Category Archives: Mental Training – Riders

A few notes and reflections from the training day with Luca Moneta Horsemanship

By Wiola Grabowska

It seems to me that the most difficult clinics, demos or forums to find are those that explore training methods which can produce a sports horse without traditional systems of dominance, submission and fear training.

It is one thing to train a well mannered happy hacker/typical pleasure horse with non-bullying methods, another to train a lower level eventer, show jumper or a dressage horse. Nearly every single CPD type event I have attended or training session I watched (some with top national/international trainers and riders) in the last five years used some form of “must do as told right now” method whether in foundation training of the horse or later in specialised schooling.

I personally dabbed in many different ways of schooling horses during my twenty + years of active involvement in this industry and I became plain bored with many and demoralised by most of them. The perpetuating nature of the UK coach training system where changes are hard to implement straight away added to my professional frustration.  Ever since setting up the Academy 7 years ago I have wanted to get to know many other ways of combining thorough foundation training of a horse with its athletic training for grassroots sports. Searching outside of mainstream took me on a great learning journey and I feel like it will probably never end.

Today, I will share a few notes from a clinic with an International Show Jumper – Luca Moneta.

Luca Moneta1

Nicknamed the ‘Carrot Man’ due to him using Parelli Natural Horsemanship tools in his training, Luca Moneta is currently one of the top show jumping riders in the world. I read this interview with him several years ago (to read see: The World of Show Jumping – Luca Moneta) and his methods intrigued me because I have not come across anyone combining any form of “natural horsemanship” at top level of show jumping before.

I used “natural horsemanship” term in inverted commas because many a time, it’s simply common sense, understanding of how horses learn and interact with us and how to communicate with them so both parties understand each other. It so happens, there are people branding those concepts. 

The clinic consisted of two days training, day one being round pen focused and day two was a continuation of foundation training but on the flat and over jumps. The riders riding in the clinic were of varied standards from novice to coach/competition rider level.

I didn’t attend the Day one but as I am familiar with the concepts it didn’t seem a problem for me to follow the continuation on Day two.

Simple (but not necessarily easy) 


Luca’s training method is simple: everything we do with the horses must makes sense to them, keep them calm, focused, light and responsive.

The day started with groundwork which was alike a fast version of the in-hand work I know. Turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, rein-back, go, stop but all in a much quicker succession, more attention to release under stronger “pressure”.


It was especially interesting to watch the riders who were unfamiliar with the concept and who attempted the work on the ground. I am not surprised that methods like Parelli often have bad opinion when witnessed at various livery yards because quite frankly, when the rider is just learning the timing and reactions, it isn’t a nice viewing. However, Luca worked with each horse by himself too and the importance of quiet, non-emotional approach was immediately clear as was the relief and relaxation in the horse’s bodies following his work.


“The more the horse doesn’t respond, the more he is showing us that there is a problem. The more we ignore the problem and leave the horse alone, the bigger the horse’s problem become.”

In real life terms this might mean never letting the horse run after the jump, never letting them become emotionally distressed with the situation to the point of no response.

“We need to help the horse come back from that emotional situation.”


He also puts big emphasis on the rider being quiet in the saddle. He likes limited amount of aids with full results. One of the tasks the riders faced was to carry a young rider on their back. At first the girl was told to just sit quiet while Luca gave commands – go forwards, turn left, turn right, back up. Then the girl was asked to become “busy”, lean left and right and back as much as she wanted which immediately disturbed every single step of the person carrying her.

The jumping work was all based around light, quick and calm responses. If you had a light and quick response but the horse was stressed, you need to try again. And again. Until you learn to combine all three elements.





Whilst all the above was familiar to me and it was just very interesting to watch the logistics of teaching it and doing it from a slightly different angle, one element of the day really stood out for me and I wish I learnt his way of looking at it sooner (when I rode competitively myself). 

Luca discussed the feel the rider has in front of the jump as he was setting a small course  for the riders. He told them they must know when a particular jump was making them scared and tell him to lower it. He said they needed to know how to control their emotions in front of the jump and not take on an impossible challenge. However, when they felt a reasonable level of challenge, they needed to keep coming until they learnt to control the emotions (nerves, excitement etc) in themselves and in the horses.

