Category Archives: For The Rider

Rider’s Question: What length of reins should I ride with and how to develop the right feel for it

By Wiola Grabowska

Rider Question: “[…]thanks for my videos. Can we have a chat about rein length at some point […] They just always look so much longer than they feel on Gilly and look awful to me! I feel like it’s something I have the wrong feel for and need to fix.[…]”

Mairi and Gilly blog post
A frame from the lesson the rider is referring to

Video feedback forms an important part of all the lessons I do and I try to send some footage to every rider at least a couple of times a month. Those videos are then open for discussion and I encourage the riders to send me their observations and thoughts on what they see on videos vs what they felt when the rode. I think it helps with being self-critical in a constructive way, reflect on what happened and how it happened. The “reins length” question is very common and in fact is asked often in the search function for this blog so I asked Mairi if I could use her session and her question to discuss this at more length (no pun intended here 😉 ).

She agreed so here we go. Remember that these thoughts might not apply to all riders and all horses. Just take out what you feel might be useful.

First, have a look at the frames below. They are taken at random out a 1min footage and rider’s reins do not change length significantly at any time…:

Mairi and Gilly length of reins
Notice variety of postures Gilly is offering on the same length of reins depending on his balance….

The interesting aspect of this session was that it was what you might call, a breakthrough session. There are some elements which we are training for and Mairi got a “real life” feel for them rather than only understanding them in theory.

I personally was not at all concerned  about her rein length during this session and at the stage we are at so her question made me think…

  • why the length of reins was the element she most noticed while watching the video?
  • why it looks “awful” to her and why?
  • what “feel” do we need to build up for her to make further progress

Some considerations when deciding on the “right” length of reins: 

  • do they create a neutral, supple, steady connection (not yet “contact” as that’s what the horse gives the rider not vice-versa) i.e. the rein is neither slack nor taut/pulling nor changes in between one option to the other from step to step.
  • do they allow the horse to carry his neck in a posture that matches his current level of training and conformation. In terms of Dressage training, Mairi and Gilly are working towards a quality Preliminary level (British Dressage). This level asks for minimal of engagement, forward basic paces (medium walk, working trot, working canter), progressive transitions between gaits and basic body balance and alignement that makes the Preliminary “test shapes” easy to perform.
  • do they allow the rider to act with passive resistance or encourage the rider to pull back
  • is the rider able to help the horse with balance through the connection (ask for poll flexion or a half-halt) without unnecessarily busy hands

Mairi & Gilly’s case: 

  • the rider’s reins are a little too long at times but this is more due to her allowing them to slip between her fingers
  • her feel changes from “all good” to “my reins are too long” when Gilly lifts his head above the bit. As these moments are very short in real life but can be unsightly when watched on the video, her attention is drawn to those “washing lines reins” rather than other issues (like loses of rhythm, half – halt that came too late and cost them balance, her own upper body posture that is changing and affecting balance, the seat that can be a little behind the movement or in front of the movement which again affects balance and encourages Gilly to catch it by lifting his neck)
  • rider’s adjustments are done “in front” rather than “behind” – this means that the slack or heaviness of the rein is not a “rein issue”, it’s a balance and engine issue. If the energy produced by the hind legs is misdirected or insufficient, this will show in the quality of connection the rider has between their hands and the bit.

I like to tell the riders to try to feel the horse’s hind legs in their hands and by that I mean that they ask the horse to travel forward and then catch the energy from the hind legs with the bit. Carry the hands and let the horse’s neck relax into most natural and functional (allowing athletic movement) position for the particular horse. That’s the starting point.

To answer Mairi’s question: the way to learn to feel for the right rein length is to learn to feel balance in the whole horse. Once the rider truly feels how to balance the horse with seat aids, how to energise or calm the paces in order to help with that balance, how to truly ride forward without chasing/running and how to maintain own steadiness, then there is rarely any doubt as to what rein length to have. Simply shortening the reins might help in some cases, but not this one.

Sometimes what feels good, is good for that particular moment, even if visually it’s not yet ideal 🙂 Once Gilly’s balance improves and rider’s feel for that good balance improves, he will raise his shoulders/withers and will be able to work with shorter neck and shorter rein. At the moment, short rein causes him to react defensively, block the hind legs energy at the wither and become disconnected through his body.

In summary: the reins are a little too long but perfect for this stage of learning the feel and experimenting what’s right and what’s dysfunctional for this particular horse. 

ATTENTION ACADEMY RIDERS: I WILL ADD A SHORT VIDEO FROM THE SESSION IN OUR CLOSED FB GROUP TO ILLUSTRATE THE ABOVE POINTS FURTHER SO HEAD OVER THERE IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE MAIRI IN ACTION 😉

The dreaded rising trot without stirrups – why do it and how it can help you with your riding skills

By Wiola Grabowska
Rider: Mairi M.
Horse: Boo

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Most riders I know and teach wouldn’t describe rising trot without stirrups as their favourite seat development exercise but I do rate it and use it as often as possible.

