Tag Archives: coaching

Question of the weekend: what good few top dressage horses have in common with Elena Mukhina? (answer at the bottom of the post)

By Wiola Grabowska

There was once a brilliant young girl who could do what others wouldn’t dream of trying. She had a coach and an ambitious management team and was going to the Olympics. Do take 6 minutes  to get to know her if you haven’t heard of her before, meet Elena

I’ve heard of Elena because, for better or worse, and despite the fact I purposefully focus on grassroots vs professional sport, I still like to follow the “top” in many different disciplines. Many non-sport-specific coaching methods are not that dissimilar across all sports and I find it interesting to learn beyond equestrianism.

This weekend, a dressage rider well known for using rollkur, won the third leg of the World Cup Dressage 2017/2018 Western European League.

There have been so many outcries, social media posts and online actions against rollkur and other abusive training methods yet riders who use them still win at the top of the game. The pursuit of impossible is so ingrained in our human nature that it overlooks everything on the way. If a body is able to do it, or we think it is, we will try to make it do – whether animal or human. Limits seemingly do not exists.

Considering a horse and rider in a competition are a sports team, even though riders of all levels have coaches, the rider is effectively a unique type of a coach to their horse. They are also a performance manager to the horse. They are actually, everything training related to that horse.

And that horse might as well be called Elena.

For refreshingly different communication and possibilities, you might want to watch these Olympic riders: Karen & David O’Connor – another level of communication

*Answer: They have the same kind of coach

“Objectivity” – coaching App by Centaur Biomechanics

By Wiola Grabowska

Visual aids seem to be one of the most effective coaching tools. From video feedback to freeze frames to slow motion footage – all these offer a great information on why things are working or not working. I use all of these for lessons every day so the new App by Centaur Biomechanics caught my attention straight away. It’s very easy to use and as I take most lessons’ footage on my phone, it saves me plenty of time (I used to use Paint for applying lines and making other visuals but it’s very time consuming and doesn’t let me show the rider the effect right there and then in the lesson within minutes).

Objectivity App - Jasmine and Amber
Jasmine and Amber. Bottom video: before watching slow motion footage and seeing screenshots. Top video: after…

The photo above is a screenshot of the App from my phone. The App let’s you upload two videos at the time and play them simultaneously at varying speeds of your choice. I find 1/2x the usual speed is good for on-the-spot coaching.

10 years old Jasmine above tended to turn her shoulders at a different speed and position to the pony’s shoulders so I thought using this App with her would be more fun than going through my usual corrections.

The image with lines applied to help the rider understand vertical balance in oneself and the horse. 

Jasmine corrected herself beautifully within several minutes of watching the slow motion footage and the screenshots.


The best of all, I could then just remind her to “keep her lines” as she practiced her dressage test and she was able to very quickly reposition in the saddle. As a result of her corrections, the pony’s balance improved on circles and turns. Win, win 😉

I have since tested the App in several other lessons and I know it will be a great, quick tool to help my riders with various asymmetry and body awareness issues both on the flat and over jumps. Can’t wait to play with it some more and can’t recommend enough if you teach and are looking for a “field” tool 🙂

The App is available on Apple Store here: OBJECTIVITY 

Note: I have no affiliation with Centaur Biomechanics and this is not an advertorial. 



EQUESTRIAN START UP – a real story as it happens…INTRODUCTION

By Wiola Grabowska 

This blog series follows a story of two freelancers  – a livery manager/groom/rider and a riding instructor with a coaching programme who thought it might be a good idea to join forces and set up a company with a vision beyond what’s achievable by oneself. The trick is – neither of them is that good at business…What can possibly go wrong?  

Start Up - intro photo

There is one problem with Red Lion Pub & Restaurant in Handcross, West Sussex. They don’t have 0% Kopparberg. I could probably get the alcoholic one but when you are about to spend a couple of hours with a business consultant and you have zero tolerance for alcohol, it isn’t advisable. Especially when following ins and outs of business details is difficult enough on a bottle of sparkling water.

I get still water for Kelly (apparently sparkling water is a no go for her). She’s the livery head honcho in this story. My name’s Wiola and I am the instructor in this story. In 2010 I set up a coaching programme which I named Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. I freelanced happily for several years, loved every minute of it until I realised that if I wanted to do a bit more and reach some goals I had in mind, I needed a business partner to rent a yard with.

There followed a couple of years of many very bad decisions, debts and difficulties which does happen if you know very little about real life business. Return to solo freelancing felt good. For a while. Until it didn’t and my unfounded entrepreneurial drive, that I have god knows from where (my self employed parents most likely 😉 ) and which is supported by minimal knowledge of only what I don’t know, have returned.

