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Review of the Equiformance Rider Bands

Contralateral bands for flatwork


The first time I tried these bands with various riders I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. They arrived with a leaflet and a link to a video briefly explaining how to use them and the benefits they might have.

Being someone who appreciates rider development tools, I fired the good old Google searches and got down to educating myself on the ins and outs of using resistance bands for posture training. After a few days of reading, I was quietly excited to give this new toy a go.

I was prepared for the riders to feedback about feeling some level of increase of the effort through their core muscles, maybe better awareness of where their centre of balance was and I hoped for a good level of improvement of their lateral crookedness.

They experienced all that and much more…Once they worked themselves through the initial bewilderment of the feel of the bands, here is what I observed :


  • nearly immediate and substantial improvement in basic straightness through the body
  • many laid back horses moving with more impulsion
  • sensitive horses slowing down and moving calmer
  • hollow horses showing improved relaxation through the back and offering more functional, lower, more relaxed neck positions
  • stabler neck position (in the middle of the shoulder blades instead of displaced positions)


  • huge improvement in rider’s ability to maintain rhythm in trot and canter
  • huge improvement in rider’s ability to “internally understand” (vs intellectual understanding only) the feel of the horse staying off the forehand
  • nearly immediate internal understanding of the pelvis-to -contact connection/relationship
  • nearly immediate internal understanding and heightened perception of the “stable hands” concept (huge decrease in lifting/busy-ness of the hand(s) etc)
  • various “riding through the seat” concepts like weight aids and importance of central body position sinking in into the rider’s feel very quickly

Many of these findings were a big surprise to me albeit very welcomed! It often takes me weeks if not months of many well thought out exercises to build certain feels in the rider and for them to become established enough to be sustainable and able to be repeated. The seemingly inconspicuous set of bands sped this process up immensely.

One of several different ways of using the bands


The use of resistance bands in improving athletic skills is not new and has been around for a while. The same applies to the use of such bands in physiotherapy and one of the more interesting applications I came across was their (successful) integration into rehabilitation of stroke patients. (more if interested:

The bands I am reviewing here were designed by Performance Refinery, a company owned by Britta Anna Pedersen, “an experienced senior Physiotherapist with over 16 years experience in the field, prior International Dressage & Event Rider” More:

I’ve been using their PR Equiformance Posture Sling – Functional Rider Performance Training Kit and PR Rider Performance Training Kit for about 12 months with 20 riders of various skills levels from complete beginners to grassroots levels competition riders.


For all the really good benefits these bands have, I’ve come across riders who purchased them for individual use and weren’t satisfied. Having listened to the reasons these riders had I did see how the bands missed their application in their instances.

Even though there are no particular directives anywhere to use the bands under coaching supervision, I think the lack of eyes on the ground and help with correct wear (adjusted to the issues the rider has) were the reasons some riders didn’t experience full benefits. In some cases, it could simply have been a wrong aid altogether.

Whilst I don’t think one needs to be a physiotherapist to advise on a successful use of the bands, a decent knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics of both horse and rider plays an important role here, at least during the initial ride.

Aspire Equestrian Equiformance Bands Clinic at Brookfields Livery, Oxon

Not every rider will benefit from the use of contralateral bands for example, some will gain an immense help from just one band which will highlight undesirable movement patterns. Others will experience light bulb moments with the band held behind their lower back and held in both hands. Some can have a superb experience with wrists bands only.

I also noticed that riders with naturally high muscle tone have better results with bands that are longer than their height-suitable-band. This might be due to the tension increasing beyond functional level when they have to resist the action of the band. Having a full set for all the heights comes very handy here!

In summary, yes I think this is a fantastic tool for self learning but only after some sessions with a biomechanics focused coach. I am not recommending that to create some false dependency between a rider and an instructor but to help spread a word about the very positive possible applications of this particular rider development aid.

