Spicing up the training at home: competing online with Dressage Anywhere

By Wiola Grabowska

We’ve been meaning to incorporate online dressage tests into Academy programmes on regular basis for quite a while now and have done an odd test with clients here and there. It’s still my aim to make it into a more regular “event” as not only that it brings a nice motivational factor to the dressage lessons but it also makes it possible to acquire feedback from the judges without costly travel.


Today, we had a go at filming a Novice and an Elementary tests for submission to Dressage Anywhere. Aisha set up the 20m x 40m inside the indoor arena at Brackenhill Stud that is about 30m by 55m which gave a perfect space for placing the camera while having a good view of the whole arena.

I found it surprisingly hard to video the test well with my snazzy equipment (a very thoughtful Christmas gift from my riders a year ago) despite the fact I’d been filming snippets from lessons for feedback since 2009/10! Videoing a test in a flowing manner proved to be a little challenging so Aisha’s mistakes here and there were opportunities for me to correct mine.


I think one the biggest benefits of staging these sessions for the Development programme riders that occurred to me today will be in creating warm up circumstances similar to real-life shows. Schooling a horse during a flatwork lesson and even talking the rider through the possible ways to warm up for particular tests are quite different to achieving best “test readiness” in 20-30minutes prior the actual test.

The other plus is the option of repetition. Often the atmosphere at shows causes a lot of tension both in the horse and the rider and the fact there is only “one shot” at getting it right makes it worse. Some might say this is the essence of the competition spirit but I reckon that for training purposes, the repetition buffer can help train stress resilience and limit feelings of frustration brought by some small elements going wrong.

The pressure is still on, the rider still needs to be quick on their feet and minds so the job is definitely being done.

Aisha’s second go at her Elementary test had some of the best canter work I have ever seen her ride so I was very happy for her.

Until I realised she forgot to wear gloves and the 2h we spent setting everything up and filming will need to be repeated 😉

We will sure be remembering that one! Another good lesson there 😉

Equestrian Fashion: Spring has sprung at Annabel Brocks

Luxury lifestyle brand, Annabel Brocks, has introduced three new head warmers to its collection, to celebrate spring.


All head warmers have sumptuous faux fur on one side and are fully reversible. The Luxury Beige and Spring Coloured Tweed head warmer uses a British wool tweed featuring spring green, white, lilac and purple with a natural faux fur lining. The Luxury Beige Herringbone Tweed combines beige faux fur with a herringbone tweed featuring a pink stripe. The final new spring head warmer, the Luxury Natural Faux Fur and Pink Suede, is made from natural toned faux fur with a stunning pink faux suede contrast band.

“With spring here, we wanted to introduce some spring toned head warmers… because we all know that spring and even summer in the UK doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine and high temperatures,” said Annabel Brocks. “These gorgeous new colours are lovely for spring as they use lighter and brighter colours, but still use our quality materials and are handmade in Britain. As they’re all reversible too, they work with any outfit.”


The three new head warmers join the Annabel Brocks Collection, which sits alongside the Charlotte Dujardin Collection and Cheltenham Collection of head warmers, and the company’s range of capes, gilets and accessories, all perfect for the stylish equestrian.  The three new head warmers have a RRP of £45 each.

For more information on these head warmers and the rest of the Annabel Brocks Collection see www.annabelbrocks.com or call 01284 827206.

Prepared by:

Rhea Freeman PR
E: rhea@rheafreemanpr.co.uk
W: www.rheafreemanpr.co.uk
T: 07980 757910

Do try it at home: catching game on the ball

By Wiola Grabowska

Photo help: Christine Dunnington Photography

This exercise is a fun one for any rider who tends to balance with their hands, whether they end up pulling on the reins or not. Horses sense tension in the arms and shoulders so even if you don’t pull on the reins for balance but feel like your arms and shoulders try to help you way too much in achieving a good position in the saddle, grab a gym ball and have a go at this 🙂

You will need: 

  • gym ball
  • a few objects easy to throw
  • a helper
  • a Springer Spaniel is optional
Untitled design (1)
Mairi in action with Jazz helping to make things more challenging 😉 

How to: 

