Category Archives: Aspire Equestrian Training Diary: Emma B. Eventing

Lessons from Portman Horse Trials

By Wiola Grabowska

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Run on the grounds of a beautiful Rushmore Park in Dorset, Portman Horse Trials welcomed us with bright sunshine, good going and a nice, calm vibe. Although not a surprise, it’s always interesting to see how very differently the horses warmed up on grass as opposed to when they work on surface.

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Walking the XC course
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Watching the warm up before the dressage

Lesson 1. Get schooling on grass pronto. All bendy lines, circles and corners seem like a triple challenge in comparison to a non-undulated, well groomed surface of an indoor arena 😉 

The dressage tests on grass in arenas set one next to another always seems to come with a few issues, main one being accuracy and control.

Lesson 2. Practice tests in a well measured space ON GRASS to quicken rider’s reaction time and improve quality of preparation for each movement when dealing with uneven, slightly undulated ground. 

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Lou and Robyn – dressage

Show Jumping course at Portman is short but well spaced out giving horses of all shapes, sizes and length of strides an opportunity to do well.

The challenge here was not to get overwhelmed by the size of the arena and the atmosphere, get a good rhythm going from the start and keep the pace active yet controlled. Many horses ran into trouble on this seemingly simple course, plenty of stops and canter troubles.

Lesson 3: Practice powerful, controllable canter ON GRASS, play with different lengths of strides and adjustability, play with balance on undulation in a controlled canter (as oppose to more open XC canter). Build confidence in one another. Pick level of events very wisely as confidence is lost quickly and takes ages to build. School on undulation regularly.

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Merehead show-jumping

The XC course is one of the most varied at lower levels and I love it. There is plenty of gradient, challenging the rider to balance the horse well and the horse is challenged to look after oneself. All the jumps are fair and questions are well matched to the level I think but the course does require a fit horse to ride well. Many combinations were off the bridle and low in the neck half way through the course, visibly tired and jumping clumsily.

Emma has kept Merehead moderately fit to help keep the cap on his exuberance but she got it spot on, he finished inside the time and full of running.

Lesson 4 – adjust the fitness level to the course. A too fit a horse that is so wound up it’s unrideable is not great, tired one is a hazard. 

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Merehead after last jump looking full of running and ready to keep going
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Little Florence attempting to help with Eventing lark 😉 

Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma and Shabhash at BCA Horse Trials (BE100)

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Event location: Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA), Maidenhead, Berkshire

The 2 weeks prior

Two weeks before BCA Shabby’s ran at an unaffiliated Novice (1.10m) event at Hambleden. He excelled at his dressage and got 34 in it but then proceeded to knock most show jumps and was not allowed XC to `Emma’s despair since the XC was the main reason she wanted the run anyway.

It was the final nail so to speak and we decided to turn more attention to the show jumping phase in our sessions. I knew there was a little chance we could make much of a change before the June event at BCA but we had a go anyway.

There are several main issues that we need to work on – both long and short term:

1. Nerves – Shabby easily goes rigid and panics under pressure. It can happen at home to some degree but is hugely amplified at the events. Emma has now had Shabby for over 5 years so she knows the second he goes into his panic mode and has similar reaction herself. So nerves are something that needs work in both of them. We discussed some sports psychology techniques options after Aston where he did dreadfully tense test but didn’t follow the thoughts with any actions as yet.

2. Quality of the canter – there is a weakness in Shabby’s canter that needs addressing. He gallops well but cantering to the jumps in a rhythm and through tight turns is a different matter. The right lead canter is not only weak but panic inducing for some reason.

3. Connection and thoroughness – in a calm state, Shabby works very nicely now staying in front of the leg and on the bridle with his back relaxed but his connection and thoroughness and very volatile and depend largely on his mental state. He is not the horse you can bully into cooperation and get good results and even if he was, Emma would have to change her trainer to go for that as I am not prepared to go back to the “hold him and push him into the bit/contact” methods for the sake of short term results.

4. Balance on undulated terrain – he is unsure of himself on grass especially when it’s slippery or on a slope and especially in trot and canter. His movement can be soft and fluid on surface and go into rigid and wooden on the grass – almost like when you walk on ice and you worry you might fall over and you then anticipate slipping with each step. The problem is, the more rigid your joints and limbs go, the more difficult the balancing act is.

