Category Archives: Show Jumping

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

Gridwork: “Staircase” exercise

By Wiola Grabowska

Caitlin Thorpe on Nugget
Sofija Dubianskaja on Jack

Who for

Really good exercise for both young/inexperienced and older, more experienced horses as well as riders learning to jump.

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Sofija and Jack. You can watch them in action over this exercise on our Instagram video: Sofija and Jack

Benefits for the horse

  • improves athleticism & reaction time
  • encourages the flexion and “tucking in” of the pelvis to produce a better bascule over the jump over time
  • quickens reactions of “slow” horses
  • encourages thinking and focus in “quick” horses

Benefits for the rider

  • focuses the rider on straightness on the approach and in the grid
  • improves the jumping seat as it magnifies any issues like unstable lower leg, busy upper body, fixed hand, stiff knees, overall anxious behaviour between the jumps to name a few
  • teaches the rider to stay out of the way of the jumping horse
  • is fun!
collage Caitlin and Nugget
Caitlin and Nugget. An ex-racehorse, Nugget has a very different jumping style to Jack, is slower through the grid and with repetition this exercise can be very useful for him to help him jump less hollow and with quicker reaction time. For Caitlin it was a great exercise to improve her jump seat. To see them on video, check Aspire Instagram here: Caitlin and Nugget

The set up

You’ll need three jumps of which the first and the last can be in form of cavaletti as they won’t be changing heights and should be kept low (60cm is plenty).

The distances between the jumps are bounce distances and need to again be adjusted to individual horse. I usually set mine at 3.5m.

Caitlin and Nugget 2

In this exercise you don’t want to be increasing the distance but it can be beneficial to shorten it to encourage a more experienced horse to work harder.

The middle jump can be adjusted in height to suit the experience of the horse and rider but should be higher than the other two to create a “staircase” like effort. Or think of dolphins jumping in and out of the sea 😉

If you do go for a higher middle jump (like I set for Jack and Sofija) don’t additionally shorten the distances because a bigger jump produced by the horse will automatically land him closer to the next element.

Have fun 🙂

Jack landing

Length of stirrups – how to choose it and why. PART 1: SHOW JUMPING

By Wiola Grabowska

For every horse, saddle type and rider there exist an optimum length of stirrups that brings the best out of the rider’s seat. For anyone who ever experimented with riding at various stirrup lengths will know that some options give better ability to follow movement, stay with it, stay secure, stay out of the horse’s way and let the horse do the job well.

Gemma and Ozzy jump
Gem and Ozzy – she generally likes to jump on a longer side and loses the security of the lower leg at times but a good result here bar her lower leg moving back a little too much which can mean some difficulty and delay in gathering the canter back together on landing. Photo credit: Christine Dunnington 

Even for riders’ with zero interest in the biomechanics of the seat it will be clear when their reaction time is quicker, their back more supple, their joints more able to absorb movement, muscles more engaged where they need to be and more relaxed where they need to be.

Having said that, the below views on stirrups length are drawn from my own teaching of hundreds of riders according to my own preferred riding styles so it might not suit everyone 🙂


For relaxed, athletic experience, a jumping rider needs a decent range of motion in the seat. By that I mean:

  • conditions for a comfortable three point/full seat that is a little “lighter” than a full dressage seat but always able to have full influence on the horse’s balance (used when bringing the horse’s centre of gravity back in front of the jump for example)
  • conditions for a two point/light seat/”jumping position” – the seat where the rider is able to comfortably stay out of the saddle without compromising own balance and suppleness
  • conditions for supple, calm, balanced actual jump seat on take off, flight and landing that allows the horse to perform an uninterrupted jump
  • able to quickly yet calmly change between this three as and when needed

In the below video, which I put together for another post (you can read it HERE), you can see me riding an unknown horse over a few jumps from 1m to about 1m20/25. You can see that as I learn to find the right canter to each jump that will suit that horse our take off points change but I have enough security through my seat to be able to follow the horse reasonably well each time.

I often see riders riding quite long and struggling with effortless jump seat. If you are a Novice rider learning to jump, stirrups on a longer side, the length that you might hack in for example, are a good call. They give you a little more basic stability overall in case things don’t go to plan as you have “more of your legs” around the horse and you are only likely to be jumping small fences.

