Tag Archives: Dressage

Applications are now open for new training places on the Academy programmes. Join us! Part 1: Jack & Amber

By Wiola Grabowska

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We are a small training initiative so places on the programmes don’t come up often and when they do, they usually become taken by friends of riders already on the programmes. For the first time in a long while, I’d like to invite applications from riders who perhaps have not come across such an opportunity before and would like to experience the Aspire Equestrian adventures! 

There are several places up for grabs this Spring thanks to fantastic owners I am lucky to work with who enjoy having sharers or loans on Academy programmes.

First go two absolutely fantastic ponies, Jack and Amber.

JACK – 13.2hh Welsh Section C. Available from 1st March 2018 (can be stabled at Northolt or Henley on Thames)


screen-shot-2017-10-02-at-21-47-42-e1506979276112.pngSuper, versatile pony with a huge willingness to please. Sensitive but sensible, can be ridden by a child, lightweight teenager or a small adult. Jack is a true all-rounder, is easy to do, very affectionate and a true “people’s person”. Brave and spirited yet perfectly suitable for bitless and bareback training. 


You will: 

– be a caring, patient yet adventurous rider who enjoy developing own flatwork/dressage, jumping, cross-country, hacking skills;

– enjoy taking part in training outings, arena hires, Intensive Training Camps and/or low key unaffiliated shows 

– 13 years or older and maximum 8st (younger riders possible if capable riders)

– happy to take Jack on a minimum of 6 months loan (ideally 1 year)

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For more photos and information on financial commitment please see our website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/training-loan-horses 

If you would like to chat through this opportunity please feel free to call Wiola on 0749 2202 400 or email aspire@outlook.com

Update 22/03/2018 ****AMBER IS NOW TAKEN*****

GRYFINDOR AMBER FLAME (AMBER) – 13.2hh Welsh Section C. Available from 20th March 2018



Experienced, ex-competition, one in a million kind of pony with numerous Pony Club wins to her name in previous loan homes. Now a very capable schoolmistress, fantastic in the arena with less confident riders but still with plenty of exuberance with more adventurous ones.


Amber is available for Start (complete beginner rider) programme or Foundation (novice rider) programme to give her a quieter life she now deserves. She is a fantastic, confidence giving pony with larger than life character and would be a wonderful friend to someone wanting to learn the foundations of riding skills with. Suitable for children 10 years +, small teenager or a small adult (maximum 8 stone for a learner rider).

For more photos and information on financial commitment please see our website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/training-loan-horses 

If you would like to chat through this opportunity please feel free to call Wiola on 0749 2202 400 or email aspire@outlook.com

A couple of more places will be available soon at the UB5 location and at Henley on Thames. Stay tuned or email now to be informed as soon as the places come up!

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

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


Help us find bigger Foxy!

Looking on behalf of a young rider who has grown a pair of mega long legs and needs to let her little pony, Foxy, be ridden by her younger sister.


13 years old Mia is on a mission to find a 14.3hh-16hh friend to take part in various Academy training events, lessons and Camps as well as variety of Pony Club activities. She would love to Event at PC level as well as BE80/90 when ready.

Ideally looking for a bigger Foxy who:

  • is easy and polite to handle by Mia’s mum who does a lot of pony handling indeed
  • is careful over coloured poles and stylish in the air with good jump technique
  • has three correct paces and does a nice dressage test at Prelim level on grass or surface
  • easy to take to events, polite and happy with a haynet
  • good to hack


  • has some experiences jumping 80/90cm jumping courses
  • has some experiences over 80/90 XC courses (can be just schooling or Unaffiliated events)

Foxy is not brave XC so we are looking for an upgrade in that  department and hoping for something with a bit of a heart for natural fences and polite attitude across the country (nothing that might take young Mia sightseeing too much…).

Please contact aspire@outlook.com or via comment on here or a message on Facebook with anything suitable!

Thank you!


Time to grow the Academy! Don’t miss the new training places available… Place 1 of 3 – with training share of Oscar on Development Programme.

Earlier this year I decided to open several more places on the Academy programmes and it’s time to invite further 3 riders to join us! Place one – with Oscar.

Meet Oscar, 16.1hh, 6 year old Irish Sports Horse gelding owned by Paige Burford. 


Oscar is a young horse with a history of a few serious injuries which means he requires sympathetic and thorough approach to training in order to help him develop further. He can be straightforward to ride on his good day and might need more rider’s guidance on his weaker days. He can be quirky but his behaviour is not dangerous, it is more of a schooling quirkiness than violent playfulness.

