A couple of exercise routines that can transform your riding feel

By Wiola Grabowska

Even though I am a big fan of off-horse training to improve riding feel (via a better i.e. more aware use of the rider’s body) and I have participated in various sports since childhood, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I actually felt it to be a necessary rather than a complimentary part of riding training.

Let me share a couple of routines from my Equestrian Pilates sessions with Natalie Monrowe that are really fun to try and play with 🙂

LYING DOWN ON A ROLLER

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I found it useful for: 

  • finding “neutral spine” which is a must for upper body control in the saddle. Many grassroots riders ride on horses with a “hollow back”. This often can give a feeling of sitting in a hammock which sends the rider’s lower leg forwards and shifts the overall weight of the rider behind the movement of the horse. This can be very slight and make consistent throughness tricky or be very obvious, like getting left behind in rising trot and ‘double bouncing’. Developing a good feel for own neutral spine can help the rider develop the same in their horses.

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  • pelvis stability. Lifting alternate legs shows various weaknesses in the use of core muscles which can be worked on separately.
  • neck and head alignment. Riders often struggle with their neck alignment (head down, too much left or right, straining neck forward etc) and I find this to be a very simple way to gather proprioception for the spinal alignment throughout entire spine (base of the neck to tailbone)
  • awareness of own straightness. Aligning the roller with own spine gives a very distinct feel of how much of each side of ribcage, shoulders, pelvis is on each side of it. Just lying down in this position for some time increases awareness of where your centre is and that is such an important skill to have when schooling horses of any level. Ability to maintain own straightness on a crooked horse in order to help them move better is the key not only to effectiveness but also to injury prevention (in both horse and rider)

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JUMPING POSITION ON A ROLLER 

 

I found it useful for: 

  • Balance 😉 As the roller moves a little it creates a situation in which we practice stability via mobility and that replicates the balance skills needed for riding. Standing on the floor is not quite cutting to the chase 😉
  • Awareness of weight distribution forward and back, left and right. One sided weaknesses have a strong voice in this exercise and provide a very good feedback to the rider
  • Independence of hand. Moving your arms in various directions without that movement affecting stability of the rest of the “seat” is important for jumping but also, in a miniature version of it – for all rein aids. Without suppleness in the arms it is very difficult to give supple rein influence. Many riders think they aren’t using reins for balance but it can be a real eye opener when you try to ride some movements without the reins. This allows you to check how much effectiveness there really is in the seat, how much we want to rely on the reins for corrections that ideally should be delegated to the seat aids and how switched on the horse is to the seat vs reins. Rein influence is important for overall connection but the less of it there is the more we can wake up our own seat aids. The more attentive the horse becomes to the seat, the more influence we have on small adjustments.

I do believe that the minute we sit on a horse for a purpose other than travel, we are training. No matter if it’s learning to do rising trot for the first time or polishing details of canter pirouettes. We are training our bodies so they are not a burden to the horse’s movement. A few minutes a day can transform that training 🙂

Many thanks to Boudica Equestrian for my fab “yard to gym” leggings 🙂 

How not to override but still be effective – an experiment in ‘active’ and ‘passive’ riding

 

By Wiola Grabowska

We can probably all relate to the situation in which a horse does more of what we don’t want the more we try the opposite and then “out of the blue” offers a behaviour we wanted when we no longer care about it.

It’s relatively “easy” to over-ride a horse with our aids without noticing as well as not to do enough to guide the horse into desired behaviour and we all do a bit of both now and then.

I’d like to chat with you about an exercise in ‘passive’ and ‘active’ riding.

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We often talk about effectiveness when training. I believe true effectiveness starts in ability to “not disturb” the horses in the job we are asking them to do…Whether on the flat, over poles or over the jumps.

When I say passive I don’t mean a slouching rider travelling on a horse but one who shadows horse’s movement while remaining as balanced as possible. This is often a much harder task for a rider than it seems because to follow every movement with every part of your seat without acting upon the horse in any way is much easier said than done. The biggest issue I find is riders’ ability to maintain an absolutely neutral rein connection – most common are two extremes: riders who feel the need to constantly fiddle and those who ride with dropped reins out of belief they interfere too much. Neutral, non-disturbing connection that can become meaningful is hardest to achieve but I believe forms a great starting point from which to start an influence that has biggest chances of acceptance (by the horse).

