Gridwork: “Staircase” exercise

By Wiola Grabowska

Caitlin Thorpe on Nugget
Sofija Dubianskaja on Jack

Who for

Really good exercise for both young/inexperienced and older, more experienced horses as well as riders learning to jump.

Blog sofija1
Sofija and Jack. You can watch them in action over this exercise on our Instagram video: Sofija and Jack

Benefits for the horse

  • improves athleticism & reaction time
  • encourages the flexion and “tucking in” of the pelvis to produce a better bascule over the jump over time
  • quickens reactions of “slow” horses
  • encourages thinking and focus in “quick” horses

Benefits for the rider

  • focuses the rider on straightness on the approach and in the grid
  • improves the jumping seat as it magnifies any issues like unstable lower leg, busy upper body, fixed hand, stiff knees, overall anxious behaviour between the jumps to name a few
  • teaches the rider to stay out of the way of the jumping horse
  • is fun!
collage Caitlin and Nugget
Caitlin and Nugget. An ex-racehorse, Nugget has a very different jumping style to Jack, is slower through the grid and with repetition this exercise can be very useful for him to help him jump less hollow and with quicker reaction time. For Caitlin it was a great exercise to improve her jump seat. To see them on video, check Aspire Instagram here: Caitlin and Nugget

The set up

You’ll need three jumps of which the first and the last can be in form of cavaletti as they won’t be changing heights and should be kept low (60cm is plenty).

The distances between the jumps are bounce distances and need to again be adjusted to individual horse. I usually set mine at 3.5m.

Caitlin and Nugget 2

In this exercise you don’t want to be increasing the distance but it can be beneficial to shorten it to encourage a more experienced horse to work harder.

The middle jump can be adjusted in height to suit the experience of the horse and rider but should be higher than the other two to create a “staircase” like effort. Or think of dolphins jumping in and out of the sea 😉

If you do go for a higher middle jump (like I set for Jack and Sofija) don’t additionally shorten the distances because a bigger jump produced by the horse will automatically land him closer to the next element.

Have fun 🙂

Jack landing

Schooling a “difficult” horse – defence, vulnerability, trial and error

By Wiola Grabowska
I had this post in a draft form for some weeks now but wasn’t sure if to post it. It’s tricky to make oneself clear on a wide subject such as this one. However, last week’s message from the owner of the pony featured here made me think that perhaps I should just tweak the content and let the post go live…

Last week I received a message from an owner of a pony I’d been schooling twice a week for about a year and a half. The pony was seen by his regular physiotherapist and for the first time since we started his “getting better programme” there was nothing specific for the physio to work on. It’s the sort of message I was hoping for since taking the pony on as he’d been one of the more “difficult” cases I have ever worked with.

April19th – stretching after canter work

The meaning of “difficult”…

What I mean by difficult here has nothing to do with the pony being dangerous. The difficulty lied in the fact he had (and still has but we will get to this later) so many ingrained defence mechanisms that most exercises or even simple things like trotting or cantering around the arena in a balanced posture, were impossible for him. Thankfully, he is a small pony as the extent of his crookedness and evasions in the decent size horse would be a much harder task to tackle.

At the time we met, Jack was a strongly inverted, incredibly one-sided with very high neck carriage, fairly spooky and quite anxious pony in the arena but very loveable on the ground, very people oriented and despite his issues, very willing to “do something”.

Getting the basics right

For about a year I worked him with emphasis on relaxation and straightness with combination of ridden and in-hand work and together with his owner doing her best to match all I was doing and the physio helping us re-educate his odd movement patterns, we made a fairly good progress.

The true breakthrough in my work with him though came when I realised the extent of his defence patterns.

Making mistakes

About six months ago, I had an incredible ride on Jack. I was riding him a bit more for a couple of weeks and at some point it was as if he said, ok I get it, you do this I do that, I relax my back you sit quiet. I said to Jack’s owner that wow, I think we fixed the canter.

But then I made a mistake – I expected him to pick up in the next session from how we left off. Even though I know full well not to ever do that. It was a costly mistake but one that eventually led me to discover how deep the problem sat and what I needed to do about it. This kind of get it – lose it game is part of the reason I encourage all the riders to experiment and make mistakes because without them there is no learning, just military drilling.