  • Your first mission is to kneel on the ball. This alone might take you some time to master well enough to take both hands off the ball and have them free to catch any objects thrown at you!
  • Once you can comfortably kneel on the ball with your hands free, arms and shoulders relaxed, your centre of gravity low (feel like your upper body’s weight drops into your pelvis and settles there, then drops into your legs – the feeling of supple and “relaxed” upper body is important) you are ready to start
  • Ask your helper to throw something to you, catch it, then throw it back
  • Start with simple, slow throws and if you are good at catching those, ask your helper to challenge you with aiming for each side of you instead of only doing centred throws
  • To up the game: ask your helper to throw the objects faster, multiply the objects and throw back and forth, catch above your head, to your right, to your left, low below the knees.
  • Make up your own challenges and share them with us! 🙂




Leo goes to RAF Halton Sponsored Ride

By Wiola Grabowska

Edited 27th March to add images bought from Ultimate Images who was the official photographer during the ride.

Leo is surprised to see me at his door at 6am. The clock’s have changed overnight, it’s dark and quiet. I planned to give him a bit of a wash, you know – mane and tail kind of wash 🙂 – but it’s so eerie on the yard that I settle for a quick groom and come back later to finish the preparations for travel.

Ready to load

He loads without a problem and we arrive at the RAF grounds greeted by very helpful organisers and sunny weather.

The minute Leo comes off the lorry, he is overwhelmed and has zero attention on me. That is both surprising and isn’t as although he can be very attentive at home I have never taken him anywhere before. It’s a test ride for us. I’d like to do more sponsored rides and raise money for various Cancer Research charities with him but I want to find out what suits him mentally and physically.

This ride does not. It’s a busy one with many other stressed horses and whether Leo is picking up on that or whether it’s some old memories, he is not happy. Looking around it seems some riders treat this kind of rides as a challenge of staying on board stressed animals and jumping as many jumps as possible in whatever fashion but it’s not something I am looking for for Leo. Having said that, there are many horses we see around who look like they are having a ball. Stroll in walking parts, have a great blast in open parts of the ride and are being given best chances to jump well. There is a grey horse alongside us at some point who looks so happy and content hopping over the line of bigger jumps with ears pricked but always listening to its rider, then waiting for others of his group calmly. Pleasure to watch.

A rare few minutes of calm where I felt him relax and enjoy the stroll 🙂 Mairi on Robyn and Aisha on Boo are our ride buddies and they are having a great time here!

Leo feels fresh throughout the entire ride showing no signs of fatigue even though in about 1h45 min we calmly walk maybe 10 minutes top. The rest is a combination of jogging, passaging, trotting and cantering on the spot. At the end of the ride he feels like he could go again! I think he will feel his core muscles tomorrow!


My favourite moments from the ride were the open canter on the air fields and the cool down walk after. Leo’s canter is a really lovely experience, big lofty strides that make you feel as if you are on a 17hh horse rather than a 14.3hh one and I could tell he was enjoying it too. No erratic behaviour but a steady, flowing stride at a tempo of my choice. Then a long rein walk just calmly looking around for a couple of minutes.


I learn a few important things about Leo today. He is insecure and weak under pressure – more so than I gathered from our solo hacking. I am not a very stressy rider and his antics don’t affect me much but I do worry about their impact on other riders and their safety.

He is also much fitter than I thought. I’d been doing many hacks at home with him – 45min to 1h – in the lead up to the ride but they were 70% walking hacks with some trot work. I counted on the hills we have here, pretty much everywhere is a little up or a little down, to do the muscle work for me and polework sessions in the arena to work his core but would not have thought that was all doing such a good job!

His “at home” hacking behaviours like bulking, fear of certain object like bicycles and runners, escalates significantly when in a busy, unknown environment. Some horses deal with distraction in a similar way home and away being spooky in a similar manner, and some, like Leo, become much more affected.

Leo in the field
A couple of hours rest in the field after the ride. He always spots me even when I try to take a sneaky photo 😉

He can be clingy to his chosen horse. This surprised me as normally I can pass any number of horses out hacking or stay way at the back of the ride without any problems but it seems that a change of environment wakes up separation anxiety in Leo. On the ride, he was incredibly fixated on Robyn, who travelled next to him  and who is also his stable neighbour, which led to good few hairy situations.