Conversely, when I say ‘active’ I don’t mean in any way ‘busy’ but simply becoming in charge of direction, speed, shape of the horse’s body, amount of impulsion he or she creates etc.

Here’s what we did at Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018 (full blog post on the Camp coming up later this week)

The WHY

We work on the below skills in order to create a situation in which the horse finds our ideas easy to understand, logical to obey and enjoyable to partake in (assuming horses tend to gravitate towards harmonious movement).

The lesson objectives:

  • to increase awareness of degree of influence the rider’s actually have on a horse,
  • to increase awareness of “doing too much” or “not enough”,
  • to build a feel for moments when the rider needs to allow the horse to listen, understand and act without being “busy” with own posture
  • to increase awareness of “own anticipation”
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MEET THE RIDERS: Derek on Boo and Sasha on Ferris – the horses decided to travel from one corner of the arena to the other and sometimes just stood in one of them observing 😉

The how

I asked the riders to drop the reins and allow the horse to make choices about directions. The riders were to stay completely passive (as if they wanted to simply shadow the horse’s movement) yet stay in as good a balance as they could. They were to stay in walk and trot but act if horses became in any way unsafe.

Game on

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First of all it turned out to be a one funny session although I admit I did not plan it that way 😉 Horse that notoriously avoids corners for various reasons gravitated towards them like a magnet, the one we thought would be worried and stressed (an ex-racehorse) turned out to confidently stroll around, relaxed and happy leading the other horse most of the time. The mare that normally avoids the arena ends, took herself out of the arena and climbed a small mound 😉

I wanted to get the riders to feel how easy it is to anticipate something and how difficult it is to “do nothing at all”. For example approaching a corner most riders will have a set of automatic behaviours they don’t even think about that prepares the horse to turn. This can cause various muscle engagement patterns in the horse that leads to inverting away from corners, running on, avoiding bend/flexion etc etc I wanted the riders to make sure they listen to the feedback from the horse and it was much easier to do once they experienced the passive rider game.

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Second part of the session

I asked the riders to slowly include their influence but in a very tactful way i.e. do as little as possible but as much as necessary to ride certain figures and exercises I asked them to do. The difference in the horse’s attitude, relaxation and ease with which they did the exercises was significant. The riders found it very enjoyable and as we know, we do learn best when having fun 🙂

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Very good attempt at neutral rein connection in canter

Their handling on reins and frequency with which they used them improved too – the rider who tends to override rode with much more awareness of that and the one who tends to to leave the horse a bit too much without guidance, rode with more attention too.

Maintaining a perfectly neutral rein connection that neither drops or holds unnecessary tension in three basic paces of walk, trot and canter is a skill I consider one of the most important for all my Foundation & Development programme riders. Without that relaxed stability, rein aids rarely can be truly independent yet harmonious with the rest of the seat.

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Sasha in a very good attempt at following the contact in trot – she could perhaps show a little more carriage of the hands (as they dropped a bit here) to truly show that rider’s hips, elbows and shoulders are as supple as can be but very good job nevertheless.

Please note: One of the riders has taken up riding a year and half ago as an adult, the other had a 7 months old break from riding due to University commitments, both are very aware of their riding seat issues which we are working on so please try to avoid riding critique from the attached photos 🙂 

All photos in this post are copyright of Becky Bunce Photography and Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy

New Sportsline Riding Gloves from Super X Country

These fantastic gloves are available to purchase at Boudica Equestrian, a start-up business supporting Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy.  If you love these gloves, you might want to give Boudica a visit. To see the gloves on video, check out Boudica’s Instagram clip HERE  🙂


SXC gloves

Super X Country is delighted to introduce its first gloves – Sportsline Riding Gloves.

The new gloves, designed by Super X Country founder Becci Harrold, combine breathable mesh panels with Silicone X Grip on the palms and rein inside fingers. They are lightweight enough for warmer weather and have a close contact fitting, to maintain feel.