“Defence – the action of defending from or resisting attack”

Jack with his owner at my Intensive Training Camp – end of April 2017

I pushed his schooling on and lost him for some weeks again but I had my answer. “Schooling posture”/Dressage posture (however you want to call it)  is for a horse a vulnerable posture. It’s a posture and a way of moving where the horse allows the rider to influence and instigate change. It’s relaxed yet active. How often would you allow someone else to tell you what and how to do something? How to move your legs? How to hold your head?

Dressage posture is everything but flight readiness which is Jack’s preferred option.

In our own social interactions vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. In simpler, less dramatic terms this can mean allowing someone to see that we want and need them in our life, and trusting them not to hurt us. The horse needs us to help them move better with us on their back but it also needs some level of confidence to believe we are going to be fair. I don’t mean to anthropomorphise horses but we are humans after all and comparisons can help get the head around a problem.

Some horses are very trusting and being vulnerable comes at what seems a small price. So small in fact we don’t ever think about “offending them”. Others seem to see everything we do on them as an attack and that is more of a Jack’s mentality.

The solution

I needed to be absolutely consistent and confident in everything I did with him from rein connection to amount of impulsion. No chancing, no random aids, no random questions. It seems obvious but if you think about it, how many times do we ask the horse to “go” in EXACTLY the same way? How many times do our left leg acts PRECISELY in the same way in every single step of a leg yield? How many times do we stop for a moment and ask for that halt EXACTLY the same? It’s the kind of focus riders at top level have but not when pleasure riding a 13.2hh pony 😉

I don’t have a grand prix rider body control nor the skills to repeat every movement exactly the same but the moment I became aware of the extent of the problem, I started seeing his reactions differently and came up with different ways of dealing with them.

I do realise that this mental side of training is often disregarded in many “horse training” articles or is considered a “soft” approach and somewhat inferior if we train for “sport”. If you do have a “difficult” horse that you think is in turn making your life difficult, it might help to look at how he might be perceiving the aids. Physical defence is what the rider is fighting but it starts way deeper than the skin and muscles level…

Jack is a work in progress and simply realising how to train further doesn’t mean he is “fixed”. He will never be as dependable under pressure as some less sensitive and less defensive horses but I am happy he is comfortable in himself now and gives both the owner, myself and his sharer plenty of good rides 🙂

Length of stirrups – how to choose it and why. PART 1: SHOW JUMPING

By Wiola Grabowska

For every horse, saddle type and rider there exist an optimum length of stirrups that brings the best out of the rider’s seat. For anyone who ever experimented with riding at various stirrup lengths will know that some options give better ability to follow movement, stay with it, stay secure, stay out of the horse’s way and let the horse do the job well.

Gemma and Ozzy jump
Gem and Ozzy – she generally likes to jump on a longer side and loses the security of the lower leg at times but a good result here bar her lower leg moving back a little too much which can mean some difficulty and delay in gathering the canter back together on landing. Photo credit: Christine Dunnington 

Even for riders’ with zero interest in the biomechanics of the seat it will be clear when their reaction time is quicker, their back more supple, their joints more able to absorb movement, muscles more engaged where they need to be and more relaxed where they need to be.

Having said that, the below views on stirrups length are drawn from my own teaching of hundreds of riders according to my own preferred riding styles so it might not suit everyone 🙂


For relaxed, athletic experience, a jumping rider needs a decent range of motion in the seat. By that I mean:

  • conditions for a comfortable three point/full seat that is a little “lighter” than a full dressage seat but always able to have full influence on the horse’s balance (used when bringing the horse’s centre of gravity back in front of the jump for example)
  • conditions for a two point/light seat/”jumping position” – the seat where the rider is able to comfortably stay out of the saddle without compromising own balance and suppleness
  • conditions for supple, calm, balanced actual jump seat on take off, flight and landing that allows the horse to perform an uninterrupted jump
  • able to quickly yet calmly change between this three as and when needed

In the below video, which I put together for another post (you can read it HERE), you can see me riding an unknown horse over a few jumps from 1m to about 1m20/25. You can see that as I learn to find the right canter to each jump that will suit that horse our take off points change but I have enough security through my seat to be able to follow the horse reasonably well each time.

I often see riders riding quite long and struggling with effortless jump seat. If you are a Novice rider learning to jump, stirrups on a longer side, the length that you might hack in for example, are a good call. They give you a little more basic stability overall in case things don’t go to plan as you have “more of your legs” around the horse and you are only likely to be jumping small fences.

