at which point I thought this could be perfect for me, what am I waiting for?! I emailed Wiola with a brief life history, giving her an a account of my limited riding career to date, my passion for photography and how Christine Dunnington Photography was born and my desire to learn more about horses and to be more proficient and confident around them.


Wiola didn’t hang around in getting back to me, we agreed on and arranged a trial day, which went so well, I started the following week, I’m loving it. Wiola is so friendly and easy going and literally from the moment I arrived she was offering her knowledge and advice; during the first client lesson she introduced me to the Pilates ball and core strengthening exercises to try and practice – I’m now the proud owner of my own ball so I can practice and make a fool of myself in the privacy of my own home! Wiola it seems is more than happy to teach me as much as I can absorb and so much more; a fair exchange for my time and help – I must not waste this opportunity.



I will post regularly with updates of my journey with Wiola, her energetic 11 months old Spaniel, Jazz, Leopold The Last who is her cherished and inherited project (and sometimes my teacher) and all the other members of the Aspire Equestrian Academy team, both human and equine.



Hope you’ll follow Christine’s adventures with Aspire Academy and stay tuned for some exciting projects ahead! 🙂

Wiola x