The Academy is expanding and riders are improving! 🙂
Due to that I am seeking 16hh-16.2hh genuine all-rounder, a sound first grassroots/low level competition horse with no ridden vices. Gelding or mare, age 5-15. All costs covered and 5* care awaits. Training for owner also possible.
Those of you who know me and the Academy programme should be able to imagine that the chosen horse will have a lovely life with us! He/She to become a much cared for, valuable training partner for 2 riders, 1 currently on Aspire Development Programme (Intermediate/Advanced) and 1 on Foundation Programme (Novice).
He/She to move onto part livery at a West London/Middlesex yard with an ample turn out and receive regular sympathetic, no gadgets, free of charge schooling from myself in between riders’ lessons. Loan with a view to buy very much welcome.
Please share with friends and family and help us find a lovely friend and training partner 🙂
You might remember a 3 months progress tracking video I posted last year of one of my lovely young riders. Since it is now a full year from her first assessment lesson (26 April 2014) with me to today (26 April 2015) I think it’s only fair I posted a little compilation of clips from her recent training.
CAITLIN – FOUNDATION PROGRAMME
VIDEO: From Assessment to One Year on in 5 min and a few seconds 😉
From September this year I would like to slowly transition Caitlin to Development Programme and make 60% of her training horse focused and remain 40% Foundations focused to prepare her for horse ownership in near future 🙂 We have some fun training adventures planned for the spring and summer with more jumping training and flatwork to music as well as more challenging groundwork sessions.
Being only 15 years old she has plenty of time to develop her skills and I am really looking forward to seeing her progress further!
This guide is about the stuff that happens (or would be good if it happened) in your head before you go and browse the classifieds. Even before you know what colour of the horse you might want. Let’s be real – most first time owners have colour preferences and why not. After all, when we buy that first horse it does feel like buying a dream and not many dream in monochrome.
The notes in this post come from my own experiences of owning and loaning horses, my observations of thousands of riders I personally came across, my training beliefs and coaching philosophy so they might very well not be what you are after. But just in case you are about to buy your first horse and you don’t have a trusted trainer next to you or an unbiased advisor to call, let’s chat 🙂
Pour yourself some beverage first, we might be here for a moment…
First batch of questions: what’s your favourite way to feel alive? Are you adrenaline seeker or a cosy seeker? Maybe both? When do you feel alive? When challenged or when safely relaxed in front of a fire? On your own or with a group of friends?
Knowing yourself well is the first step to getting close to buying the right horse. Majority of amateur, ambitious riders don’t just want to go out and win. They want a friend, a companion, a partner in the “crime”. Sometimes we come across horses we can’t get on well with just to fall in love with them. It happens. But let’s not to be too romantic here – it’s hard enough to get up at 5am to ride and practice for the show or event before school/work with someone who you look forward to seeing and dancing with. It becomes an unbelievable chore with a horse you have no common tune with.
Matching your character with the horse’s temperament well means that everyday training becomes addictive, fulfilling and brings dimension to life that non-horsey people really do not understand.
Riding is an emotional experience. You will take it personally if your horse looks at you in other than loving way. Even if now you think this an unreasonable element, you won’t later. If you really are an ambitious rider, your training partner’s (the horse that is) disapproval of you, your skills, your aspirations will be quite an issue in your life.
That is why, a first horse for an aspiring amateur rider should be a well formed adult, one with well established needs and wants that most first time buyers can identify.
The why is important because of a heartbreaking truth i.e. many ambitious riders can and do progress their riding skills. The first horse is always very special. If you buy a horse to grow old with and only do what that horse is capable of, that’s beautifully noble and let’s you be less obsessed with the right choice.
If you are buying your first horse so he/she can go with you in your chosen direction for a while progressing as you go, you have a more difficult choices to make. You might want to look for a horse that is educated beyond your current skill level, with a brain that has capacity for patience with your inexperience and yet with body that has the mileage at your chosen field, possibly even purpose bred for the sport you want to find your challenges in.
