Category Archives: Through Coach’s Eyes

Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 3 of 3


Lauren and Gilly. Photo by Becky Bunce

Day 3 of the Camp was focused on Cross Country and Dressage skills and incorporated the Training Show rounds (or elements of rounds on XC course to match demands with the rider’s experience). If you would like to catch up on previous days before reading on, check these links: Day 1 and Day 2.

Sunday morning woke us with the sky painted in all sorts of shades of pinky oranges, yellows and blues 🙂

Morning at Camp Collage



The thing I like the most about riding on a cross-country course is the terrain. Not the jumps set up in open fields but the water, the steps up and down, the challenges the undulation poses on balance of both the horse and the rider, the ground variety under the horse’s feet. I think all those are way more educational to a grassroots rider than jumping funky xc jumps 😉 The terrain questions are what I personally consider a must to answer by any rider (unless for some very valid reasons they should never ride outside of an arena) and a simple cross country/hacking skills are always a part of the Academy’s Foundation Programme.


For the most part, all the sessions went smooth except Caitlin’s mare got a bit playful which ended up in a fall whilst Aisha’s share horse didn’t feel 100% half way through so we decided to let him rest instead. It was a bit of a blow for both of these riders. Caitlin who tweaked her back muscles, pulled out of the afternoon dressage too which unfortunately meant giving up her chance for winning the Camp’s Trophy or other Awards. It was even sadder still as she was scoring highly on my board up until then!


I have not run any previous Camps this way before and found it both interesting and difficult. Trying to make mental notes about how riders responded to coaching and their focus on the tasks made me much more aware of some aspects of our lessons to which I perhaps didn’t think of so much before.


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Derek’s first ever Cross Country experience.





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Afternoon was all about the Dressage and off horse sessions on the seat, influence and effectiveness. I chose two long arena tests, one Preliminary, one Novice, for the riders to learn. The format of the session was to ride a well planned, individual warm up followed by a short session with me to work on anything the rider found difficult during the warm up, then ride the test. In order for the judging to be as impartial as possible, I asked the riders who were not riding or getting ready at the time, to score with me.

off horse collage
Top left: amazing sports massage with Natalie that we were lucky to have over two days. The bottom right photo makes me smile every time I look at it and it confirms we chose the right Winner 🙂 While everyone is browsing through some fabulous photos Becky took in the morning of XC sessions, Laura is desperately trying to figure out better seat balance before the afternoon dressage sessions.

I didn’t want a competition scoring per se so asked the”judges” to try to assess what they saw by taking under consideration the rider’s skills, the horse’s level of training and the quality with which they thought the riders applied themselves to the task.

I believe that judging dressage tests i.e. watching with understanding in a analytical way, can be very educational and makes the rider aware of little things they may otherwise have missed when riding by themselves.

Again, this new format draw my attention to how the riders approached their preparations. Even though we are not running a highly competitive programme, we are all in this because we are interested in progress and self-improvement. I do my best not to put any pressure on anyone in terms of time scales for achieving particular skills upgrades but I would not want to see riders staying in their comfort zones for too long.


In terms of short listing riders for the final Awards I was looking at how the riders used their time with me, whether they tried to push themselves or settled for least challenging options, whether they used the opportunity to “judge” constructively and whether they were able to switch well from being coached to thinking for themselves.

The challenge I gave myself and which I found most enjoyable in this whole Awards format was to approach every session of these three days as if I wanted that rider to win the main Trophy. In a set up where the scoring is so relative and individually adjusted, I knew I needed that focus on helping every rider reach their best to avoid any potential bias.


Once everyone ridden their tests, I sat down with my Decision Panel consisting of Angela and Becky who were with me at every session of the three days, Tatiana and Gary – the patrons of the Camp and the Training Show and Caitlin – the rider who was in the run up to the Trophy but was unable to continue due to injury (in the future Summer Camps I will always invite to the Panel any rider(s) who were riding high but due to unforeseen circumstances lost their chances of a win). I talked all of them through all of my notes on every rider, how I thought they performed, how coachable they were, whether they showed any interest in off horse sessions and with what effects, how they generally contributed to the training atmosphere and whether in my opinion they challenged themselves. I then asked Angela and Becky for their views on all the above. Once we talked all the details through, which took almost an hour, we voted.


