Category Archives: Dressage

Focused training at home – our in-house dressage challenge

A dressage test is very much a complete lesson for both horse and rider. The movements are designed to flow from one to another and present the horse and rider with a test of balance, attention, acceptance of aids, suppleness etc

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From left: Caitlin on Jasper, Sofija on Basil, Rachel on Oscar and Jazzy jumping up with joy 😉 

As such, practicing towards a particular dressage test can nicely channel the work needed to be done in order to advance the schooling of the horse and the training of the rider. There doesn’t need to be any planned competition in sight in order to create a training structure at home.

Many riders struggle with daily tasks that can lead to improvements and having a well defined floor plan i.e. a dressage test , is a perfect way to help with ideas.


At the end of May we set a June Challenge focused around a British Eventing dressage test. I let the riders taking part choose the test from any of the BE90 ones and the decision was to do the BE92 test.

The reason we went for the British Eventing dressage tests rather than the British Dressage ones was simply due to us training on grass through the summer and the arena available is too small to set up a 20x40m test area.

The Challenge had two parts:

1. Train yourself and your horse towards a competent attempt at British Eventing 92 Dressage Test (the test is at a Dressage Preliminary level and is a part of BE90 Horse Trials)

2. Appraise other horse’s and rider’s performance in order to understand the requirements better and improve own “eye” for correct training.

We had 5 training sessions in total focused primarily on this test.

Session 1: Understanding your horse’s strengths and weaknesses in all elements required at the test.

Session 2: Work through your horse’s strengths and weaknesses and formulate exercises/routines to improve weak points and show off the strong points

Practice during the month

Session 3: Enclose the exercises to the vague area of the test arena and practice the patterns of the test with no dressage markers. Continue working on weak elements and showing off the strong ones

Session 4: Practice of all test movements within the arena set up with markers in place with particular focus on correct use of corners and accurate shapes of all exercises

Session 5: Warm Up for the test with all the training in mind and have a go at the test 🙂


Caitlin & Jasper (Judges at C: Sofija , Rachel) : 73.2 % (Eventing score: 26.8)

Sofija  & Basil (Judges at C: Caitlin , Rachel) : 62% (Eventing score: 38)

These were both very good scores for these horses and both tests were nicely presented and very tactfully ridden. Unfortunately, Oscar lost a shoe a week before the Saturday test and removed it so “well” he punctured his foot rendering himself out of contention! Rachel took part part-time riding the test pattern in walk and testing her judging skills.


logo clearI believe training is all about little milestones and small but important achievements and as such, celebrating them is part of the game   Aspire Academy is a brand ambassador for Boudica Equestrian this year and in collaboration with Boudica the riders won the following:

Caitlin for the highest score: £20 voucher to spend on anything via Boudica’s online/pop-up store at as well as 10% OFF the order with the Aspire code

Sofija for the super score with a tense pony who probably never done a dressage test of this level on grass: £15 voucher as well as 10% OFF the order with the Aspire code

Rachel for a great team spirit, superb turn out of Oscar and getting involved in the judging process: £10 voucher as well as 10% OFF the order with the Aspire code.


In only five sessions we were able to achieve a really noticeable degree of improvement in horse’s way of going and consistency and planning from the riders. I’d recommend monthly focus sessions like that to all improvement driven riders 🙂

Thank you to Boudica Equestrian for a great collaboration on little rewards for all the riders’ efforts!

Question of the weekend: what good few top dressage horses have in common with Elena Mukhina? (answer at the bottom of the post)

By Wiola Grabowska

There was once a brilliant young girl who could do what others wouldn’t dream of trying. She had a coach and an ambitious management team and was going to the Olympics. Do take 6 minutes  to get to know her if you haven’t heard of her before, meet Elena

I’ve heard of Elena because, for better or worse, and despite the fact I purposefully focus on grassroots vs professional sport, I still like to follow the “top” in many different disciplines. Many non-sport-specific coaching methods are not that dissimilar across all sports and I find it interesting to learn beyond equestrianism.

This weekend, a dressage rider well known for using rollkur, won the third leg of the World Cup Dressage 2017/2018 Western European League.

There have been so many outcries, social media posts and online actions against rollkur and other abusive training methods yet riders who use them still win at the top of the game. The pursuit of impossible is so ingrained in our human nature that it overlooks everything on the way. If a body is able to do it, or we think it is, we will try to make it do – whether animal or human. Limits seemingly do not exists.

Considering a horse and rider in a competition are a sports team, even though riders of all levels have coaches, the rider is effectively a unique type of a coach to their horse. They are also a performance manager to the horse. They are actually, everything training related to that horse.

And that horse might as well be called Elena.

For refreshingly different communication and possibilities, you might want to watch these Olympic riders: Karen & David O’Connor – another level of communication

*Answer: They have the same kind of coach

Spicing up the training at home: competing online with Dressage Anywhere

By Wiola Grabowska

We’ve been meaning to incorporate online dressage tests into Academy programmes on regular basis for quite a while now and have done an odd test with clients here and there. It’s still my aim to make it into a more regular “event” as not only that it brings a nice motivational factor to the dressage lessons but it also makes it possible to acquire feedback from the judges without costly travel.