Shorter stirrups do come with more of an “eject” mode in case of trouble (as your legs come higher up and have less ability to hold) but to me, they are the preferred option for a more advanced rider. Shorter stirrup length helps close the hip and knee joints which can then open swiftly on the take off without unnecessary throwing of the upper body forwards (no leg work = upper body work to compensate). The “quieter” the seat, the better the jump.

I often hear riders saying about having an “unlucky pole down” but I was always taught that 99% of the time, there’s no such thing as an unlucky pole. Unless the jump wasn’t adjusted properly after another horse knocked it a bit or perhaps strong wind blew etc, there was something in the way the rider approached the jump or how the horse behaved in the air that threw that pole. The air time can be very much improved by the rider staying out of the horse’s part of the job.

Finding your own anatomically friendly “jumping angles” comes via trial and error. What might be visually correct, might not work in practice so it’s important to keep experimenting. Different shapes of the horse’s ribcage, different styles and shapes of the saddle and the size of the horse overall will all determine how to adjust the stirrup length.

To sum up, when assessing the rider’s stirrups length for jumping I look at:

  • their riding experience/skill

  • whether they can easily go into light seat and stay in it without problems in halt,walk,trot and canter for several minutes.

  • whether they can sit in the saddle in trot and canter and still have good command of the horse’s way of going (without unnecessary tension through their body)

  • whether they can happily change between the above seats every few strides when asked





Breeding My Little Mare of a Lifetime. Part 4: She’s Here!

Royaldik x Tilly – bay filly with three white socks born early morning on the 19th May 2017. 


From Wiola


meeting tillys babyIt’s been such a privilege to see this little foal today. When Tilly and I met for the first time in the early 2006, I had no idea she will play a big part in my life. At the time, she was my working partner. Amazing one, but one of a good few. We taught hundreds of people to ride a few times a week for several years.
Some of these people became life long friends I still keep in touch with.
Tilly and I lost contact for a few years and little did I know we would meet again in 2015, that she would yet again become an invaluable teaching partner to me, that she would bring more wonderful people into my life and make many dreams come true.
Thank you Tilly for fantastic friends and for unforgettable moments.

Kelly Tilly and filly

Thank you Kelly for sharing this incredible journey on here, and thank you Mairi for helping me put it together.

Lots of love xx


Tilly collage1


Read the whole story from choosing the stallion to today: Breeding My Little Horse of a Lifetime 

PHOTOGRAPHY: Kelly Hill, Gemma Hill and Christine Dunnington Photography 

Grooming for a Show Rider at Royal Windsor Horse Show

By Aisha H. Lama

Grooming at events has always been the most exciting part of my equine career. So how could I turn down the opportunity to groom at one of the most prestigious and diverse horse shows in the world? I’m of course talking about the Royal Windsor Horse Show.


I have been doing freelance work for Lizzie Oseman for around 2 years now, mainly doing yard work and preparing for shows. I have always admired the beauty and vast amount of ribbons, sashes and photos which are hung with pride, as they should be, around both the house and tack room. Lizzie currently has 2 horses which she shows- Rags is a young horse and not very experienced in the showing world, whereas Turbo is an old hand and knows his job inside out!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a morning person at all so when the alarm went off at 4am it took me a snooze or five to actually get me out of bed! However, once I had woken up and was on my way to Lizzie’s house I felt so excited for the day ahead. When getting to the yard I quickly whizzed out her two ponies and then mucked out Turbo’s stable. As it was my first show I was shadowing Lizzie’s lovely groom Leanne who was incredibly patient, kind and answered all my questions throughout the day! We only had Turbo to take to Windsor as Rags had stayed at a showing yard the previous night.


We left the house a little late but luckily, we had a quick journey and arrived just after 7. Already there were spectators arriving and plenty of competitors were there as well. Rags was in the Novice Cob’s Class at 8am and he was up waiting for us at the warm up ring. The walk up to the warm up was really quite exciting, we had to walk by some amazing looking lorries, the river and past all the stables as well as past some quite beautiful horses of course! The warm up arena was full of beautiful cobs, absolutely immaculate with not a hair out of place. Around the outside of the warm up there were the final touches being made to all the horses, extra hoof oil, final brush offs, boot cleans and quarter markers- which should definitely be classed as fine art!