Rider Profile for this training place: 

Oscar is available for the rider ready to join our Development Programme i.e. one who:

  • is aware of natural crookedness of every horse and how this affects their performance;
  • has stable basic seat in walk, trot and canter, stable light seat over poles/cavalleti and is happy jumping small jumps (2’6 to 3ft)
  • has a calm and patient attitude to schooling
  • has plenty of curiosity about how to help a horse work to its best and has a strong desire to learn more about schooling for soundness and longevity
  • is confident enough to be able to remain relaxed and calm when dealing with horse’s balance and straightness issues like falling in and out on turns and circles (no need to be gang – ho, simply being confident in own seat and balance is all Oscar needs)
  • loves solving schooling puzzles!
  • loves training and taking young horses out and about to learn more about life and compete from time to time at grassroots levels of dressage and/or jumping.

Oscar schooling

Full offer: 

  • weekly lessons (more frequent training options also available)
  • opportunity to take Oscar to training trips (lessons at variety of venues – flatwork, jumping, XC)
  • Intensive Training Camps
  • shows

How it Works

All Academy training for riders without own horses (or wanting to join in without own horse) is based on riders loaning or sharing suitable horses at the venue the training takes place. Availability of training places depends on availability of those horses. More information on our website http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com. Please have a look around before contacting us so you can familiarise yourself with the coaching offer and decide if it’s for you. Happy to answer any questions and queries anytime 🙂 

XC 2Oscar XC 1


Available from: 1st July 2017

Minimum training commitment required: 3 months (but priority given to riders interested in long term training adventures)

Location: Northolt, West London/Middlesex (UB5)


Monthly loan/share: £80

Lessons: £40/lesson (minimum 4 lessons a month)

JOIN US 🙂 Please contact Wiola at aspire@outlook.com if you would like to organise a visit, meet Oscar and discuss the opportunity further. 




Wanted: An allrounder schoolmaster for one of the Academy riders

Mairi and her current loan boy, Gilly. Gilly’s owner, Georgia, is keen for Gilly to stay with us so keep an eye for an amazing training opportunity with this guy in a couple of months…:) 

After two years with the fabulous loan horse, Gilly, Mairi is looking for her very own beast to finally truly call her own, to further improve her riding confidence and feel on. She’d like to compete a bit more and work out if she wants to get more serious about that.

Mairi’s main points: 

A forgiving schoolmaster (8 years +) who will look after me when I get nervous and help me get better with that

Good flatwork, established lateral work and as little crookedness and schooling gaps as possible (ideally Novice/Elem level)

ability to jump around 90 xc and and sj and be brave but it doesn’t have to be a superstar

No bigger than 16.2 and pref a gelding but will consider non-marish mares.

Budget: up to £6k

Please contact Wiola at aspire@outlook.com with “Schoolmaster for Mairi” as a subject if you are looking for a lovely home for a horse that might fit the above 🙂

Thank you!

Leopold The Last and his journey with Aspire Academy

Photo of Leo by Ceri Dickinson

I’ve been sitting down to write this post so many times in the last two days. Each morning, as I go to catch Leo from his field and he greets me with his cheeky face, I can’t help but think how unfair and cruel life can be.


The 11 years old, little bay New Forest X Thoroughbred gelding came to live with me last week because his owner’s illness means she is no longer, and will no longer, be able to look after him. Three years ago, Leo’s owner took a chance on an instructor who did some rider focused clinics. She could have booked a local celebrity rider/trainer but she was intrigued by what I was doing and we ended up running several weekends at her then work in North Yorkshire over a couple of years. She is the only person who managed to make me run on time with all the lessons albeit I still don’t know how!

When she asked me for help with rehoming Leo I knew it was my turn to take a chance on someone…

Leo having a roll and with me in the arena during his first week at Brackenhill Stud

I hope you will follow this little horse’s journey with me. He’s an interesting fellow with some physical issues to work through and my plan at the moment is for him to remain with me and become the Academy horse in near future.

I eventually would like to find him a rider interested in equine biomechanics and movement therapy as well as dressage so they can continue training with me and learn from Leo. When he is ready to be available for the coaching loan with the Academy, I will make this known 🙂

DYI version of the Equicore concept that I am using  – a theraband! #proprioception #muscleeducation #LeoAspireJourney

Today Leo had his physiotherapy re-assessment with Dr Tracy Crook of Chiltern VetPhysio and he is making a very good progress.

1. Continue with in-hand and ridden flexibility exercises
2. Continue to hack as before and use the theraband when lunging
3. “Work” for short periods of time, his muscles are still developing and too much work too soon will make him sore.
4. Review in 6 weeks.