As this was a test run for this Camp format I am sure we will eventually arrive at a more robust way of finalising the Awards but I feel we didn’t do a bad job 😉


Laura and her Thoroughbred mare, Robyn.


This Award was to go to the rider who:

– showed above average commitment to improve own skills in order to help their horse move/work better

– showed above average drive to acquire more knowledge via questions/exercises/ideas/discussions throughout the Camp

– showed focus, determination and teamwork when training their horse

– showed above average application to ALL tasks throughout the Camp (ridden, off horse, discussions)

– showed an absolute “horse first” attitude in all sessions

– showed improvements in their riding skills beyond an average timescale



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This Award was the second best thing to win at the Summer Camp and I wanted it to go the rider who:

– showed excellent focus and attention to all tasks during all lessons

– showed genuine interest in every aspect of the training sessions

– gave variety of ideas a go even if they were rather eccentric 😉

– made marked, visible improvements to own riding and way of going of the horse

– showed attention to detail in skill development

– showed ability to focus on my feedback in order to produce better results in second round of Show Jumping second round

– showed ability to focus on small corrections in 8 minutes of very specific help before the dressage test and then use those corrections to produce a more polished test

– made my job easy by being coachable, invested in own progress and that of the horse

– enjoyed the work they were doing

– showed an enthusiasm to improve own skills in order to help the horse

– set goals before the camp and pursued them with passion

– always put the horse first

– remain positive throughout and never blame the horse for own skill shortages.

This award went to Gemma and Ozzy. They won a 2 day training stay with me sponsored by Brackenhill Stud & Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. More on their training adventures on the blog soon 🙂 


The three medals: Gold, Silver and Bonze, awarded similar qualities to the Trophy & Coach’s Award. They were there to say very well done in various areas of the training challenges and were awarded to riders who for some reasons lost points towards the main Trophy but nevertheless showed a marked improvements in all sessions, good attitude to training and were able to remain focused on the tasks at hand in all sessions.

GOLD MEDAL: Lauren & Gilly





BRONZE MEDAL: Paige & Oscar



HUGE THANK YOU goes to our 2017 Patron & Sponsors – Life Savings – run by Tatiana and Gary Thorpe. It really was a privilege to work with people who cared for every detail as much as I did. If you are wondering how to lower your household bills, do drop them a message. It’s not easy to find support for small initiatives like ours so I am doubly grateful for all their help as without it, organising larger projects would be near impossible! 


My big gratitude also goes to Angela Tong for her tireless assistance with everything I needed throughout the Camp & Becky Bunce for stepping in as our photographer for the Summer Camp and stealing everyones hearts with her fabulous shots 🙂

Angela and Becky BLOG

Thank you ALL for wonderful experience and I am already looking forward to bigger & better Summer Camp 2018. The plan is to open several places for riders outside of our regular programme and extend the Camp to 5 days…More details in due course 🙂 


Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 1 of 3

This Summer Camp 2017 was the first one of upgraded versions of intensive training camps I have been organising in the last few years. We incorporated a training show into it with Life Savings as its Patron (more on the Show later), added sponsored awards and much more focus on the rider’s technique than ever before. I loved it and the riders seemed to as well. We already have bigger plans for next year but for now, let me reflect on this year’s experiences in stages…


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Emma on Merehead and Lou on Robyn – discussing seat effectiveness vs rider’s balance with great help of the mirrors 

Knowing the steps

In the process of putting together the content of this Camp, I came across a very clever way of describing skill acquisition. At first, everything we are trying to do seem IMPOSSIBLE. Whether it’s an ingrained asymmetry that prevents the rider from sitting well or a horse struggling with own straightness, everyone will have their “impossible’ tasks. In the process of training we convert the ‘impossible’ to POSSIBLE. 

