ONE YEAR ON: From a very nervous beginner rider to 12 months later…VIDEO STORY


On the 5th of May 2014 I received an email with this opening line (I hope Nigel isn’t going to kill me for quoting him! 😉 :


I’ve looked at a number of riding schools and they mostly seem to stick you on a horse and let you get on with it.  From what I’ve seen on your website it looks like you take a more fundamental approach, which is what I feel I need, given my confidence issue.

Fast forward several email conversations and organisation of a suitable start date, we set the first session for the 8th of July 2014.

First session for Nigel – learning basic balance on the simulator

At 6ft4 (1.95m), low fitness level and with some serious confidence issues ever since being bolted with and bucked off a horse as a child, Nigel certainly has been an interesting coaching challenge from the word go!

I can’t say I specialise in nervous riders. There are many much more capable coaches out there who can do a much better job with confidence issues.

I do, however, specialise in the go-getters, triers and dream chasers 😉 With all his disadvantages, fear being most dominant, Nigel had from the start what many riders are missing: incredible dedication and the drive to conquer whatever limitations came his way.

He probably doesn’t even see it like this but having taught thousands of riders I know many who give up at slightest obstacle be it nerves or physical disadvantages. I used to think it’s down to guts and courage but now I think it’s rather down to grit and determination.

Nigel and Star, one of the two of his horse-teachers so far. An amazing mare in her late twenties who was sadly put to sleep in June this year.

We have had some great rides where progress felt easy and fluid and we have had some very challenging sessions where everything seemed too much effort or appeared too difficult or too scary to achieve ( the first time I asked Nigel to ride without a bridle for example – I am sure he must have grown a couple of grey hairs 😉 ) Such experiences are a part and parcel of this sport (and any other) when trained as one and for me, they are as necessary for full enjoyment as the eureka and on-top-of-the-world moments 🙂

Nigel canter
Nigel today – 6th July 2015 on the other of his horse teachers – Percy.

If you too are a nervous rider, having riding related confidence issues, think you can’t achieve something due to one or other physical limitations do take example from Nigel and forget about needing talent and bravery. What you need is patience, dedication and a go-getter attitude 😉

Below video is a series of clips from many hours of footage I took over the year. I chose some moments that were both good and difficult, some that brought happy achievements endorphins and some that potentially brought the “I can’t do thiiisss!!” experiences 😉

Happy Aspire Anniversary Nigel!!

Happy watching! Personally, I am really looking forward to what next year’s video will be like 😀

Sitting to the trot, sitting to canter – 5 min exercise for riders who block the movement through lower body [video]

exercise loose stirrup

Elastic, sympathetic and effective seat – who wouldn’t want one! Today I would like to show you a simple, short awareness exercise that is very easy to do and can make a big difference to the way you feel horse’s movement and are able to join it.

I chose to video one of my riders with ankle stiffness issue so the video below is a very real, true representation of this problem.

Why this exercise can help you? 

Good seat is about relative stillness i.e. the ability to stabilise ones body in motion. This means that it requires constant, supple, consecutive, elastic micro movements through every joint in rider’s body and continuous interplay between many muscles surrounding those joints. I do like how contradicting this is 😉 As long as we are in motion that mimics horse’s motion, we appear still and graceful…Perhaps that’s where comparisons to dancing with a partner is so apt. Any blockage,stiffness,motion avoidance will result in further seat discomfort and lack of effectiveness.

The loose stirrups exercise engages the rider into creating a motion pattern in the leg that is similar to one created by the horse’s movement. As a result, the rider is able to start feeling that movement and allow the joints and muscles to embrace it.


How to do it? 

You can do it at home first with a rope/towel – create a sling. bend one leg and then rest the ball of the foot on the sling. It helps to keep the leg up in the air for a bit to tire the muscles so they really want that rest! Allow the weight of the leg to drop into the heel (your arms muscles should feel that weight now). Lift and lower the rope/sling to create up/down motion that requires flexion through hip/knee and ankle. Start from big movements and follow up with tiny, barely visible lifts and drops so you just feel your joint opening and closing in millilitres rather than inches. Allow the joints in your leg to be fully moved by the sling.

