EQUESTRIAN START UP – a real story as it happens…INTRODUCTION

By Wiola Grabowska 

This blog series follows a story of two freelancers  – a livery manager/groom/rider and a riding instructor with a coaching programme who thought it might be a good idea to join forces and set up a company with a vision beyond what’s achievable by oneself. The trick is – neither of them is that good at business…What can possibly go wrong?  

Start Up - intro photo

There is one problem with Red Lion Pub & Restaurant in Handcross, West Sussex. They don’t have 0% Kopparberg. I could probably get the alcoholic one but when you are about to spend a couple of hours with a business consultant and you have zero tolerance for alcohol, it isn’t advisable. Especially when following ins and outs of business details is difficult enough on a bottle of sparkling water.

I get still water for Kelly (apparently sparkling water is a no go for her). She’s the livery head honcho in this story. My name’s Wiola and I am the instructor in this story. In 2010 I set up a coaching programme which I named Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. I freelanced happily for several years, loved every minute of it until I realised that if I wanted to do a bit more and reach some goals I had in mind, I needed a business partner to rent a yard with.

There followed a couple of years of many very bad decisions, debts and difficulties which does happen if you know very little about real life business. Return to solo freelancing felt good. For a while. Until it didn’t and my unfounded entrepreneurial drive, that I have god knows from where (my self employed parents most likely 😉 ) and which is supported by minimal knowledge of only what I don’t know, have returned.

In 2015 I contacted as many people as I knew, including various former colleagues at numerous riding schools and livery yards I worked at, to find the right set up to grow the Academy at. I gave a few options a go for a while until eventually focusing most efforts on one location in West London where Kelly suggested my young rider could loan her mare. I knew the horse as I taught on her previously and I knew Kelly from a busy London riding school we both worked at years before. Apparently, best chances of survival have those business ventures that are formed by former colleagues. That gives us one thing ticked off on a long list of theoretical successful business must-dos 😉

Our plan is to bring together our respective skills to create a fairly unique livery service, a small coaching centre focused on equestrian grassroots sports otherwise known as lower levels of Dressage, Show Jumping and Eventing as well as a few more services of which I will write more in due time.

We drove to West Sussex for this meeting because there’s one thing to just do something and another to do something very well. I’ve done my fair share of just giving it all a go. You don’t need to be an expert in running a horse business to know that profit margins in this industry are low, rates and bills are high and many livery yards close down because they can’t break even despite owners working their butts off 24/7. Most horse people are exactly that. Fantastic horse people. They are not business people.

So here we are.  The horse people in the trenches with an idea. We don’t know how this will end but we thought it might be interesting to share our journey. I’ll try to make sure the account of it is honest and transparent and I hope there won’t be too many embarrassing details!

If you run a successful yard already and would like to share some of your know-how with us, let us know. We would love to road trip to you or just chat online with you, maybe even blog about you. 

Until very soon!

Wiola

 

Time to grow the Academy! Don’t miss the new training places available… Place 1 of 3 – with training share of Oscar on Development Programme.

Earlier this year I decided to open several more places on the Academy programmes and it’s time to invite further 3 riders to join us! Place one – with Oscar.

Meet Oscar, 16.1hh, 6 year old Irish Sports Horse gelding owned by Paige Burford. 

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Oscar is a young horse with a history of a few serious injuries which means he requires sympathetic and thorough approach to training in order to help him develop further. He can be straightforward to ride on his good day and might need more rider’s guidance on his weaker days. He can be quirky but his behaviour is not dangerous, it is more of a schooling quirkiness than violent playfulness.

Rider Profile for this training place: 

Oscar is available for the rider ready to join our Development Programme i.e. one who:

  • is aware of natural crookedness of every horse and how this affects their performance;
  • has stable basic seat in walk, trot and canter, stable light seat over poles/cavalleti and is happy jumping small jumps (2’6 to 3ft)
  • has a calm and patient attitude to schooling
  • has plenty of curiosity about how to help a horse work to its best and has a strong desire to learn more about schooling for soundness and longevity
  • is confident enough to be able to remain relaxed and calm when dealing with horse’s balance and straightness issues like falling in and out on turns and circles (no need to be gang – ho, simply being confident in own seat and balance is all Oscar needs)
  • loves solving schooling puzzles!
  • loves training and taking young horses out and about to learn more about life and compete from time to time at grassroots levels of dressage and/or jumping.