Shorter stirrups do come with more of an “eject” mode in case of trouble (as your legs come higher up and have less ability to hold) but to me, they are the preferred option for a more advanced rider. Shorter stirrup length helps close the hip and knee joints which can then open swiftly on the take off without unnecessary throwing of the upper body forwards (no leg work = upper body work to compensate). The “quieter” the seat, the better the jump.

I often hear riders saying about having an “unlucky pole down” but I was always taught that 99% of the time, there’s no such thing as an unlucky pole. Unless the jump wasn’t adjusted properly after another horse knocked it a bit or perhaps strong wind blew etc, there was something in the way the rider approached the jump or how the horse behaved in the air that threw that pole. The air time can be very much improved by the rider staying out of the horse’s part of the job.

Finding your own anatomically friendly “jumping angles” comes via trial and error. What might be visually correct, might not work in practice so it’s important to keep experimenting. Different shapes of the horse’s ribcage, different styles and shapes of the saddle and the size of the horse overall will all determine how to adjust the stirrup length.

To sum up, when assessing the rider’s stirrups length for jumping I look at:

  • their riding experience/skill

  • whether they can easily go into light seat and stay in it without problems in halt,walk,trot and canter for several minutes.

  • whether they can sit in the saddle in trot and canter and still have good command of the horse’s way of going (without unnecessary tension through their body)

  • whether they can happily change between the above seats every few strides when asked





Jump training – dressing the jumps

By Wiola Grabowska

This must be one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of transforming your plain jumps set into a proper colour and pattern challenge!


We’ve dressed several jumps with the Jumpstack and been using the covered bales for all sorts of jumping exercises both ridden and on the ground.

The covers for the bales made fantastic fillers, you just need a good tape to secure the openings as if your jumps are outdoors, the stickers that come with the covers won’t be strong enough to stay on.

The pole covers are great for transforming plain poles and do a super job used on raised poles as horses being vary of them, pick their feet up neatly.

We are looking into adding some yellow and green patterns now. It makes training interesting and helps the horses get used to variety of different jumping challenges. I find some fillers are more of a rider’s frighteners so it helps the riders to become accustomed to jumping more than simple poles.

The covered bales are also very handy for creating gymnastic set ups like small grids to work on technique – improving quality of the canter and rider’s position.

When used for groundwork, they provide a low level distraction for the horse  habituating him/her to situations where they need to ignore slight worry and go forwards when asked.

Photo: Christine Dunnington 

To purchase the bale covers and more, see

Progressive jumping exercise to train correct canter lead landing

By Wiola Grabowska

Rider: Sasha Eastabrook

Horse: Boo

Videos available on our Instagram, details at the bottom of the post

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BENEFITS: An ability to land on the lead of choice after the jump helps the rider to navigate courses of jumps with accuracy and balance. Coming to the jump from a turn on the wrong lead often causes unpredictable, unbalanced take offs and poles down. It is also unsettling for many horses, affects impulsion in the canter and line of travel. Maintaining balance is the key to calmer rounds, helps the horse to think and do its best. 
  • Set up a jump on centre line of your arena and start with poles on the ground. I prefer to keep all jumps small, cavaletti style so if the rider makes mistakes, the exercise can be repeated several times without overstraining the horse. Same goes for the horse – if you are working with a young or green horse, small jumps set him up to win rather than catch him up. Trot over the poles in a figure of eight on two 10m circles (or bigger if your horse struggles with balance on smaller circles) paying attention to change of direction over the poles: remember to keep your shoulders parallel to the horse’s shoulders and look to the side you are planning to turn to, turn with your outside rein close to the neck and inside rein acting as an opening rein (slightly away from the neck or further away if needed). Repeat until you feel a nice flow to the exercise with the horse understanding that change of your weight aids over the poles mean change of direction. Allow your weight to drop slightly onto the inside stirrup as you prepare the turn. This aid you will carry with you over to the next stages of the exercise.
  •  Set up a small X-pole and proceed to canter. We are going to repeat the pattern again by riding a figure of eight. Approach on the left canter lead, land on the right and vice versa. Start on the rein on which your horse’s canter is a little weaker. This way, you are giving him an incentive to land on his preferred lead after the jump and since that is what we are after, we are creating the best situation for a successful outcome. Over the jump repeat exact same aids for change over that you used in trot: look precisely to your side, open the inside rein towards the new turn, shift slightly more weight into inside stirrup. Turn in the air, not upon landing as aiding on landing is too late. Prepare on take off, aid in the air. At first you might find yourself too late with your timings – keep practicing 🙂