A semi-professional or professional rider can buy and sell many horses to find the right one. As a first time buyer you are highly likely to fall in love with a completely unsuitable horse that loves doing what you are bored of or scared of and you won’t have the heart to sell the horse on. Pick wisely while you can.
If you are unsure about your temperament, character and why you want to buy a horse, give it a moment or two, get those described and then start searching. Take one for loan. Be aware of cute 😉
Now, second batch of questions to ask oneself before buying that first horse, batch that comes down to one – what type of horse you sit best on? A deep chested, short backed horse? A leggy, narrow backed horse? One that moves big? One that moves small and smooth? Be honest here because a one-horse-rider that you are likely to become once you buy one, relies on staying body healthy…Spinal and pelvic and joint micro-injuries are an unspoken issue among riders…we don’t all have suppleness and core strength to “safely” ride big moving warmbloods. If you have a desk job and hate exercising other than riding, choosing the right built of a horse is important.
Go for an uphill built horse regardless other aspects. Educate yourself with several good books as to what areas of the horse to look at to determine how sound it might be in a few years time of not-so-great-riding. Don’t trust 2-3-5 stage vettings. No vet will tell you that if you buy a horse with weak loins, slightly strained sacroiliac joint and dodgy feet, your riding skills will make the horse lame in 6 months. Yes, let’s be honest here, many first time horses endure our “polishing of skills” and do get spoiled/broken before we get good enough to help them. Pick the one with good feet (educate yourself on that – sorry for repetition but it’s vital), strong back and big ears (ok, the last one is just personal preference 😉
Many amateur riders buy horses from yards they already know. Then they stay to livery (board for my American readers) on that same yard. Pick the place wisely and make sure there are like minded people around you. This is probably one of the most important elements of horse ownership that you will come across. As an ambitious, amateur rider you will enjoy being around people who understand your drive, who won’t belittle your attempts at getting better and better, who will cheer you on and who you can cheer on. You want to know what level of motivational spirit you need around you to get on with things and what makes you go lazy and too cosy.
Finally, to close this little overview, leave some money for further training. There is nothing more depressing, disheartening and frustrating than wanting to progress and educate oneself and having no means left to do so. Even the most carefully chosen horse stabled at best suited place won’t make up for a an unfulfilled drive to be challenged that every aspiring rider has inside them.
Please share your advice, notes, experiences in the comments 🙂 Do you agree with mine? Disagree?
Elastic, sympathetic and effective seat – who wouldn’t want one! Today I would like to show you a simple, short awareness exercise that is very easy to do and can make a big difference to the way you feel horse’s movement and are able to join it.
I chose to video one of my riders with ankle stiffness issue so the video below is a very real, true representation of this problem.
Why this exercise can help you?
Good seat is about relative stillness i.e. the ability to stabilise ones body in motion. This means that it requires constant, supple, consecutive, elastic micro movements through every joint in rider’s body and continuous interplay between many muscles surrounding those joints. I do like how contradicting this is 😉 As long as we are in motion that mimics horse’s motion, we appear still and graceful…Perhaps that’s where comparisons to dancing with a partner is so apt. Any blockage,stiffness,motion avoidance will result in further seat discomfort and lack of effectiveness.
The loose stirrups exercise engages the rider into creating a motion pattern in the leg that is similar to one created by the horse’s movement. As a result, the rider is able to start feeling that movement and allow the joints and muscles to embrace it.
How to do it?
You can do it at home first with a rope/towel – create a sling. bend one leg and then rest the ball of the foot on the sling. It helps to keep the leg up in the air for a bit to tire the muscles so they really want that rest! Allow the weight of the leg to drop into the heel (your arms muscles should feel that weight now). Lift and lower the rope/sling to create up/down motion that requires flexion through hip/knee and ankle. Start from big movements and follow up with tiny, barely visible lifts and drops so you just feel your joint opening and closing in millilitres rather than inches. Allow the joints in your leg to be fully moved by the sling.