Oscar schooling

Full offer: 

  • weekly lessons (more frequent training options also available)
  • opportunity to take Oscar to training trips (lessons at variety of venues – flatwork, jumping, XC)
  • Intensive Training Camps
  • shows

How it Works

All Academy training for riders without own horses (or wanting to join in without own horse) is based on riders loaning or sharing suitable horses at the venue the training takes place. Availability of training places depends on availability of those horses. More information on our website http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com. Please have a look around before contacting us so you can familiarise yourself with the coaching offer and decide if it’s for you. Happy to answer any questions and queries anytime 🙂 

XC 2Oscar XC 1

 

Available from: 1st July 2017

Minimum training commitment required: 3 months (but priority given to riders interested in long term training adventures)

Location: Northolt, West London/Middlesex (UB5)

Costs: 

Monthly loan/share: £80

Lessons: £40/lesson (minimum 4 lessons a month)

JOIN US 🙂 Please contact Wiola at aspire@outlook.com if you would like to organise a visit, meet Oscar and discuss the opportunity further. 

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Leo’s Barefoot Transition: Day 1-3

By Wiola Grabowska
If you don’t know Leo’s story please see HERE and HERE as some of the below will make more sense if you know why I have Leo…

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Snoozing in his stable after night turn out. Last day with hind shoes. If you look closely, you’ll see he has no shoe on his right fore but that’s because he twisted it the day before and I had to remove it.

Even though Leo arrived to live with me in most dreadful circumstances, I feel privileged to have him. He became a big part of my life and whilst I had some plans for him at the beginning, they evolved and changed. Right now, he’s my “learning together” horse. With my keen interest in biomechanics and rehabilitation, he is helping me learn about movement, soundness and together we are testing different groundwork therapies/in-hand work.

Some of you will have heard of Kingsley, a horse that opened my eyes to knowledge I was oblivious to prior having him and whose 2010/11 barefoot transition journey can be followed on Rockley Farm Blog. Him and Nic Barker has inspired me to learn about hoofcare every day ever since.

In contrast to Kingsley, Leo is sound and happy in low level, hacking work which is all I realistically have the time for. As far as I know, he had been shod all his life.

Why am I taking his shoes off then? 

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Leo’s last full set 9th May 2017. Farrier: Jack Boardman Awcf

As most good farriers I had a pleasure chatting with about hoofcare have always said, shoes weaken horses feet.

Everything about horses’ management have progressed at a speed of light from some top spec materials used for rugs, numnahs, boots to bedding we use for them, to the way we feed them, to the science of saddle fitting and saddle design. Pretty much everything has changed. Except hoofcare. We shod horses in Xenophon times (c. 430–354 BC) for war purposes and we still shoe them with metal shoes in 2017…So amazing or so insane? I don’t claim to know but having ridden (sound) barefoot horses I know that there’s a different level of suppleness, fluidity, body awareness and dexterity to their movement that I have never felt on a shod horse. It is true that sometimes, shoes can change the movement to more extravagant and I have seen this happen but I don’t personally consider that a positive as far as soundness and longevity of the horse goes.

So why am I doing this with Leo?

Mostly to learn more. To help him have the healthiest, soundest life I can give him, to test if his movement patterns improve (he has slight pelvis asymmetry), to see how his feet change and what impact will this have on him overall, to understand further the benefit of improved proprioception on the rest of the body biomechanics.

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Leo’s last full set 9th May 2017. Farrier: Jack Boardman Awcf

5 weeks before…

In preparation for his shoes coming off I put Leo on Key-3 Oil by Keyflow for its Linseed oil and recommended joint care benefit. My reason for this is that hooves are incredibly dynamic and change in ways I have never imagined possible (you can watch Kingsley’s hoof changes on Rockley’s Farm blog I linked above as Nic kept a good record of those) but from what I gather, joints must have a harder time to adjust to those fast changes. Any person with some kind of foot issue will know how using different shoes can cause plethora of aches and pains in every joint as well as back/neck. As Leo is otherwise healthy and is fed a handful of high fibre nuts by Castle Horse Feeds simply so I have something to put his supplements in and so he has his “I had breakfast and dinner fix” , I have not changed his diet that much. He is on hay during the day and night turn out from about 3pm until 8am.