Training in style – Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy joins Boudica Equestrian as their first brand ambassador

Boudica 4

As someone who doesn’t really compete and who rarely features on photos on any social media material, I have never actively pursued any sponsorship or brand ambassadorship myself. I’d been sent items for reviews before and if I loved them they ended up reviewed on this blog but overall I thought it would be somewhat unfair to the brand since I wouldn’t be able to provide them with the all-so-important nowadays visuals to share and spread the word.

Another issue that has always stopped me from approaching any businesses was the fact that in my mind a coach should be on an impartial side and be able to recommend variety of brands since not all makes and styles suit everyone.

However, when Laura Williams discussed her ideas for branding with me upon launching her equestrian and leisure wear start up, Boudica, we realised we could help each other in many ways despite me not being in the competition limelight.

The values & ethics in equestrian industry vs brands we buy

The thing that captivated my attention in Laura’s approach was an emphasis on common values and beliefs when it comes to training horses and riders. I love the fact she wants to make this her strong branding statement because a thorough and horse friendly and rider biomechanics focused training is what inspires me to be better at my job every day.

In mainstream fashion and non-horsey brands it has become so common that almost now a part of everyone’s lives to be buying products and services from companies with certain image (following certain values & characteristics) – why not in Equestrian industry too 🙂

Boudica 2

Many brands under Boudica’s umbrella 

The fact Laura sources variety of products from selected brands is ideal for me. I would feel like an imposter promoting only one brand because I love variety and many different manufacturers have fabulous clothing ranges. I quite like an underdog of a company too if I find their items comfortable, durable and wear well! I feel Laura has a good sense of where and what to look for and I am excited to see what brands she will cooperate with!

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One of the Academy’s young riders, Sofija, all in pink at our Intensive Training Spring Camp 2018! Chillout leggings and UV baselayer

Creative collaboration

Anne and Chico Boudica collage
Anne and Chico at Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018. Anne in Chillout Silver Jacket and me with Hiho silver leather bracelet 🙂 

From the word go we knew we wanted to create a valuable content around our collaboration. It’s not easy to stand out in a busy equestrian fashion market nowadays but we both love a challenge so hoping to bring an interesting addition to not-just-pretty pictures 🙂 On this note, if there is anything you are struggling with in your riding and would love to see another grassroots rider demonstrating different options of dealing with similar issues, comment below, email Wiola at or join our training group (Join button in side bar) and discuss it there. I will try to respond to all suggestions via informative blog posts.

Favourite pieces 

Boudica 6
Quick breakfast croissant at the Aspire Equestrian Intensive Training Spring Camp 🙂 

I can’t finish this post without sharing my (so far!) favourite pieces from the current collection at Boudica. No particular order! I linked to each item if you wanted to check them out 🙂

  • The Chillout lightweight jacket – perfect for chilly mornings where it’s too warm for a jumper and too cold for a short sleeve only. I went for the Silver one but do love the black one too!
  • The Chillout leggings – I chose the navy ones with phone pocket; really comfortable, very easy to brush dirt and hair off without it sticking to the material, I use them for teaching in as well as dog walking, physio/Pilates sessions and everything in between. Love that the phone pocket is deep and on the right thigh as I use my camera phone a lot when teaching so it’s easy to grab it/put it away quickly.

Boudica 3
Aisha on Prince wearing grey Chillout leggings and black Montar gilet. I’m wearing the navy version of that gilet and navy Chillout leggings 

  • The double wrap bracelet from Hiho Silver – I don’t really wear jewellery/accessories around horses as I like to keep all my limbs and digits but do love this one as a “work accessory” 😉 !
  • The Montar Knit Sweater – I love me a grey, lightweight jumper/sweater 🙂 Super soft and warm enough for Spring/Summer chill or to layer up.
  • The Body Warmer/Gilet – super soft and warm, I didn’t want to take it off 🙂

Keep an eye for the Spring Camp tales coming up with many more fabulous photos and I am looking forward to working with Laura on some great content this year!

