Category Archives: LEO ASPIRE JOURNEY

Leo Barefoot Transition. Part 3: Fronts go bare

By Wiola Grabowska


I often hear people say that in the same way as we need shoes to go about our daily challenges and be able to cope with weather, surfaces etc etc, horses really need theirs for “unnatural” use of their legs that we expose them to.

I get that.

But now imagine…to never ever take your own shoes off…not after a long day on your feet…not to sit down for dinner, not to stretch out on a sofa when your feet ache at the end of the day, not for a bath or shower, not for a good night sleep, not for days. Not for weeks. Not for years. Never ever take them off…I am not sure if our feet will help us as be athletic as we can be and our joints to remain healthy as we age if we indeed spend our lives in some form protective outdoor footwear 24/7.

I find the whole hoofcare quite fascinating mainly due to the fact there is so much mainstream belief into such medieval practices like iron shoeing a live structure. I just want to know more about how to do it all differently but not just on retired/non-ridden horses. I’d love to know more about performance barefoot so Leo and I are learning together 😉 There are good few examples now out there that barefoot for a performance horse can work just fine. Hopefully there will be more.

The front shoes came off Leo on December 5th 2017 and I must say I did think that if walks away totally crippled or just unable to walk (I saw such cases before) I would put them straight back on. He walked slowly and deliberately on concrete around the yard but once on arena surface he moved well.

Leo trot barefoot
First barefoot trot to test comfort levels

As with the removal of the hind feet I am going for very little interference in the first week, just making sure he has enough movement on surfaces he is comfortable on. If all goes well I will start introducing different surfaces in-hand from week 2 and aim to be back on board for hacking around end February next year. I will see how he copes with ridden work on soft surfaces (arenas) at the end of December, until then I will repeat all the proprioception and conditioning work I’d done with the hind removal back in the summer.

Here is his front feet photo story.

Above: Autumn 2016. Leo arrived with me in late August wearing custom made bar shoes. I took him out of them several months into having him and he has been in regular front shoes this year.

Leo out of fronts

Last day in shoes. 5th December 2017.

Leo front shoe just off 5th Dec 2017
The starting point…

The hind feet have improved nicely, he is comfortable on them on soft as well as out hacking for up to 1h hacks (not gone for longer so far due to my own injury). He has some sensitivity on them on very stoney ground ridden but not in-hand.

Here is a comparison shot of right hind:

LEFT: 4th December 2017 RIGHT: 27th June 2017 (several days out of shoes)

The new hind feet growth is at a slightly different angle to the old one but at the moment he is still loading the outside of the hoof more than the inside judging by the growth. I haven’t filmed his front feet landing yet to check media-lateral balance of them but will do soon. I planned to do it this morning but the snow stopped the play!

Instead, here’s Leo in his field in the white, white world 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 15.50.42
Click here or on image above to watch the video on Instagram

Until next time!


Leo’s Barefoot Transition. Part 2: Two weeks on

By Wiola Grabowska

Read Part 1 here where I explain why I am transitioning Leo to barefoot and how I plan to go about it. 

Conditioning the hooves out and about

The first two weeks without hind shoes have gone well for Leo and his feet are changing already. He is showing no sensitivity to any surfaces at the moment so I started 30-40 minutes hacks out both ridden and in-hand over as many different surfaces as I can find. Here is a little video of his striding over some gravel with no bother (link takes you to my Instagram post and you’ll need to swipe to 3rd position I think, the other two are from the same hack).

I also started schooling for 20 minutes at a time but decided to limit the arena time only to shoulder-in work and some trot work on 20m circles. This is because there is quite a bit of crookedness that is present in Leo’s body and I am curious as to how this improves now.

Jazz trying to invite Leo for a chase play 😉 He’s not impressed!  

I made this video of him in slow motion 1 week into the transition (video here) to observe his landing pattern and it has already improved since then.

He no longer twists his left foot and it has considerably changed shape for the better…it still loads not quite balanced but I want to see if changing his movement under the saddle will help his improve the foot balance further.

From distorted to much more balanced…I am amazed how much his left hoof changed in such a short period of time. I can feel the difference in his movement too as the previous twist was quite distinct. 

The Pro Hoof supplement arrived 10 days ago so he went on it straight away and despite some reviews saying horses fussed with it, Leo eats it without problems. I feed it together with Keyflow Key3Oil at 30ml. I’d just ran out and was going to go for a few weeks without to see how Pro Hoof works on its own but having re-read ingredients and recommendations for supplementation with Pro Hoof, I just ordered another bottle of Key3Oil (it is recommended to feed ProHoof with Linseed exactly for oil content).