In the lead up to the transition I worked him for 30 min 5 days a week hacking around the fields and on the roads mostly focusing on hill work. I didn’t want him to be too fit as I knew I will be giving him a few weeks off ridden work once his shoes were removed.

I also treated his feet daily with Red Horse Sole Cleanse.

Day 1 -3 (21st June – 23rd June 2017)

Leo Barefoot Transition
The even heel bulbs foot is his right hind, the unbalanced one is the left hind. Side shots are Day 2, the rest Day 1. Fronts are shod. 

As I mentioned above, I had to remove Leo’s front shoe the day before Jack was due to come to shoe him. As I walked him to the field over some stoney patch of ground I thought he would be footy but he wasn’t in the slightest. Out of curiosity I walked him around some more stones and he couldn’t care less. That’s when I decided to keep his feed unchanged for now and just ordered Pro Feet broad spectrum mineral balancer to add to current feed.

From all the adventures with Kingsley and other barefoot horses I have looked after, I know diet is the key, it is all much more eloquently explained HERE . I am looking into other feeds and considering what to put him on but for the moment, he seems fine so I won’t change anything until end of summer.

Why not in the winter…

There seem to be a common advice to transition in the winter when the ground is soft. I personally found winter second hardest of seasons (after spring) to keep a barefoot horse sound.

My main reasons for transitioning in the summer: 

  • long, night turn out – grass is much “safer” at night (sugar levels drop). Hooves need movement to grow healthy. In the summer, Leo gets about 17 hours of turn out while in the winter, about 7h.
  • light evenings for roadwork (contrary to popular belief that barefoot horses shouldn’t do much roadwork, they indeed do. It helps hugely with self trimming and soundest barefoot horses I have seen and ridden are the most hard working ones )
  • this might be my personal experience only but I find dry ground means less bacterial infections (abscesses), less problems with white line disease and thrush
  • perfect weather for hacking on variety of surfaces to condition the hooves
  • more time to dedicate to the whole process

Farrier or trimmer

I decided to stay with Leo’s current farrier to help me with the transition. He understands the importance of minimal trimming and have done a great job with two other fully barefoot horses where Leo lives so I see no reason to change right now.

Plan for the next 2 weeks

Week 1: Turn out only, no work. Until Wednesday 28th June I am letting Leo figure out the changes by himself. I continue the Sole Cleanse daily and just keep monitoring him for any signs of discomfort. So far he acts as if nothing has changed!

Week 2: I will start introducing short sessions of non-ridden exercise on variety of surfaces starting with smooth tarmac and waxed sand surface of the arena and see how he copes. No plans beyond that as taking each week as it comes.

Please note: mine and Leo’s experience I will share on here is as individual as any other horse is. This is not a “how to go barefoot” blog but simply a diary of this particular horse’s transition. If you are after a more in-depth guidance please visit http://rockleyfarm.blogspot.co.uk/p/hoofcare-essentials.html 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanted: An allrounder schoolmaster for one of the Academy riders

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Mairi and her current loan boy, Gilly. Gilly’s owner, Georgia, is keen for Gilly to stay with us so keep an eye for an amazing training opportunity with this guy in a couple of months…:) 

After two years with the fabulous loan horse, Gilly, Mairi is looking for her very own beast to finally truly call her own, to further improve her riding confidence and feel on. She’d like to compete a bit more and work out if she wants to get more serious about that.

Mairi’s main points: 

A forgiving schoolmaster (8 years +) who will look after me when I get nervous and help me get better with that

Good flatwork, established lateral work and as little crookedness and schooling gaps as possible (ideally Novice/Elem level)

ability to jump around 90 xc and and sj and be brave but it doesn’t have to be a superstar

No bigger than 16.2 and pref a gelding but will consider non-marish mares.

Budget: up to £6k

Please contact Wiola at aspire@outlook.com with “Schoolmaster for Mairi” as a subject if you are looking for a lovely home for a horse that might fit the above 🙂

Thank you!

A few notes and reflections from the training day with Luca Moneta Horsemanship

By Wiola Grabowska

It seems to me that the most difficult clinics, demos or forums to find are those that explore training methods which can produce a sports horse without traditional systems of dominance, submission and fear training.

It is one thing to train a well mannered happy hacker/typical pleasure horse with non-bullying methods, another to train a lower level eventer, show jumper or a dressage horse. Nearly every single CPD type event I have attended or training session I watched (some with top national/international trainers and riders) in the last five years used some form of “must do as told right now” method whether in foundation training of the horse or later in specialised schooling.