Today, we had a go at filming a Novice and an Elementary tests for submission to Dressage Anywhere. Aisha set up the 20m x 40m inside the indoor arena at Brackenhill Stud that is about 30m by 55m which gave a perfect space for placing the camera while having a good view of the whole arena.

I found it surprisingly hard to video the test well with my snazzy equipment (a very thoughtful Christmas gift from my riders a year ago) despite the fact I’d been filming snippets from lessons for feedback since 2009/10! Videoing a test in a flowing manner proved to be a little challenging so Aisha’s mistakes here and there were opportunities for me to correct mine.


I think one the biggest benefits of staging these sessions for the Development programme riders that occurred to me today will be in creating warm up circumstances similar to real-life shows. Schooling a horse during a flatwork lesson and even talking the rider through the possible ways to warm up for particular tests are quite different to achieving best “test readiness” in 20-30minutes prior the actual test.

The other plus is the option of repetition. Often the atmosphere at shows causes a lot of tension both in the horse and the rider and the fact there is only “one shot” at getting it right makes it worse. Some might say this is the essence of the competition spirit but I reckon that for training purposes, the repetition buffer can help train stress resilience and limit feelings of frustration brought by some small elements going wrong.

The pressure is still on, the rider still needs to be quick on their feet and minds so the job is definitely being done.

Aisha’s second go at her Elementary test had some of the best canter work I have ever seen her ride so I was very happy for her.

Until I realised she forgot to wear gloves and the 2h we spent setting everything up and filming will need to be repeated 😉

We will sure be remembering that one! Another good lesson there 😉

Quick Tip: How to reduce rider’s crookedness on a crooked horse

If you ever heard that you are leaning into your turns, collapsing in your waist or a hip, leaning forward in transitions to name just a few symptoms of balance issues, you might find this quick tip helpful.


This is not a quick fix mind you 😉 Just a quick tip on how to start working on yourself as a rider when in the saddle and when there is no one on the ground to provide you with an immediate feedback.

Nothing replaces posture re-education off-horse if your individual posture is poor and nothing replaces regular body awareness focused practice (like Pilates, Yoga or even regular video feedback from lessons) but here are some ideas to help you.

You are probably familiar with the concept of “being ahead of the movement”. This might be especially so if you jump over any height as that when being ahead of the movement is most obvious. Same goes for “getting left behind” – again, anyone who have ever jumped even a little bit will know how this feels.

For every single movement you ride on the flat, you can be ahead, behind or exactly with the movement. Both in terms of front to back/back to front motion and side to side  (lateral) motion…It is just perhaps not as obvious as when you hang on for dear life after the horse took off unexpectedly over a wide oxer leaving you to catch up.

You could call it being always aligned with horse’s centre of gravity (which changes all the time from stride to stride) and applies as much to a walk to canter transition, riding a corner of the arena in walk or doing a trot leg-yield across the long diagonal.

Most riders with crookedness issues are aware of them but struggle to correct themselves “in the moment”. I have noticed during my work with riders with those issues that if you focus the training on developing more feel for where the horse (or their centre of gravity) “is” at any one time and how it changes from stride to stride, the rider remains much straighter, more symmetrical and distributes their body weight more effectively.

What does this mean in practical terms? 

If you tend to lean into the corners when your horse “falls through the inside shoulder” or “falls out through the outside shoulder”, you are in front of the movement (side-to-side). You are bracing yourself to help the horse turn better or to make him turn better (depending on your training methods). Either way, you are fighting a losing battle as your position is already making it impossible/or much harder, for the horse to correct themselves.

Try to feel 7-8 steps before the corner where your horse’s centre of gravity is. In most cases, you will find yourself having to “slow down” the turn, not rush with your upper body/shoulders in order to make the turn but “stay back” and wait for the turn to come to you.

Once you are step by step truly with the horse, your corrections will be more effective, you will find yourself being less changed by your horse’s crookedness and the feeling might be of “having more time” to make the corrections.

If you tend to lean forward in upwards transitions, think of it in the same terms as disturbing the jumping horse by going in front of their movement. Practice remaining in the saddle with your seat bones feeling the movements of the hind legs and patiently “wait” with your own centre of gravity until the horse moves up.

To sum up – instead of worrying that you are leaning in or leaning on or collapsing, start switching your senses to detect your horse’s balance and centre of gravity. It’s a much more pleasant and engaging way of creating straightneess in both horse and rider than constantly nagging oneself to sit “straight”.

Hope this can help some of you 🙂


Bury Farm Dressage -choosing the right shows to go to

Mairi and The Farmer’s Boy aka Gilly – final halt at the end of the test at Bury Farm Equestrian Centre

As many of my riders will know, I personally like training for the sake of training and I am not particularly competitive. I much rather see my riders go out and do well, it’s great to see them try their best, look after their horses in a stressful environment and develop their horsemanship that way.