Structure your training 

If you have issues with sitting to trot or canter and generally would like to improve suppleness through your seat (or perhaps you get lower marks in dressage test due to lack of suppleness?) I would suggest doing this exercise for 5 min (2.5min or so on each leg) after your warm up walk and before you start your trot work. You could have a loose, old stirrup leather handy (with or without stirrup) in the arena so there is no need to remove your stirrups on/off. This exercise is about creating awareness and perception so it is best done with the actual stirrup.


If you have this issue and you are going to try this exercise do share your results! Feel free to tweet me your pictures at @AspireAcademy or post on Aspire’s Facebook HERE. I believe it is a super easy and safe exercise but if you are at all unsure/have serious orthopaedic issues then by any means consult a professional physio before attempting it.

With many thanks to Moira on Aspire Foundation Programme for taking part in the video! 🙂 

All the best,


Before and After: Training video comparison between Day 1 and Two Months Later

Practising focus without “trying too hard” and letting the horse perform the movement in a relaxed manner. Some lovely end result in this exercise in our final session.

I have just done the final filming session with one of our Aspire Video Library test-riders. I will very much miss our training but we need to focus on riders fully committed to Aspire programme to really present what the programme can do. Magda has been great to work with but declared to be happy with most of her training at the time saying she was happy with her competition results. She wasn’t prepared to make more changes so we needed to cross out some core elements of Aspire training. Nevertheless, I liked the rider and the horse and their drive to improve. I do believe in being relatively flexible in training approach at times and Magda bravely agreed for her progress to be made public so that alone was a proof to me that she was ready for a challenge. The rider remained fairly open-minded and gave her best during the sessions which made for a very enjoyable experience.

My initial training plan for the rider assumed a lot of work aimed at balance and suppleness (in-hand and ridden) but due to rider’s training beliefs we needed to alter that.

We did, however, went through all main points and started addressing stiffness and a holding seat in the rider to help progress towards more feeling, stable yet more supple seat which in turn will be eventually able to balance the horse without unnecessary tension. Long way still in front of Magda but considering the amount of training she did on these elements I think she made a good effort and showed proportional results.

Continue reading Before and After: Training video comparison between Day 1 and Two Months Later

Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider

Hello everyone! There’s been a few quiet days on the blog due to various things taking over my time but the daily posts are back now. Meet Wanessa, the brave new-ish guinea pig on my Aspire Video Library project and her 10 year old coloured mare which I will just call J. as her name is unpronounceable 😉

Wanessa is 17 and together with J. jumps at regional shows at 1m and sometimes 1.10m.  In our initial chat she said she has had problems with confidence when jumps get bigger and speed control as J. likes to take over and run onto the jumps. They have problems with J. liking a long spot too and with Wanessa’s indecision as to which take off spot to direct the mare to as they go over a course of jumps.

29th July: Wanessa at her first session in which we define the starting point and things to work on…

Before you watch the below videos let’s have a think…

Motivated, keen riders often deal quite well with their own technique, riding style or methods and they go on to even have reasonable success at shows, winning or going clear. I believe that we have to be very weary of a difference between winning or doing well at a show and having training results.

I am fully aware this might sound a little controversial but here is why I think so. It’s not so difficult to do reasonably well at lower or even higher levels whilst skipping on own basics and/or have badly trained or fear trained horses. I am talking about show-jumping here. Dressage is somewhat more difficult to do well at under judges you respect if your training isn’t done correctly with long term soundness of your horse in mind.

Continue reading Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider

Sitting Trot. Can you truly get it or improve it if you don’t feel it?

Feeling the motion of the horse’s back

If you had to describe a movement your body feels in sitting trot to a non-rider, how would you do it? If you wanted to tell them how not to bounce in sitting trot, how to stay centred and help the horse via your seat in sitting trot, how would you do it? How does your pelvis move in the saddle and what part of your body absorbs the concussion?

If there is an issue with your sitting trot, if you have difficulty sitting to the movement of your horse, I recommend having a go at the above questions. If you are not sure, take a moment to think before you read further 🙂 I’ll pop another photo below to delay your reading 🙂

Continue reading Sitting Trot. Can you truly get it or improve it if you don’t feel it?

Manic Monday :)

I had an interesting subject to write about today but! I worked until really late yesterday, woke up late to a great email from Kent which will hopefully mean an Aspire coaching day(s) or weekend(s) at an exciting new venue.

Attempt at breakfast failed as empty fridge and shelves didn’t cooperate so food shopping had to be done. My plan was to start working on August and September diary which I did (phew! something went according to plan) but then ended up editing videos for the Video Library for longer than I anticipated, then ran to do more filming in the afternoon and Monday disappeared!  So, a bit of a manic day 🙂

Filming for Aspire Video Library – 22 July 2013.