In 2015 I contacted as many people as I knew, including various former colleagues at numerous riding schools and livery yards I worked at, to find the right set up to grow the Academy at. I gave a few options a go for a while until eventually focusing most efforts on one location in West London where Kelly suggested my young rider could loan her mare. I knew the horse as I taught on her previously and I knew Kelly from a busy London riding school we both worked at years before. Apparently, best chances of survival have those business ventures that are formed by former colleagues. That gives us one thing ticked off on a long list of theoretical successful business must-dos 😉

Our plan is to bring together our respective skills to create a fairly unique livery service, a small coaching centre focused on equestrian grassroots sports otherwise known as lower levels of Dressage, Show Jumping and Eventing as well as a few more services of which I will write more in due time.

We drove to West Sussex for this meeting because there’s one thing to just do something and another to do something very well. I’ve done my fair share of just giving it all a go. You don’t need to be an expert in running a horse business to know that profit margins in this industry are low, rates and bills are high and many livery yards close down because they can’t break even despite owners working their butts off 24/7. Most horse people are exactly that. Fantastic horse people. They are not business people.

So here we are.  The horse people in the trenches with an idea. We don’t know how this will end but we thought it might be interesting to share our journey. I’ll try to make sure the account of it is honest and transparent and I hope there won’t be too many embarrassing details!

If you run a successful yard already and would like to share some of your know-how with us, let us know. We would love to road trip to you or just chat online with you, maybe even blog about you. 

Until very soon!



Aspire Equestrian Intensive Training Camp Spring 2017. Photo Report.

Words by Wiola Grabowska
Photography: Christine Dunnington Photography
The atmosphere, the effort and the fabulous training spirit: The Riders

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The 5th Aspire Equestrian Training Camp – Spring Camp 2017 – The Team. From left to right: Lou and Robyn, Gemma and Ozzy, Aisha and Prince, Sasha and Boo, Sofija and Jasper, Kate and Jack, Kelly and Mojo, Paige and Oscar, Caitlin and Mollie. Myself in front of the riders (as instructed by Christine and damn she was right – love the photo!)

There is so much planning and thoughts that lead to Academy’s Intensive Training Camps that it’s hard to believe when one is done and dusted!

Our host for The Spring Camp 2017 was Oldefields Equestrian Centre in Seer Green, Buckinghamshire. Huge thumbs up for this venue as even though they have been undergoing some extensive improvements works, we felt welcomed and comfortably left to enjoy the facilities of which their 40×70 ish m arena was a luxury we don’t have at home.

A few of my own reflections

The actual Camp is a whirlwind for me and probably the biggest challenge is to switch quickly between teaching different riders, different horses, different tasks, different learning styles, personalities and characters, in such a way that the sessions bring the best out of the horses and riders.

I feel I am getting better with each Camp but still plenty to improve. It’s important to me that all the riders retain their own styles of riding with just the core foundations and structure in place.


I don’t want to train carbon copies and my personal coaching challenge is always is teaching certain basics of horsemanship and training values that matter to me and become so solid, so confirmed, so ingrained that they simply provide an unbreakable foundations for the riders to grow on in their own style.

The key is that the rider treats the horse with respect and knowledge of how the animal learns – both from physical and mental point of view, what makes them do what they do. I have zero tolerance for violence in training and zero tolerance for riders who think it’s horse’s ‘fault’ something isn’t happening.

I feel very lucky to teach the kind of riders I do, they keep me on my toes and challenge me for sure but I wouldn’t have it any other way and hope they are able to continue riding with me long term 🙂

Enjoy the photos 🙂 



Sunday jump session
Saturday morning flatwork


Gymnastic jumping session


Group go at leg-yield on the wall


Group go at leg-yield by the fence.
Last session: stretch and relaxation on the lunge
Saturday gymnastic jumping session
One handed to improve steering with the seat and weight aids
Improving posture in-hand
Sunday jumping session


Gymnastic jumping session
Last session: leg-yield on the wall
One handed – improving riders’ feel for turning aids with the seat
Sunday jump session
Leg-yield in hand
Gymnastic jumping session
Saturday. Gymnastic jumping session
Gymnastic jumping session
Last session: Stretch on the ground