But that’s only a start…Once a skill enters realm of ‘possible’ , it simultaneously begins a seemingly never ending journey towards EASY. There might be some strong reluctance in all of us to work for something very hard because it’s much cooler to just have a talent for something. Working hard is not a glamorous process that was advertised up to be. Even more problematically, converting the ‘possible’ to ‘easy’ takes a damn long time. Months and years.

Building awareness of passive resistance vs pulling; finding muscles that replace the active backward pull on the reins. 

Then again, getting to easy is not the end of the road. It’s only a beginning of yet another stage of converting “easy’ into EFFORTLESS/ELEGANT. In riding, it would be that look where nothing seem to be happening yet a hell of a lot goes into that nothing. A whole history of impossible moments, buckets of “easy sweat” and years of patient refinement.

I personally find, through my teaching and riding experience, that the biggest frustrations come from the attitude that assumes that we can take an Impossible and make it into an Effortless/Elegant in ONE effort. This expectation of oneself and of the horse is what often causes such tension in either rider or a horse or both that it hinders their progress or stops their learning altogether.

Aisha with Prince and Angela with Boo having their session in tropical rain 😉 

With all this in mind, I wanted the Friday sessions to be about letting the learning happen via slow start with some details explained in more depth followed by fast paced second part where you “just listened and did it” without too much analysis – just learning to catch moments and “feels” the horse offered, then analyse it later.

Friday Collage 1
Making small corrections, getting rid of “chair seat” and rein reliance tendencies. Possibly most “popular” seat fault out there but very much correctable with some decent focus. 

Taking the Steps

It might seem “easy” to just do things but it’s not. Many a time riders are more preoccupied with things they can’t do, things they were once taught/learnt by themselves, or questions they have in the very moment or focus on other hang ups unrelated to riding than giving another “unknown” feel a go.

Having said that, the Friday effort was fabulous. I was (happily) surprised many times that day because of the way above average application to the tasks. It definitely helps to get out from home arena and immerse oneself in a learning/fun environment.

Gemma, the rider on the bright bay (Ozzy) won the Coach’s Award at the end – she had put herself in the lead from that first Friday session and didn’t lose her focus or attitude until last minute of Sunday. Paige, the rider on the grey (Oscar), won Bronze Medal Award and had some superb breakthroughs with her riding on Friday. Kate, the rider on Welsh Pony, rode the ride of her life. If she continued her focus throughout the Camp I’d have had a hard time deciding on overall Trophy Winner 😉 

Converting goals into actionable steps

One of the tasks I always give a couple of weeks prior the Camps is goal setting. Each rider sets themselves some aims for the 3 days of training and once I receive them, I try to figure out how realistic they are in relation to timescale we have and if not possible to achieve in 3 days, what milestones or skills are best to focus on in order to get closer to those goals.

Once I have the above, I put together more detailed sessions content for each rider, match it with that of main idea for each day of the Camp and then match it again with closest goals of another rider (in order to put riders together in most compatible way).

Kelly and Mojo, the Silver Medal Award & Surprise Your Coach Award winners. Here on the Friday having some issues with sheep peacefully grazing in the field next to the arena 😉 The training photos are not great as Mojo never quite relaxed in that first session but it was possibly one of the hardest lessons for the rider in terms of the lessons tasks and she gave them a go with no excuses, ifs or buts. 

Own goals & challenges

Teaching groups is my biggest challenge, mostly mentally as I find it very hard to switch between varying learning styles especially if they are different from my own. In order to prepare better this time I put as many compatible riders together as I could (to create 2 to 4 riders sessions) in several weeks leading to the Camp and it definitely helped.

Friday Collage 2
Caitlin and Mollie (bay in royal blue) had an amazing start to the weekend with this Friday session but sadly circumstances out of their control put them out of running for the Awards (more on this later)

Bringing the best out of each horse & rider is probably most rewarding part of this job for me so running the same way of teaching for all seems like a waste of time. Another interesting aspect of the Camp scenario was that exercises themselves were often very similar, just the way we approached them differed.  




Angela, my fantastic assistant for the Camp having a short lesson on Aisha’s Boo. We are searching for different feels through her leg here so she can figure out what position gives her best balance that is independent of any problems the horse’s might have in her posture. 