He described one way of thinking about it: 

You normally think that in Show Jumping there is a horse and there is a jump. But you can also think like this. There is no horse and no jump. There’s just energy. My energy, the energy of the horse and the energy of the jump. I just send the energy of the horse in the line that puts the jump in the middle. Then the energy of the horse will tell me, I am confident, I respond light, quick and relaxed, that’s it. But maybe we find resistance in this energy, maybe the horse arrives at the fence and stops. Maybe he will try to avoid the jump. Then I just teach them that it’s all about going straight on, on that line of energy, back to basics.

Super day and a privilege to learn from people like Luca Moneta.

P.S. Huge thank you to Mairi for arranging for my ticket for this clinic for my birthday 🙂 

Mairi and one of the horses taking part in the clinic – a Lusitano x TB, 20 years young

And the Winner is…

Huge thank you for all the entires to the “Perfect Mind:Perfect Ride” book Give Away.

REVIEWED main picThe winner is: Tanja from (please check your emails! 🙂 ) 

It was so hard to chose from many really lovely entires and I so wish I had several books to give away!

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the book Tanja and find it useful. I am really looking forward to following your competition adventures after you tried some of the techniques Inga describes in her book 🙂

To everyone else – If you can, please do get hold of this book, I think every single rider who wrote to me will find it a very helpful and enjoyable read.

All the best,


You are never too old…

Bella and Rudy (owned by Stuart Boyle) before their lesson.

Social perception is an interesting thing. There is a time to go to school, time to buy a house, time to study, time to have children, time to get married etc etc If someone doesn’t quite fit into the structure of that timeline they might feel uncomfortable at best, maybe intimidated, underachieving, silly, irresponsible, selfish, rather mad?

One of the greatest characteristics of equestrian sports is that they challenge that social pathway and free us from many false constraints if only we let it happen. Life somehow thrives on change and improvement rather than on contentment and static…

Perhaps rather than age, social pressure, social norms or someone else’s view on our lifestyle it is our desire to improve oneself that could drive our decisions, plans and goals…

anna and stella
Aspire bootcamp session to focus on riders seat, effectiveness and technique

This short post is for all riders out there who think or were told that they are “too old” for something – whether you heard you are too old to ride a pony in some fun games or too old to have improvement goals or competition dreams. Break the age rule 🙂 Dream high 🙂 Aspire…


When You Feel Like You Want To Give Up…- thoughts on getting rid of the “not good enough” feeling

feeling not good enough
Sometimes our thoughts conspire against us….

I won’t exaggerate if I say that 90% of horse owners I met, including myself, have said or thought at least once, that they are not good enough for their horse or for riding in general. Not brave enough, not skilled enough, not coordinated enough, don’t have enough feel, maybe even don’t earn enough or don’t do well enough in school, you get the idea! It can be a one day thought that comes and rarely returns or it can be a nagging feeling present frequently.

Let me tell you a personal story…

The Great Expectations

In my teens and early twenties I always felt under pressure to do well in pretty much everything I did. Part of it was an outside pressure but a lot of it was due to my own internal push. I wanted my parents to be proud of me, my teachers to be happy with my work, my horse to be worth my time on his back, my trainer to be pleased with my results…etc etc It took me a while to realise the influence these thoughts and feelings had on my self-satisfaction and enjoyment of what I was doing. All these people, their own emotions and great expectations I had no control over were strongly affecting my ability to perform well and do well in general.

Although I started to intellectually understand the issue pretty quickly, I had no idea how to stop it from controlling my self worth and belief in my abilities. Then, one day, I knew…

Recognising Your Real Enemy

In 1998 I moved cities to start University and as a result started working with a different trainer. I took a hot, young anglo-arab stallion with me whom I had since he was three and was rising 5 at a time of my move. All was going well in the first few weeks until one jumping lesson where my horse spooked at a new filler over an oxer. My trainer decided that the best way to help was to whack him with a lunge whip as I approached the second time. I didn’t know about his “genius” idea and was not prepared at all for what was to happen. A few strides in front of the jump, the man ran behind my horse and smacked him as many times as he managed. The horse panicked, jumped the jump in a fashion half crushing into it half jumping it (and it was not a small jump) and then bolted and crashed both of us into the wall of the indoor arena.