Entering the arena there were around 20 competitors in this class, and what Rags lacked in experience he sure made up in presence. He had a real spark in his eye and ears were pricked the whole time! He looked great and I think he enjoyed the attention from the spectators around the arena. Once the competitors had all showed walk, trot, canter and gallop they were bought into line to begin the judges ride. The horses were pulled in in the judge’s preference and Rags was around 11th in line. The judge was a kind rider and gave each horse a pat at the end of each ride. When it came to Rag’s turn he looked like he gave her a nice smooth ride although he was a little confused about one of the changes of rein, however gave her a super balanced gallop and had his ears forward the whole time!

Once the judge had ridden, the groom for the rider (Lizzie shared with the lady who runs the yard Rag’s stayed at) takes the saddle off and gives them a quick final polish before the 2nd judge looks at the horse’s conformation and trot up. Rags stood very well while the judge looked at him and was perfectly behaved while Lizzie trotted him up.


Once all the horses had been ridden and looked at, all competitors walked around the arena while the judges conferred about what they felt/saw. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be for Rags that day and he missed out on the placings but we were all super proud on how well behaved he was and how stunning he looked! However, he had won the in-hand coloureds the day before so he didn’t leave Windsor empty handed 😊

We gave Rags a sponge off and a drink before loading him onto the lorry with a well-deserved haynet. We had until 12:30 till Mr T’s class so I spent the hour or so spare thoroughly reading the souvenir programme, and I have to say I learnt so much about the Household Cavalry, Driving and

Showing! Turbo came off the lorry and it soon occurred we had so much to do in very little time! He had been bathed and thoroughly groomed at home so now was just time to add the finishing touches. Blackening the black, whitening the white, polishing the ears, eyes and muzzle, smoothing the mane and tail and of course hoof oiling! Once he was tacked up and Lizzie was on board, I stayed with Rags to make sure he settled with Turbo leaving and once I was happy he was relaxed (he was falling asleep bless him!) I walked up to the warm up to meet Lizzie and Leanne.

Turbo and Lizzie have a lovely bond together- he is constantly listening to what she is asking and focusing on the job in hand. Before the class (Heavyweight Cobs) Lizzie gets Turbo’s, quarter markers done and they looked perfect. In arena, he looked completely at home and not fazed by the number of spectators around the outside or the busy and exciting atmosphere the showground had. He has been to many big horse shows multiple times including HOYS and Hickstead so is used to the whole routine. Lizzie was one of the few Amateurs in the class but they both looked up to the mark from my point of view! In the original pull in they were pulled in around 10th but Turbo gave the judge a lovely ride and didn’t put a foot wrong. He was re pulled in at 7th and the smile on both of their faces was just heart-warming.


Lizzie was super pleased with both her boys and they both deserved the pack of polos I split between them! Showing was a completely new experience for me and I learnt an awful lot. I’m so grateful to Lizzie for being so great to work for and to Leanne for giving me all the help I needed, and of course to the two beautiful horses who behaved perfectly. A wonderful day out all round!

Jump training – dressing the jumps

By Wiola Grabowska

This must be one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of transforming your plain jumps set into a proper colour and pattern challenge!


We’ve dressed several jumps with the Jumpstack and been using the covered bales for all sorts of jumping exercises both ridden and on the ground.

The covers for the bales made fantastic fillers, you just need a good tape to secure the openings as if your jumps are outdoors, the stickers that come with the covers won’t be strong enough to stay on.

The pole covers are great for transforming plain poles and do a super job used on raised poles as horses being vary of them, pick their feet up neatly.

We are looking into adding some yellow and green patterns now. It makes training interesting and helps the horses get used to variety of different jumping challenges. I find some fillers are more of a rider’s frighteners so it helps the riders to become accustomed to jumping more than simple poles.

The covered bales are also very handy for creating gymnastic set ups like small grids to work on technique – improving quality of the canter and rider’s position.

When used for groundwork, they provide a low level distraction for the horse  habituating him/her to situations where they need to ignore slight worry and go forwards when asked.

Photo: Christine Dunnington 

To purchase the bale covers and more, see

Foal Watch Continues

Warning: This blog post includes images of a mare’s vulva to illustrate normal foaling behaviour.