All in all, I am glad I went. It certainly was an insight into this little horse’s way of coping with stress and I will make sure to plan better for his future outing to make sure I can build stressful situations slowly rather than over expose him in such a way again. We live we learn 🙂

I would definitely recommend this ride for anyone with a level headed horse and one that would benefit from a challenge of varied terrain as you go in woodlands, open spaces, roads, bridges, water, drops etc If I crack Leo’s insecurity and coping mechanisms under pressure I would enter again but I won’t expose him to anything like this anytime soon.

How do you chose the rides to go to? Do you think it’s important to consider your horse’s mental state/health when making those choices or do you go for an “ultimate challenge” kind of experience? How do you deal with building up stress resistance in your horse? I’d love to know your views – do comment below 🙂 

Bath on arrival to get rid of all the salt from sweating all over and heat lamps to pamper his muscles. Spoilt little guy!

Equestrian Enterprise Series. A few thoughts on #HorseHour’s Equestrian Business Education Forum

By Wiola Grabowska

#HorseHour event – some of the speakers. Top: Bert Sheffield with Amy Stevenson. Bottom from left to right: Lucienne Elms from Horse Scout, the accounting team and a horse present during Bert’s chat.

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy is a small enterprise. I like this term more than a “small business” as it makes me think about running a project, a collaboration, something bold and mission focused. A term business makes me think of making money. So enterprise it is.

When Mairi (who you might have “met” via her recent posts) and I sat down on one glorious Pancake Day in 2017 to make a plan for the re-vival of this blog, one of the series I had in mind was such where I would blog a bit more about trials and tribulations of acquiring  (and later developing) an equestrian property on which to base the Academy. Kelly and I are currently working with Emma Hobbs of Equestrian Property Search in order to locate the right place.

However, the more I thought about it, the more doubts I had whether it is such a good idea to share all the little steps. I know I would love to read about it somewhere and learn from mistakes someone else had made but perhaps there is a reason nobody is writing about it! 😉

For now, I think this series will focus on resources or initiatives we found interesting and educational as well as on sharing tried and tested ideas that might be useful for coaches/trainers and others self-employed in the industry.

Here are a few reflections after the Equestrian Business Education Forum we attended on Monday 20th March. 


I think the biggest benefit of these kind of events for small horse businesses is that it, firstly, makes you direct your focus on work that needs to be done “on” those businesses. It’s very easy to just think about teaching and riding (as a self-employed coach and/or rider) or looking after horses (as a livery manager) but there are many little things in between that need attention if the enterprise is to be sustainable.

Secondly, meeting others involved in running their own yards and organisations helping with that is a great networking opportunity. As a member of London Horse Network  which was created in the lead up to London Olympics in 2012, I found the regular meetings very helpful.

The #HorseHour event had good few interesting speakers and a nice informal feel which encouraged some thought provoking conversations with an audience. The business structure and tax planning chat with the accountants from Butler & Co made me want to research various options for livery yards contracts of which I would not have thought of previously.

The Horse Scout website presented by Lucienne Elms intrigued me so that is definitely one to check out further: https://www.horsescout.com

All in all a good evening that was well worth attending and I would definitely recommend seeking out these kind of events if you are your own boss in a horsey world 🙂

Turning & circles problems: collapsing vs rotating

By Wiola Grabowska

Collapsing vs rotating issue
Spot the difference….

‘Creative’ use of upper body is one of the most common issues I see in riders during turns and circles. Collapsing through the waist or hips is the option many riders go for so today’s blog post is a chat about this poorly biomechanics.

If you observe the rider above you can see that on the photo on the left she has lost the horse’s shoulders to the outside of the circle and the horse is crossing her inside hind leg in order to cope with the turn. The mare is mildly jack-knifed and “falling out” with no boundaries  that she could otherwise be given via rider’s outside aids. Both the horse and rider have lost their balance to some extent: they are gently motorbiking too.

The rider’s spine is more of a ‘C’ shape creating a hollow on her inside side, her shoulders lost symmetry and her ribcage is now misaligned with her hips. This posture is very common in riders riding many crooked, stiff horses that are difficult to correct.

The photo on the right shows the same horse and rider later in the lesson. They are now aligned spine to spine, shoulders to shoulders. If the horse was to lose balance, the rider is much more likely to make effective adjustments to help the mare. She has control of the outside and inside of the horse.