Structure your training
If you have issues with sitting to trot or canter and generally would like to improve suppleness through your seat (or perhaps you get lower marks in dressage test due to lack of suppleness?) I would suggest doing this exercise for 5 min (2.5min or so on each leg) after your warm up walk and before you start your trot work. You could have a loose, old stirrup leather handy (with or without stirrup) in the arena so there is no need to remove your stirrups on/off. This exercise is about creating awareness and perception so it is best done with the actual stirrup.
OVER TO YOU!
If you have this issue and you are going to try this exercise do share your results! Feel free to tweet me your pictures at @AspireAcademy or post on Aspire’s Facebook HERE. I believe it is a super easy and safe exercise but if you are at all unsure/have serious orthopaedic issues then by any means consult a professional physio before attempting it.
With many thanks to Moira on Aspire Foundation Programme for taking part in the video! 🙂
I’m writing from Poland day after the weekend clinic at Stajnia Sabat. In fact, I am sitting here processing the hundreds of photos taken by my wonderful helpers (my cousin Karolina and my Dad – go family power! 😉 and many hours of video footage for riders’ visual feedback. It was one of the best training sessions at Stajnia Sabat to date with everyone making fabulous, positive progress both with regards to long term homework and the weekend’s tasks. I had so much fun teaching there yet again, it’s such a pleasure to see riders conquering variety of issues they have with their training be it mental, physical or logistical even.
There are usually two places up for grabs for riders outside of Stajnia Sabat so I offered one place to any rider either already on Aspire programmes in the UK or anyone simply interested in joining in and learning from me and the other to the rider I trained in Poland for a few months in 2013. These places are advertised in Aspire Newsletters so if you like experiencing new horses, new places but prefer to stay with my teaching philosophy, keep an eye on forthcoming clinics with available slots by signing up to the newsletter 🙂
Here is a little photo report from the clinic, hope you enjoy browsing the photos and feel like you had been with us basking in the sun 🙂
A really insightful comment left under my Riding Emotions.. post has made me think about expanding on the subject of riding posture vs rider’s mindset…The comment said:
What I’m learning more and more is that rider’s emotions quite often tie hand in hand with their posture and body language in the saddle. Improve their mindset, and their position improves- and sometimes even vice versa- as many frustrations can be caused by those pesky bad habits. Horses can no doubt read our minds- but they can for sure read our bodies. Position biomechanics, thought process, and resulting performance are all within the same dynamic process.
You see, the reason I focus 80% of my teaching efforts on the rider and about 20% on the horse is that, from my experience and observations of thousands of grassroots riders out there, it is the second relation (improved posture = improved mindset = improved performance) that provides the key to sustainable improvement.
As discussed in the comments to the other post, every person comes to this sport/recreation with own set of prejudices, worries, beliefs etc and to address them well might not be possible. Posture or rider’s seat on the other hand, is what all good instructors can teach and control. Sometimes it takes a long time – many years – to achieve lasting postural changes in the saddle but I learnt to never underestimate what effective, balanced, sympathetic seat skill can do to rider’s confidence and emotional control in and out of the saddle…
It is a well known fact that both adults and children learn best when having fun. It doesn’t have to be a laugh-out-loud type of fun but when something makes you smile, you are bound to remember how it made you feel…Riding training that focuses on improving understanding of the rider’s and horse’s movement rather than just “making moves happen” builds rider’s confidence almost imperceptibly.
Could it really be that by sitting in a certain way we can become more confident riders? Could it be that simply the way we sit instils confidence and quality of movement in our horse? And if so, how much focus on our own training need we have alongside our focus on our horse’s way of going?
From my experience, I could describe the answers like this: if I sit on a horse and correct him by 80%, his rider can correct/improve themselves and the horse by 20% (not always in absence of trainer). However, if I establish a 20% correction in the rider, they themselves can achieve a much more positive mindset and the relative 80% improvement in the horse…(also when riding independently).