Movement rehabilitation and training that enhances athletic ability is something I feel passionate about because it truly gives a meaning to schooling horses into riding horses…I will be posting updates on Leo via Instagram (@aspireequestrian) with a hashtag #LeoAspireJourney and weekly on here so if you are into movement education and schooling for dressage as means of achieving more harmony, suppleness and longevity – stay tuned!

Shadow Training for riders and coaches – an affordable way to priceless education…

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Many riders and instructors struggle with costs of training and Continued Professional Development (CPD) so today I would like to chat about a possibly most underused and undervalued training option that is available to all those who are on a budget but are wiling to put some effort in.

You can call whatever you like – auditing, watching, spending-the-day-with… etc etc – I like the name Shadow Training as it somehow defines to me the role you play when undertaking this training.

You do everything the trainer does and everything the riders do – the difference is, rather than physically going through the motions, everything happens in your mind. I suppose shadow training might even be treated as a version of sports/mental imagery when visualising certain outcomes, behaviours, emotions and actions, one can improve real life performance.

How to make it work

1. Find coaches who genuinely love to part with their knowledge.

This is probably the most important part.

You want someone who will make you feel excited about trying the exercises yourself or with your riders. Someone who genuinely wants you to get better and who is self-assured enough in their own skills to share the ins and outs. Someone who isn’t going to make their training foggy/mystical just to impress you.

There is nothing more disheartening and demotivating than shadowing a professional who simply can’t be bothered. Personally I would also avoid anyone who is overly sarcastic and/or bitches about their pupils with you (discussing strengths and weaknesses is very useful for your education and assessment of the rider and the horse but talking the rider or the horse down is a no-no in my book)

2. Find coaches whose training methods, values and work ethics appeal to you. 

Not everything you watch might agree with you and that is fine. Although you are watching to learn, you are also going to form your own opinions, teaching style and riding style. When looking for coaches to shadow train with, don’t look for a “perfect match” but rather “perfect complimentary knowledge mix” 😉 There is no one system, one horsemanship school, one rigid training scale that will suit every single horse and rider. You never know who you will teach in the future and what horses you will ride.

3. Make yourself useful and grow five pair of ears 😉 

In my shadow training experiences I made teas, coffees, brought biscuits, dog sat, mucked out stables for impromptu arrivals, dragged poles in pouring rain, held microphones, cameras, translated languages, altered tack etc etc Sometimes I just sat and listened during dressage lessons, sometimes I walked miles and miles during XC schooling sessions or walked distances between repeatedly knocked over cavaletti exercises.

I personally learn best in half-half situation: listening and getting stuck in, so if you are similar, go for it. You won’t regret it 🙂

4. Ask.

I used to be compulsively shy as a child and a teenager so I do understand an apprehension many people feel when seeking help or guidance. Pick a method you feel least uncomfortable with (jus don’t txt!) – maybe email (but take your time to do it properly) – and be pro active no matter the stress it takes. It will be worth it.

If you are a sociable, brave individual, lucky you 😉 Get hold of the numbers of the coaches you would like to shadow train with and give them a ring!

5. Make notes & reflect

Jot notes during or after the day. Many concepts or thoughts can be explored and developed for your own horse(s) or pupils but if you forget them, you will miss out on an opportunity to extend your learning.

Reflect on all the lessons you watched, all the horses you saw ridden. What you liked, what you didn’t like and why. This will develop your analytical skills and help very much with planning of the training for yourself and others.

Below, I copied a couple of my old blog posts from 2010 – 2011 to give you an example of experiences that can be gained. Some details have now changed (Pre Novice is now BE100):

SHADOW TRAINING with Brynley Powell. organiser of Tweseldown Horse Trials – XC and Jumping


“[…]Despite horrendous weather which brought rain, hail storm, more rain and more rain water everywhere I’ve had a super day. Since I decided that this year will be very much about watching higher level trainers/coaches and learning as much as I can I am trying to go by that aim.
It’s not always easy to swap a day of teaching (and earning) for a day of some unpaid training education but if I didn’t try to get better I wouldn’t see much point in doing my job.

Today I had a chance to zoom around Tweseldown racecourse and British Eventing XC venue (http://www.tweseldown.co.uk/) with its manager and an international three day event rider-trainer, Brynley Powell. Bryn took two riders XC schooling on their Novice/Intermediate level horses to sort out some xc technique issues and boost rider’s confidence.