If you too have a similar problem, here are something anyone can try: 

  • sit on a gym ball (or a stool) in front of a large mirror so you can see your whole body. Mark your mirror (with a cream or something easy to remove) with 3 dots: one directly in front of your belly button, one a couple of inches to the left of that dot and one a couple of inches to the right of that dot.
  • spread your arms so they form extension of your shoulders – check if they are level
  • take a deep breath out and drop the weight of your upper body comfortably down into your seat (i.e. don’t lift your shoulders or try to stretch upwards). Sit in neutral spine position.
Collapsing to turn = unbalanced turn
  • Slowly rotate your arms, your sternum and your belly button towards the dot on the left, hold it for the count of 10, come back to the middle, slowly rotate to the dot to your right (now please take a moment and leave a comment which way was easier for you if you did try this exercise 😉 )
  • you’ll now have a bit of a picture of your own “crookedness” – if you find it equally easy on both sides, lucky you! However, most riders will be a bit like horses in this respect, they will find easier to turn one way than the other.
  • repeat this exercise until you collect certain feel for holding rotation both ways. Collapse in your waist a few times too to feel the difference.
Rotating to turn = balanced turn

Back in the saddle: 

  • ride arena corners trying to replicate the same feel through your torso as you had in front of the mirror
  • you can also: visualise both sides of your upper body from armpit to the hip bone holding the same length as you turn
  • observe how “fast” your horse turns their shoulders and “wait” for them – many riders try to turn the head and rotates/collapses with it as the shoulders of the horse are not really turning

Correcting your upper body mechanics can transform your use and understanding of outside rein as turning well teaches you to ride “from outside – in” rather than pull on inside rein to turn.

If you found this helpful do give us a shout 🙂

Photo help from my super assistant Christine Dunnington

Rider Fitness – Aspire Academy In-House Challenge: Yoga

By Wiola Grabowska

In January this year I allocated one day every 30-40 days for a feedback & theory learning/catch up/fun day for the Academy riders and on each of these days we decided to set some challenges among those who attend.


Last month, our in-house rider challenge was Flexibility & Suppleness and yoga seemed like a good choice (at the time!!!). The main aim of this challenge is not so much to go from no supplementary riding regime to a full on one but to test different systems, to figure out what might work for what kind of rider, their personality and lifestyle. Another reason for it is to direct some focus into how athletic ability develops which hopefully links with more understanding of how horses might experience “training”.

Despite many differences, horses and people have many athletic similarities, their muscles tire, their lactic acid build up, their hearts need conditioning to effort, ligaments and tendons can over strain, mentally they might cope better or worse with work load etc

Doing any form of exercise with some basic attention to ones health is not a bad insight into training principles.

I have personally tried a course of yoga several years ago and found it immensely challenging. Flexibility is not my forte and stretching is the necessary evil! I should probably do it every day but in the same way as some people just can’t let go of fast foods, my muscles just like their tight state!

Not surprisingly, the beginning was tough for us. We shared some photos of our faces after doing first set of yoga on the first day of the challenge and lets just say, these photos will never see outside our closed conversation 😉

My biggest issue was space as I live in a tiny cottage so had to more furniture around each evening whilst some other riders had to fight off dogs that thought the best time of the evening started when the mat hit the floor 🙂

Darcy helping Lou with her Yoga challenge

We went for an easy option of finding video workouts on You Tube and went with Power Yoga For Dressage Riders channel for many of the sessions.

Exercises are well explained and videos watch easily, the weather on the screen made me drool a bit though 😉 I started with the the beginner workout video, here’s a link if you’d like to try it: Yoga For Dressage Riders – Flexibility And Flow

March is our Core & Cardio challenge so stay tuned for update in April but in the meantime, if you know of any good online programmes for us to try, give us a shout in the comments 😀 Self promotion welcome!



Photo Report from Arena and XC hire at Rosehill Equestrian

Text by Wiola Grabowska. All photos copyright www.cdphotos.co.uk  Please respect those rights and do not copy any photos from the blog. Thank you!

Now that I have Christine on board working with Aspire, I hope to be able to take you all on little journeys with us via the moments captured by her lenses 🙂

This photo report here is from last Saturday trip to Rosehill Equestrian.