I can tell you with surprising clarity that it was the moment in which I knew I would never let anyone affect me as a rider with own pressure or hurt my horse. I was a very shy person at the time but it turned out that I wasn’t after all…I told him what I thought of him, went to the office and handed my livery notice on the same day.

Why am I telling you this story?

You see, I reckon many of us who want to achieve something or aspire to be someone have that mental dude sitting deep in our heads, with a lunge whip hidden behind his back, waiting to come at us when we feel most vulnerable, unsure, struggling to find the right ways. We think it’s our trustworthy trainer who wants us to do well but that’s not the case. This idiot just wants to protect his own ego, indulge in violent streak of his nature and express some dominant aura that should prove his existence.

I believe our minds can deceive us and we should not listen to everything it tells us…

Getting Rid of the “Give Up Dude”

There are two main ways that I found work for moments when a rider feels like giving up – whether it is giving up riding altogether or having negative thoughts about a particular thing about lessons, results, horse’s way of going etc

1) Self-Reflection. This is like a SWOT analysis of your own riding at a time. It is never just about what is supposedly wrong but a big picture of a situation you are in: your weakness but also your strengths, your threats but also your opportunities. It can be as convoluted or as simple as one wishes but it makes you think laterally, gets you to see bigger picture.

2) Realise that you can be wrong…When I personally have negative thoughts and think that I am not good enough to do something I make myself go back in time to that jumping lesson…It is possible to trust someone, to value someone, to look up to someone and believe them based on their competition results and for them to want to crush you. That someone can very well be the very us…a part of our own mind…

Protective Mind

Apparently, our thoughts can conspire against us. What if the part of us that thinks we are not good enough was simply protecting us from further struggle? Further efforts? Further inevitable failures that every one of us has to go through to finally get a breakthrough or two? Further possible humiliation when we can’t yet sit well to our horse’s trot in a test or when we go wrong on the course and get eliminated from an event our horse could potentially win?

I say, thanks my dear mind, I know you worry but let’s look at the whole picture shall we, not just at the imaginary black screen you are showing me right now…

I now also have another great tool to deal with many negative aspects of creative mind (as I see it) and that’s yoga…I will write a separate post about it soon…

How do you deal with your low moments? Any tried and tested methods except of a glass of red and kick up the backside? 😉

good times

The Many Stages Of A Rider and the “I’m Not Good Enough” dilemma

Let’s start with saying this is not going to be a sports psychology advice…Just a simple story…

Raw coffee beans (seeds)

I’m sitting here with a cup of aromatic coffee next to me ready to write some of my thoughts on the above subject and you know ,that coffee I just made myself, it made me think . I love stories behind the end products and every good rider as well as every good coffee cup have a hell of a story to tell…

This particular hot, delicious, perfect  drink of mine started somewhere in east Africa as a vulnerable, green/white, tasteless seed, planted carefully in a large bed in a shaded nursery. A lot of effort then went into making sure the conditions were as perfect as possible for the growth to happen.

The right amount of moisture in the soil, right amount of natural light, not too much not too little…

Isn’t it a little like the first contact we have with a horse? Before we even sit on one, before we even start seeing ourselves as riders, we simply fall in love with a horse. Or not. The seed is planted. Or doesn’t take.

Annabel and Kingsley
Kingsley with friend’s daughter – first encounter…

Those first encounters matter and our perception of riding can be formed at that time.

Back to my coffee. Once the little tree sprouted it was moved to an individual pot and given all the necessary conditions to develop into a strong little plant that can grow independently. It then took its time to grow roots in the well prepared soil until it sat firmly in it and was ready for more growing adventures to come.

Seedlings growing in pots (from

Whatever age we start riding at we can’t skip our “seedlings” stage. We need the right conditions, right teachers, right horses at this stage when our roots are still weak and underdeveloped, where smallest changes affect us…

It’s our first lessons at a riding school stage, first walk on a beach donkey or just watching horses in the neighbour’s paddock stage. Spider web thin bodies up into the welcoming air of something exciting.