My main focus was on the following areas:

  • functional seat with core muscles working correctly to create stability – finding muscles that help with back to front stability and left to right stability;
  • integrity through entire leg, lower leg stability, use of thighs/role of thigh position and weight distribution through them in horse’s ability to work “over the back” , maintain rhythm and energy (use of thighs and core muscles for speed control);
  • passive resistance when using the reins;
  • “own” balance which allowed the rider to remain independent of the horse’s back hollowing/inverting as much as possible within riders’ current skill level;
  • connecting groundwork with ridden work in cases of severe resistance/misunderstanding/inability to follow rider’s aids;

Helping Merehead, an ex racehorse, to turn his outside right shoulder in order to improve his left turn. Converting groundwork to ridden work.

  • challenging the riders with tasks they found most difficult (as examples: turning from the seat on a strongly one-sided horse, canter-trot-canter transitions for riders who need to upgrade reaction time without becoming tenser by the minute in the process, light seat for riders with tendency to lose balance on a hollow horse etc.)
Gilly being fresh and playful with Lauren 😉 It’s not a “keep me” photo but I wanted to include it because Lauren won Gold Medal Award for the Camp and one of the many reasons she did was because she overcome her nerves with this playful chap to the point where she gave him a lovely XC session on the last day 🙂 

Saturday Reflections coming very shortly: 

  • flatwork for jumping
  • jump seat balance
  • gridwork & course riding

Until then 🙂

All photos copyright: Becky Bunce Photography






Through coach’s eye: Planning a new set up for Aspire Equestrian Summer Training Camp

By Wiola Grabowska

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy Summer Training Camp

The 2017 Aspire Equestrian Summer Training Camp is in 9 days and this last stretch is my favourite part of the whole planning and organisation process even though it’s wildly time consuming.

New set up

This Summer Camp is the first one of hopefully a continuously improving series of summer intensive training camps incorporating a show. A very special kind of show. In all my training and in riding in general, I put the biggest emphasis on self-improvement. Knowing that we do our very best and then pushing ourselves that little bit more each time.

For this reason I wanted to create a challenge which awards partnership, style and performance in that order rather than simply a score/clear round etc. Partnership between horse and rider is to me what makes training worthwhile – mutual respect and understanding as well as working as a team not against one another. Style of riding – appreciation for correct biomechanics which makes horse’s job easy and rider’s job possible. Performance – understanding of tasks at hand, what’s required and how to “steal marks” as well as mental and physical readiness to do well at those given tasks . I feel those three elements put together should create a unique kind of competition…My plan is to grow it outside of regular riders group so watch this space 🙂

includingI Aspire Equestrian Training Challenge Show-2

Support and Prizes

It wouldn’t be a competition if we didn’t have any prizes and a trophy so it’s my mission to create a series worth putting a business name to…;) Our first Patron for the 2017 edition is Life Savings. Authorised Distributors for Utility Warehouse, a FTSE 250, Which Award winning Utility Company that can help you save money and make money on your household bills.

Delighted to have them on board as all horse people know, horses eat money and poo on money 😉 Savings is what we need!

Becky Bunce Photography and a young talented Animation graduate, Angela Tong, are among other prize sponsors. Thank you for being involved!

The exciting part starts now

By now, it means most of the timings are set, all sessions are planned out as to who rides with who and what I’ll be focusing on with each rider. The part left to do is the exact sessions content and that’s what I most enjoy. The whole process of figuring out what might potentially take a rider from point A to point B, what might work for a particular horse and how could they most benefit from an intensive focus of the Camp.

It’s the most difficult part for sure and I can’t say I always get it right but from a geeky coaching perspective this possibility to help the riders reach their goals is what drives me most to organise these events.

Photo Report from the Camp will be on the blog at the end of August so pop over for a visit to check it out 🙂




Through coach’s eye: Reflections Before a Clinic

I know of trainers who can just turn up and teach 20 riders over couple of days without much preparation and I do envy them! 😉 Although I could do it, I always think that a little reflection and some thoughts on the riders I only see twice a year helps me do my job better. Perhaps it’s an illusion and perhaps I run the same content I would have if I didn’t prepare at all but somehow looking through videos from previous clinics and my notes on each rider gives a peace of mind and a feeling that I have done what I could to offer best coaching help I am capable of.