“If you’re fed up of gloves coming undone, reins slipping through your fingers, feeling a lack of connection to the horse because of the bulk, and getting hot hands, these are for you,” said Becci. “I designed these gloves with competition in mind and really looked at the areas that bothered me about gloves, especially when I was competing. Grip was a really big one for me, so the Silicone X Grip on the full palm and on the inside of the rein fingers made complete sense, to help prevent any slipping to support a consistent contact. The breathable panels help to keep the wearer cool and the close contact design allows free movement too. I also picked a really strong fastening which doesn’t move or come undone.”

New Sportsline Riding Gloves have launched in three colourways: black and white, rose gold and navy, and white. All colours are available in sizes XS-L and have a RRP of £25.

For more information on the new Sportsline Riding Gloves from Super X Country, see www.superxcountry.co.uk.


Prepared by:

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

New training support group by Aspire Equestrian…

By Wiola Grabowska

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When I first created a Facebook group to go with the Aspire coaching programmes I made it “Aspire riders access only’. I did so because I shared many videos from lessons, including live videos, and felt that I wanted that added learning opportunity to be exclusive for those riders who rode on my programmes. We also planned Aspire riders exclusive events, arena hires, training outings etc on there which again didn’t seem right to share publicly.

The more times I had to press the “Decline” button, however, the more I thought about the best solution for this issue because it didn’t make sense to turn away riders who were obviously interested in what we were doing. I am not sure why it took me so long to simply set up another, much more inclusive training support group, but finally the lightbulb moment arrived this week and here it is:

Aspire Equestrian – Training, Coaching and Horse Care Support

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Why a support group? 

For a long time I was thinking why are there so few discussion groups for riders who love to train and perhaps also compete yet who disagree with traditional methods of training in which horses “must do as told”; riders who are as interested in developing the horse from the ground up via classical in-hand work, progressive conditioning or perhaps even rehabilitative schooling and who focus on themselves as a big element in the game as much as they are interested in reaching their personal best with their horses.

There are many great divides in the equestrian world and I wanted to create a place where riders who love to train and who value understanding of how horses learn, move and think can meet for a constructive discussion or just a bit of support.

It is often believed that to train and compete riders have to exert certain amount of dominance over a horse (you know, “good ‘ol pony club kick etc) in order to be effective. I found this approach to be false and to be killing my enjoyment of training and teaching so decided to move away from it and thankfully, so did many riders in recent years. I realised that the belief that riders need to be focused, well balanced, aware of what is truly happening underneath them and able to act upon that awareness in order to not have to be dominant, worked for me as an educator.

With progressive training  of both physical and mental skills of both horse and rider and solid foundations there should be no need for lunging/ridden gadgets, aggressive riding, frustration and impatience.

It really can be a beautiful sport in a full meaning of this word: harmonious and a pleasure to watch and that’s the kind of sport I’d love to teach, watch and support.

If that’s your goals too, please feel free to join the group and let us know about your horse and your aims with him/her 🙂

Photo above:

Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018 – Sofija on Ferris. We are not just browsing our phones but connecting on audio call at the start of the lesson 🙂 Photo by Becky Bunce Photography

The Aspire Spring Camp was supported by Boudica Equestrian

Cribbing/Windsucking – case study in minimising the behaviour through management. Part 2: Plan of action & Results

By Wiola Grabowska

PART 2 of LEO’S CRIBBING STORY (and how I decreased it without using cribbing collars) 

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If you haven’t read the Part 1 in which I explained the background of Leo’s cribbing and my ways of investigating the causes in his case, please see the post linked here: PART 1: CRIBBING/WINDSUCKING CASE STUDY

Plan of action

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Alpengrun Musli

First thing I decided to do was to take control of his diet. “You are what you eat” and all that 😉
After talking to many people as well as having a good read around of tens of Forums and hundreds of opinions I settled for a German feed brand called Agrobs and went for 2 products from their range: Alpengrun Musli and Alpengrun Mash Gut Restorer.
I also learnt (from the earlier mentioned Conference) that there was a study done on several cribbing horses where horses received 9 feeds daily and their behaviour stopped. I couldn’t possibly replicate that but could feed Leo one additional feed which took his meal numbers to 3 a day.