Tilly 15th May 2017
15th May 2017

Tilly isn’t looking impressed with a beautiful sunrise this morning…

Relaxation of the vulva

– Within the last 24-48 hours before foaling the mares vulva can be observed to swell and relax in preparation to stretching several times it’s normal size to allow passage of the foal. Read more at

Tilly birth signs
Photo on the right is this morning (15th May 2017)

A little Before & After fun with Ferris & Mojo

By Wiola Grabowska

Blog Mojo and Ferris
Mojo, owned by Kelly Hill – 8 years old AES Gelding, backed later in life and bought from the field in November 2016. Ferris, owned by Emma Brinkworth – 11 years old Thoroughbred, ex-steeplechaser, purchased in 2016 and rested in the field.

Biggest bonus of taking regular photos and videos is that we can go back and look at all the stages of development both in the horse and the rider. Whilst it is fun to compare and see the difference over time, it is also a good lesson when working with the next horse and rider.

Important thing to note here is that both Ferris and Mojo are owned by experienced, competent riders with a lot of riding feel and ability to act on many “green moments”.  They are both challenging in the best possible way, trainable yet with good own instincts  and I think we have a good understanding of what we want to achieve through working together. I do think this is important in any coaching situation.

Top photo: 29th April 2017. Aspire Equestrian Intensive Training Camp. Bottom photo: 22nd November 2016, first time Kelly rode Mojo with me.
18423172_10154913337537659_3523620804756792767_o (1)
Bottom photos: Emma’s first lesson with me on Ferris 8th March 2017 and Ferris’ first flatwork session under the saddle since his “let down time”. Top two photos: 14th May 2017. Ferris being ridden by one of my young riders, Sasha Eastabrook.

Both Mojo and Ferris work in-hand regularly. Ferris with myself and Mojo with Kelly in lessons and individually. I believe it helps hugely with the horses’ understanding of training and its demands, both physically and mentally.

These comparisons shots are not to show what can be done in a short space of time because with a learner ride, the same horse might take five, six sometimes ten times longer to reach similar level of improvement.  However, this is a fun way of showing that regular training without any gadgets brings good results with seemingly ordinary horses.

I believe that wellness oriented training makes any horse more beautiful, athletic and able and I love being part of the process of getting there 🙂

Both of these horses are a work in progress. Don’t be fooled or discouraged as there are many not so perfect moments happening in their every day training 🙂 They are still learning, building the right muscles and gaining experiences. Hopefully in another several months time they will have learnt to move with even more balance, suppleness and spring in their steps!

Baby Due Today!

By Wiola Grabowska

Read Tilly’s baby story by Kelly Hill HERE

There seems to be just a few inches between where Tilly’s huge, broad belly ends and the ground starts. She has that tired yet peaceful expression that varies between lightly annoyed with any attention to thoughtfully disinterested.

The due date is today but Kelly says there’s nothing in particular that makes tonight different as far as Tilly’s appearance or labour signs go.

Her pony companion keeps her alert and in fact, the only time when Tilly shows some energetic reaction is when she loses sight of Rosie.

Due today…🐴 #royaldik #horsesofinstagram #royaldikbaby #beautifulevening #horses #mareinfoal #duetoday

A post shared by Wiola Grabowska (@aspireequestrian) on May 13, 2017 at 11:22am PDT


She eats her dinner slowly, deliberately. The sun is warm on her back. The evening is beautiful, calm, filled with bird songs and a fresh breeze. You might say, a perfect evening for a new life to arrive 🙂

For all updates on Tilly’s story see:

***TAKEN!*** Rare Opportunity! Amber – Fabulous pony available for Training Share with the Academy




Available for training share with the Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy, Amber is a fabulous all-round schoolmistress who is safe and fun, well travelled, well schooled and turns her hoof at anything from dressage, through show-jumping to cross-country.

Ideally, we are looking for someone who: 

  • is looking for all-round coaching 1-3 x a week (lessons at the yard in Northolt UB5)
  • would like to attend Academy’s training outings, events and Camps with this special pony
  • 10 years or older (weight limit: 8.5st)
  • would like to become part of the team with Amber and develop their riding and horsemanship skills

We are offering: 

  • Academy livery (full-livery) at Northolt with Kelly looking after her
  • Weekly lessons with Wiola at Northolt (up to 3 lessons a week possible)
  • Opportunity to take part in variety of training options outside the yard

Please contact Wiola for further details on