Tomorrow I will hop on a plane to Poland to see some lovely riders whom I last saw 27-28 September 2014 (see photos from the clinic HERE) and meet some new riders who joined the livery yard this year. I can’t prepare much for the new riders since I will see them for the first time but I am spending today re-watching the video footage from September (another great bonus of filming riders! I don’t trust my memory so much to remember what I worked on with each person in detail!).


Here is what I make mental notes of: 

1. How each rider and horse worked over the weekend – general overview (were the exercises useful, was the horse relaxed and content with work load, was the pair challenged enough/too much, what homework did I leave them with etc etc)

2. Skim through details of each exercise so I can see what improvement have been achieved when I see them this weekend

3. Rider’s seat – what did I work on with each rider, what effect it had on the horse. This again lets me compare with the now and make sure I don’t make assumptions.

4. Main training issues of the horse – many a time riders describe a plethora of issues and problems they want to work on but it is not possible to help with them all in one or two sessions so I normally focus on 1-3 aspects that I think have the biggest bearing on other problems. When I re-watch I look with a fresh perspective so when I go now I might have an idea if we focused on the correct thing at the time.

10648431_10152446397027659_5638156908634626799_o5. Main issues of the rider – as above in horse’s case but although I listed it as fifth, this is the most important focus of all of my clinics. I believe strongly that it’s the rider who needs to know what to do and how to do it in order for the training to have much meaning once the weekend is over.

6. Riders’ goals, ambitions and training needs. Although I have fairly good overall memory of riders’ I teach and once I see them I can recall the core training stuff we did in the past, I do like to reflect on the fact whether MY coaching met their needs and if not, how I can change that.

If you run clinics yourself, how do you prepare for them? If you attend clinics, what are your motivations on joining them? Always curious of your views and ideas 🙂 Please comment away!

All the best,


Aspire Eventing Diary. Through coach’s eyes: Emma, Shabhash and Merehead at Aston Le Walls

Having had a very hectic month I am a little late with this report which in fact I am writing after the third event we have just came back from (Rockingham Castle International Horse Trials). It went better than the Aston event I shared my observation with you below and the report on it is coming your way very soon 🙂 In the meantime, let’s look at Aston Le Walls.

Aston Le Walls
Aston Le Walls – XC course

The second event of the season for Emma took us to the beautiful grounds of Aston Le Walls. It’s a truly wonderful set up with clearly many new venue ideas and improvements in the pipeline. We did the unaffiliated event which followed the affiliated ones earlier in the week. Shabby had a company this time as his stable friend and a fellow ex-racehorse – Merehead – travelled with him to make his first ever appearance in the eventing world 😉 You might know Merehead from the video I posted not that long ago – Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training Shabby and Merehead   WARM UP & DRESSAGE


Moorhead trying his best to warm up sanely 🙂

The dressage warm up proved overwhelmingly exciting for Merehead who lost his concentration on Emma and focused on trying to release his energy. We deliberated for a moment how to warm him up and decided to allow him to canter early on which we sometimes do at home when he is distracted. This worked to some extent but definitely was not enough for a relaxed dressage test 😉 He stayed within the arena boards (his canter can be massive and we had our doubts!) and certainly impressed the judges with his powerful self but that’s about that. He was entered into this event as an experience and to see if he enjoys it rather than to be competitive in any way so we were very pleased with him either way.


Shabby warmed up very well. It’s taking a long time for him to abandon his acute alertness and replace it with some form of a quiet observation but we’ve been letting him discover a more relaxed way of going at home and he is learning well. Working in a quiet indoor school at home, everything is that much easier than in the open field with many other horses and a pressure he evidently feels. Physically, he is more than capable for the demands of the XC but his carrying power needed for self-carriage in dressage and show jumping brings him down.

Mentally, he has a long way to go too. In the lessons, we focus mostly on building his confidence in the physical capability as well as in the actions of the rider so he can built upon those in a stressful situation. He is a very athletic little horse, nimble and quick with a huge heart. I feel really invested in him and really want him to do well. The more he goes out, the better he copes so hopefully we will have him happier and calmer towards the end of the season.