On the subject of Photography:

All photos above are copyright of Becky Bunce Photography and Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. If you are interested in hiring a dependable photo cover for your events, don’t hesitate to contact Becky. She has a fantastic eye for a good moment and I now try to organise my events around her diary! 

TRAINING CASE STUDY: Loose Jumping 5 different horses – the set up, the results, the reflections; when to go higher, change and when to stop


By Wiola Grabowska in collaboration with Brackenhill Stud & Emma Brinkworth Eventing

Today we decided to loose jump several horses for different reasons and I will shortly describe them together with the goals for each.

  1. Ettie owned by Lou 

Warmblood mare recently purchased by one of the riders training with me regularly. She has good jumping breeding with some jumping experience. For Ettie the session was to add variety to her training, for us to assess her natural way of jumping, attitude and capabilities.

2. Repo owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Repo has very little bascule in his jumping under the saddle and jumps with pure take off power rather than technique. He also has a tendency to push stronger through one side of the body/one hind leg and drift strongly in flight when ridden. He has been loose jumped once or twice before. It is believed by some show-jumping trainers that lack of bascule can be improved via regular loose jumping over specific types of jumps and I have seen it used for this reason with success over several months of regular weekly sessions. The goal for today was to refresh Repo’s loose jumping memory and see how he feels over bigger jumps as Emma would like to step him up a level Eventing this season.

3. Merehead owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Big, strong and powerful horse to jump he becomes very excited on the course. I personally was interested how he copes as he tends to lack confidence at times. He tends to over jump under the rider giving the jumps plenty of air but leaving his legs hanging. The goal with him was to assess his self-confidence as a jumper and observe whether ridden behaviours repeat themselves in free schooling.

4. Prince owned by a Livery client at Brackenhill Stud

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A mysterious “stopper” – very inconsistent in his jumping performance, Prince has days where he is terrified of polework exercises to days when he confidently jumps small courses of unknown jumps. He does regular groundwork and is responsive to the handler but has not been loose jumped before. The goal was to observe him without any interruption from the rider, assess his natural confidence without interference and see how he deals with the situation.

5. Ferris owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A ‘green’ riding horse, this was to be Ferris’ first loose jump session with the goal to add to his education, assess his uninterrupted jumping style, confidence and natural tendencies. He has done a few jump sessions over small single jumps and a small training course at home. His ridden jumping is very green but honest with variety in style/technique but with tendency to over jump and leave the cannons hanging.


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.


A line of two jumps: A placing plank 7m from x-pole/vertical followed by 11m distance to an oxer. I like to use a plank instead of a pole as a distance marker if at all possible because some horses become overexcited when loose schooled and can easily step on the pole and twist the leg/slide/lose balance. An old plank works great even when stepped on as is flat is unlikely to move anywhere.



  • 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.


Ettie – the mare started very wobbly in the line which initially consisted of poles on the ground for her to walk and trot over. She tended to overshot her approach and lacked focus over the first jump but after a few rounds her whole attitude changed and she improved to the point of a very straightforward jumps performed with easy to 1m20 (our wings don’t go higher).


She showed no issue with the height at all, it was the purposeful straightness that was missing at the start and made me keep the jumps small. I would;t hesitate to put the jumps higher for her if we had such option but for the goal of training diversity and athletic exercise going any higher isn’t necessary.

She was in the exercise for a total of 9 minutes during which she went from looking green to professional 😉 She either did it before or was simply rusty to start with or is a very quick learner with natural jumping ability.



Repo started very chaotic with haphazard turns to the line but he remained fairly calm and with a few adjustments to the set up to help him find a straighter line of approach he improved each round. His jumping style is very similar free schooling to ridden at this stage which could potentially improve with more free schooling sessions but his overall power allowed him to jump to the same height as Ettie successfully (clearing all the poles). I didn’t hesitate to go up the height with him because he showed a very good attitude to solving his problems, stayed calm despite a couple of serious mistakes and looked confident throughout. I feel he could really benefit from more specific, targeted exercises to address the bascule issue.

