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


Lauren and Gilly. Photo by Becky Bunce

Day 3 of the Camp was focused on Cross Country and Dressage skills and incorporated the Training Show rounds (or elements of rounds on XC course to match demands with the rider’s experience). If you would like to catch up on previous days before reading on, check these links: Day 1 and Day 2.

Sunday morning woke us with the sky painted in all sorts of shades of pinky oranges, yellows and blues 🙂

Morning at Camp Collage



The thing I like the most about riding on a cross-country course is the terrain. Not the jumps set up in open fields but the water, the steps up and down, the challenges the undulation poses on balance of both the horse and the rider, the ground variety under the horse’s feet. I think all those are way more educational to a grassroots rider than jumping funky xc jumps 😉 The terrain questions are what I personally consider a must to answer by any rider (unless for some very valid reasons they should never ride outside of an arena) and a simple cross country/hacking skills are always a part of the Academy’s Foundation Programme.


For the most part, all the sessions went smooth except Caitlin’s mare got a bit playful which ended up in a fall whilst Aisha’s share horse didn’t feel 100% half way through so we decided to let him rest instead. It was a bit of a blow for both of these riders. Caitlin who tweaked her back muscles, pulled out of the afternoon dressage too which unfortunately meant giving up her chance for winning the Camp’s Trophy or other Awards. It was even sadder still as she was scoring highly on my board up until then!


I have not run any previous Camps this way before and found it both interesting and difficult. Trying to make mental notes about how riders responded to coaching and their focus on the tasks made me much more aware of some aspects of our lessons to which I perhaps didn’t think of so much before.


Del xc1
Derek’s first ever Cross Country experience.





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Afternoon was all about the Dressage and off horse sessions on the seat, influence and effectiveness. I chose two long arena tests, one Preliminary, one Novice, for the riders to learn. The format of the session was to ride a well planned, individual warm up followed by a short session with me to work on anything the rider found difficult during the warm up, then ride the test. In order for the judging to be as impartial as possible, I asked the riders who were not riding or getting ready at the time, to score with me.

off horse collage
Top left: amazing sports massage with Natalie that we were lucky to have over two days. The bottom right photo makes me smile every time I look at it and it confirms we chose the right Winner 🙂 While everyone is browsing through some fabulous photos Becky took in the morning of XC sessions, Laura is desperately trying to figure out better seat balance before the afternoon dressage sessions.

I didn’t want a competition scoring per se so asked the”judges” to try to assess what they saw by taking under consideration the rider’s skills, the horse’s level of training and the quality with which they thought the riders applied themselves to the task.

I believe that judging dressage tests i.e. watching with understanding in a analytical way, can be very educational and makes the rider aware of little things they may otherwise have missed when riding by themselves.

Again, this new format draw my attention to how the riders approached their preparations. Even though we are not running a highly competitive programme, we are all in this because we are interested in progress and self-improvement. I do my best not to put any pressure on anyone in terms of time scales for achieving particular skills upgrades but I would not want to see riders staying in their comfort zones for too long.


In terms of short listing riders for the final Awards I was looking at how the riders used their time with me, whether they tried to push themselves or settled for least challenging options, whether they used the opportunity to “judge” constructively and whether they were able to switch well from being coached to thinking for themselves.

The challenge I gave myself and which I found most enjoyable in this whole Awards format was to approach every session of these three days as if I wanted that rider to win the main Trophy. In a set up where the scoring is so relative and individually adjusted, I knew I needed that focus on helping every rider reach their best to avoid any potential bias.


Once everyone ridden their tests, I sat down with my Decision Panel consisting of Angela and Becky who were with me at every session of the three days, Tatiana and Gary – the patrons of the Camp and the Training Show and Caitlin – the rider who was in the run up to the Trophy but was unable to continue due to injury (in the future Summer Camps I will always invite to the Panel any rider(s) who were riding high but due to unforeseen circumstances lost their chances of a win). I talked all of them through all of my notes on every rider, how I thought they performed, how coachable they were, whether they showed any interest in off horse sessions and with what effects, how they generally contributed to the training atmosphere and whether in my opinion they challenged themselves. I then asked Angela and Becky for their views on all the above. Once we talked all the details through, which took almost an hour, we voted.


As this was a test run for this Camp format I am sure we will eventually arrive at a more robust way of finalising the Awards but I feel we didn’t do a bad job 😉


Laura and her Thoroughbred mare, Robyn.


This Award was to go to the rider who:

– showed above average commitment to improve own skills in order to help their horse move/work better

– showed above average drive to acquire more knowledge via questions/exercises/ideas/discussions throughout the Camp

– showed focus, determination and teamwork when training their horse

– showed above average application to ALL tasks throughout the Camp (ridden, off horse, discussions)

– showed an absolute “horse first” attitude in all sessions

– showed improvements in their riding skills beyond an average timescale



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This Award was the second best thing to win at the Summer Camp and I wanted it to go the rider who:

– showed excellent focus and attention to all tasks during all lessons

– showed genuine interest in every aspect of the training sessions

– gave variety of ideas a go even if they were rather eccentric 😉

– made marked, visible improvements to own riding and way of going of the horse

– showed attention to detail in skill development

– showed ability to focus on my feedback in order to produce better results in second round of Show Jumping second round

– showed ability to focus on small corrections in 8 minutes of very specific help before the dressage test and then use those corrections to produce a more polished test

– made my job easy by being coachable, invested in own progress and that of the horse

– enjoyed the work they were doing

– showed an enthusiasm to improve own skills in order to help the horse

– set goals before the camp and pursued them with passion

– always put the horse first

– remain positive throughout and never blame the horse for own skill shortages.

This award went to Gemma and Ozzy. They won a 2 day training stay with me sponsored by Brackenhill Stud & Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. More on their training adventures on the blog soon 🙂 


The three medals: Gold, Silver and Bonze, awarded similar qualities to the Trophy & Coach’s Award. They were there to say very well done in various areas of the training challenges and were awarded to riders who for some reasons lost points towards the main Trophy but nevertheless showed a marked improvements in all sessions, good attitude to training and were able to remain focused on the tasks at hand in all sessions.

GOLD MEDAL: Lauren & Gilly





BRONZE MEDAL: Paige & Oscar



HUGE THANK YOU goes to our 2017 Patron & Sponsors – Life Savings – run by Tatiana and Gary Thorpe. It really was a privilege to work with people who cared for every detail as much as I did. If you are wondering how to lower your household bills, do drop them a message. It’s not easy to find support for small initiatives like ours so I am doubly grateful for all their help as without it, organising larger projects would be near impossible! 


My big gratitude also goes to Angela Tong for her tireless assistance with everything I needed throughout the Camp & Becky Bunce for stepping in as our photographer for the Summer Camp and stealing everyones hearts with her fabulous shots 🙂

Angela and Becky BLOG

Thank you ALL for wonderful experience and I am already looking forward to bigger & better Summer Camp 2018. The plan is to open several places for riders outside of our regular programme and extend the Camp to 5 days…More details in due course 🙂 


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