Do you teach grassroots (non-professional) riders? What are your experiences? How much attention do you pay to rider’s technical and feel abilities vs horse’s way of going? Are you a rider taking lessons? How much of your lesson content with your trainer(s) is focused on you and how much on your horse? Do you think it matters?
Click on image below to watch an interesting talk 🙂
There are probably as many answers to the above question as there are trainers out there so I thought that perhaps it might be a good idea to discuss in more detail how we look at this aspect of riding within Aspire training courses. Our approach is based on belief that nothing changes in the horse unless the rider changes and this is why rider’s awareness and ability to either straighten themselves or learn how to have that effect on the horse is at the basis of all Aspire coaching.
Leisure riders, with their often sedentary day jobs, benefit hugely from balance and awareness specific exercises or therapy. Healthy movement is fluent and harmonious and that’s what we aim to achieve at every level in both horse and rider.
I personally use a combination of awareness exercises on equine simulator with postural assessments consultations with Kari, which I will write about in more detail soon. Today I would like to give the blog space to another freelance instructor working with me – Mariana Broucher. Apart from being a riding instructor, Mariana is also a Bowen Technique therapist and uses her dual skills to help both riders and horses. You can see Mariana’s Bowen related website here: http://www.equinebowen.net/
Over to Mariana now!
All the best,
Why use the Bowen Technique for riding?
Why do athletes use Bowen? Anything that can help improve performance and help prevent and deal with injuries while keeping the athlete’s flexibility can translate into tangible results like knocking off a few seconds from one’s personal best.
And this is very important not only for top athletes, but also for the everyday horse and rider. Preventing injury and enhancing performance is what saves us money (vet bills are quite high nowadays) and who wants to live with pain anyway. How can we get a more effective and more balanced position if that shoulder keeps aching and that back hurting and we can’t sit straight because one shoulder is higher or the pelvis tilted?
What is the Bowen Technique?
Created by Australian Tom Bowen in the second half of the 20th century, the Bowen Technique is a gentle hands-on remedial therapy. It works with your whole body to bring its muscular/skeletal, emotional and physiological systems back into balance. A series of rolling type moves is made over superficial and deep fascia at specific points on the body. Working through light clothing or directly on the skin, the gentle moves trigger a response in the body to kick-start the natural repair process more specifically; the moves stimulate the nervous system to release tension in the soft tissue.
“Bowen Technique prompts the body to reset, repair and balance itself and clients report the experience of pain relief, improvement of function and recovery of energy”
The body has an innate ability to fix itself. The aim of the Bowen Technique is to facilitate and stimulate this process, while ultimately achieving freedom of movement and equal tension through the form.
So how can Bowen help riders and their horses?
Quite often unforeseen problems arise during lessons which can slow down or even stop progress. This could be anything, from unexplained back pains (for the rider or the horse) to various imbalances and levelnesses issues, or just the inability to learn a certain move or exercise.
By having a closer look it is sometimes possible to find the root of the problem, sometimes not. The Bowen Technique always addresses and rebalances the whole body, regardless of the symptoms. This is very clever, because quite often a symptom like for example an aching left knee has its origin somewhere completely different, maybe in an old shoulder injury. As the body has been compensating to relieve pain in the right shoulder it might have slightly shifted its balance, resulting in a sore left knee maybe months later, when the old shoulder injury is long forgotten. By addressing the whole body, Bowen can not only relieve the “referred” pain in the knee, but hopefully release tensions around the shoulder, which was the initial source of pain.
Case Studies: Alice and Ruby
When I first saw Alice’s mare Ruby I met a very bossy horse. She would run people over, barge out of her stable and generally be very strong and “stressy”. In September 2011 a vet examination showed some abnormal cells on her ovaries. This cleared up by January 2013 but thermal imaging showed an area of muscle tightness in the right gluteals and also muscle spasm in both hamstrings.
When ridden, Ruby would be quite erratic. She refused to go in a straight line (even in walk). The walk and trot were very irregular. When turning she would lean on her inside shoulder. She would hurry into canter transitions and just wouldn’t canter on the correct lead. She also wasn’t capable of going in an outline.