Plan for the next 2 weeks: 

  • work 5 days a week
  • hacking up to 40 minutes on varied terrain
  • in-hand hillwork 30min 2 x week
  • schooling 20min at a time,  straightness focus
  • polework for proprioception and coordination

Re-evaluate at the end of 4th week.

I am so tempted to take the fronts off with his next shoeing cycle but I think I will let him go for another one. Decisions, decisions!



Leo goes to RAF Halton Sponsored Ride

By Wiola Grabowska

Edited 27th March to add images bought from Ultimate Images who was the official photographer during the ride.

Leo is surprised to see me at his door at 6am. The clock’s have changed overnight, it’s dark and quiet. I planned to give him a bit of a wash, you know – mane and tail kind of wash 🙂 – but it’s so eerie on the yard that I settle for a quick groom and come back later to finish the preparations for travel.

Ready to load

He loads without a problem and we arrive at the RAF grounds greeted by very helpful organisers and sunny weather.

The minute Leo comes off the lorry, he is overwhelmed and has zero attention on me. That is both surprising and isn’t as although he can be very attentive at home I have never taken him anywhere before. It’s a test ride for us. I’d like to do more sponsored rides and raise money for various Cancer Research charities with him but I want to find out what suits him mentally and physically.

This ride does not. It’s a busy one with many other stressed horses and whether Leo is picking up on that or whether it’s some old memories, he is not happy. Looking around it seems some riders treat this kind of rides as a challenge of staying on board stressed animals and jumping as many jumps as possible in whatever fashion but it’s not something I am looking for for Leo. Having said that, there are many horses we see around who look like they are having a ball. Stroll in walking parts, have a great blast in open parts of the ride and are being given best chances to jump well. There is a grey horse alongside us at some point who looks so happy and content hopping over the line of bigger jumps with ears pricked but always listening to its rider, then waiting for others of his group calmly. Pleasure to watch.

A rare few minutes of calm where I felt him relax and enjoy the stroll 🙂 Mairi on Robyn and Aisha on Boo are our ride buddies and they are having a great time here!

Leo feels fresh throughout the entire ride showing no signs of fatigue even though in about 1h45 min we calmly walk maybe 10 minutes top. The rest is a combination of jogging, passaging, trotting and cantering on the spot. At the end of the ride he feels like he could go again! I think he will feel his core muscles tomorrow!


My favourite moments from the ride were the open canter on the air fields and the cool down walk after. Leo’s canter is a really lovely experience, big lofty strides that make you feel as if you are on a 17hh horse rather than a 14.3hh one and I could tell he was enjoying it too. No erratic behaviour but a steady, flowing stride at a tempo of my choice. Then a long rein walk just calmly looking around for a couple of minutes.


I learn a few important things about Leo today. He is insecure and weak under pressure – more so than I gathered from our solo hacking. I am not a very stressy rider and his antics don’t affect me much but I do worry about their impact on other riders and their safety.

He is also much fitter than I thought. I’d been doing many hacks at home with him – 45min to 1h – in the lead up to the ride but they were 70% walking hacks with some trot work. I counted on the hills we have here, pretty much everywhere is a little up or a little down, to do the muscle work for me and polework sessions in the arena to work his core but would not have thought that was all doing such a good job!

His “at home” hacking behaviours like bulking, fear of certain object like bicycles and runners, escalates significantly when in a busy, unknown environment. Some horses deal with distraction in a similar way home and away being spooky in a similar manner, and some, like Leo, become much more affected.

Leo in the field
A couple of hours rest in the field after the ride. He always spots me even when I try to take a sneaky photo 😉

He can be clingy to his chosen horse. This surprised me as normally I can pass any number of horses out hacking or stay way at the back of the ride without any problems but it seems that a change of environment wakes up separation anxiety in Leo. On the ride, he was incredibly fixated on Robyn, who travelled next to him  and who is also his stable neighbour, which led to good few hairy situations.


All in all, I am glad I went. It certainly was an insight into this little horse’s way of coping with stress and I will make sure to plan better for his future outing to make sure I can build stressful situations slowly rather than over expose him in such a way again. We live we learn 🙂

I would definitely recommend this ride for anyone with a level headed horse and one that would benefit from a challenge of varied terrain as you go in woodlands, open spaces, roads, bridges, water, drops etc If I crack Leo’s insecurity and coping mechanisms under pressure I would enter again but I won’t expose him to anything like this anytime soon.