Then there is one element that is very positive and could be improved on: Shabby’s heart and willingness to “do”.

Even though he goes overexcited and is consumed with nerves in the arena and the jumping ring, you can tell he looks to Emma for reassurance and that’s something we could build on further.

This is what we did before BCA…

PLAYING WITH SHABBY

I want to use Shabby’s trust in Emma so I get them to play to see how deep rooted his nerves are. He is great on foot. Relaxed. Bored almost. Happy to pop over little jumps with Emma running with him. His coordination isn’t great to start with, his jumping awkward. But is as cool as a cucumber and is not hot at all.

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She mounts and I take Shabby’s bridle off and give her a neck strap. He doesn’t react to her seat or legs correctly when in his panic mode so I want to see how he reacts. It’s amusing and he is not very responsive at first but we get to the point when she can walk and stop with just a little cue from a neck strap.

I suggests she does this a couple of times a week but I am not sure how realistic this is with her schedule.

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It might seem crazy but I am thinking, we might as well try to utilise what he is good at (connecting with Emma) and improve that further rather than focus only on the things he really drives us bonkers at 😉

Few days later, we take him to the field and start the boring process of trying to stop and stay halted in front of the jump. Shabby does various things NOT to stand in front of it. He piaffes, twists sideways, tries not to look at it. Eventually, he sighs and stands still for a few seconds. Then for several. Then for long enough that I can take a sharp picture 😉

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He jumps the jump very well, calmly, waits and doesn’t become creative with his stride. We call it a day and he even eats his dinner and breakfast the following morning (he has been on an on/off food strike for the last few weeks).

There are small changes Emma notices in his behaviour. He starts grooming her back when she brushes him (he generally detests being groomed. patted etc). He lies down in his stable and has a proper snooze.

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We add some work on changing bend in trot and canter on large circles in the field to make him realise his posture doesn’t always have to correspond directly with direction. It’s a good preparation for counter-canter which I know will strengthen his canter overall.

He becomes panicky at first but settles well enough and lets Emma ride him. Again we finish with pole work and little jump which he deals with calmly.

On Wednesday before the event we practice the dressage test on grass and he is tricky – unsettled and rigid like he can be at events. I take it as a good sign – if he doesn’t do something we just can’t work on it so I am almost pleased that he is all over the place. We go through the test and amend it, put medium walk for a few strides longer than in the test as he likes to jog, educate the corners through hind quarter yields and put in circles when he goes tense to help him release.

Eventually we get a decent work and call it a day.

On Thursday he is so incredibly relaxed we are wondering what’s going on. He warms up spectacularly, all his muscles like a fluid jelly, soft. His canter looks so relaxed we are laughing.

Then we repeat his halting in front of the jumps. He halts like a pro, and reins back beautifully. I can hardly believe it and start to think there is a trick somewhere.

We jump him on the left rein and he reacts very well to Emma’s half halt and makes a very good (for him) shape over the jump. I still wonder where the trick is.

Emma changes the rein and approaches on the right rein. All hell breaks lose and we see where the trick was. It takes 20 minutes for him to calm down and approach the jump without jumping invisible jumps on the way. We sigh.

THE EVENT

Warm up & Dressage

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He warms up quite sweetly, nothing amazing but all looks manageable. The only thing that rings alarm bells in my head is that Emma looks down more than usual and this tells me he probably isn’t feeling very connected and is volatile in the contact. She always sits proudly on him when he switches his little trot engine on but she looks like she is hiding somewhat.

We are quite happy with him upon his time coming up and off Emma goes. I watch them enter the area where the arenas are and I can see him tensing up. They get the bell almost immediately and he likes a few minutes to adjust to the change of space so that’s not a good sign.

The moment they enter down the centre line I know all is not good. He goes rigid and tense and although I know Emma hides it very well, it must feel awful. I almost stop filming after the first 10m loop because it’s just dreadful and I know Emma will be so disappointed (as you watch the video below you will see the cut in the test – nothing is edited out, that’s the moment I switched off the camera for a few seconds). i start filming again almost immediately because it might be good to re-watch it anyway.

He gets better in places, then worse again and I know Emma is hoping to be over and done with. He halts square at the end as if he wanted to add a joke 😉

We are so deflated by his performance that if Shabby has any sense of human emotions he must wonder who died! As Emma says, months ago there were no expectations and she would be ok with the test like this. Now, we know he can do so much better. They both can.