We drove around in a car equipped with heated seats while the riders took the soaking 😉 Well, actually I took the soaking too as I tried to film as much as I could both for my own reference but also for riders to be able to have a look afterwards.
I’ve never been to Tweseldown before but I must say the ground is keeping well considering how many buckets of water per square meter had already gone into the soil!
I will be grooming there for a friend and her horse at a Pre-Novice event on the 18th of April so it was good to be able to have a look around. I hope the weather is better for her (and me!) on the day!
This morning on the course was all about confidence and technique that allows the rider to feel the horse, that doesn’t disturb or worries the horse and that allow riders to ride a flowing round. The objectives were certainly achieved!
The other thing worth noting was how the positive comments were mixed with constructive help. There was no negative coaching there at all. There are trainers out there who, although might be good riders themselves and have knowledge to offer, the way they pass it on can destroy a lot of trust and confidence in the rider…and the horse.
As one of the riders said today: ‘If you have a relatively good rider who wants to improve more you can’t just strip them off everything in one go. Even if what they do isn’t ideal, it might suit that horse, that combination. If you take their skill and confidence away there is not much left to run on…’.
As Bryn later added, if you want to teach a rider something new, something better, you must first make sure it doesn’t take their confidence away. This is because jumping and XC are 90% confidence.

Some coaching techniques are really mind boggling to me and I wonder whether some trainers just try to cover up for own inadequacies by bringing their riders down.

Then off to watch Bryn teaching two show-jumping lessons to two very different combinations with different problems to solve. I liked the way he chose jumping exercises to help with particular issues rather than throwing plenty of tasks at both horse and rider.
I volunteered to drag the poles and jump wings around so I could get the feel for what he was setting up and what distances he was using.[…]”

SHADOW TRAINING with International Dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross

Watching James Burtwell’s clinic at Bury Farm while waiting for Anna to get back from the gym!

Over the years I spent many days at different yards with Anna including Patchetts EC, Bury Farm, her own bases in Banbury and now at Cholderton in Wiltshire as well as at private yards of her many clients’. All this thanks to her fabulous, ongoing enthusiasm for training. Below are a couple of my old blog posts, one with notes I made to give you an example.

April 2010

If it was financially possible I would happily just go and spend few days a week just watching the training sessions and anything involved with top horses and riders. It’s a fabulous opportunity and I love my days there.
This time Anna wasn’t teaching any clients but was focusing on preparing herself and horses for Saumur CDIO where she is selected to ride for the Team GBR.
After 4.30am start to the day I got picked up by Ali who also teaches and rides some horses for Anna. I groomed quickly the two horses that were to be worked at 9 and went to watch Ali riding lovely black mare. A couple of months ago she was a hairy, fluffy, unfit broodmare look-a-like, she is rather sleek now! And moves! Well, I thought it was quite good until Anna came, said a few things and the canter went from bum high to sitting on the hocks.
Then the rest of early morning was all about piaffing in hand with MK and watching very elegant Merrie learning half-steps. I’ve never seen a horse being taught half-steps in – hand before, fascinating. Simon, who does the in-hand work is quite a magician with the whip!

I was then left with Benji the dog with permission to eavesdrop on James Burtwell’s clinic (he is a Coach & List 3 Judge as well as Team Selector for Home Internationals and BD Regional Camp coach) while Anna dashed to the gym. Benji and I leisured in the sun while observing the training sessions. I must say James Burtwell knows how to be positive! He also seemed to have found that happy medium that allows him to praise riders a lot without sounding overly complementary and correct the problems without sounding too harsh. The skill I don’t think I have much of…yet…I’m trying 😉
The riders ranged from prelim to medium/adv medium level and yet again there was a lot of emphasis on correct basics but also a lot of freedom to play with more advanced movements despite a gap here and there.
What I really like about Anna’s teaching is that the basics come first. I don’t think I’ve seen many lessons when the gaps in rider’s position and the correctness in horse’s training wouldn’t be addressed first and foremost.
Having said that, all the horses on James’ clinic improved their way of going and finished on a very good note. He used a serpentine exercise a lot to work on horses’ balance, rhythm, bend and flexion and it was interesting to see how many riders/horses started rather badly and rode much better and more balance aware after several goes.
The afternoon started with Anna teaching Eppi who rides for her at home. Then MK, Borris and Anna’s riding were scrutinised by Jon Pitts who helps Team GBR with rider’s fitness & performance. Jon came to help with improving the canter zig-zag and one tempi changes. There is so many minute details in the training of a GP horse and a GP rider it is mind blowing, in a good way! To semi – quote Anna here, all the weakness that you have as a rider, all the gaps in the basic education might not show at Advanced Medium or PSG level but will hinder you at Grand Prix. Therefore she teaches riders at prelim as if they were going to make the GP level. It seems that once you’re there you better have your basics well in place or you can forget about improving your horse at that level.[…]
The day finished with setting up the dressage boards on grass for Anna’s lessons for eventers in preparation for Badminton. Wish I could see those. Maybe next time.