After 3 treatments Ruby was more relaxed in her stable and when being handled. She seemed much less stressed and happier. And she started to canter on the correct lead without rushing into the canter transitions and she generally looked straighter and more regular.
Ruby’s rider and owner Alice was very happy, especially as she could now see a progress in her lessons. But treating only the horse was in this case not enough, as Alice herself had quite a few issues. Alice suffered from back pain that would often be so bad, that she couldn’t ride at all. And when she did ride, she was very unbalanced herself; she would be leaning forward too much and at the same time collapse in her hips and her pelvis was shifted to the left. So it was actually hard to tell if the problems were Alice’s or Ruby’s.
As is visible on the picture below, Alice sits more to the left, because her pelvis is shifted that way, as a result she is collapsed in her hip and her left shoulder seems higher.
Pelvis is “shifted” to the left
After receiving Bowen the pelvis seems much straighter
The below picture is taken after 3 Bowen sessions.
After receiving 3 Bowen treatments each, Alice straightened up in the saddle and no longer suffers from back pain which would eventually stop her from riding. As a bonus Alice can now walk up or down stairs without having to lead with one leg.
Ruby is calmer, straighter and more regular. In addition she is now more attentive to her rider so both seem to enjoy the riding much more and can now get the most out of their lessons.
From May 2014, Mariana Broucher co-runs Aspire 2014 courses in Orpington, Kent. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
There comes a time in many riders’ lives when they go from being a passenger in the saddle to riding with influence, when a circle becomes the most difficult arena shape to ride well and when phrases like “ride him into the contact” appear.
I have recently spoken to a client marvelling about how many different ways of teaching of that “influence” there are, how every single instructor will have different methods, views and approaches and how confusing this is for a learner-rider.
So how is an average, less experienced rider supposed to know what is the right or not so right a way? How should they know what will eventually make them a better rider or horse-person and what will give them a plethora of bad habits, years of struggle and perhaps a broken horse in the process?
It seems that, generally speaking, there is a descriptive divide in the horse world between schooling methods, one being “the soft one” and the other “fast/hard/effective one”…On one side of the spectrum we might have various ‘natural horsemanship trainers and riders’ taking long time to understand and improve communication between horse and rider and on the other side we might have those who proudly present their project horses winning various shows within several weeks of being in training.
I personally struggled for many years to find a training style that would match my values when it comes to working with both people and animals and it was part of the reason I recently took 2 years out of full time teaching to fully focus on my own training. There are days when I encounter something – a specific problem, behaviour or an issue – which still makes me wonder about how little I really know about training and coaching. However, I am in peace with that now and have built fairly solid foundations on which to base my doubts and continue with training process that is educational for both horse and rider.
If you teach or are taught on regular basis I would love to hear your views and opinions…
I work primarily with grass roots riders and junior riding instructors or instructors-to-be i.e. non-professional riders or pleasure riders whose main source of income is not connected to competition performance. Majority of those riders are at the stage where they commence learning about riding with influence. It is of course worth noting that my approach is just one of many and it is up to you to make your own mind whether it might help you or not…
Foundations of my approach to teaching a less experienced rider how to school a horse (listed in no particular order)
1. Understand motivation and desire to move forwards
The first and most important element of schooling a horse to me is to enhance its motivation to work with the rider and to enjoy co-movement with the rider. Any methods that make the horse sour and or reluctant to move to his [at least] average abilities are to me the ones not to pursue. I like to observe the general demeanour of the working horse – what their ears are doing, the facial expression, the nostrils, breathing, general feel of the muscles and level of cooperation with the rider. This is my starting point – all healthy, content horses like to move. Most strive to cooperate because they like easy lives. They don’t like to fight with the rider, it’s something the rider [or previous riders] have done or not done with the horse that makes it react in certain uncooperative way(s). Young horses might question some discipline requirements and training needs but it is up to the rider to recognise the basis of each reaction. More often than not it comes from body discomfort which more difficult demands might bring. That discomfort is part of training of every athlete, whether equine or human, and it is up to the rider to teach the horse to accept certain level of pressure without crossing the thin line of acceptance and enjoyment. The same applies to the rider – to improve, a rider needs to leave their comfort zone but still feel it is there and that they still derive some pleasure from learning process. It’s up to the instructor not to push the rider into sour zone where they lose all confidence in their ability to ride better.