I decide to put them through their paces as he needs to release all that tension anyway so I ask Emma to stretch him in trot a little and then work on his right canter. She rides him the best I have ever seen her ride, partly angry at him partly surely relieved that she is out of the arena but I make a mental note to tap into whatever is possessing her now and put it to use…

I ask her to canter him all the way the imaginary centre line of the warm up field which is massive, maybe 2 football pitch length and off they go. He looks great, powerful and never once goes disunited. She stretches him in trot again and this time he really wants to reach the bit.

Good job.

Warm up & Jumping

BCASJThe set up at BCA is that there is a grass jumping warm up of sorts and the main warm up on surface. We make a pit stop on the grass warm up and do our halts in front of the jumps – first from walk, then from trot, then they jump it a couple of times. He looks good!

The main warm up is crowded but not as chaotic as some others we have seen recently and again they warm up well. He is backing off a little and Emma is riding a bit backward in anticipation of him running but all in all he looks calmer and fairly settled.

They enter the ring and are able to start on the left rein which is what Emma planned. I can see him starting to boil up and now I just hope he doesn’t drop 6 poles so she can go XC. He ploughs on attacking the jumps with all his might, jumping them by Braille and rolling 5. Initially we think it was 4 but 5 it was.

I wish I could say something good about an improvement in his jumping but I wouldn’t be honest. He gives the jumps some air but his pace is so frantic his legs just don’t come out of the way. The good thing I see is that Emma tries to stay more upright and keeps her upper body well out of his way more. It’s something we discussed after last event. She also says, he was more rideable than two weeks ago which is good but I know they can do much better.

The improvement in the warm ups is comforting and In fact, I am more than pleased with warm up in the jumping. The disappointment lingers because we still can’t confidently pin point his tension triggers. We explore some breathing techniques with a fellow rider and I make a note to look into this more seriously as Shabby is very responsive to Emma’s state.

XC

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Shabby is fabulous XC and Emma continues to experiment with time. He is so far either too fast or too slow. She ends up trying for the middle pace and gets 3 penalty points for too slow (6 for too fast at one of the previous events).

He likes fast pace but she needs to bring him back early to set for the jumps which costs valuable seconds. More experimenting needed with the speed.

VIDEO

Here is a video from the day. I thought it would be nice to invite some of the other Aspire riders to come along for a taste of eventing and we had a great time. Huge thank you to Tatiana and Gary for an awesome picnic!

POST EVENT PLANS

Shabby goes to Farley Hall BE100 nest weekend so he is resting now for a couple of days and we meet on Wednesday for the lesson.

I plan to show Emma the videos from her riding him after the dressage test and for her to figure out the difference in her riding so she can replicate it. We will continue with canter work and pole work as that’s a mission for good few months rather than days.

Breathing exercises and some sports psychology perhaps. Shabby just likes to make sure we explore all sort of training avenues. He is a thorough fellow like that 😉

Improving turns and circles using a small balance exercise

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An ex-racehorse Nordic Run learning to turn in balance. You can see the rider here keeping her weight dropped through her outside thigh and shoulder to help him do the same. He is still leaning a little too much to the inside but few weeks ago he struggled with any response to the left leg so this is a fabulous result for him 🙂

If you have problems with balanced turns and your horse often cuts the corners or decreases the circles as if some magical forces drew him in, you might find the below tips useful.

Pre-requisite exercises: 

1) leg-yield (for the below exercise to be helpful your horse needs to be familiar with leg-yielding on both reins even if it’s just a few steps yield with limited cross over. They don’t need to be able to be performing dressage test standard leg-yield but need to know what it means to yield away from your inside leg when you ask)

2) Lateral flexion at the poll to the left and right (your horse needs to understand how to react when you ask for flexion left and right. They can’t think you are asking for neck bend or a turn)

The Exercise 

(described on the right rein)

Ride down 3/4 line of the arena and prepare to ask the horse for the right turn on a line of a half 15m ish circle. To do so, ask for inside flexion at the poll. When the have horse responded, ask for the turn. As your horse moves his inside front leg to turn, ask him to drift away from your inside leg as if asking for a mini leg-yield.

You want to feel that:

– he shifts his his weight ever so slightly to his outside shoulder, lightens the inside one and slightly curves his neck to the inside.