Second action was to give him turnout company. For that I had to wait a long time as I wanted a relatively stable group for him with lower risk of injuries by being out with big, playful athletic horses . Once the yard was in a position to do so, we created a group of 4 small horses/ponies and Leo seemed immediately happier.

leo in the field with friends

The pain/discomfort aspect is something I’d been working on all the time but at the beginning of the year I booked him for an assessment with a very well respected spinal/horseback vet specialist, Rob Jackson and continued his groundwork focusing on restoring healthy biomechanics to the best of my current knowledge and abilities. One method I noticed to have a fairly significant influence on him is the Tellington Touch Method but I will perhaps talk more about it another time.

Last but not least, I removed his shoes…now, I know some of you will say this might have nothing to do with his cribbing but I know shoes can cause low level, chronic feet dysfunction (discomfort/pain) as well as affect blood circulation in the feet. Whether the blood flow in the legs has anything to do with blood flow in the gut I couldn’t say for sure but since the body works as one unit surely we can’t say no for definite?

RESULTS

As of April 2018 Leo’s cribbing reduced to a point that I only see him do it when I create a situation in which he is most likely to crib in i.e. give him a particular treat (sweeter treats make him want to crib more) or take him to some spots where he used to crib a lot. Other yard members don’t see him crib either.

On the basis of my observation of him, I’d say his cribbing has now decreased by 99%.
In the last 6 weeks I noted 2 singular cribbing episodes: one on his stable door for a couple of “gulps” and one by the leg wash area on a post he used to crib on incessantly. None lasted longer than a couple of minutes in comparison to 15-25 minutes I observed before making changes to his management.

He might still return to crib more in some situations and perhaps he does it at night where I can’t see it but I am very happy with this result as my main concern was a danger of colic or other serious health implications that some cribbing horses are reported to succumb to.

Hope this information will help some of you 🙂 Thank you for reading and until next time!

 

Cribbing/Windsucking – case study in minimising the behaviour through management. Part 1: Identifying the complex causes

By Wiola Grabowska

Leo over the door
Guess which one of the horses shown is most likely to windsuck/cribbite? 😉 Apparently, “busiest”, most inquisitive and naturally active horses are more likely to develop vices due to confinement…

CASE STUDY:  LEOPOLD THE LAST, 11 yrs old gelding, TB x New Forrest 

Cribbing is considered an undesirable behaviour where a horse grabs hold of an object with his incisors and burps loudly engaging variety of neck muscles. Some sources suggest the horse sucks in/swallows air in the process, some believe the air is pushed out from the stomach in the act of cribbing.
Where no physical object is required for the horse to rest his teeth into, the behaviour is termed ‘windsucking’.

There is no confirmed treatment or cure for Cribbing/Windsucking and the act alone is poorly researched and understood.

It is believed that stress, social isolation, stabling, boredom/frustration, pain, commercial feeds and gastric dysfunction like ulceration can all be the culprit. Some believe the behaviour can be copied between stable mates out of boredom.

Leo’s Cribbing History

Leo as a foal

I learnt from Leo’s breeder that he started cribbing as a foal post weaning and they thought he copied the behaviour from a cribbing Thoroughbred kept next door.
He came to me with two types of cribbing collars. One is known as a “magic collar” and is fully leather and the other one is a metal and leather one. Both are designed to be fastened around the throat area and are thought to make the sucking action impossible. I have not used either of them on Leo as I am personally convinced by the research/studies and veterinary advice which suggests that limiting the behaviour via the collars can be more stressful to the horse and cause more harm than the action of cribbing itself.

In the early days I used Cribbox on his stable door and his paddock fencing. It was very effective in that it repelled him from cribbing on any surface I put the substance on. However, he soon found little bits I missed or he would crib madly the second he was away from covered areas. The damn thing would also stick to everything – his rugs, coat and my clothing.
I decided against buying the second tube once first one ran out and started researching everything I could find on cribbing.