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  • Once the above flows well, you have a feeling of the horse always staying in front of your leg without rushing or slowing down and you are able to calmly navigate on a figure of eight, you can add more jumps that complement your choice of direction. Example of our set up below:

Sasha end exercise

X-pole on the left lead, land right, continue right over a small upright, land right and continue on the right lead to the X-pole again, land left, continue left to a small upright/cavaletti on the left rein. I chose to have a smaller jump on the left as that is Boo’s weaker canter so again, the set up always is in horse’s favour so the rider can relax and learn.

Super ridden Sasha! Videos from this session available on Aspire Equestrian’s Instagram under today’s date (16/04/2017). 

Top Tip: How to teach your horse to jump air

Teaching your horse to jump air

Jumping air is a great skill to acquire by any horse as it eventually allows riders to practice without having to spend money on jump equipment. It can be done anywhere and horses can be taught to jump both verticals and oxers as well as courses of jumps with combinations and lines as long as the handler can keep up with the horse.

To start with you will need: 

  • lunge line
  • lunge cavesson
  • lunge whip
  • a pound coin
  • a sturdy jump

How to: 

  • Place the pound coin on top of the jump in the centre of it and bring the horse to it so he/she can have a good look and a sniff
  • Lunge the horse over the jump with pound coin on top of it several times
  • Remove pound coin from the centre of the jump and place it on the edge either to the left or right, let the horse see it and sniff it. Lunge over the jump several times exactly over the pound coin
  • Take the pound coin from the jump and place is on the grass a few meters away. Bring the horse to it, let him/her see the coin and sniff it then lunge over it – the horse will jump it high every time.


Happy April’s Fools, yes we don’t normally post on Saturdays 😉

Loose Jumping – preparation, exercises and benefits

When done well, loose jumping can be of great value to the overall training of both horse and rider.

Loose jump Collage 2.jpg
Left – Roulette, Right – Boo. Loose jumping to improve suppleness through the shoulder and back


I personally like if the horse lunges well and responds to body language of the handler without undue stress or worry. I like that the horse goes forwards when asked and slows down when asked and does so reliably as when jumps come into play the excitement can sometimes override training.

It’s a good practice to do 1-2 loose schooling sessions letting the horse trot and canter in the corridor (built alongside the wall with poles, stands, fillers) without anything in it yet to jump. The idea is to get the horse to travel in a calm manner through the corridor, maintaining rhythm and tempo.

If they tend to lose balance in the corners or go into them too deeply, it might help to put a pole on the ground across the corner to encourage smoother turns.


For horses that never loose jumped or young horses learning to jump, I like the single jump in the middle of the corridor and oxer is often a good first choice as it invites the horse to jump out of the stride.

Watching young horses learn to set pace and distance to those jumps is fascinating and a great lesson for the rider who will ride the horse to the jump later.


For horses who have some experience loose jumping and for older horses with various undesirable jumping habits, well thought lines could be a super addition to their jump training.

I personally like the lines with bounces leading to oxers as they tend to teach focused, energetic entry into the line, quick front and back end action with a good weight shift from front legs to back legs and vice versa followed by an onwards, positive strides to the oxers. I have seen a very good results with those kind of lines in horses that tend to jump tight or hollow in the back or don’t open through the shoulders over the jumps.


If video above doesn’t show, you can view it directly on Instagram HERE

My other favourite ones are those that correct possibly the most common habit in horses ridden by less experienced riders and that’s shortening of the stride on take off (chipping in). By clever placement of the ground poles and adjustment of the distances, the horse can build its own confidence in finding the optimal stride and the rider can watch the horse as it does so.