I personally dabbed in many different ways of schooling horses during my twenty + years of active involvement in this industry and I became plain bored with many and demoralised by most of them. The perpetuating nature of the UK coach training system where changes are hard to implement straight away added to my professional frustration.  Ever since setting up the Academy 7 years ago I have wanted to get to know many other ways of combining thorough foundation training of a horse with its athletic training for grassroots sports. Searching outside of mainstream took me on a great learning journey and I feel like it will probably never end.

Today, I will share a few notes from a clinic with an International Show Jumper – Luca Moneta.

Luca Moneta1

Nicknamed the ‘Carrot Man’ due to him using Parelli Natural Horsemanship tools in his training, Luca Moneta is currently one of the top show jumping riders in the world. I read this interview with him several years ago (to read see: The World of Show Jumping – Luca Moneta) and his methods intrigued me because I have not come across anyone combining any form of “natural horsemanship” at top level of show jumping before.

I used “natural horsemanship” term in inverted commas because many a time, it’s simply common sense, understanding of how horses learn and interact with us and how to communicate with them so both parties understand each other. It so happens, there are people branding those concepts. 

The clinic consisted of two days training, day one being round pen focused and day two was a continuation of foundation training but on the flat and over jumps. The riders riding in the clinic were of varied standards from novice to coach/competition rider level.

I didn’t attend the Day one but as I am familiar with the concepts it didn’t seem a problem for me to follow the continuation on Day two.

Simple (but not necessarily easy) 

 

Luca’s training method is simple: everything we do with the horses must makes sense to them, keep them calm, focused, light and responsive.

The day started with groundwork which was alike a fast version of the in-hand work I know. Turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, rein-back, go, stop but all in a much quicker succession, more attention to release under stronger “pressure”.

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It was especially interesting to watch the riders who were unfamiliar with the concept and who attempted the work on the ground. I am not surprised that methods like Parelli often have bad opinion when witnessed at various livery yards because quite frankly, when the rider is just learning the timing and reactions, it isn’t a nice viewing. However, Luca worked with each horse by himself too and the importance of quiet, non-emotional approach was immediately clear as was the relief and relaxation in the horse’s bodies following his work.

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“The more the horse doesn’t respond, the more he is showing us that there is a problem. The more we ignore the problem and leave the horse alone, the bigger the horse’s problem become.”

In real life terms this might mean never letting the horse run after the jump, never letting them become emotionally distressed with the situation to the point of no response.

“We need to help the horse come back from that emotional situation.”

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He also puts big emphasis on the rider being quiet in the saddle. He likes limited amount of aids with full results. One of the tasks the riders faced was to carry a young rider on their back. At first the girl was told to just sit quiet while Luca gave commands – go forwards, turn left, turn right, back up. Then the girl was asked to become “busy”, lean left and right and back as much as she wanted which immediately disturbed every single step of the person carrying her.

The jumping work was all based around light, quick and calm responses. If you had a light and quick response but the horse was stressed, you need to try again. And again. Until you learn to combine all three elements.

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Whilst all the above was familiar to me and it was just very interesting to watch the logistics of teaching it and doing it from a slightly different angle, one element of the day really stood out for me and I wish I learnt his way of looking at it sooner (when I rode competitively myself). 

Luca discussed the feel the rider has in front of the jump as he was setting a small course  for the riders. He told them they must know when a particular jump was making them scared and tell him to lower it. He said they needed to know how to control their emotions in front of the jump and not take on an impossible challenge. However, when they felt a reasonable level of challenge, they needed to keep coming until they learnt to control the emotions (nerves, excitement etc) in themselves and in the horses.

He described one way of thinking about it: 

You normally think that in Show Jumping there is a horse and there is a jump. But you can also think like this. There is no horse and no jump. There’s just energy. My energy, the energy of the horse and the energy of the jump. I just send the energy of the horse in the line that puts the jump in the middle. Then the energy of the horse will tell me, I am confident, I respond light, quick and relaxed, that’s it. But maybe we find resistance in this energy, maybe the horse arrives at the fence and stops. Maybe he will try to avoid the jump. Then I just teach them that it’s all about going straight on, on that line of energy, back to basics.

