Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 1 of 3

This Summer Camp 2017 was the first one of upgraded versions of intensive training camps I have been organising in the last few years. We incorporated a training show into it with Life Savings as its Patron (more on the Show later), added sponsored awards and much more focus on the rider’s technique than ever before. I loved it and the riders seemed to as well. We already have bigger plans for next year but for now, let me reflect on this year’s experiences in stages…


AEC_0069 (1)
Emma on Merehead and Lou on Robyn – discussing seat effectiveness vs rider’s balance with great help of the mirrors 

Knowing the steps

In the process of putting together the content of this Camp, I came across a very clever way of describing skill acquisition. At first, everything we are trying to do seem IMPOSSIBLE. Whether it’s an ingrained asymmetry that prevents the rider from sitting well or a horse struggling with own straightness, everyone will have their “impossible’ tasks. In the process of training we convert the ‘impossible’ to POSSIBLE. 

But that’s only a start…Once a skill enters realm of ‘possible’ , it simultaneously begins a seemingly never ending journey towards EASY. There might be some strong reluctance in all of us to work for something very hard because it’s much cooler to just have a talent for something. Working hard is not a glamorous process that was advertised up to be. Even more problematically, converting the ‘possible’ to ‘easy’ takes a damn long time. Months and years.

Building awareness of passive resistance vs pulling; finding muscles that replace the active backward pull on the reins. 

Then again, getting to easy is not the end of the road. It’s only a beginning of yet another stage of converting “easy’ into EFFORTLESS/ELEGANT. In riding, it would be that look where nothing seem to be happening yet a hell of a lot goes into that nothing. A whole history of impossible moments, buckets of “easy sweat” and years of patient refinement.

I personally find, through my teaching and riding experience, that the biggest frustrations come from the attitude that assumes that we can take an Impossible and make it into an Effortless/Elegant in ONE effort. This expectation of oneself and of the horse is what often causes such tension in either rider or a horse or both that it hinders their progress or stops their learning altogether.

Aisha with Prince and Angela with Boo having their session in tropical rain 😉 

With all this in mind, I wanted the Friday sessions to be about letting the learning happen via slow start with some details explained in more depth followed by fast paced second part where you “just listened and did it” without too much analysis – just learning to catch moments and “feels” the horse offered, then analyse it later.

Friday Collage 1
Making small corrections, getting rid of “chair seat” and rein reliance tendencies. Possibly most “popular” seat fault out there but very much correctable with some decent focus. 

Taking the Steps

It might seem “easy” to just do things but it’s not. Many a time riders are more preoccupied with things they can’t do, things they were once taught/learnt by themselves, or questions they have in the very moment or focus on other hang ups unrelated to riding than giving another “unknown” feel a go.

Having said that, the Friday effort was fabulous. I was (happily) surprised many times that day because of the way above average application to the tasks. It definitely helps to get out from home arena and immerse oneself in a learning/fun environment.

Gemma, the rider on the bright bay (Ozzy) won the Coach’s Award at the end – she had put herself in the lead from that first Friday session and didn’t lose her focus or attitude until last minute of Sunday. Paige, the rider on the grey (Oscar), won Bronze Medal Award and had some superb breakthroughs with her riding on Friday. Kate, the rider on Welsh Pony, rode the ride of her life. If she continued her focus throughout the Camp I’d have had a hard time deciding on overall Trophy Winner 😉 

Converting goals into actionable steps

One of the tasks I always give a couple of weeks prior the Camps is goal setting. Each rider sets themselves some aims for the 3 days of training and once I receive them, I try to figure out how realistic they are in relation to timescale we have and if not possible to achieve in 3 days, what milestones or skills are best to focus on in order to get closer to those goals.

Once I have the above, I put together more detailed sessions content for each rider, match it with that of main idea for each day of the Camp and then match it again with closest goals of another rider (in order to put riders together in most compatible way).

Kelly and Mojo, the Silver Medal Award & Surprise Your Coach Award winners. Here on the Friday having some issues with sheep peacefully grazing in the field next to the arena 😉 The training photos are not great as Mojo never quite relaxed in that first session but it was possibly one of the hardest lessons for the rider in terms of the lessons tasks and she gave them a go with no excuses, ifs or buts. 

Own goals & challenges

Teaching groups is my biggest challenge, mostly mentally as I find it very hard to switch between varying learning styles especially if they are different from my own. In order to prepare better this time I put as many compatible riders together as I could (to create 2 to 4 riders sessions) in several weeks leading to the Camp and it definitely helped.

Friday Collage 2
Caitlin and Mollie (bay in royal blue) had an amazing start to the weekend with this Friday session but sadly circumstances out of their control put them out of running for the Awards (more on this later)

Bringing the best out of each horse & rider is probably most rewarding part of this job for me so running the same way of teaching for all seems like a waste of time. Another interesting aspect of the Camp scenario was that exercises themselves were often very similar, just the way we approached them differed.  




Angela, my fantastic assistant for the Camp having a short lesson on Aisha’s Boo. We are searching for different feels through her leg here so she can figure out what position gives her best balance that is independent of any problems the horse’s might have in her posture. 