How do you chose the rides to go to? Do you think it’s important to consider your horse’s mental state/health when making those choices or do you go for an “ultimate challenge” kind of experience? How do you deal with building up stress resistance in your horse? I’d love to know your views – do comment below 🙂 

Bath on arrival to get rid of all the salt from sweating all over and heat lamps to pamper his muscles. Spoilt little guy!

LEO – ASPIRE JOURNEY: Groundwork for posture

By Wiola Grabowska & Leopold The Last

This snapshot is taken from a short video made for me by Christine. It’s good to watch the horse work “from the side” from time to time so you can catch details you might miss when positioned at his head. 

In Leo Aspire Journey series, Leo and I will share with you our weekly work with photos of any groundwork set ups we do, why we do them and how they work. Leo will share his top tips too 😉

February 27th 

Today’s set up: raised circle poles (I use them at walk to encourage core muscles to work, joints to flex more as well as to focus on the rhythm and bend). I like to stand on a block to see the whole spine of the horse as it lets me observe the quality of the bend through the whole body.


I need to work on stretching Leo’s intercostal muscles (muscles between the ribs) on the left side and this exercise does quite a good job as it makes me pay attention to each step and to how he organises his balance through the middle of his body.
The poles at the background are set for trot at about 1m40 distance in between and I use them to again increase his core engagement, flexion of the front and back legs (stifles, pelvis, hocks).

On photo above you see Leo dropping his neck forward and down. I generally encourage this neck carriage but think it’s important to constantly observe how supple he remains in this posture for it to be of benefit. To test this I can ask for a little flexion at the poll via the lunge line attached to the cavesson. If his reaction is to softly flex as I ask him, I continue, but if he responds by bracing against the flexion or pulling me outwards, I go back to short neck and poll suppling exercises which I will write about another time.

February 28th

Today’s content of the early morning groundwork for Leo is 30 min pole work & 10 min trot & canter work on gradient in the field.


I focus on lateral flexibility in the first part of the session. The three poles just behind Leo are set at random distances and we full pass/side pass in walk over them. He finds it tricky and I change between turn on the forehand and side pass as the first movement is a good introduction to the second.

In side pass/full pass there’s no forward movement like in a leg-yield or half pass, the horse simply moves fully sideways. Adding poles increases difficulty but I do it very slowly, letting Leo take it all in and stop often.

It’s a good exercise for improving proprioception, handler’s skills at maintaining balance and horse’s dexterity. Great suppling exercise too.

After 15 min of the lateral work I move him onto the second exercise. I set a rectangle out of 4 poles with 5th one across. We walk over the corners, then in and out and through in fairly slow walk paying attention to footwork, bend through the whole body and shoulder control.
After 10 min I put him on a circle around the rectangle which gives us 6-8m diameter depending how far from corners I guide him. I jog him for one circle, then walk 3-5 steps, back to jog. I find that the slower the pace in trot, the more weaknesses and strengths can be spotted that can go amiss when horse is driven forward into active tempo. In a slow jog everything happens in slow motion, you can really see which hindleg works harder, which one less so, which foreleg bares more weight, how each hip moves, which one tends to drop more, how back muscles move etc etc
The arena work done, we move into the field for working trot and canter work. It’s sunny but very chilly which keeps the ground firm enough for this work.

Leo’s Top Tips for fellow equines 

  • to avoid whole body bend when she stands in the middle on that block, keep turning slightly in facing her to check if she would give you a treat (never underestimate the cute factor)
  • another tip to avoid the bend, especially on the side you don’t want to be bending, you can walk a little quarters out whilst barging your shoulders inwards a fraction. Just arch the neck, you might get away with murder as long as you arch your neck. Or you might not, depending on your human.
  • drop a tiny more weight onto your outside shoulder but not all in one go, do it so slight that she finds it hard t notice so you can get away with less bend on some quarters of that circle thing
  • lift your legs extravagantly – all humans love it and forget about everything else
  • arch your neck from time to time, again, humans love it and even if that’s all you do you might get a treat
  • over the trot poles, give a mighty push from both hind legs, takes you over them faster and if human isn’t observant you can get away with less belly muscles work!
  • keep checking for treats as often as you can, they are there, you just need to be persistent
  • to avoid side passing, keep going back or forward, you can also jack-knife your body and test their skills in keeping you aligned. Plenty of scope for ideas here to be honest, you can also scatter the poles, I don’t like touching them but know plenty folks that don’t care so give it a good bash.

Happy ground working 🙂






Leopold The Last – Educational Fund

There are those who believe everything happens for a reason and those who think this concept is a silly idea.