Repo’s session was about 11 minutes long with a couple of breaks to calm him down between the rounds and adjust the set up.

Snack break with Nicole. It helps to stop half way through the session so the horse has a chance to process what they are learning.


The big grey proved too excitable to do the exercise well and showed lack of stride control in the similar manner to his ridden behaviour. We ended up just trotting him over the x-poles and poles on the ground because there was no point him approaching the exercise at his chosen speed and without much focus. I feel he would really benefit from methodical free schooling work to help him build confidence in own abilities and body control. He is a master of faster but in a destructive way.


The most stressed of all the horses we schooled today, Prince showed very little self-control loose schooling which surprised me somewhat as he does regular groundwork. Definitely something to think about when checking how focused he really is in those sessions. He found being let loose very stressful and after a couple of wild rounds to a single x-pole we settled for just corridor training – calm walking through the set up. Prince is the type of horse with whom I would not attempt any loose jumping until he can calmly work free around the arena in walk, trot and canter. His adrenaline overtook him completely and continuing the exercise in such a state is counterproductive since no learning can happen then.

Prince coming around the corner to a single small x-pole with no balance and at too great a speed.


Ferris first go

Last to go Ferris proved to be calm around the arena and through flat corridor where he was first led in walk and jog. He remained receptive to us guiding him around and his technique improved within a few goes. He was reasonably eager to continue which we let him and he is a good lesson in how easy it is to over-do the good things. After a few educational rounds where he made a very honest effort we should have stopped him but we let him go that “one more time” where he lost momentum and stopped. We repeated over x-poles which he jumped well.

Ferris third go – much more awareness of front legs despite no change in the jump height

I think Ferris is a typical horse where exercise should be stopped even before we think it should. Calm and willing attitude can be a trap to unnecessary mistake so always stop before you think you should stop. All Ferris’ jumps well kept below 0.6m but his technique improved with each round.

To watch all the horses on short video clips see our Instagram account at @AspireAcademy; direct link: INSTAGRAM VIDEO: LOOSE JUMPING CASE STUDY

Big thank to Emma and her boys and Lou and Ettie for taking part, to Lou and Nicole for the help with handling the horses throughout the sessions and to Brackenhill Stud for hosting 🙂 


Simple exercise for the rider to “put the horse on the bit”

By Wiola Grabowska

There are so many ways to describe what riding “on the bit” is, so many techniques to achieve it with and many ways to explain what takes place in the horse’s and rider’s body when it does happen.

This short post is not a comprehensive description of any complicated processes but it is rather aimed at those who already know what the concept is about in theory but perhaps struggle with execution and like to experiment with a simple idea to see what they can learn from it…

How I feel it

If I was to describe in the simplest way what it feels to me to ride a horse “on the bit” I would say it’s a way of moving where I find most comfortable position for the horse to be in between his left and right bend in the body and flexion at the poll and most appropriate pace for whatever we are doing that feels like he is always between the ‘go’ and ‘whoa’.

The Simple “on the bit” Exercise

Here is one simple (not always easy, depending on how focused the rider is able to be) exercise to experience ALL ingredients of riding “on the bit”.

  1. Set up a square with poles that gives you about 12m circle inside of the square and has enough space on the outside to ride a 15m circle around the square.