Form left to right: Sasha & Boo, Sofija & Jasper, Lou & Robyn, Mairi & Gilly and myself with Jazz 


We try to organise to take horses for an away training sessions or shows once or twice a month. It’s not always easy to coordinate all the logistics with horses being stabled at two different yards and riders based anything from 30 minutes to an hour and a half away but we have managed a good few great outings already and it gets a little bit easier each time 🙂

Our most failed attempt was to try to coordinate the two yards trip to a dressage show organised by South Oxfordshire Riding Club. We didn’t quite realise how popular the SORC shows are and ended up with a few riders entered and the rest left starring at “entries closed” screen. Lesson learnt! We re-routed some horses to East Byshe Arena & XC which turned up to be a great venue with a mixture of XC jumps and show – jumps in a superb, spacious arena.

Sasha & Boo and Sofija & Jasper
Jazzy loves playing in water jumps 🙂 

Everyone (including my mad Springer) always has an awesome time although I must say I enjoy it all the most once it’s all over and horses and riders are all safe and sound relaxing during a de-brief chat 😉


Lou & Robyn 
Kate & Jack
Paige & Oscar

Our next trip is to RAF Halton Sponsored Ride  at the end of March. If you are based at a lovely venue in Berks/Oxon/Middlesex/Hampshire/Surrey available for hire or know of one you’d love to recommend give us a shout in the comments – we are always on the look out for interesting places to train at!

To Aspire riders: all the above and many more images are available for purchase from Christine so if you’d like to grab any, please chat with her when you see her on the yard or email her via www.cdphotos.co.uk 🙂 

TACKROOM CHAT WITH: Robert Fowler from Castle Horse Feeds. Part 1: The basics, the obvious and the less obvious truths on feeding horses.

By Mairi Mackay www.mairimackay.com


Feeding your horse can seem like a complex business and can be hard to know where to start with all the different brands on the market.

At Aspire we’ve been using Smart Horse Nutrition to feed our horses with really good results, and the last time expert Robert Fowler from producer Castle Horse Feeds came to drop off some bags he agreed to sit down with us for a chat.

We talked about everything from how horses have evolved to whether or not to use supplements and why it’s important to learn to read a feed label.


Aspire: Let’s start with the basics: What are the key things horse owners should bear in mind when feeding their horses?

Robert Fowler: The most important part of any horse’s diet is the forage it gets because that’s by far the biggest part of it. Everyone gets really excited and focuses in on two kilos a day of the food that they are feeding in the bucket and too many people ignore the other 80% or 90% of the horse’s diet. All you are doing in the bucket is topping up what your forage or your grazing [isn’t providing that] your horse needs — whether it’s growing, whether it’s working or whether it’s just maintenance.

So, most of the focus of the feeding should be on forage, not on that last little bit of food that’s going into the bucket. That’s the most important thing. So many horses could just do really well on really good forage and a balancer for vitamins and minerals. All these other fancy feeds are for horses who need more energy for work or more energy for condition.

Aspire: When you talk about forage, you mean hay, haylage and what they are eating in the field?

RF: Yes, you’ve got to take that whole part as the forage part of their diet and for a lot of horses that satisfies their maintenance. You should be really obsessive about forage. Nutritionist[s]…look at everything the horse is eating, not just the little bit that [they’re] designing for it. If you want to have any idea of what to give your horse, you have to know what he’s already getting.

Aspire: How can you know if your horse is getting the right nutritional value?

You’ve got to understand whether [the temperature is] minus 20 or plus 20, you’ve got to understand whether the horse is working, you’ve got to understand all those different things that come into it. Because basically your horse and it’s condition is a very simple proposition: You’ve got energy going in, you’ve got energy coming out. Now, if the horse is getting more energy than it requires, it puts weight on, if it’s getting less energy than it requires, it loses weight. It’s as simple as that in a healthy horse.


If you want a horse to put weight on you want to feed it more energy than it’s expending. Now, is it expending that energy because it’s cold — it’s clipped and it hasn’t got enough rugs on? Is it expending that energy because you’re riding it for two hours a day and it’s using more energy than is going in? Again, on fat horses, if you’ve got a fat horse, it’s getting too much energy and you’re not getting enough energy out. It really is that simple.

Aspire: Where do things like a horse being a “good” or “bad” doer come into it?