I’m somewhat in the middle. I believe we participate in many life changing events, both sad and joyfull, and sometimes it is helpful and maybe even healing to create a reason…

In case you have not heard much of of the back story, before I move on, you need to meet Ceri and her very special four legged friend, Leopold The Last (Leo). If you have ever had anything to do with horses, you will know they can form a strong bond with their owner and rider. Leo sure had one with Ceri.


In the summer 2016, a 38 year old Ceri received devastating health news. Secondary cancer.
When she asked me for help with rehoming Leo I thought I would take him on whilst she was undergoing treatements and together we will find the right solution for Leo.
I thought I would keep him so she had him close by, a comforting presence throughout gruelling times.
I thought being able to see him, even if not able to ride him, would give her strength to keep fighting.I’d like to tell you that she is still here and having a chance to survive but this is not the case.

Ceri passed away a week after I picked Leo up and promised to secure a good life for him.

When something means so much to someone, as this little horse meant for Ceri, it is especially important to make sure the promise is kept to the best of my ability.

This is where this Fund comes in. This is where you come in. You can help me give Leo an opportunity to do something meanigful and important.

Who am I…

I’m a horse riding instructor and run a coaching programme – Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy – aimed at people of all ages who have deep interest in ethical equestrian sports, who want to ride and train horses with knowldge of their biomechanics, anatomy and psychology.

Ceri’s dream was to learn as much about good, wellness focused training as possible. Her dream could live on via Leo’s work within Aspire Academy. 

For this reason, the primary aim of this fund is to secure at least 1 year of regular training and care for Leo and create a series of educational sessions for those riders who would otherwise be unable to afford quality tuition and training but who could learn from Leo. 

For me to be able to continue caring for Leo in best way possible and proceed with his educational role, I need to secure money for:

– Leo’s care (hoofcare, veterinary care, saddle checks, health checks)
– Leo’s livery fees
– investigations of Leo’s small performance issues which Ceri had started to address before her death

I would love to have you on board and part of #LeoAspireJourney. Every tiny little contribution helps.
You will be able to follow Leo’s story via Aspire blog, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

There are some incredibly sad stories we all have within us but some of them can also give life to projects that can bring smiles instead of tears.

Your contribution will help me keep Ceri’s dream alive and let Leo educate many who meet him. I will keep updating the Fund page as often as possible, I will aim to do it daily.

Click the image for full campaign info 

All the very best and a huge thank you in advance for your contribution, however big or small 🙂 You can also help by spreading the word via social media or by good old word of mouth 🙂

Thank you ❤

Wiola & Leo

Leopold The Last and his journey with Aspire Academy

Photo of Leo by Ceri Dickinson

I’ve been sitting down to write this post so many times in the last two days. Each morning, as I go to catch Leo from his field and he greets me with his cheeky face, I can’t help but think how unfair and cruel life can be.


The 11 years old, little bay New Forest X Thoroughbred gelding came to live with me last week because his owner’s illness means she is no longer, and will no longer, be able to look after him. Three years ago, Leo’s owner took a chance on an instructor who did some rider focused clinics. She could have booked a local celebrity rider/trainer but she was intrigued by what I was doing and we ended up running several weekends at her then work in North Yorkshire over a couple of years. She is the only person who managed to make me run on time with all the lessons albeit I still don’t know how!

When she asked me for help with rehoming Leo I knew it was my turn to take a chance on someone…

Leo having a roll and with me in the arena during his first week at Brackenhill Stud

I hope you will follow this little horse’s journey with me. He’s an interesting fellow with some physical issues to work through and my plan at the moment is for him to remain with me and become the Academy horse in near future.

I eventually would like to find him a rider interested in equine biomechanics and movement therapy as well as dressage so they can continue training with me and learn from Leo. When he is ready to be available for the coaching loan with the Academy, I will make this known 🙂

DYI version of the Equicore concept that I am using  – a theraband! #proprioception #muscleeducation #LeoAspireJourney

Today Leo had his physiotherapy re-assessment with Dr Tracy Crook of Chiltern VetPhysio and he is making a very good progress.

1. Continue with in-hand and ridden flexibility exercises
2. Continue to hack as before and use the theraband when lunging
3. “Work” for short periods of time, his muscles are still developing and too much work too soon will make him sore.
4. Review in 6 weeks.

Movement rehabilitation and training that enhances athletic ability is something I feel passionate about because it truly gives a meaning to schooling horses into riding horses…I will be posting updates on Leo via Instagram (@aspireequestrian) with a hashtag #LeoAspireJourney and weekly on here so if you are into movement education and schooling for dressage as means of achieving more harmony, suppleness and longevity – stay tuned!