  • great re-training tool for horses with difficult jumping habits (hollow back, dangling front leg(s), crooked jumping etc)

  • good introduction to jumping for young horses

  • develops a thinking, aware horse that learns to act on his tempo and adjust energy for efficient jumping efforts

  • re-establishing confidence in horse’s natural ability without influence of the rider

  • riders learn to “read” their horse’s movement on the approach, take off and landing which can improve harmony with the horse when mounted

  • riders learn to “read” the distance in relation to tempo by observing how the horse tackles different problems

  • riders learn to understand their own horse’s preferred jumping style which can help to decrease unnecessary interference

  • riders build own confidence in their horses’ ability to jump “by themselves” (especially good for riders who over-ride and try to “carry their horse over the jump”)

  • riders can observe and understand the biomechanics of the jumping horse, how they use their neck, back, shoulder so when mounted, the riders actions like sufficient give with the hand or not sitting down too early on landing, increase in meaning and importance.

Improving your Jumping Position – Exercises to Add to Your Training Routine

The question of how to improve a jumping position has repeated itself in Aspire blog’s searches for the last few days so I thought I will share some generic ways to go about it. Please feel free to pick and mix the below suggestions to your liking and adjust them to your fitness level, your horse’s stamina and your general personal circumstances.

Let’s get to it.wiolajumpingugie


The first step would be to take a video of yourself cantering in light seat and jumping over a course of jumps. This will form the basis of your action plan for the next 3 months or so.


– your coordination,
– stamina,
– back and neck/head position,
– lower leg position,
– suppleness through ankles,
– knees and hips,
– independence of the hand,
– your natural reactions when things get difficult and
– overall ability to maintain your own centre of gravity over that of the horse.

If you are unsure as to how to evaluate all this, you can ask your instructor to help you. Don’t skip on this step because improving “something” equals improving nothing much at all…You want to end up with being somewhat clear on what you strengths and weaknesses are in this particular skill before you move on.

Get a knowledgeable instructor to guide you into the desired posture in jumping positions (remember there are three stages to the jump and therefore three different positions: take off-flight-landing) “in halt” so you can build your awareness as to where each part of your body needs to be at each stage of the jump. This will be your benchmark “feel” as you work on your exercises by yourself.


Second step would be to improve the way you ride your horse in canter. I like to think that, at lower levels up to some 1.10m, a jump is like a one, very round, very elevated canter stride 🙂 Keep working on various exercises in canter and you might be amazed at how this improves your dexterity, coordination and stability over the jumps. Below are some exercises that can be of help but it’s important to adjust them to your needs and your horses’ fitness:

Transitions within canter with changes of seat

Establish a forward going stride with your horse staying in front of your leg. Next, choose certain distance (for example between quarter markers on a long side of the arena or from one tree to another some 25-30m apart) and ride in powerful, extended (but controlled) canter in two-point/light seat. At the marker (or at the tree) start sitting in the saddle and start collecting each stride so as your turn onto short side of the area (or field) you can ride the next 15m or so in collected canter. Do it couple of times on each rein. Aim at perfecting the way you come up from the saddle when you add power to the canter and the way you sit deep when you collect the strides. Remember to always maintain good quality canter i.e. your horse should not drop behind your leg when you sit to collect.

Once you are both familiar with the exercise start increasing the amount of transitions you do: ride 5-7 strides in medium canter/light seat and 3-4 in deep seat collected canter, then back to medium, then back to collected.
I use the word “collected” here loosely – just aim for a level of collection that your horse is ready for. You want a short stride with plenty of power, bounce and joy not a flat, pulled-in posture in a four beat caricature of a canter. Keep your horse happy 🙂

– Rising canter on the flat and over poles.

Great exercise to improve mobility of knees and hips as well as quickness of reactions, dexterity and joint suppleness. Start by establishing a good working canter around the arena and ride in “polo canter” for as long as you can. Aim to rise on every other stride as you would in rising trot. More on rising canter here.

Once you can do it well in working canter, add transitions within canter to it and maintain rises in “collected” strides and medium strides – it is a great exercise to practice in order to improve fluidity and feel for take off and landing.