Last session: experimenting with different postures and how they affect the horse’s way of going. Here Ozzy is going too deep in his neck frame but he is by no means made to do so with any strength. He’s a young horse changing postures all the time.
Leg yield
Saturday. Gymnastic jumping session
One handed part of the session to help the riders discover more seat aids. Focus on stirrup weight and how subtle weight aids do the job
Last session: group leg-yield on the wall. Not easy!
Last session: stretching and relaxing all the muscles
Saturday afternoon gymnastic jumping
Sunday morning jump session: line of oxers to build riders’ feel for stronger canter
Sunday morning jump session
One handed to switch on rider’s seat aids
Gymnastic jumping session
Gymnastic jumping session
Gymnastic jumping session
Experimenting with size of the circle and body position to help the horse find more comfortable posture
Learning coordination in leg-yield alongside the fence
One handed riding to “switch on” seat riding
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Gymnastic jumping
Last session: having a go at a leg yield on the wall in the group
Finding centred position in the saddle



On Sunday morning we spent 2h with the founder of RiderCise, Clare Gangadeen, who ran a variety of test exercises to help everyone build more awareness of their own individual strengths and weaknesses from the rider fitness point of view.

“Clare is a qualified and insured, PT, Functional Coach and Soft Tissue Therapist with over 12 years experience in the Fitness Industry and 20 years riding experience” www.ridercise.co.uk


ridercise collage
“If a rider is disadvantaged by their riding fitness, strength, mobility, flexibility, motor skills and/or Muscular-Skeletal health/ symmetry it can affect the way the horse is able to perform and may even cause many of the issues we heavily invest in correcting.” www.ridercise.co.uk

Next Intensive Training Camp is planned for August and we are on the lookout for a suitable venue to hire 🙂

Until Summer Camp!

All the best,


Huge thank you to:

18318021_10154462437777681_1643049852_oChristine Dunnington (left on Jasper in her Friday session) for hundreds of photos and videos taken during this Camp as well as hours of help behind the scenes;

Kelly Hill, the Academy’s livery head honcho, for all the assistance and help with making this Camp happen;

Gemma Hill for legging back to home yard to teach our youngest rider who didn’t attend the camp and for making a super video out of many vlog clips we took for our in-house enjoyment;

Tatiana and Gary Thorpe for all-round support and a fantastic BBQ on Saturday night;

Lou Crow for helping me get home in the evenings!

And all the riders for making these Camps so much fun to run! 






Behind the Scenes: Preparing the sessions contents for the Spring Intensive Training Camp

From the Academy’s “Admin office” by Wiola Grabowska

Usually, about 2 weeks prior the Camps, I like to have a several hours put aside to quietly reflect on what I want the riders to learn and how best to deliver the sessions so they are not overwhelming to the horses.


Half way through brainstorming Intensive Training Camp ideas between Dr Klimke, Dr Heuschmann, Susanne Von Dietze, Beth Baumert, Major Lindgren, Anja Beran , more other interesting trainers and myself 🤓😁 It’s hard to get into a properly good , thorough thinking zone where ideas slot together and I have a clear plan for each rider but love it when it works.

I used to attend various intensive clinics and events, some were very educational, some a complete waste of money. It was obvious which trainer did some preparation and who just assumed they were good enough to ad lib on the go…With over 20h of coaching sessions a weekend in various form, I don’t trust my ad lib skills and like to have a good plan in my mind!

A few weeks before the Camp, I ask the riders to set themselves a few goals for the intensive training weekend. The goals themselves are not that important but I believe the best learning happens when a person has some ownership of the learning process. Otherwise, they are just being told what to do with no critical thinking involved. The process of thinking about what one tries to achieve is of value by itself.

Jazz doesn’t understand Admin. She’d rather I was out there in the arena with her eating horse poop and chasing shadows 😉 

Once I receive the riders’ goals, I convert them into potential training session(s). Some riders set goals that would need 100 sessions to become a reality. Some have a better understanding of a training process but at the end of the day, they all provide me with fabulous feedback on what to teach next.

I also set my own goals for each rider and convert those into training session(s) too. Then, I find a middle ground content, something that will progress the rider, help progress the horse, be challenging but hopefully fun too.

This time I also booked Clare from RiderCise to run a 2h warm up session for the riders on one of the days.

ridercise website

Every Camp I try to mix and match off horse training with training in the saddle so I am hoping to work with many different professionals out there who can complement ridden training with rider-as-an-athlete specific exercises. Clare’s programme intrigued me so I am very much looking forward to meeting her and getting to know more about how she works with the riders.

The overall plan is now ready with preliminary timings set up. I have a large picture of what I want to work on with each group and now it’s all down to smaller details like specific exercises as well as variants of them in case the main ones don’t work. I know all my riders fairly well as the Camps are currently only for my regular riders (I do plan to open the Camps to more riders soon 🙂 ) so want to make sure the Camp sessions bring a bit of fresh set of challenges, not just a multiplied home sessions.

The intensive training weekends are also a good challenge for me. As trainers/coaches we can become reliant on what we already know and stop pursuing new ways of achieving the same thing. The research for the Camps’ sessions those few times a year keeps me open minded and always searching for answers.