Super day and a privilege to learn from people like Luca Moneta.

P.S. Huge thank you to Mairi for arranging for my ticket for this clinic for my birthday 🙂 

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Mairi and one of the horses taking part in the clinic – a Lusitano x TB, 20 years young

Personal bests for Robyn and Merehead at BCA’s BE90!

Huge congratulations to the lovely, if a little mad, event riders on Aspire’s Performance Programme – Emma Brinkworth with her own Merehead and Lou Crow with Laura Williams’ Robyn.

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Emma and Merehead. BE90. BCA 

If you follow our Instagram and training updates you will know both Robyn and Merehead are ex-racehorses with sometimes too much blood buzzing in their heads but I love the challenge of training the pair and the riders do too.

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Lou and Robyn. BE90. BCA

I don’t normally get too involved in their XC training but we work diligently on many aspects of flatwork and jumping and these are the areas I look for improvements (and expect them at the Programme they are both on 😉 ).

I was over the moon to hear Lou got her best dressage test on grass yet (Robyn was very un-confident on grass and struggled a lot, still a work in progress) and Merehead gave Emma a first, controlled and pleasant show jumping round.

Well done ladies!!

Next stop: BE90 at Offchurch on the 3rd of July. Keeping all crossed for as good or better results there 🙂

 

Case Study: Re-educating rising trot

By Wiola Grabowska

A solid, correct biomechanics of a rising trot is probably the simplest way of encouraging the horse’s seeking reflexes and as a result, the elusive roudness over the back.

For all grassroots riders I teach, there is no escape from this and although I don’t tend to drill mechanically into a “perfect position”, the goal of a good, horse back friendly rising trot will never disappear from the lesson content until it’s sorted.

If you follow us on Instagram you will have seen the below two photos of Lauren. The third, bottom photo, is from this past weekend, 3rd June.

3 months apart lauren

Maintaining this position is not easy for Lauren and her perception of it is very different to the visual effect! In fact, she feels like she is diving over Gilly’s head with her upper body and that her lower leg is much further back than it really is.

This is normal as the brain gets used to the new movement patterns but over time, she will also be able to relax much more into this new position and it will feel much less alien.

The main reason I believe the correct rising trot to be one of the top basic riding skills is that it gives the novice rider a “seat tool”; it limits the use of reins for control and it allows the rider to build upon a robust, safe and functional foundations. 

Unbalanced rising trot, i.e. one where at various stages of the rise and sit the rider is not in own balance (not in control of lower leg, upper leg, upper body, energy of the rise etc) is incredibly common even in more advanced riders who are otherwise skilful and have a good feel and it’s a shame because it encourages head riding instead of back and hind quarters riding. It creates a hollow horse every stride the rider has to then “repair” somehow.

Lauren’s rising trot re-education happens via: 

  • gym ball exercises to help her with alignment, symmetry and proprioception

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  • lunge lessons with intensive corrections

Lauren 3rd June
You can see changes in Gilly’s posture, stride length and self carriage as Lauren makes changes to her seat: balance, alignment and matching Gilly’s stride with the enough energy & positive tone in herself

  • jumping lessons with exercises targeting lower leg stability like gridwork, pole work and light seat training in all paces
  • individual moments with me just observing and filming for Lauren to reflect on later

Super changes already and Gilly is definitely benefiting from them!

 

Breeding my little horse of a lifetime: 2 weeks on – vet checks, getting to know the foal and choosing the name

By Kelly Hill

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My little Tilly and Royaldik baby will be two weeks tomorrow. I didn’t expect her to be so pretty! Even though I hoped for the bay filly, I would have been happy with any colour by the end. I had her emergency checked at labour by Chess Valley Vets, she had tetanus antitoxin injection and later on my usual vet triple checked her for me, eyes, heart, conformation, gave me pointers on what to look for health wise in the next week or so.

Both the filly and mum are well, Tilly has plenty of milk and even though she was possessive at the beginning, she wasn’t aggressive, just preferred to keep everyone away from the foal. The baby has good conformation, is a nice size and I love her!

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It took me a while to chose the name but I settled on Royal Diva, Diva as her stable name. It suited her character but having said that, she will probably have many more names too 😉

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She’s very inquisitive, fearless, verging on rude, wants to know everything and everyone.  I think my best experience so far is watching her learn the world, trying to walk and run.

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Until next update! 🙂