It took my coffee seed 3 to 4 years of carefully monitored growth to start bearing the fruit…How very coincidental isn’t it? Good few years of basic training, having fun, loving horses, learning about them is what it takes to start seeing the fruit of it all. And that’s still nowhere near that coffee cup of mine.

Once cherries are ready, the harvest starts. Labour intensive and in most coffee countries done by hand.


Every coffee maker knows those steps. Nobody would try to harvest immature plants or make coffee out of seedlings. Every stage of coffee has it’s significance and time especially for it. The finished product is nothing without each and every step.

I find that in riding education we have this very same principle. Even our awkward, uncoordinated, sometimes frustrating phase is supremely important. We can be a very good learner-rider at each of these stages like each coffee plant can grow healthily into a supreme cherry barer. This doesn’t mean we are a great horseperson yet but we can derive pride and joy from taking part in the process.

In the life of immediate pleasures required to be right under our noses at the snap of the fingers it might be difficult to be in peace with slow growth of abilities. It’s important therefore that we remind ourselves about it for the good of the horses we ride and for our own enjoyment of the sport.

Where were we? Ah yes, the cherries. Most of the fruit are picked all-in-one-go in a step called strip picking but some finest arabica cherries are picked selectively i.e. only the ripe fruit are harvested by the pickers who rotate every 8 to 10 days. Long job, costly and time consuming.

Once harvested, the coffee cherries need to be processed…it’s a multi-step process in itself, again time and labour intensive…a bit like seat training…

Almost alike seat training…:)

Continue reading The Many Stages Of A Rider and the “I’m Not Good Enough” dilemma

Winter Horse Life Aspire Equestrian Style…- how to tackle short days and cold fingers

Wiola and Berit on Charlie
Aspire Training Weekend in Norway. Temperature: -20ºC (-4.00ºF). Surface: snow. Air: Icy! 🙂

The best advice I can give to all frozen horsey people and one that worked fantastically for me is: don’t fight the winter, embrace it!
The more we moan and wish it away the more it is on our minds and the more hate towards it we feel. That in turn brings us down, makes us into a rather depressed and fed up individual who quite easily finds life in the cold a big nuisance.

Quick Fixes for Short Days Blues

Get up early – as early as possible for you, ideally as close to sunrise as you manage. This will win you some daylight hours. If like me you are more of an owl than a lark, get up 10min earlier each morning for a set amount of days – after 10 days you will be getting up 100 minutes earlier than usual.

Train Harder – many professional riders treat winter as their down time to relax and be with the family but if you are reading this you are most likely a horse mad, ambitious amateur. That means that best thing for you to beat those winter blues might be to release as many endorphins into your blood stream as you can. Structured, intensive lessons are a great solution. Not only that you will feel better afterwards but you will be fit and ready for when the spring comes and you can ride more.

Focus – having lessons makes you think, it focuses your efforts and keeps you interested. It’s nice to wander around the arena in the sun or go for a hack on a stunning summer morning but when cold wind presses tears out of your eyeballs you need someone there suffering with you and spurring you on. Your instructor will always be colder standing still than you working out just in case you needed someone out there to feel worse than you feel 😉

Have a winter fitness regime – find something that suits your personality. You don’t have to run on a treadmill for an hour if you hate going to the gym. Pick something you like or perhaps something that you would like to try. I’ve been taking yoga classes for the last few weeks. Even though I still feel as if someone attached my limbs to four horses and let them run wild in a field during the sessions, I feel fabulous afterwards. Having suffered from some shoulders pain I noticed how much more supple I feel. There are plenty of activities to chose from. Go for it and do it once a week or more.

Winter is for Reading 🙂 – this might not be for everyone and parents with young children might struggle here I acknowledge but dark evenings are simply designed for book time 🙂 (or blog time!) If you agree, grab yourself a cup of tea/coffee/wine and start yourself a Winter Reading Ritual.

