Category Archives: Aspire Equestrian Summer Camp 2017

Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 2 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…

DAY 2 – JUMPING SKILLS FOCUS

If you haven’t read DAY 1 reflections and would like to stay on track, here it is: RIDER FOCUS DAY 1 

MORNING SESSIONS 

Day two was all about jumping skills. The morning sessions were based on tempo control for most riders with the demands adjusted to the individual riding skills.

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Kelly and Mojo

Hover over the photos for rider’s and horse’s names.

It has always been drummed into me that to jump well one needs a very good feel for tempo as well as be able to maintain the exact speed for several minutes at the time. Whilst this might seem like an easy task, many situations challenge that exactness. Turns, corners, circles, all have their bearing on horse’s balance, power/impulsion, energy level and straightness.

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Derek and Boo. Currently most novice adult rider on the Academy programme but climbing the skills ladder in style 😉 Winner of the Change Maker Award.

Exercise 1 asked the riders to be able to set a canter at the speed of 325 mpm and maintain it for 1 minute. We set a minute marker and roughly measured the 325 meters. After several goes, everyone nailed this exercise but the differences between tempo control on one rein and the other were quite significant for most combinations which I hope gave everyone a food for thought.

Hover over the photos for rider’s and horse’s names.

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Laura and Robyn – the Summer Camp Trophy Winners (more on how and why the winner and other awarded riders were chosen will be up in Part 3). Laura made very fast changes to her riding on Saturday. Being a tall rider on a relatively small and very sensitive TB mare, it was not always easy for her to adjust but her determination to help the mare move and jump better and her very fast seat change from training round to show round (after watching and discussing her footage) put her in the lead.
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Gemma and Ozzy. Winners of the Coach’s Award. These guys ruled the Camp and Gemma reached pretty much all the goals she set herself for the weekend!

On photo above, I am passing some branches with leaves to Gemma. Ozzy is a very laid back character and generating energy is not always his priority. I think finding what motivates each horse to move is the key. Kicking and generally escalating leg aids is my personal pet hate in riding solutions so I prefer to look outside of the box. Gemma went with the idea (another reason of many why she did get the Coach’s Award) and a little bit of forest around the shoulders did give Ozzy enough flair to allow the rider to improve his posture and way of going further.

Exercise 2

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Aisha and Prince (an ex-racehorse raced in the past by AP McCoy – Prince’s claim to fame 😉 )

Once we had the tempo on the flat under control, I added two cavaletti/small jumps, one on each side of the arena half way the long side of it. It’s interesting how even  a tiny jump can affect all canter skills…My idea was to stay put until everyone got it as well as I thought they were capable of unless it meant over-working the horse. It worked and I was very pleased with everyone’s efforts.

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Kelly and Mojo

I believe the good feel for the right kind of canter is a huge part of jumping skill and developing that in the riders is one of my top priorities whatever their level.

Throughout these exercises I added individual corrections to suit the goals each rider set for themselves before the Camp for the duration of the weekend. It was possibly one of the most influential training session of the Camp as I wanted to see if the riders were able to apply Friday’s lessons into their riding as well as staying focused on new demands.

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AFTERNOON SESSIONS

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Gemma and Ozzy

The afternoon consisted of training sessions over a course & Training Show Round. This kind of show has been on my mind for a while and the Summer Camp 2017 provided a perfect testing grounds. I asked all riders to wear competition gear to get them in the right frame of mind 😉

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Caitlin and Mollie. The youngest rider at the Camp who was one of my top three up to the afternoon when her mare knocked herself on the pole hard enough to cause a problem and had to be retired from the rest of the Saturday. She was fine for the Day 3 (XC & Dressage), more on this pair later.

THE SHOW

I wanted to create a kind of show that would award partnership, style and performance in that order and I was assessing the riders in that exact order too. I do believe riding is a team sport of sorts – the team spirit between horse & rider should shine through every step on the course. I don’t mean here the vigorous whipping or other means of “hard” riding in order to get over a jump or any other methods that have fear or abuse at their roots. I don’t find it “class”, “brave”, “admirable” etc nor did I want to foster an environment in which the horse was some kind of an enemy to conquer over the course of jumps.

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Kate and Jack. Kate had a fabulous Friday sessions but a few mistakes on Saturday put her out of top three. She still showed some great improvements but the other riders stepped up to the challenge and kept the progress rate exceeding expectations.

The style referred to rider’s seat and way of riding – again all adjusted to the individual skills level and I didn’t expect those riders who only started to jump to show any particular perfection ;). However, riding in balance with a horse is what personally drives me in my own improvement and I always strive to pass that mission on to everyone I teach.

Performance referred to results but not in terms of poles down but in terms of meeting personal goals for the horses and riders.

All rules of the show were set with this in mind.

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Emma and Merehead. Emma set herself a stretch goal for the Camp and that was to jump her ex-racehorse Merehead over a 1m to 1.05m course in preparation for their move to BE100. Here they are cruising over their nemesis oxer off a tight turn on the left rein.

The training round:

  • focused on practicing some component of skilful course riding: tempo control, control of balance in turns, maintaining suitable impulsion in canter in front of the jump and rider’s position and its influence on horse’s ability to jump well.

The show round – consisted of 2 phases: 

  • phase 1: ride the course – “trial” round
  • dismount and watch your round on video straight away
  • 10 minutes discussion on what was good and what could be done better
  • phase 2: ride the course – “show round”
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Emma watching her training round and discussing how to ride the Show Round better
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Chatting through turns options with Gemma after their training round and before the Show round
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Caitlin and Mollie
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Paige and Oscar. Bronze Medal Winners for continued improvements from Friday to Sunday in all ridden sessions
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Lauren and Gilly – Gold Medal Winners for fabulous attitude towards all sessions at the Camp – both ridden and off-horse and her steely determination to overcome her nerves with her playful partner in crime 😉 They made very good corrections between their training and show round!
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Kelly and Mojo in the grid – Silver Medal Winners for superb training attitude and improvement in all sessions from Friday to Sunday. She rushed through the first phase of the afternoon so had no chance to correct the training round mistakes to what I believe was within reach but nevertheless showed great riding and very good focus.
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I had to add this photo 😉 Hayley just a little bit happy (or petrified!) 😉
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Hayley and Nugget – first time at the Camp with some mishaps, trials and tribulations but they lasted till the end!

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Day 3 reflections with Cross Country, Dressage and Awards Ceremony coming soon 🙂

Photos Copyright: www.beckybuncephotography.co.uk

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…

DAY 1 – FRIDAY

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

 

 

 

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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.)
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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

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