– you ground/anchor him to his outside shoulder

– your torso stays, what might feel like, on the outside of your horse’s neck (not leaning to the inside)

Repeat those leg-yield/drifty turns until you get your head around riding the horse’s balance a little towards his outside shoulder as he turns and you feel that you are able to ask with your inside leg for his inside hind leg to step deeper under his barrel.

Once you can do these turns with a small drift (think of increasing the circle a couple of meters, no massive leg – yields until the end of the world 😉 ) then try to only use the ability to shift your horse’s weight off his inside shoulder and onto his outside one as he turns. 

As he does it, continue on your turn with no drift/leg-yield.

Benefits

Lighter inside shoulder allows for an easy, relaxed inside flexion and vice – versa. Ability to shift your horse’s weight laterally will help you in many situations, not only to ride better corners and circles but also to approach the jumps in better balance 🙂

Hope this is helpful – happy training 🙂

Wiola

Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma, Shabhash and Merehead at Aston Le Walls

Having had a very hectic month I am a little late with this report which in fact I am writing after the third event we have just came back from (Rockingham Castle International Horse Trials). It went better than the Aston event I shared my observation with you below and the report on it is coming your way very soon 🙂 In the meantime, let’s look at Aston Le Walls.

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Aston Le Walls – XC course

The second event of the season for Emma took us to the beautiful grounds of Aston Le Walls. It’s a truly wonderful set up with clearly many new venue ideas and improvements in the pipeline. We did the unaffiliated event which followed the affiliated ones earlier in the week. Shabby had a company this time as his stable friend and a fellow ex-racehorse – Merehead – travelled with him to make his first ever appearance in the eventing world 😉 You might know Merehead from the video I posted not that long ago – Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training Shabby and Merehead   WARM UP & DRESSAGE

Merehead

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Moorhead trying his best to warm up sanely 🙂

The dressage warm up proved overwhelmingly exciting for Merehead who lost his concentration on Emma and focused on trying to release his energy. We deliberated for a moment how to warm him up and decided to allow him to canter early on which we sometimes do at home when he is distracted. This worked to some extent but definitely was not enough for a relaxed dressage test 😉 He stayed within the arena boards (his canter can be massive and we had our doubts!) and certainly impressed the judges with his powerful self but that’s about that. He was entered into this event as an experience and to see if he enjoys it rather than to be competitive in any way so we were very pleased with him either way.

Shabhash

Shabby warmed up very well. It’s taking a long time for him to abandon his acute alertness and replace it with some form of a quiet observation but we’ve been letting him discover a more relaxed way of going at home and he is learning well. Working in a quiet indoor school at home, everything is that much easier than in the open field with many other horses and a pressure he evidently feels. Physically, he is more than capable for the demands of the XC but his carrying power needed for self-carriage in dressage and show jumping brings him down.

Mentally, he has a long way to go too. In the lessons, we focus mostly on building his confidence in the physical capability as well as in the actions of the rider so he can built upon those in a stressful situation. He is a very athletic little horse, nimble and quick with a huge heart. I feel really invested in him and really want him to do well. The more he goes out, the better he copes so hopefully we will have him happier and calmer towards the end of the season.

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Shabby in the warm up. Still not fully confident and losing connection but 100% more relaxed than at Hambleden.

There is also a fair amount of weakness in his work on the left rein; it will be interesting to observe what effect the strengthening and improved symmetry will have on his overall performance.

SHOW JUMPING 

Merehead

Two months ago Merehead jumped sideways at a mere sight of a pole on the ground. Doing his chiropractic exercises which involved walking over a series of poles and stopping in the middle of them was a challenge. Aston was his first ever course in an event atmosphere so that considering he was fabulous 🙂 He warmed up in a fashion in a very busy and hectic surroundings and then jumped everything, fillers and odd colours, with a jolly amount of freshly discovered bravado. Emma credits her cross country trainer – Mark – and his confidence building exercises for Merehead’s jumping attitude. It was a very green round but he went beyond all expectations with one jump down (his canter has very minimal adjustability at the moment).

Shabby

Whilst in the dressage the anxiety and tension translates into lost marks and high scores, in show jumping phase, Shabby is paying a hefty stress price. It’s a concern to me because I like to see him working in a content way. Focused but not to the point of obsession. And Shabby is both stressed and obsessed when it comes to coloured poles. On a positive note, it was a calmer round than Hambleden even though the warm up conditions were everything Shabby could do without being exposed to.