Guesswork

I started from searching for videos online for cribbing and wind sucking horses and comparing their behaviour, management and cribbing patterns to Leo’s.
There isn’t much freely available information on this subject out there but there was enough for me to play with.

One interesting viewpoint was shared with me by a friend of mine who attended this year’s Horses Inside Out Conference. Amongst other topics, the subject of cribbing and ulcers was brought up and cribbing was discussed as a behaviour present in very intelligent and ultra sensitive horses. It was also mentioned that one very well known 4* Event riders favours cribbers as his competition horses! I must say it was possibly the only time I ever heard cribbing considered a positive!

At first I couldn’t quite work out Leo’s pattern as he seemed to crib a lot at seemingly random times and situations. Before and after feeding, before and after receiving a treat, whilst being groomed and tacked up, in his paddock in regular intervals between grazing, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, basically anytime I saw him he was on/off latched onto something.

In order to start somewhere I grouped all his cribbing “times” into 3 possible “causes” : 

1. Gastric issues (any times around food or ‘stress’ and I included being ridden in that category too)
2. Pain/Discomfort (I included grooming time here on the assumptions that having to submit to touch/grooming could cause some stress)
3. Social – he was in individual paddock (able to touch other horses) and stabled for large parts of the 24h (out in the day, in at night or out at night, in during the day depending on time of year)

Having these categories I started making daily notes assigning cribbing moments to each category and after 6 months of this I ended up with most episodes around categories 1 and 3.

PART 2: Plan of Actions and Results coming up 🙂 

LEO FLOWER TREE

Reading list: 

https://www.myhorseuniversity.com/single-post/2017/09/25/Cribbing-Has-Multiple-Causes-Management-Practices-Can-Help

http://igrow.org/news/management-considerations-for-the-cribbing-horse/

https://holistichorse.com/health-care/natural-supports-for-ulcers-cribbing-a-wind-sucking-2/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2009.00025.x

https://animalstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/&httpsredir=1&article=1000&context=physio

Secret Language of Sweat Marks – Continued

By Wiola Grabowska

sweat-marksFive years ago I wrote this post – Secret Language of Sweat Marks – after teaching a lovely young rider who was sure her loaned horse’s saddle wasn’t fitting him very well but wasn’t sure what to look for. I wanted an easy way to describe to her what to look for and how to spot pressure points and areas of concern that were not immediately visible and so we went for taking photos of the horse’s back directly after the lesson.

There are now many articles out there talking about it issue very eloquently.

This post has since proved one of the most popular on here and I have received many messages about it. There are a few things about sweat patterns as well as structure / feel of the hair on the horse’s body that I didn’t mention at the time and that I reckon are worth mentioning so here we go!

NECK & SHOULDERS

There are horses that sweat profusely whatever they do and those that barely break any sweat whatever they do but observing the muscles that work hardest and therefore sweat more can be a good guide to how correct (biomechanically) the training is.

Repetitive marked presence of sweat alongside the horse’s lower neck muscles could indicate the horse is overusing those muscles in place of engaging the top of the neck musculature that assists in developing better self-carriage.

Sweat patches in front of the wither (base of the neck where many horse’s has atrophied muscles and a smaller of bigger “dip”) and over the middle and top of the neck could on the other hand point towards the fact that those muscles are the ones undertaking harder work and therefore increase in strength and functionality.

Having no clavicles, horse’s scapulas are suspended in a powerful muscle sling that has an ability to significantly lift the horse’s wither (think of those moments when your horse “grows a hand” when they see something that excites them). This anatomy detail means the front end conformation can appear unrecognisable when a green horse is compared to a more advanced one in their training.

Sweat over the shoulders might at first indicate “forehand driving” but it is also believed to be a sign of that powerful muscle sling being employed, especially in collected work (front end has a significant part in “lifting” the horse in collected work).

BARREL

Observing the sweat patterns over the barrel (belly, lumbar area/flanks) helps in assessing whether the powerful core muscles are being used. Slight belly sweat and flanks sweat is believed to be a good sign of the right muscle chains being tasked.