Here’s why:

  • It’s one of a very few exercises that relatively quickly change a “busy” rider into a much more organised and “quiet” one.
  • It is very difficult to do rising trot with no stirrups if the rising mechanism is wrong, it will simply be a torture on many levels!
  • Almost by default, this exercise, when done well, only rewards the rider when they organise their body in optimal position and join the horse’s movement well. This in turn is a great ingredient in developing better feel for nuances in a stride, for timings of half-halts etc
  • It strengthens the muscles in rider’s legs and core. When done well, it will help the rider achieve optimal, positive muscle tension. It works well for riders who ride with “too much muscle” and the riders who ride floppy. The ones who put too much muscular effort in, will get tired very fast. The floppy ones will need to dig in and discover deep skeletal muscles to stabilise themselves.
  • It doesn’t require fancy equipment, all you need is a relatively calm horse that is used to lunge work. I wouldn’t do it on young horses unless you are an experienced rider looking to refine some aspects of your seat. I would under no circumstances do it on nervous horses, horses with history of back pain or those that seem to over-react to rider’s corrections. Stay safe and keep the horse happy 😉
  • Each phase of the trot will be distinctly “feelable” – the rider can catch the moment she/he is being lifted and how much tension she/he needs in her inner and outer thigh.
  • There is nothing to brace against (stirrups) so as long as the rider is well guided by the trainer. she/he can really work on the right feel of the thigh and the hip initiating the rise rather than push from the stirrups (more on rising trot mechanics HERE)

How: 

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  • I like to warm up the rider off the lunge in walk, trot and canter both to make sure the rider is ready and the horse too
  • We start with a slow sitting trot to feel for frequency of the stride before starting short periods of rising trot with individual corrections
  • We build it up from 5- 6 rises to 5-6 minutes of rising trot 😉
  • We then practice smooth changes between sitting and rising trot back to sitting
  • Depending on my goals for the rider I might have them holding the reins (as Mairi is on photos in this post) but more often than not I prefer to do this with no rein connection so the rider can fully focus on their seat.

If you do try it, build it up slowly. Make sure you have good guidance to correct you in an effective and long-lasting way. Simply suffering in rising trot with no stirrups won’t make  you into more sensitive, more aware rider.

Happy training!

To watch a short video from Mairi’s training rising trot without stirrups, head over to our Instagram, just click image below to watch it:

InstagramVideo Rising Trot No Stirrups

Do try it at home – improving stickability & balance in the saddle

By Wiola Grabowska

rider balance 2

The first time you try to stand on the gym ball you might conclude it a mission impossible. Your joints might go all stiff, muscles all rigid and you might try to grasp for anything and anyone to grab hold of for balance.

If this sounds a bit like you when your horse is playful and fresh or when he takes off awkwardly over  a jump or when you feel nervous in the saddle for whatever reason, you might want to try this exercise at home.

VIDEO:

The ability to relax during an intense effort is something that is possible to learn. That “active relaxation” allows for a positive tension to keep muscles in a state of readiness without the negative tension creeping in and making you rigid and and stilted in your movements.

For the above exercise you’ll need: 

  • a gym ball (65cm should work well unless you are very tall or very short! – go for 75cm if the former or 55cm if the latter)
  • a helper, someone to catch you 😉
  • safe area around you
  • we used a couple of poles to stabilise the ball a little and this worked well for Caitlin’s first go. You can slowly build up towards no outside help.
  • a Pilates band (black one we used gives a good amount of stretch without feeling too much like pulling on a chewing gum!)
  • somewhere to attach the band to (or you can have a second helper holding the band)

Benefits (if you persevere with this exercise) : 

  • huge dose of balance effort – it’s like learning to walk again 😉 You’ll feel like an earthquake and white water rafting happened to you at the same time!
  • you’ll find muscles you never thought you had
  • you’ll make discoveries about your balance that you won’t make walking on an even pavement
  • you’ll learn to breathe through a state of mild panic 😉
  • you’ll learn that your arms can move quietly even if your body is fighting a crazy battle to remain on top of the ball (not to unlike a calm balance required during playful bucking episodes, jumping efforts, XC etc)
  • you’ll learn a different dimension of relaxation, one that perhaps you have not experienced before: relation inside an immense effort…It’s when you are able to let go of negative tension in your muscles but remain engaged and positively toned. The skill that takes riding to higher level.

How to: 

  • stand on the ball (simple but not easy 😉 )
  • the position you are aiming for is a correct squat with your knees in line with your toes, your centre of gravity low (not up in your shoulders – feel like you drop your weight into your hips and like your shoulder blades relax down your ribs)
  • you want to feel supple and loose in your shoulder joint, elbow and wrists
  • your back needs to stay as neutral as possible (avoid hollowing your back or rounding your back). A nice little video about neutral spine below:

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.

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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 🙂

Wiola

Great news for all made-to-measure boots enthusiasts!

Tuffa offers made-to-measure options on all long boots!

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Tuffa Footwear has introduced a new made-to-measure boot service that applies to all long boots in Tuffa’s collection.

The new service allows the company to make a pair of boots, in the style of one of the existing lines, to fit the rider’s exact measurements. The rider needs to take 12 measurements to ensure that the boots fit perfectly, and then wait for just 10 weeks while the boots are being made!

“We do our best to cater for all sizes and shapes of rider as our Breckland and Broadland Boots prove,” says Michelle Girling from Tuffa Footwear. “The thing is that there are so many different sizes that it’s not feasible to carry stock of each possible variation, so we came up with an affordable alternative. For just £40 on top of the normal boot price, we can make the boot made-to-measure. We’re excited to be able to offer this service and know our customers are going to really appreciate it.”

The made-to-measure boot service is available on existing long boot styles and allows the boots’ measurements to be changed during production for the perfect fit. The cost is £40 plus the original cost of the boot, making made-to-measure boots a very affordable option.

For more information see www.tuffaboots.com or call 01953 880914.

Prepared by: Rhea Freeman PR rhea@rheafreemanpr.co.uk 07980 757910