XC

This phase is where I go and grab some food and relax 😉 I love dressage and jumping training but don’t have that much interest in the XC as far as coaching goes. However, I do enjoy watching Emma galloping the boys around 😉 I do observe her approaches, landings and position over the jumps to make sure I can continue improving her riding in our lessons but other than that it’s like going to a cinema and tucking into popcorn! Both boys were fantastic, Merehead flew around looking like he was setting off on a 4* course and Shabby skipped the jumps as per usual. Now, if you are still with me, grab your popcorn and have a look at the action on videos 🙂

MEREHEAD

SHABHASH

POST EVENT REFLECTIONS & Training focus between Aston Le Walls and Rockingham (one week)

There were many positives to this event. Shabby warmed up much better than at Hambleden and his work almost matched his work at home on many occasions. So did Emma’s. The dressage score was high (48.5) which was probably one of the worst he had ever gotten but at the same time, all the comments were very fair and there was nothing mentioned that we don’t work on back home. It’s only his second event and I am sure he will settle the more he runs. The tension costs but if we can get him to work in the arena as he does in the warm up he is more than capable of 6s-7s on his sheet. There is no pressure on him to be what he can’t be but I do want him to find a more comfortable and relaxed way of going and to enjoy cooperating with Emma within the white boards 🙂 Show jumping I have a mixed feeling about. There are several things I want to address in training but I will share more of those in my Rockingham report. He was more “with the rider” this time but still very stressed. XC – I loved watching him in his natural element, he has the confidence there that he lacks in dressage and show-jumping so the mission is to give him that in all phases. Merehead was fabulous. Emma says I help her remain calm when all hell breaks lose with Shabby but I am learning a good lesson myself too. My competition times always meant huge amount of work at home and only showing the horses once they were level above the show level. Watching Merehead counting clouds, hollow and braced doing his dressage test is not something I cherish but probably for the first time in my riding and teaching life I am learning to relax about it, see the events as an experience and a true learning grounds not just as an exam of competency…(I do hope he gets his act together for the next event though :-P) The plan for Merehead is to continue his lessons, do a few local dressage shows now and some xc schooling outings.

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Merehead contemplating whether it is wise to cross the bridge leading to the arenas 😉

Only Shabby is scheduled to go to Rockingham where he will run in BE100 section H. His work plan remains similar but we are increasing demands on bending through his body as well as asking for exercises requiring more self-carriage (shoulder-in, counter canter). We are also keeping a stricter routine of warming up and cooling down for good 10 minutes in a stretchy, long and low trot which Shabby does like when he relaxes. For Emma, I want her to become much more tuned in to any loses of balance in the horse so there is more sitting trot for her, more transition work as well as simple pole work to train her eye for distance and canter rhythm. Until next time! Wiola

Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma and Shabhash at Hambleden Horse Trials, April 24th 2015

`hambleden On Friday 24th of April Shabby and Emma competed in their first event of 2015 season – Hambleden International Horse Trials. Their planned first event (Goring Heath Horse Trials) was sadly cancelled due to unforeseen issues with the ground conditions. Since Emma is bravely taking part in this training diary blog project, please be nice if you do comment on this post, we are all learning and have many ups and downs every day. She is in this venture to improve so is aware of many aspects of her own and Shabby’s training that need working on and is doing her best to make the better performance happen 🙂 Now, let me take you on a little journey through this pair’s performance through my eyes. It goes without saying, I am doing my best to help Emma too but I am always open for coaching suggestions and ideas to improve myself (as long as they don’t involve stuffing the horse into gadgets/fancy bits etc for quick results 😉 )

TRAINING FOCUS & FINAL WEEKS BEFORE THE EVENT

Preparation: My work with Emma focuses on rider’s technique, quality of her seat, ways of dealing with Shabby’s tension, anxiety and post – racing/post- injury issues. We work on the flat 99% of the time with 1% being spend on simple groundwork and pole work/ covaletti work. I aim at long term results and happy athlete rather than quick, artificial improvements that might look good for an untrained eye but create a huge plethora of hidden issues later on (we have enough of those with Shabby already!)