My main focus was on the following areas:

  • functional seat with core muscles working correctly to create stability – finding muscles that help with back to front stability and left to right stability;
  • integrity through entire leg, lower leg stability, use of thighs/role of thigh position and weight distribution through them in horse’s ability to work “over the back” , maintain rhythm and energy (use of thighs and core muscles for speed control);
  • passive resistance when using the reins;
  • “own” balance which allowed the rider to remain independent of the horse’s back hollowing/inverting as much as possible within riders’ current skill level;
  • connecting groundwork with ridden work in cases of severe resistance/misunderstanding/inability to follow rider’s aids;

Helping Merehead, an ex racehorse, to turn his outside right shoulder in order to improve his left turn. Converting groundwork to ridden work.

  • challenging the riders with tasks they found most difficult (as examples: turning from the seat on a strongly one-sided horse, canter-trot-canter transitions for riders who need to upgrade reaction time without becoming tenser by the minute in the process, light seat for riders with tendency to lose balance on a hollow horse etc.)
Gilly being fresh and playful with Lauren 😉 It’s not a “keep me” photo but I wanted to include it because Lauren won Gold Medal Award for the Camp and one of the many reasons she did was because she overcome her nerves with this playful chap to the point where she gave him a lovely XC session on the last day 🙂 

Saturday Reflections coming very shortly: 

  • flatwork for jumping
  • jump seat balance
  • gridwork & course riding

Until then 🙂

All photos copyright: Becky Bunce Photography






For all Pony Mad kids’ parents ;) Forelock Books helps children tell their OWN story


Forelock Books has launched its first Storytellers’ Activity Pack, aimed at keeping children with an active imagination busy over the summer holidays.

The pack, which is available to download from the Forelock Books website, will help budding writers create compelling storylines, characters and tantalising titles, but will also help them to map events, develop links and write a synopsis.

“I created the Storytellers’ Activity Pack after being asked by a countless number of parents if there was something available that would help their children formulate their ideas and encourage them to write their own stories,” said Michelle Charman from Forelock Books.

“Many of us document our lives through stories on social media, but this is not the same as storytelling. Good storytellers create adventures, develop characters and link events; they evoke emotions and care about the reader. Good storytellers are critical in today’s world.”

The Forelock Books Storytellers’ Activity Pack is supported by actors James Bolam and Susan Jameson, stars of Cbeebies “Grandpa in my Pocket’. Both James and Susan will be contributing by providing creative hints and tips in the form of video clips and Q&A sessions on Forelock Books’ social media pages.

The Forelock Books Storytellers’ Activity Pack is available to download from, priced at £2.49

Forelock Books is an independent publisher of family equestrian fiction, founded in 2014. They have published 12 titles over the last three years and have a stable of outstanding British authors, including KM Peyton MBE, Lady Kitson OBE, Ken Lake and Laura Quigley. Forelock have set out to bring back great stories that can be read over and over and to reinvent the book as something to be treasured and passed through generations. Great stories fuel the imagination and are what leads us to dream of things that would never otherwise be thought of. 

Prepared by:
Rhea Freeman PR
T: 07980 757910

Through coach’s eye: Planning a new set up for Aspire Equestrian Summer Training Camp

By Wiola Grabowska

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy Summer Training Camp

The 2017 Aspire Equestrian Summer Training Camp is in 9 days and this last stretch is my favourite part of the whole planning and organisation process even though it’s wildly time consuming.

New set up

This Summer Camp is the first one of hopefully a continuously improving series of summer intensive training camps incorporating a show. A very special kind of show. In all my training and in riding in general, I put the biggest emphasis on self-improvement. Knowing that we do our very best and then pushing ourselves that little bit more each time.

For this reason I wanted to create a challenge which awards partnership, style and performance in that order rather than simply a score/clear round etc. Partnership between horse and rider is to me what makes training worthwhile – mutual respect and understanding as well as working as a team not against one another. Style of riding – appreciation for correct biomechanics which makes horse’s job easy and rider’s job possible. Performance – understanding of tasks at hand, what’s required and how to “steal marks” as well as mental and physical readiness to do well at those given tasks . I feel those three elements put together should create a unique kind of competition…My plan is to grow it outside of regular riders group so watch this space 🙂

includingI Aspire Equestrian Training Challenge Show-2

Support and Prizes

It wouldn’t be a competition if we didn’t have any prizes and a trophy so it’s my mission to create a series worth putting a business name to…;) Our first Patron for the 2017 edition is Life Savings. Authorised Distributors for Utility Warehouse, a FTSE 250, Which Award winning Utility Company that can help you save money and make money on your household bills.

Delighted to have them on board as all horse people know, horses eat money and poo on money 😉 Savings is what we need!

Becky Bunce Photography and a young talented Animation graduate, Angela Tong, are among other prize sponsors. Thank you for being involved!

The exciting part starts now

By now, it means most of the timings are set, all sessions are planned out as to who rides with who and what I’ll be focusing on with each rider. The part left to do is the exact sessions content and that’s what I most enjoy. The whole process of figuring out what might potentially take a rider from point A to point B, what might work for a particular horse and how could they most benefit from an intensive focus of the Camp.

It’s the most difficult part for sure and I can’t say I always get it right but from a geeky coaching perspective this possibility to help the riders reach their goals is what drives me most to organise these events.

Photo Report from the Camp will be on the blog at the end of August so pop over for a visit to check it out 🙂