 Oh, did I mention that the battery in my camcorder ran out half way? Yep. I love Mondays really 🙂

What lifts You and Keeps You Balanced in Rising (Posting) Trot? (plus Video Exercise)

Let’s start with an experiment. [if you do it please leave a comment sharing how it felt:) ]

Exercise: It will only take you 2 minutes. You can sit on the floor or on your bed. Sit on your heels, upper body straight. Take your arms to your sides and move up so your are kneeling. Repeat 3-4 times. Do it side by side with a mirror if you can or rest your phone somewhere so you can film yourself doing this. Then, read on and see video at the bottom of this post 🙂 And share your views!

Exercise 1
Exercise: Sit on your heels, upper body straight. Take your arms to your sides and move up so your are kneeling. Do it side by side with a mirror if you can or rest your phone somewhere so you can film yourself doing this. Then, see video at the bottom of this post 🙂 And share your views!

Let’s have a think now…

In basketball, there is a clear difference between bouncing the ball up and down against the floor, and throwing it up and forward on a nice arch so it goes through the net. Different body position and use of limbs, back, shoulders, fingers must be assumed for either.

In equestrian, in rising [or posting] trot, there is a similar difference between an up and down rise when we use the bounce of the horse plus push from the stirrups or forward and up rise & sit when hips of the rider travel on an arch and we lift our body without changing neutral spine posture. Different use of back, abdominal muscles, hips, feet and..thighs.

So, which way is the right way, and why?

You might think, hey I’ve been doing rising trot for so long I don’t even remember when and how I learnt it but if you have issues with your horse’s forwardness, impulsion, straightness, back roundedness, connection back to front, consistency of contact to name just a few, stay for a little longer, it would be great to hear your views!

Over the last 20 years I taught over 14.000 complete beginners or novice riders to ride (I am actually slightly overwhelmed by this number as I decided to under calculate it as not to exaggerate!) and sadly, half of those I would have taught by an up-and-down mantra. In 1997 I came across Centred Riding and changed my ways slowly until I was able to eliminate the need for up-and-down instruction from my teaching vocabulary.


Rising by using your back, upper body motion and/or by pushing up from stirrups (standing up on them) has a huge effect on rider’s ability to stabilise own body, achieve independent hand, encourage free, forward movement in the horse, use their lower legs independently of upper legs, ask for greater collection later in training and the list goes on.

Random freeze frames

I typed in You Tube: ‘my horse riding lessons’ . Below are random freeze frames from some public videos showing what most of us assume is a stage “we all have to go through”. But do we really?


rising trot bad 1
To make things worse these frames are from a video titled: how to ride posting trot. You need to be very selective in what you watch if you are a novice rider seeking to learn on You Tube…

Continue reading What lifts You and Keeps You Balanced in Rising (Posting) Trot? (plus Video Exercise)

Difference Two Steps can Make…The Magic of 2 seconds in Photos and a Video.

The pictures below are a study of a few steps within a simple exercise: transitions within trot. The horse shown is a 4 1/2 year old warmblood (the great model for Aspire Video Library) ridden by his owner (our very brave Library case study!):

Difference two steps make

Photo on the right shows Liberado S in a moment of transition from a little trot (short steps) into a bigger trot that is closer in stride length to his working trot. The rider is doing a great job in initial transition asking for it with feel and attention to the horse’s balance. You can see that he pushed his body onwards and slightly upwards from an active hind legs, his whole top line rounded slightly, his wither & shoulder lifted and neck relaxed at the bottom and rounded through the crest automatically. You can see he is not overly happy in his work on these pictures but that has its root somewhere else and I will write about it in due time 🙂 You are all very welcome to have your guesses! Please leave a comment and in a few weeks time I will post videos tracing the work on a certain issue this lovely horse has in his basic training.

But back to the point.

Continue reading Difference Two Steps can Make…The Magic of 2 seconds in Photos and a Video.

Photo Post From day of Filming :)

One of our brave riders and her lovely 4 year old Liberado S taking part in filming for Aspire Video Library.


Filming for Grassroots Library: the basics – stability and balance. Rider’s first go ever on a PIlates ball 🙂


Continue reading Photo Post From day of Filming 🙂