RW: That comes down to their genetics. Certain genetic makeup of a horse makes it more able to get more nutrition out of a given feed than another horse. That’s really where that [phrase comes from]. If you think of native ponies and some of…my wife has Lusitano horses, they are really, really good at extracting maximum nutrients and energy out of given feedstuffs [and much better] than other horses are. So, it is really the genetic makeup of the horse that predisposes it to being a good doer or a bad doer.

Aspire: One of the perennial debates in the horse world is how often you should feed your horse each day. What’s your advice on this?


RW: You’ve got to think about what your horse is and how it has evolved. Your horse has evolved to be a trickle feeder. It’s a hindgut digester, so its whole physiology is suited to having feed in its system all the time. It’s not a meal-eater at all — it should be having forage all the time.

If you look at a horse, every part of its digestive system denotes that it is meant to be chewing all the time: its teeth grow constantly throughout its life, so therefore it’s expecting to be chewing all the time and grinding those surfaces down … our teeth don’t grow, so we’re meal-eaters. A horse is expecting to be eating for 17, 18, 19 hours a day so it is expecting to have quite a high wear and tear on its teeth.

It has a very small stomach because it is expecting food to be coming in and out of there. It’s not expecting half a bucket-full of oats to arrive in its stomach at any one time. It also has a very short small intestine — which is where it digests starch and sugars — so it’s saying [that] it’s not expecting to come across much starch and sugar … [which are] are digested through being broken down by enzymes in the small intestine.

It’s expecting the bulk of its food to be digested in the hindgut. It relies on microbes to digest fibre, so the fibre and everything that it has evolved to eat lands in the hindgut for the microbes to break down. They break fibre down into volatile fatty acids which go into the horse and are stored and the rest is…history.

Aspire: So, how does all that translate into how to think about feeding your horse?

RW: The ideal for a horse would be to have a fully formatted diet where he eats over 18 hours a day. The next [best] way to feed horses would be to break up what they need through probably 20 hours of the day…Then you are all the way down to… well, if you are just having a balancer then having half a kilo of balancer is not too bad to be fed over one or two times [a day] but you really don’t want to go over feed sizes of a kilo to a kilo and a half because the horse’s stomach is only the size of a rugby ball. Smaller is better.

Aspire: Should horse owners add supplements to their horses’ feeds?

RW: I personally wouldn’t use any vitamin or mineral supplements. You would expect to get that from a quality feed. [If] you are feeding a balancer — and when that’s fed at half a kilo a day — that should supply all the vitamins and minerals and probably digestive aids that your horse needs along with a good, well thought through plan for your horse … based on forage, which it should be…

The only other thing I would look at is an electrolyte for hard-working horses and … a joint supplement [as a] belt-and-braces thing. I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in most of the joint supplements out there because if you look at how they work and how they are absorbed in the horse, I’m not sure that there is good enough evidence to prove that they get there.


Aspire: If a horse owner wants advice about feeding to protect a horse’s joints or the condition of their hooves, who would you suggest they talk to?

RW: I would suggest they talk to a nutritionist from one of the feed companies. [If you are] feeding [your horse] a quality feed you shouldn’t have any hoof issues. So, are there other things going on with your horse that are not right? The basics are: If you are looking at feet, you want your horse to be eating about 15mg of biotin a day. Is your balancer or feed providing that, along with some quality zinc.

Again, minerals are quite important — [as is] the form that they are in. With the Castle/Smart brands, we’re moving towards only using chelated minerals. That means they are more bio-available. You want to avoid oxides and sulphates of minerals because that means they are man-made basically and they are a cheaper form.

Aspire: Any last thoughts on feeding for owners?

RW: [What] I would say to horse owners is just remember that you’ve got a half ton of … animal with lots of complex things going on in their body. Remember how they’ve evolved and what they are. Feeding is really simple. Don’t get caught up with all these latest branded things. Try and learn how to read a feed label to see what that feed is delivering. If it’s got high energy and high starch then all that energy is coming from cereals. If it’s got high energy, high oil, low starch then it’s a much safer feed to feed to your horse. It’s more what your horse has evolved to eat.


This interview has been carefully edited for clarity and readability.

Huge thank you to Christine Dunnington for capturing moments throughout! www.cdphotos.co.uk