March 2011

As always when I do those days I feel like my understanding of the training increases and this in turn gives me a lot of refreshed enthusiasm for teaching. Being able to watch different riders on variety of horses and seeing how  issues are worked on has given me a lot of food for thought ever since I had the opportunity to shadow train with Anna. In fact, I feel it’s been so good I decided to try to incorporate shadow training with Altogether Equestrian into some of the Academy’s programmes so other riders and future instructors who train with the Academy can benefit from such experience too (programmes involved: Development, BHS and Performance). I am delighted to say Anna has agreed.

The riding I get is another gem of those days and as this year is pretty much sacrificed to development of the Academy business I only really ride Kingsley (which means walking with tiny bit of trotting at times) and some riding school horses and ponies in desperate need of schooling. Riding something that moves like a real horse feels amazing and I love every minute even though I feel all-over-the-place. In many ways though, in the same way as my patience with horses increased immensely, my frustration with my own issues has proportionally decreased. I feel like I have much more constructive approach to what I do on a horse and this allows me to enjoy finding a better feel, better way of doing something rather then simply be annoyed at my own lack of self-satisfaction. It’s so much better this way even though I am more demanding on myself than ever before. 

 Some Thoughts from today: 

– be clear with every aid, always know what I want to ask for

– suppleness, suppleness, suppleness

– less is more, especially with mares

– if horse isn’t supple in the back in canter, go back to trot and ride deeper for a moment, then return to canter

– bend always starts with outside aids, no short cuts. Loads of circles with frequent changes of rein. 

– on big “long” moving horse keep hind leg active and a little quicker to improve the quality of the paces 

– 1000 half-halts on a horse that leans on the hands

– deeper frame with neck out makes room for the hind leg and improves the work of the back; use to improve  engagement

–  10m circles before and after medium trots avoid unnecessarily strong hand, help rebalance the horse by itself

– there is always a moment in training when the horse will find an exercise hard, perhaps he/she might even argue/resist but to get to that next level we need to push for that little bit more. It might spoil a nice picture for a few days but then the horse should realise it wasn’t as impossible as it seemed. Without pushing those boundaries there is no improvement. 

– shoulder fore for straightness when working on changes 

– check canter quality and canter-walk/walk-canter transitions when figuring out problems with changes

– ride a change early enough [before the wall] so the horse remains straight

– if neck feels lose and easy to bend but there is a contact issue and inconsistent bend/flexion then the problem is at the poll/top of the neck; work on that slowly

– [on young /green horse] slight outside bend on straight lines can improve thoroughness in transitions

– [walk-canter transitions] canter must be immediate, no trot step(s) or it’s not good enough for changes

– {green/young horse] keep the canter forwards. Keep everything clear and the same as you would do at home. The horse will find reassurance in the routine. Same contact, same aids. 

– frequent rests on long rein and periods of long-low trot stretch in between exercises

– ride front legs to the markers [for straightness]

– [crooked horse] ride on inner track as much as possible and keep mowing the shoulders in front of the hind legs

– [crooked, yield-y horse] don’t ride too much leg-yield, aim for straightness and push both legs to both reins

– bend and flexion always together for correct bend

– when leg-yielding and losing throughness always “interrupt” the bad quality movement – ride a circle to push from inside leg to outside rein, then continue the leg-yield. “Interrupt” again if horse goes hollow or evades in other ways. 

– if soft, round and through in leg-yield aim for more expression and forward movement; same trot as when going straight, don’t compromise the quality of the gait

– [horse that lacks attention, set in the mouth/neck] move the neck, don’t let the horse chose the position or amount of bend, push the neck down and out, keep walk lose and free and forward

– keep everything positive but quietly challenging

– transitions within trot to improve contact and thoroughness in medium trot

– trot:canter and canter:trot transitions with a lower neck/supple back to improve thoroughness in transitions and acceptance of the aids before going poll up again

There is more but it’s almost midnight and I have a 5.30am start again…loved the whole day and the weather was so beautiful, just perfect 🙂

February 2012

“On Saturday, I took seven riders with me to one of Academy’s unique Shadow Training Days with Anna. Few years ago Anna gave me a chance to learn from her and I realised there and then what a wonderful training – by – watching opportunity that was. It’s not just sitting and starring, Anna always gave me a running commentary on what was happening, the why’s, what’s and what for’s. As well as many other riders, I learn by active observation and wanted the Academy riders to experience the educational and inspirational element of such days.

Short video from the day below 🙂 “