  1. Walk your horse into the square and take an even connection on both reins. Feel like you are just carrying the bit for the horse as if the cheekpieces broke, don’t ask for anything, just be a neutral “handshake” at the end of each rein.
  2. Start walking around inside the square as close to the poles as possible while asking the horse to follow a shape of a 12m circle.
  3. Your first focus is on the rhythm of the steps. You can say to yourself ‘left,right, left,right’ each time you feel the hind legs stepping or shoulders of the horse moving. Repetitive, clock-like rhythm will help with relaxation which in turn will help with suppleness. If your horse is on a slow/lazy side, maintaining the rhythm can help with awareness of hind leg activity.
  4. Alongside the rhythm focus, pay attention to the position of the horse’s neck. Direct the neck with both reins so it always stays in the middle of the horse’s chest (be careful not to overbend it either way).
  5. Focus on your upper body staying directly above the horse. No leaning in. No leaning out. No leaning back or forwards. You walk each of your shoulders directly above each of your hips as much as you can. Your spine joins your horse’s spine at the right angle and stays so.
  6. Once you have the even footfalls (rhythm), neck in the middle of the shoulders and your own body stacked well and vertically balanced, ask for inside bend in the body by asking your horse to step deeper underneath his belly with his inside hind leg. Your outside leg stays a little back, your inside hip leads the movement. Feel like you are asking for a series of tiny, mini leg-yields so the horse shifts his weight a little from inside foreleg (which he is likely to be leaning on) to the outside hind leg. Let your hips follow the walking motion of the horse’s back. Be careful not to brace against your horse’s bracing/tension/reluctance to bend.
  7. Ask for flexion at the poll with your inside rein. Avoid any backwards pulling or repeated shuffling of the bit. Use simple opening rein if needed. Stabilise your horse’s neck with outside rein so only poll flexion happens, not more of a neck bend.
  8. Constantly keep checking if you are allowing the horse to use his neck in movement. In walk, it will need to move a little forward and back, in trot in will be static but still needs to be able to relax. Avoid the feeling of “holding the horse’s neck in round position”. You want the feeling of directing the neck and poll in front of the rest of the spine so it curves left or right slightly depending on which rein you are on. Keep the neck in the middle of the chest (if you are not sure, ask someone to film you and watch the video frame by frame. Most riders tend to keep the neck of the horse too much to the inside so it is almost in line with inside point of shoulder rather than the middle of the chest. This “breaks” the line of communication between the rein and the hind leg on that side.
  9. Repeat every stride – position check, rhythm, bend, flexion. It all happens almost simultaneously but you can focus on one element at a time if that’s easier.
  10. Work on both reins and build your feel for finding the posture your horse is happy to maintain.


What you are doing via this exercise is laterally bending the horse. Lateral bending helps develop straightness aka evenness through the body. Lateral bending encourages the horse to engage (aka flex in all joints and increase pushing power) of his inside hind leg.

All this encourages prouder, rounder posture through the back, longer top line and shorter bottom line, more definite feel in your outside rein and softer feel in your inside rein – all this is otherwise known as the horse being on the bit.

You might find you are only able to keep such posture in the horse for several strides. Then maybe only on a 12-15m circle. Take your time. Your feel will improve. You will start feeling how much ‘go’ to add to repair lost rhythm, how much ‘whoa’ to ask for to stop the horse from running away from inside leg aid, how much left bend to ask for so your inside flexion happens almost by itself etc etc

Many a time, the rider’s position or inability to keep the horse “in front of the leg” when riding “straight” or in gaits other than trot (often easiest as the horse’s neck remains still and rhythm can be defined via rising to the trot) is what causes the horse to lose rhythm, suppleness, engagement and connection needed to remain “on the bit”.

You might say that one could simply ride a smaller circle in walk and larger in trot and think of the same elements as above. Maybe. I have, however, tested the square exercise on variety of riders from children to more advanced riders with green horses and the discipline of the square, the fact that they need to focus on exactness of the shape seems to make it work every single time.

Happy practicing 🙂







OPEN DAY at Brackenhill Stud today


Every year since Emma Brinkworth took over the livery business at Brackenhill Stud, she opens its doors with a bit more of a shebang to celebrate past achievements and future opportunities in what is possibly one of the most challenging, demanding, overwhelmingly stressful yet also incredibly rewarding job in the equestrian industry (as any livery yard owner or manager will sure know!).