Eight days to go!








Calling horse owners in London, Berkshire, Surrey – Aspire lessons going mobile

As some of you will know, the Aspire courses have been mainly venues based and non horse owners focused in the last three months and we know that some of you found the distance to Reading too much to travel. Starting from today (6th June 2014) we are much more mobile and available for regular lessons in many areas of London, Berkshire, Surrey, Kent (Orpington) and who knows, maybe somewhere where you are too 🙂

Give Wiola a ring, book your trial lesson now and start a very aspirational summer this year 😀

If you share our training values for grassroots riders and would like to help us to spread the word, please feel free to print out the below poster and pin it at your yard, tack shop, feed shop or just forward the link to this post to your friends. 

berks and london

New for 2014 – Introducing Aspire Equestrian Getaways: Tuscany ’14

AspireGateaway Cover

It’s been my goal for Aspire Equestrian to organise short training getaways that bring together hard work on own riding skills in lesson environment and the pure joy of being around horses in most natural way – looking after them and riding out in beautiful countryside.

Here is the first one of, hopefully, many such breaks! There are 6 places available in total. 3 are already taken, 3 are still up for grabs. If we have a lot of interest and there is a possibility to have a bigger group, I will look into it but for now, we are starting small :)


Total hours: approx. 14+ hours in the saddle + 4 hours In-hand training + 4 hours of off-horse training + horse care time as per your wishes

1) Daily Aspire Training Sessions with myself (working on horse’s straightness, suppleness and correct biomechanics as well as on own use of body as a rider. Adjusted to levels of the riders and horses. Use of video feedback for awareness training).

2) 3 x Challenging HALF-A-DAY Trail Rides over varied Tuscan countryside. Plenty of hills and tracks to explore. Both fast and slower options available. Well mannered horses. Fit and fun. For fitness and for joy of life 🙂

3) Each rider to receive 2 private lessons with myself during the stay. Focus on your seat, effectiveness, improvement of given horse on given day.

4) Opportunity to fully look after the allocated horse throughout the stay, muck in and out, feed, groom, make friends and prepare the horse for training and trail rides (with supervision). This was important to me so I was looking for a place where riders could get involved fully. 

Mark your diaries: 12-17 June 2014 (Thu-Tue).

Please click the poster image below to enlarge it and read the print easily. If you feel like you would love to join us, email Wiola at aspire @ outlook . com for update on availability, costs and booking conditions. Beginner riders with aspirations to become sympathetic and effective riders also welcome.

POSTER AspireGateaway Tuscany 2014
All updates on this Getaway will be posted on the ASPIRE 2014 GETAWAY: TUSCANY page at https://aspireequestrian.wordpress.com/aspire-2014-getaway-tuscany/ (please see main menu at the top of the blog page)

Thoughts on “It’s Time To Train The Trainers” – an article by Catherine Haddad Staller

I came across an interesting article today thanks to Katie’s blog “Reflections on Riding”. In her post “Failed Delivery Systems”  she discusses Catherine Haddad Staller’s latest article on Chronicle of The Horse.

Catherine says: […]”What finally irked me into writing this blog is this: Our trainers need more knowledge about how to train the basics—not just for themselves, but for their students as well. And they need to motivate themselves to GET RESULTS. Don’t pass off a basic problem to a visiting clinician—it does not speak well of your own teaching skills! […] So, my trainers, don’t wear me out teaching someone how to hold the reins. I did not fly half way across the country to do YOUR job for you. Find me riders who want to learn in order to become better teachers at home, and I will give them all I’ve got.[…] You can read Catherine’s article in full here: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/train-trainers.

The article caused some stir and disapproval in comments section among novice dressage riders and I must agree with the fact that the delivery chosen by Catherine is somewhat distracting from a very valid point she is making. It seemed she managed to hurt the group of riders she didn’t even address the article to. I recommend you read Katie’s post which explores the delivery issue in more detail. Here I would like to share my thoughts on probably the core message in Catherine’s article: the lack of training competency in the trainers.


Continue reading Thoughts on “It’s Time To Train The Trainers” – an article by Catherine Haddad Staller

Teaching in San Francisco Today!

My newest US students. You got to love big eared horses! Well, I do anyway. And yes, he is a grey, I am surrounded by greys right now! 🙂

The weather in California is set to be warm with some sunshine and a gentle breeze. Perfect for some training I reckon. The handsome boy above is a big horse, a hunter-jumper with that great rolling ta-da-dam, clockwork canter that I have only ever seen en mass  in hunters (as in, US Hunters, not UK hunters).

Continue reading Teaching in San Francisco Today!