2. Quality of basic paces comes before quality of shape
Rider needs to discover their “schooling seat” before they can ask the horse to work with engagement in a healthy way. What I mean by schooling seat? It needs to be good enough to allow the horse free, quality stride in walk, trot and canter. I often see horses that trot really short behind, canter crookedly yet are asked to maintain vertical nose position or take uneven steps when on circles or in changes of direction. These losses of quality of basic paces are to me areas where the rider needs to address their posture and seat. If, upon presenting the horse with shorter reins and an opportunity to maintain rounder posture, the horse loses the quality of the walk, trot or canter then either rider or the horse are not ready to work in that rounder outline. You might sometimes hear than you need spurs, whip, be more assertive, more demanding, more something or the other but to me, what rider needs is time and patience to develop posture, muscle awareness and timings of aids that allow them to maintain the paces while keeping basic, even contact on both reins. It’s achievable by older, weaker riders and children so it’s not always strength that is the answer.
If positioning the horse’s head on or close to vertical causes loss of quality of working paces or when rider has to drive the horse’s every stride “into contact” with strong leg/spur/whip to keep the horse moving more or less forwards then that position cannot be the right one for that moment in training…
3. Outline = Balance
I believe in matching the balance of back of the horse with the front of the horse with the ability of the rider…What is an outline? It’s simply a certain way of shifting weight in the body by means of certain muscular effort. It takes time for the rider to understand it not just intellectually but through own muscles…
Teaching balance over shape or outline means that horse is never forced into postural alignment that makes him look mismatched – either within himself or with his rider. I often see horses that, if seen cut in half, they might appear to be working at some form of Grand Prix test and the back end works like a 3 or 4 year old youngster’s would. The fact the horse’s neck vertebrae are easy to manipulate isn’t helping.
When the horse is in a relaxed balance suitable for certain exercise or movement and when the rider has learnt to coordinate seat aids with rein aids adequately, the horse will relax the under neck muscles and the head will drop near vertical.
The more the rider improves his ability to balance the horse, the more he wins the right to ride with more compact outline. If the rider struggles with maintaining basic impulsion in working paces or if the horse finds it difficult to balance (still needs his neck for balance at times), bend one way or the other on larger circles, the only outline I allow is the one that the horse offers himself/herself for particular rider.
4. Understanding straightness in schooling of the horse
There is not much beauty and ease in the moving horse when he or she moves crookedly…If a horse struggles to bend, leans on one front leg or the other (or in other words falls in or out through the shoulders), steps inwards or outwards with hindquarters etc etc then the very basics of straightness are still in progress and again, the only shape asked of the horse needs to be one within his current abilities.
I teach every single rider, from Start programme onwards, about the role of basic straightness in basic performance. I prefer in-hand work for this purpose but very skilled, thoughtful rider with great feel can achieve the same results from the saddle. I feel that working on symmetry from the ground trains a grassroots rider’s eye and feel to an extent that is difficult to achieve otherwise.
5. Schooling is fascinating – why rush?
I don’t consider myself a particularly “soft” instructor, rider or trainer…Horses are working partners for me, sporting partners, athletic partners, companions. I see schooling as sports therapy for horses 🙂 I rarely if ever “baby talk” to a horse, I appreciate them for what they are, what they teach me and how schooling them makes me feel focused and thoughtful. If we are not in a rush to produce the horse for a quick sale, if we don’t have to push it through any series of classes just so he or she is seen going at certain level to prove value, if we ride a horse for sheer enjoyment, self-improvement, satisfaction and feeling of camaraderie with the animal then why rush…isn’t it better to help the horse learn become more content and more able in his work in his own pace?