Having been based on site for the last couple of years I became very fond of the place and even though I continue looking for a full on base for the Academy, Brackenhill Stud will always be very special to me.

We have some exciting new training opportunities planned in the coming year so do come and snoop around 🙂 Grab a chair and sit down for a chat or just take a walk, buy some tack from the table tack shop sale, win a MINI, win something in Tombola – you know the drill!

I will be around too if you would like to know more about training stays with me at Brackenhill so give me a txt or a ring if you can’t find me 🙂

Open Day at Brackenhill Stud


Breeding my horse of a lifetime: Nine minutes with Royal Diva – from heartbeat to 6 weeks old [VIDEO]

Diva being a diva
Diva walking Kelly back to her car in style 😉 4th July 2017.

The youngest Academy super star mascot, Royal Diva, is 6 weeks old and growing by day. She shed her first frogs and her foal coat is slowly shedding too leaving her face slightly moth eaten in appearance 😉

She has learnt to lead for short periods of time, pick her feet up, got acquainted with an overnight stabling, learnt to eat grass and come to call 😉 You can watch her giving Kelly a welcome HERE.  Her hooves are changing as her diet is expanding and you can see the deeper rings marking her date of birth now clearly growing down.

For most part, she leads a quiet life interspersed with short moments of human visits couple of times a day.

She’s feisty at times but overall appears to have a nice, inquisitive, confident level temperament, loves people and thrives on scratches 😉 Tilly is a fabulous Mum leaving Diva plenty of space to explore and has lost some of her constant protectiveness she showed at the beginning.


The little filly is oh so alive and such a personality and yet, exactly a year ago, on 5th July 2016, Diva was nothing more than a confirmed heartbeat on the vet’s monitor.

The video below will take you on a nine minutes long emotional journey that might make you want to breed your own little diva! You’ve been warned! 😉

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). 

Reflections on learning Shoulder In

by Mairi Mackay

Teaching your horse shoulder in can have loads of benefits. All horses are ‘sided’ ( i.e. in very basic terms they have a rein that they find it easier to bend/balance on.) and shoulder in is a basic lateral exercise that can help your horse improve straightness. This has a myriad of benefits and books have been written about it! Shoulder in is also a great gymnastic exercise to help your horse become more flexible, strengthen his hindquarters (as it is a bit like a weight lifting exercise targeting each hind leg) and develop balance.

Mairi and Gilly walk
Photo by Christine Dunnington Photography. Starting from slow, deliberate walk where horse and rider focus on each other. A must before any lateral movement is taught.

For more on straightness read this and that 🙂 

One of the best ways to describe shoulder in is to imagine your horse walking along the side of the arena with the wall or rail on one side. It will look like your horse’s shoulders are coming away from the wall at a small angle and the inside hind leg steps deeper underneath the body. To help visualise this, many people recommend thinking of the horse taking the first step of a 10-metre circle and carrying on straight along the wall holding this shape.

If you are standing in front of a horse performing shoulder in you will see the horse’s hooves moving on three tracks: The inside front foot is on one track, the outside front and inside hind on the middle track and the outside hind on the other.

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Mairi and Gilly – first go at positioning for shoulder-in in walk

One of my goals this year is to teach Gilly more lateral work in-hand for all the above benefits, and so in a recent in-hand session I started working on the basics with him. My equipment was a lunge cavesson and lead rope and a schooling whip.

We started off by working on improving his walk to halt transition. I walked in front of him backwards and gradually slowed down, lifted his head gently asked him to transfer his weight onto the hind legs as he halted. Starting with a simple exercise like this seemed to help him focus his attention and ease us into the rest of the session.

The next exercise we practiced before moving on to teaching shoulder-in was turn on the forehand. It helped Gilly understand that he needs to do something with the hind leg I touch him on with the whip which provided a building block for shoulder-in aids later.