My main aim when we started in winter 2014 was to give Emma more awareness of her ability to control Shabby through her seat as well as creating more responses to rider’s seat in the horse. They are both brave, adrenaline junkies, often working too much “on the muscle” with little regards for finese 😉 We spent some time re-educating Emma’s upper body posture as well as upper and lower leg position. The latter was to add leverage to Emma’s seat (to encourage Shabby to stop his habitual hollowing through his back) and help her distribute her seat aids through Shabby’s ribcage and muscles on the sides of his body not just his back. We also did many sessions concentrating on Emma’s reactions to the feel through Shabby’s back, hind legs and shoulders as well as re-educating his neck and head carriage as he tended to move very over bent and tense in his “ordinary work”.

On his calm “home day” he now works very relaxed with lovely over-track in free walk, no jogging on re-take of the reins and his canter work is more symmetrical on both reins.

Video: Shabby training session at home 1 week before the event

 Video: Left canter at home  Video: Shabby training session at home. Canter work over poles on curved line. Left rein – Shabby’s “weaker” direction. This horse’s biggest weakness as far as jumping goes is maintaining slower (i.e. not a galloping speed) canter in the turns and sustaining collection without tension.  Final pre-event views: from my point of view, at this stage, I was happy with the progress we managed to make. I like the small changes in Emma’s riding and Shabby’s acceptance and focus improving. However, I believe they can do much better than this so we shall be working on 😉

HAMBLEDEN HORSE TRIALS THROUGH COACH’S EYE

I will let you watch the compilation of the clips first before sharing my comments in case you wanted to make own observations without bias 🙂 Here we go.

Main video with clips from the show grounds, warm up for dressage, jumping, the jumping phase and few XC clips.

Video: Full dressage test (sadly, it was so far from where I could stand that you can’t really watch it properly i.e. the arena is too far away to make out much of the test’s floor plan) Comments you can hear in the background are by one of Emma’s friends 🙂 Test: BE 106 (2012) 

POST EVENT THOUGHTS 

Overall, I am pleased with how Emma dealt with the training issues and from the rider coaching point of view, I feel some of my training objectives have definitely been achieved while the others emerged.

I hoped for Shabby to remain calmer once the initial anxiety and tension subsided. The warm up went all right in the end, I wasn’t expecting him to be much better at his first event. However, the logistics of going away to the dressage arena which was a considerable distance from all other horses and in a massive open field, was not ideal. Shabby’s mental preparation is the key here and his calm is incredibly volatile. In the sport of dressage where ability to train relaxation and focus into athletic performance is paramount, Shabby will always struggle to contain himself. However, through working on his confidence and trust in the routine of warm up, performance, cool down, I think we can improve the results for sure.

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I will want to work with them on the grass more and continue to develop strategies to keep the horse’s and rider’s mind on the job in hand. Canter work needs much more attention, his trot work was within my expectations considering the way he warmed up, I will want to focus more on his suppleness in the next few weeks before the next event on the 17th May.

He will not team chase at all now until October so I am hoping this will help manage his nerves too.

Now, show-jumping…It was the first time I saw him jumping a course and let’s just say, there is a lot to be done in that department. I was surprised how incredibly spent he was following the round which means he is way too anxious and stressed about this phase than he needs be (considering he was dry and fresh post his XC round before he even got back to the lorry park…!!).

I want Emma to be much more confident in her jumping abilities too as I know she can ride much better to single jumps at home so that’s another area to work on. She dislikes pole work but that’s what awaits them in the next few weeks 😉

The erratic canter Shabby is in during the round makes it near impossible for Emma to see her distances well so there is definitely some mental preparation work to be done – she needs to keep her calm so Shabby can learn to find his.

He is very careless about the rails. I don’t believe this can be fully trained out of a horse but with better approaches and more fluid riding as well as better quality canter they should be able to meet the jumps at more optimal take off points and perhaps leave more rails up!

Onwards and upwards now to the 17th and in the meantime, keep all crossed we can improve Shabby’s Zen state of mind and Emma’s confidence in her jumping!

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Aspire Eventing Diary with Emma and Shahbash Part 2

Emma corners

Today myself, Shabby and Emma are sharing with you the struggles with corners, straightness and relaxation. If you ride a sensitive horse with balance issues, suppleness issues and/or one who worries about connection with the bit at any moment of a simple challenge like bend/corner/transition, you might see the difficulties Emma is having and appreciate her efforts to sit better to help her horse.