Stay Warm – this might seem obvious but it took me years of trial and error to get this right! If you teach and stay outside for 12 hours a day it is extremely difficult to remain warm at all times. Standing still is the worst but equally, when you ride/muck out/hay up etc and sweat, you are then having to spend the rest of the day in damp clothes. Not great for staying warm.

Technical clothes that wick moisture well and keep you warm are not cheap and usually out of reach for many who work with horses or who keep horses on a shoestring budget.

The system that works for me is to have: 

1) Layers – and have a change of clothes with you (the bottom layers)

2) Best wool underwear you can find, you will not regret it – I got a very thin wool vest from friend from Norway and it’s been my best winter friend ever since. It is very soft on the skin and unbelievably insulating.

Continue reading Winter Horse Life Aspire Equestrian Style…- how to tackle short days and cold fingers

Rider’s Mind: Fear of Failure, Lack of Self-Confidence, Yearning For Perfection

Horse watching
Horse watching (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

It so happens that I am helping three lovely riders at the moment who are each battling with their own minds and this has inspired me to write this post.

Unless you are going through serious emotional issues that cause you distress and which might need professional attention, hear me out.

There is nothing fabulous about perfection.

It’s a done deal, end of, static, cold state that cannot be improved upon, that is never developing, never getting anywhere. There is nothing sexy, exciting, intriguing or curious about perfection.

Now, progress is another matter…Progress is “the After” in the “Before and After”, it’s what we have to show for our efforts. It’s our own, sweated out, laughed out, cried out journey. It’s ongoing, dynamic, changeable, unlimited, sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful.


Continue reading Rider’s Mind: Fear of Failure, Lack of Self-Confidence, Yearning For Perfection

Winter is coming…If you create the right habits they will take you beyond your wildest dreams…

meme colin powell
I took this photo a week ago in Poland – beautiful golden autumn in one part of Europe, deluge in the other!

The decision to achieve something we don’t yet have or to become someone we are not yet is only a mere start, a static point at which we plant our feet and prepare to give it a go. Anything can still happen at this stage, we might not move off at all, we might step back, we might step sideways.

The tricky bit here is that to get somewhere we have never been we must attempt things we have never attempted or explore ways we have never explored…and that involves change. The latter is probably the most difficult element of success in any area. Let’s have a little ponder on ways of getting things done…

Goals vs Habits

As some of you will know I write training plans for riders who ride with me. Part of these plans are monthly goals and these can be anything from achieving more suppleness in the rider’s hip, learning how to ask for correct inside poll flexion or approaching a jump in a rhythm and tempo suitable to the type of the jump. The goals are always clear and often simple, broken down into progressive tasks.

Recently, however, I started exploring the training plan in which instead of concentrating on the goal I focus the rider on habits…For example, I write down a goal as usual on the plan overview but don’t really mention this again, or call upon it, as we go. Instead, I ask the rider to follow 2-3 “action habits”…

Continue reading Winter is coming…If you create the right habits they will take you beyond your wildest dreams…

Great new book for riders’ and coaches’ bookshelves! – The Science of Equestrian Sports by Inga Wolframm

See Inside the book feature

“The Science of Equestrian Sports is a comprehensive study of the theory and practice of the rider in equine sport. While most scholarship to date has focused on the horse in competition, this is the first book to collate current data relating specifically to riders. It provides valuable insight into improving sporting performance and maintaining the safety of both the horse and the rider.

Drawing on the latest scientific research, and covering a wide range of equestrian disciplines from horseracing to eventing, the book systematically explores core subjects such as:


  • physiology of the rider
  • sport psychology in equestrian sport
  • preventing injury
  • biomechanics and kinematics
  • coaching equestrian sport
  • the nature of horse-rider relationships

This holistic and scientific examination of the role of the horse rider is essential reading for sport science students with an interest in equestrian sport and equitation. Furthermore, it will be an invaluable resource for instructors, coaches, sport psychologists, or physiologists working with equestrian athletes.”



Do you want to change a bad riding habit? Try this…

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli  The Prince (1532)

Apparently we learn best if we are involved in the learning process so here is a 4 minutes experiment to start you off onto a road to successful change…

You will need the following items:


Continue reading Do you want to change a bad riding habit? Try this…