HINDQUARTERS

Sweat over gluteal muscles and sweaty upper thighs are usually thought to be good indicators of an efforts being sustained in the rear engine but it is worth noting that too much localised sweating around stifles is not so desirable, especially if coupled with a feel of lack of power from the saddle.

Although many of these observations are of very old origin and quite possibly don’t apply to every horse working well, I personally see a fairly accurate correlation between functional work and sweat patterns, especially over the neck.

Have you ever observed sweat patterns of your own horse post training? Do they correlate with “the feel” the horse gave you in his/her ridden effort? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Boudica Equestrian about the boom for technical clothing, equestrian jewellery and yard-gym-street-training wear

By Laura Williams of Boudica

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Long gone are the days or riders wearing only tweed and uncomfortable, old fashioned hunting style clothing. Although brands such as Timothy Foxx are certainly keeping tweed in fashion! In the main riders are now demanding clothing that are both fashionable and technical.

So what is this new ‘technical’ clothing?

As with the importance of well-fitting saddles and bridles to enhance horse performance, people are recognising the importance of well-fitting and technical attire to enhance rider performance. Technical clothing tends to include moisture wicking materials that move with the body to complement the riders’ dynamic position and high energy exercise.

In addition, manufacturers are focusing on the knee and bum area to ensure the material fits around with body without causing rubs or restriction. Derriere is a brand focusing on rider underwear to reduce rubbing and increase comfort.

Technical riding leggings have made a big impact this year with many brands such as Chillout and Aztec Diamond producing stylish, affordable and comfortable technical leggings made for the gym and the saddle. Clothing that increases circulation and even infrared and magnetic systems are also becoming mainstream. Brands such as Back on Track are at the forefront of such research for both rider and animal.

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But what about style?

Fashion is of huge importance to many riders. Competitive riders are sponsored by big brands in exchange for showing off their jewel encrusted helmets and boots as well as standing out in bright and colourful show jackets. The vet inspection at Badminton was a good example of this with riders opting for bright trousers, dresses and even military style wear in a hope of winning the title of best dressed rider! Sponsors HiHo Silver chose Giovanni Ugolitti’s military attire this year as their winning outfit.

2018 has brought lots of gorgeous new styles to the runway. Of note for the equestrian world are bright and bold colours and the addition of lace and ruffles to shirts. Pastels are also making a big comeback this year.

With so much choice how do you know what clothes to invest in? I’d suggest going for items that are technical but stylish that can be used for riding and leisure. If you want a flattering style go for high waisted leggings/breeches and fitted tops. These don’t need to be pricey, so look for new and British brands. I’d also choose a few pieces that are bright and bold to add a splash of colour to any outfit. Navy is a very popular colour which won’t go out of fashion so that’s always a safe bet for your day to day pieces.

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Wardrobe must haves:

Get yourself some technical leggings for everyday comfort and style. You can wear these for riding as well as to the gym or a Pilates class so they are a great investment. I recommend Chillout’s new and very flattering leggings that are available in a range of colours and come in at only £40.

Check out some Technical breeches too for lessons and competitions. The new trend for ‘sticky’ seats and knee patches are worth trying out. Look for stylish patches such as Chillout’s union jack silicon knee patches.

Baselayers are great for layering and wearing on their own. Perfect for cross county but also for everyday riding and gym wear. These are moisture wicking and keep you cool on the warmer summer days. Montar’s Navy lightweight zip top which can also be used as a baselayer and Chillout do a technical baselayer to match their leggings.

For competing stand out with a bright red show jacket. And why not also add a bit of glamour to your outfit with Montar’s beautiful lace competition shirt. And if you want to seriously splash out go for glamorous helmet like the rose gold edition from Kep or customise your own!

Even equestrian jewellery has now got an additional element… Need to keep the nerves at bay before your lesson or competition? Hiho Silver have a stunning spinner ring which you can twist round to calm those nerves and the horseshoe version adds in a bit of luck too! There is also Pegasus jewellery’s Vitality Magnetic Bracelet aimed at reducing stress and helping with circulation and relaxation.

With all this to choose from and advancement in clothes all the time this is a great time to get involved in equestrian fashion and start adding to your wardrobe! Shop now www.boudicaequestrian.co.uk

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