Adding canter poles makes this exercise even more interesting. You can scatter poles around the arena in no particular order but so that you can canter patterns over them. Start in working canter and deep seat on the approach, canter rise for ONE stride as your horse canters over the pole, then slide gently back into the saddle and continue to the next pole. The key here is to try to rise for ONE stride only, then land lightly back into the saddle.wiolaonradieuse

There are many exercises you can follow this up with, for example: build a line of canter poles where your gymnastic line would be later (build 2-3 bounce distances to 2-3 at one stride distances). Establish working canter that is suitable for your horse and approach the line in two-point/light seat. Over each pole canter-rise ONCE paying attention to you your lower leg position, suppleness and general sync with the horse’s stride. Repeat coming in deep seat and rising ONCE over each pole. Maintain rhythm and speed of the canter so that it doesn’t change whether you sit and rise.

Many riders do very well producing a nice, powerful canter in light seat but have problem maintaining it when sitting back in the saddle. If this too is your issue, observe whether you sit without holding the horse back through your seat bones. When you sit in the saddle, you should feel that your seat bones still maintain the diagonal weight shift needed for forward momentum and it is the positioning of your body, the incremental “hold” of your thighs and weight distribution through your back is what “brings the horse back”.

Gymnastic lines

Jumping over gymnastic lines of fences that are on a bounce, one and two stride distance helps immensely with riders’ jumping position. The repetitiveness of the exercise allows the rider to focus on themselves and let the horse learn from the exercise too. The fences are usually low and coming quick after one another which teaches the rider to concentrate and relax through the joints – especially ankles and knees, which often want to hold on to the horse and prevent secure jumping position from developing.

STEP 3: Keep Reassessing

In most generic terms, spend as much time in canter as you can on as many different horses as possible. Change often between two-point (light) seat and three – point seat (dressage seat). Focus on developing fluidity and ease in those canter exercises. Work over the poles in light seat often, both in trot and in canter. Have eyes on the ground, a knowledgeable friend or your instructor to give you feedback on how you are doing – many a time what we feel is very different from how it is…

I hope these few tips were useful for some of you out there 🙂
Have a great day!

Show Jumping: Comparison of technique of riders over jumps 3 & 4 (vertical, roll back to vertical)

3 to 4 txt

The horse shows certainly come with plenty of entertainment values but they are also a fabulous way to educate one’s eye, analyse different ways of riding and training horses, appreciate certain techniques and discard others.

Below is a short footage of all the riders who took part in Speed Stakes class at Royal Windsor on Friday. I videoed small part of the course (from fence number 3 to number 4) which I thought was an interesting one: it tested pretty much every skill a show-jumper must have as well as showed technique of each rider rather well.

I personally appreciated the skillful, no pulling approaches showed by several riders, dynamic and fast yet not hectic or rushed..
I hope you enjoy the footage 🙂

Video: showing riders’ technique and approach choices over jumps 3 & 4 at CSI3* Land Rover Speed Stakes — Table A, Art 238.2.1. Royal Windsor Horse Show, 16th May 2014. Class winner: Abdullah Al-Sharbatly on Andrea. Saudi Arabia.

Video Day Saturday: Dr. Deb Bennett about physical and deep straightening (lessons from Woody)

usef network 2

The below videos show recorded lectures, workshops and ridden training during USEF 2013 George H. Morris Horsemastership Training Session. All videos included in the Training Session are interesting to watch and many curious riders and instructors should find in them something for themselves. I am posting these videos on here because I strongly believe in learning from multiple systems and approaches so we can develop own healthy and constructive views.

The ones I chose to underline below are lectures by Dr. Deb Bennett from Equine Studies Institute. I think they discuss matters which are still and often under the radar of many horse owners, instructors and riders.

1) Lessons from Woody Part I: Physical Straightening

(you can read more about Woody here: Lessons From Woody Pdf) 

2) Lessons from Woody Part II: Deep Straightening 

3) True Collection: Coiling of the Loins and Raising the Base of The Neck

Continue reading Video Day Saturday: Dr. Deb Bennett about physical and deep straightening (lessons from Woody)