If you are only starting out with a similar horse I would really encourage you to spend some time on a very basic work, quiet uneventful work that allows the horse to find his own balance, rhythm and relaxation with rider on board (ideally in a light seat especially if the horse, like Shabby, has a tendency to brace through his back, shoulders and the neck) as well as on the lunge without any gadgets but with your helpful presence.

If you skip that phase, you are likely to have similar issues to Emma’s with Shabby and it can be very frustrating, disheartening and sometimes impossible to eradicate those issues once you are already competing the horse.

Lesson part 2

In the video below you see Emma working through a simple exercise made up of poles that create a corner and a plastic cup that gives the rider an idea where they should not be going 🙂

I chose this exercise because I am working on “switching on” Emma’s seat skills – she is an experienced rider but 99% of the time she rides horses that you might call speed boats! They are so in front of the leg it’s way too much for it to have any positive effect schooling wise and they don’t accept the contact in a calm, trustworthy manner i.e. they have no idea about basic throughness. They are either off the track or horses other people didn’t manage to deal with for one reason or another.

This exercise might suit you if you too are very quiet, non confrontational rider who needs to realise you can make a big difference to the horse’s way of going.

It might be also helpful if, like Emma, you have a good feel for what’s happening underneath you but for one reason or another, you just don’t act on that feel.

Main points we worked on during the session

– upper body control

–  early planning of all movements

– feeling the horse with whole body and acting on that feel to help him remain straighter and calmer

– keeping the trot at a speed in which Shabby is most accepting and calm

– staying independent of Shabby’s brace-brace moments (which makes the rider feel like sitting in a hammock), avoiding backward traction of the hand when they happen and encourage him to reach forward through his neck

– outside aids control in order to turn straight into the corner and ride straight out of the corner

Tomorrow, I will describe in more detail what you can do with this set up and will share variants of goals that the riders can set themselves in this exercise depending on their level of experience and skill set.

Intro to the New series! Aspire Equestrian Training Diary: Emma B and Shahbash (British Eventing)

Emma and Shabby

The British Eventing season has now officially started and I decided to bring you all a little insight into training and competing adventures of one of the riders I teach. It will hopefully be a fun, educational and maybe inspirational read for some of you who train and compete on less-than-perfect horses with text book problems…It will very much be a real life scenario of a hard working rider with big dreams, small budget and very busy days!

Who is Emma? 

Slightly speed and XC obsessed tiny rider, ex-racehorse enthusiast and manager of Brackenhill Stud (click HERE to check it out)

Me on Friday: OK, so let’s have a look at the dressage test…how long is Shabby’s optimal warm up for the test?

Emma: (suspicious silence) Honestly?

Me: Yes?

Emma: Well, it depends what time he gets off the lorry, sometimes a few minutes. Also, this is the earliest I have ever practised my dressage test 😉

Me: Ok, we have some work to do 😉

I have always noticed a tendency in the UK riders to generally practice very little…better still if one could say that one rode through the test once, in one’s head, on the way to the show and got placed.

Coming from a system where if you didn’t practice you were out from the competing team without much of a second glance, such approach has been a bit of a shock to me for a long time. Some twelve years later I got used to it a little. Perhaps it has something to do with being perceived as more talented if one doesn’t practice much? Something to do with a fear of failure? If all goes badly, you can always say it will be better next time when you actually put some effort in?

What do you think? How much effort do you put into preparation for your events?

emma and shabash

Emma’s first event of the season: Goring Heath BE100 with ex-racehorse Shahbash (more about Shabby very soon!)

Shabby’s training: a little power house, Shabby is a 12 years old Thoroughbred ex-racer. He is a tense horse with tendency to brace through the back and neck and has varied degree of bit acceptance depending on his mood which makes him volatile when it comes to many aspects of dressage. The goal of our training has been to improve Shabby’s suppleness and basic straightness as well as quality of his trot and balance in canter which we have done in the last 3 months. Still lots of work to be done.

We are now training towards improving his acceptance of the bit and overall relaxation under pressure.

Emma’s training: As far as the rider training, Emma has had a bit of a seat bootcamp in the last 3 months which is still in progress 🙂 She is a great rider to teach, always up for a challenge. I will explain what we work on as we go.

Below is a very short edit of what is yet to come.

I will try to bring you weekly training stories all the way to Goring Heath and if we all enjoy it, we will continue throughout the eventing season with both Shahbash and Merehead (and maybe a couple more horses) 🙂

Stay tuned and do let me know if this series is of your interest!

Wiola