I started attempting shoulder in by walking along the rail of the arena holding Gilly’s head straight and then putting my hand on his shoulder. This focused my attention on angle my body forms with the line of Gilly’s travel. I then asked him to bring his front end off the track a little using my “cavesson hand” (the hand I held lead rope with) and tried to assume correct angle myself while pointing the whip towards Gilly’s inside hind leg which he needed to engage more underneath his body.

One of the things I noticed as a novice to in-hand work, is that I find it quite difficult to know when the horse is correctly performing shoulder-in.

If you are lucky enough to have a mirror in your arena, start practicing walking towards the mirror and look for the ‘three tracks’. If you don’t, then it can really help having someone else who knows lateral work to watch and help you adjust.

You could also ask them to do it with your horse and video them – a reference can really help with things like where to position your body in relation to the horse to communicate what you want.

I’m going to keep practicing this as I think it will take a while to develop my feel for when Gilly is doing it right. But in the short term, one of the benefits in the saddle is that when Gilly falls in and out on circles a bit of shoulder in feel can encourage him to correct his bend and redistribute his weight so he is more balanced.

Lessons from Portman Horse Trials

By Wiola Grabowska


Run on the grounds of a beautiful Rushmore Park in Dorset, Portman Horse Trials welcomed us with bright sunshine, good going and a nice, calm vibe. Although not a surprise, it’s always interesting to see how very differently the horses warmed up on grass as opposed to when they work on surface.

Walking the XC course

Watching the warm up before the dressage

Lesson 1. Get schooling on grass pronto. All bendy lines, circles and corners seem like a triple challenge in comparison to a non-undulated, well groomed surface of an indoor arena 😉 

The dressage tests on grass in arenas set one next to another always seems to come with a few issues, main one being accuracy and control.

Lesson 2. Practice tests in a well measured space ON GRASS to quicken rider’s reaction time and improve quality of preparation for each movement when dealing with uneven, slightly undulated ground. 

Lou and Robyn – dressage

Show Jumping course at Portman is short but well spaced out giving horses of all shapes, sizes and length of strides an opportunity to do well.

The challenge here was not to get overwhelmed by the size of the arena and the atmosphere, get a good rhythm going from the start and keep the pace active yet controlled. Many horses ran into trouble on this seemingly simple course, plenty of stops and canter troubles.

Lesson 3: Practice powerful, controllable canter ON GRASS, play with different lengths of strides and adjustability, play with balance on undulation in a controlled canter (as oppose to more open XC canter). Build confidence in one another. Pick level of events very wisely as confidence is lost quickly and takes ages to build. School on undulation regularly.

Merehead show-jumping

The XC course is one of the most varied at lower levels and I love it. There is plenty of gradient, challenging the rider to balance the horse well and the horse is challenged to look after oneself. All the jumps are fair and questions are well matched to the level I think but the course does require a fit horse to ride well. Many combinations were off the bridle and low in the neck half way through the course, visibly tired and jumping clumsily.

Emma has kept Merehead moderately fit to help keep the cap on his exuberance but she got it spot on, he finished inside the time and full of running.

Lesson 4 – adjust the fitness level to the course. A too fit a horse that is so wound up it’s unrideable is not great, tired one is a hazard. 

Emma and Merehead1
Merehead after last jump looking full of running and ready to keep going

Little Florence attempting to help with Eventing lark 😉 

TACKROOM CHAT WITH: Robert Fowler from Castle Horse Feeds. Part 2: Robert answers feed questions from horse owners

By Mairi Mackay


When horse feed expert Robert Fowler dropped by the yard a few weeks ago we couldn’t resist the opportunity to put some of our liveries’ burning questions about feed to him. He’s from Castle Horse Feeds, producer of Smart Horse Nutrition, which we feed to most livery horses training with Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy.