Shabby in the warm up. Still not fully confident and losing connection but 100% more relaxed than at Hambleden.

There is also a fair amount of weakness in his work on the left rein; it will be interesting to observe what effect the strengthening and improved symmetry will have on his overall performance.



Two months ago Merehead jumped sideways at a mere sight of a pole on the ground. Doing his chiropractic exercises which involved walking over a series of poles and stopping in the middle of them was a challenge. Aston was his first ever course in an event atmosphere so that considering he was fabulous 🙂 He warmed up in a fashion in a very busy and hectic surroundings and then jumped everything, fillers and odd colours, with a jolly amount of freshly discovered bravado. Emma credits her cross country trainer – Mark – and his confidence building exercises for Merehead’s jumping attitude. It was a very green round but he went beyond all expectations with one jump down (his canter has very minimal adjustability at the moment).


Whilst in the dressage the anxiety and tension translates into lost marks and high scores, in show jumping phase, Shabby is paying a hefty stress price. It’s a concern to me because I like to see him working in a content way. Focused but not to the point of obsession. And Shabby is both stressed and obsessed when it comes to coloured poles. On a positive note, it was a calmer round than Hambleden even though the warm up conditions were everything Shabby could do without being exposed to.


This phase is where I go and grab some food and relax 😉 I love dressage and jumping training but don’t have that much interest in the XC as far as coaching goes. However, I do enjoy watching Emma galloping the boys around 😉 I do observe her approaches, landings and position over the jumps to make sure I can continue improving her riding in our lessons but other than that it’s like going to a cinema and tucking into popcorn! Both boys were fantastic, Merehead flew around looking like he was setting off on a 4* course and Shabby skipped the jumps as per usual. Now, if you are still with me, grab your popcorn and have a look at the action on videos 🙂



POST EVENT REFLECTIONS & Training focus between Aston Le Walls and Rockingham (one week)

There were many positives to this event. Shabby warmed up much better than at Hambleden and his work almost matched his work at home on many occasions. So did Emma’s. The dressage score was high (48.5) which was probably one of the worst he had ever gotten but at the same time, all the comments were very fair and there was nothing mentioned that we don’t work on back home. It’s only his second event and I am sure he will settle the more he runs. The tension costs but if we can get him to work in the arena as he does in the warm up he is more than capable of 6s-7s on his sheet. There is no pressure on him to be what he can’t be but I do want him to find a more comfortable and relaxed way of going and to enjoy cooperating with Emma within the white boards 🙂 Show jumping I have a mixed feeling about. There are several things I want to address in training but I will share more of those in my Rockingham report. He was more “with the rider” this time but still very stressed. XC – I loved watching him in his natural element, he has the confidence there that he lacks in dressage and show-jumping so the mission is to give him that in all phases. Merehead was fabulous. Emma says I help her remain calm when all hell breaks lose with Shabby but I am learning a good lesson myself too. My competition times always meant huge amount of work at home and only showing the horses once they were level above the show level. Watching Merehead counting clouds, hollow and braced doing his dressage test is not something I cherish but probably for the first time in my riding and teaching life I am learning to relax about it, see the events as an experience and a true learning grounds not just as an exam of competency…(I do hope he gets his act together for the next event though :-P) The plan for Merehead is to continue his lessons, do a few local dressage shows now and some xc schooling outings.

Merehead contemplating whether it is wise to cross the bridge leading to the arenas 😉

Only Shabby is scheduled to go to Rockingham where he will run in BE100 section H. His work plan remains similar but we are increasing demands on bending through his body as well as asking for exercises requiring more self-carriage (shoulder-in, counter canter). We are also keeping a stricter routine of warming up and cooling down for good 10 minutes in a stretchy, long and low trot which Shabby does like when he relaxes. For Emma, I want her to become much more tuned in to any loses of balance in the horse so there is more sitting trot for her, more transition work as well as simple pole work to train her eye for distance and canter rhythm. Until next time! Wiola