Having said that, I do love a bit of a challenge too so a show now and then keeps me focused on the quality of the teaching and level of my own riding. The key in incorporating shows into training is to choose the right ones, the ones that will complement the work we do at home and allow the horses and riders to learn rather than be over faced or under challenged.

There are fair amount of very good venues in our area (South East) so as a result, there are also many small, local shows as well as bigger events at larger competition centres to choose from.

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Caitlin and Gilly. Prelim 2

For training dressage at grassroots level, I personally like the well run unaffiliated shows which often have British Dressage judges involved. This gives the riders a good experience of the atmosphere and quality of the judging (useful comments that are both fair and encouraging). They are much more affordable than affiliated shows and provide a great preparation ground before going affiliated 🙂

We went for Bury Farm dressage this month and it was a fantastic education experience with Introductory tests being run in the centre’s International arena and Preliminary tests in quite busy indoor next to one of the warm ups.

Mairi and Caitlin did their first larger dressage show on Gilly and despite some first-time nerves they both had a great time. Mairi’s score qualified her for Trailblazers 2nd round so we are planning to give it a go on the 3rd of April 🙂

Mairi and Gilly. Prelim 2.

Watching the riders perform without any help or instruction is, I find, a great teaching tool as it gives me ideas on where we need to put more work into and how to plan the training so it creates a thinking and confident rider and horse.

Gilly. Thank you to his owner, Georgia, for trusting us with the lease of him. He is a fabulous schoolmaster and we can’t imagine him not being the part of the team now!

I took young Una for her owner, Kelly, and we did survive some “oh my god how big and scary is this arena” moments 😉 It was a superb experience for her and I look forward to taking her out again and in the meantime we shall work at home on staying relaxed and attentive in new environment.

How do you choose the shows to go to? Do you go for local shows or pick and mix to find the best educational experiences for your horse(s)?

Una Bury Farm Dressage March 2016
Una (Undeg Trofarth) at the end of her Intro C test (left) and in the warm up for Prelim 2 (right)


Do you run a box /lorry hire or know of someone who does? We are seeking local transport options to add to our existing one to be able to take several riders at a time to schooling sessions at different venues and shows. If you are based near Northolt, West London, give us a shout! 



Secret to quick and easy way to achieve deep seat…


Ok, maybe some say it but if there is such a magic, quick and easy secret, I don’t know it. Solution might be quick but execution is rarely easy!

If you would like to read about not-so-secret steps to achieve a deep seat Aspire training style, check back here soon 🙂 The long post is coming up this week!

P.S. The title of this post is what someone typed into google and came across Aspire blog. 

The purpose of Dressage explained in a short video :)

Check out the video below 🙂

A week ago, a rider watched a lesson I was giving to her fellow livery and asked me afterwards if it was dressage that was my main/preferred coaching area. The content of my lesson was a very basic flatwork encouraging a more correct, relaxed body in the horse and more balanced and effective seat in the rider so that question surprised me somewhat.

It made me think that we often compartmentalise training into Dressage, Jumping, XC etc and then we have “dressage horses”, “jumping horses”, “I – don’t – do – dressage but only hack horses” , “hunting horses” etc whereas I like to think about it not as horses for dressage but dressage for the horse, any horse, any rider…It’s simply training the body of a riding horse so its job of specialising later in life is as easy as possible. It’s the training the body of the rider so they can dressage = train their horses into willing, comfortable riding horses/hacking horses/jumping horses…

My main, preferred area of coaching is training a healthy horse and a sympathetic, empathetic rider in both basics of dressage, more advanced dressage and jumping . Karen Rohlf from Dressage, Naturally, explained my thoughts so much better in this great, short video:

Sparkly News: Kate Negus Saddlery’s Limited Edition SR Diamante now online!

You might have spotted the beautiful leatherwork by Kate Negus in our Gift Guide Part 3 – if you loved it, you might want to check out this limited edition sparkles designed with an International Dressage rider – Sam Rahmatalla.

I am not usually into sparkly tack but do quite like this browband! :-0

Kate Negus Saddlery’s Limited Edition SR Diamante now online! 

Kate Negus Saddlery’s Limited Edition SR Diamante range, designed with sponsored rider Sam Rahmatalla, is now available at, due to customer demand.

photo[2][6][1][2]The first range hit the shelves at HOYS in one colour, black. The browbands, made in one or two sizes per design, were incredibly well received, so much so that a new line of chestnut browbands was added at Your Horse Live. As the company isn’t attending any shows for a few months and due to customer requests on Facebook, the available lines have been added to the website, so people can buy from the comfort of their own home.

“For those who love bling and sparkle, our SR Diamante range is a must have,” says Julia Andrews from Kate Negus Saddlery. “At shows, the sparkle draws people over- people love the browbands. The range contains blues, silvers, golds, pinks and more…and there’s even one with pearls. We’re producing these in very limited numbers, making them extra special.”

The SR Diamante range is available online. Some styles are available in narrow width, some in wide. Prices start from £80.

To find out more, see, call 0780 115 0571 or email


Source:  Rhea Freeman PR 07980 757910