Read more: The basics, the obvious and the less obvious truths on feeding horses

Our liveries asked about how to feed cobs to keep the weight off, what to feed horses who have been on antibiotics to avoid ulcers, how to feed to help build topline and more and Robert’s answers are really interesting. Of course, it goes without saying that you should always get expert advice on feeding for your horse’s specific needs. Hope you enjoy it!


Tatiana asks: “My horse Jasper, who is a cob and puts on weight easily, had a month off work due to a health issue. What would you recommend feeding him to keep him healthy but keep the weight off?”

Robert Fowler: The critical part for that cob is that you mustn’t restrict his diet because that has so many add on problems. What you want to do is reduce the calorie intake rather than the volume intake. He still needs the volume because otherwise his digestive system is not going to work properly.

If he’s not chewing, every part of his body will be affected. His teeth will grow funnily because he’s not grinding them properly. If his stomach is empty for long periods of time, he’s going to be opening himself up for stomach ulcers. The hindgut bacteria will get real problems. That is the horse basically — all those billions of microbes in the back of the horse.

You have to find something that he can eat 2.5% of his bodyweight a day that he won’t extract too much out of. The problem with natives and cobs is they are very good at extracting nutritional value out of most things. So, you either want to use threshed hay, oat straw or chopped oat straw. That’s the type of thing you need to feed him along with a feed balancer.


Caitlin who owns Mollie, a competition mare asks: “What can I feed my horse to help build topline?”

RW: You have to provide the building blocks for muscle, which is possibly protein, and have it in a good nutritional plan with vitamins and minerals but feed on its own not going to produce topline. The only thing to get topline and get a horse muscled is by making it work out.

So, you want to assess the horse’s condition and see if it needs more condition. If it needs more condition and more energy then maybe a bit more protein for building muscle and get the vitamin and mineral balance right. You want to provide it with all the building blocks for muscle — but the only way of building muscle is through exercise and training.


Hayley’s gelding Nugget, a thoroughbred ex-point-to-pointer, was recently injured. He was taken to the veterinary hospital for treatment and has been given antibiotics. She says: “I am worried about ulcers. How should I feed my horse after he’s been given medication?”

RW: The thing there is the antibiotics. A horse relies on microbes in its hindgut to process fibre and other food. An antibiotic will damage those microbes because they are bacteria. After a course of antibiotics, you really have to nurture the hindgut again because the microflora in there will have been quite severely damaged. You really need to make sure the horse gets a lot of fibre and look at feeding a pre-and-pro-biotic to get the gut working.

A lot of good feeds and balancers (including ours) include yeast metabolites, which the hindgut bacteria will feed on. Feeding something like that, which gives the bacteria a food source, is like fertilising the hindgut and nurturing the bacteria left to bring them back to their full capacity.


Mairi’s ISH gelding Gilly was off work for a couple of months with a hock injury. Gilly finds it hard to maintain condition but gets very fresh if you feed him high-energy foods. She asks: “What feeds are good for bringing him back into work?”

RW: You’ve got to get as much fibre into him as possible and then you’ve got to get energy into him in a form that’s not going to excite him. You don’t want starch and you don’t want sugar. You want high-quality oil, quality fibre and that sort of thing going into him. You want to get as much energy in there as possible, but slow-release rather than quick-release energy. You want the energy to come from the hindgut — being slow-release — rather than the small intestine where the energy is released directly into the bloodstream from starch and sugar.

He’s the type of horse where you want to make sure you find some really good hay, so every mouthful of hay he’s getting is adding to his calorie load. Nice green meadow hays are incredibly high in energy, which is why horses put weight on when they go out into the spring grass. It really is high-energy stuff. You want to find some really nice hay and feed as much as he’ll eat and then look at really concentrated feeds for him that are not high in starch and sugar. Micronised linseed is brilliant. Use sugar beet and some oil. Avoid cereals if that makes him excited.



This interview has been carefully edited for readability.