Tag Archives: Education

Equestrian Enterprise Series. A few thoughts on #HorseHour’s Equestrian Business Education Forum

By Wiola Grabowska

#HorseHour event – some of the speakers. Top: Bert Sheffield with Amy Stevenson. Bottom from left to right: Lucienne Elms from Horse Scout, the accounting team and a horse present during Bert’s chat.

Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy is a small enterprise. I like this term more than a “small business” as it makes me think about running a project, a collaboration, something bold and mission focused. A term business makes me think of making money. So enterprise it is.

When Mairi (who you might have “met” via her recent posts) and I sat down on one glorious Pancake Day in 2017 to make a plan for the re-vival of this blog, one of the series I had in mind was such where I would blog a bit more about trials and tribulations of acquiring  (and later developing) an equestrian property on which to base the Academy. Kelly and I are currently working with Emma Hobbs of Equestrian Property Search in order to locate the right place.

However, the more I thought about it, the more doubts I had whether it is such a good idea to share all the little steps. I know I would love to read about it somewhere and learn from mistakes someone else had made but perhaps there is a reason nobody is writing about it! 😉

For now, I think this series will focus on resources or initiatives we found interesting and educational as well as on sharing tried and tested ideas that might be useful for coaches/trainers and others self-employed in the industry.

Here are a few reflections after the Equestrian Business Education Forum we attended on Monday 20th March. 


I think the biggest benefit of these kind of events for small horse businesses is that it, firstly, makes you direct your focus on work that needs to be done “on” those businesses. It’s very easy to just think about teaching and riding (as a self-employed coach and/or rider) or looking after horses (as a livery manager) but there are many little things in between that need attention if the enterprise is to be sustainable.

Secondly, meeting others involved in running their own yards and organisations helping with that is a great networking opportunity. As a member of London Horse Network  which was created in the lead up to London Olympics in 2012, I found the regular meetings very helpful.

The #HorseHour event had good few interesting speakers and a nice informal feel which encouraged some thought provoking conversations with an audience. The business structure and tax planning chat with the accountants from Butler & Co made me want to research various options for livery yards contracts of which I would not have thought of previously.

The Horse Scout website presented by Lucienne Elms intrigued me so that is definitely one to check out further: https://www.horsescout.com

All in all a good evening that was well worth attending and I would definitely recommend seeking out these kind of events if you are your own boss in a horsey world 🙂

Very Quick Guide To Becoming a Better Rider


Riding might be an art and science married together which makes it seemingly a bottomless well of possibilities but let’s try to short list a few things an average ambitious rider can do to better their skills month after month instead of stagnating in one murky pond 😉

There is no particular order here:

1) DO the Dreaming and the Wishing


For every dreamy, wishful thought, have 10 action thoughts. The power of dreams lies in acting upon them. Imagine yourself doing things very well. Then make a detailed plan of action for each of those things. Work backwards from the imagined outcome and educate yourself on time scales for each step. However, don’t be scared or put off by the amount of time it might all take. Working on your dreams or goals can be a dream process in itself 🙂

2) Find an instructor whose values line up with yours

Search for the best one for your current situation and best one you can afford. Why the same values? Because if you line up those, you will often be happy with the methods used too.

I hear some of you saying, I don’t need an instructor to do well, have you not seen International Velvet? Ok, let’s look at a few facts:

Even to play Sarah Brown, Tatum O’Neal went through an intensive training prior the movie with Marcia Williams, a member of USEF National Show Jumping Hall of Fame (oh and later awarded the USEF Living Legend Award). “During production in England, four British and American Olympic medallists also worked with Tatum”*. Apparently, she showed a lot of talent and could have gone on to great things if she wanted to take up riding professionally. Aaaand, it’s Ginny Leng riding in the more “riding” scenes…

I am not saying there are no riders out there with exceptional body awareness, horse sense, discipline, commitment and passion (aka talent) so if you are one of those, great. Maybe you can skip on point no 2 and just watch as many lessons as you can instead. But if you are part of an average riding crowd (and no shame in that, I consider myself an average rider too) and you want to better yourself step by step, look out for trainers who can guide you, who never stop learning and who genuinely want you to ride better (not just for your horse to go better).

3) Live in a moment but ask what’s around the corner

Do your best to do the best you can in your lessons but ask questions…you want to know if your instructor has any sort of plan for your learning (if you ride with them regularly that is). What skill is leading to what outcome. What’s the plan to work on this or that. You want your instructor to have an idea for you (and for your horse), an individual plan of action for your particular riding adventures (and/or your horse’s development).

4) Push yourself before you push your horse

Like in every sport, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to progress and that includes the horses too. It’s never easy to go through that push so if you tend to get negatively emotionally involved with your horse’s difficulties, put yourself through similar experience first…Ask around and find a trainer who is impatient, easily frustrated with his/her pupil and takes your physical inability to follow his/her instructions personally. Go for someone who gets easily annoyed when your struggle when you try and fail. You want to truly experience that feel of emotionally draining training that’s on the verge of bullying. Then, next time when you are tempted to do the same to your horse, think how effective it was…

match demands

If you are planning to push your horse to their limits in terms of physical performance, get yourself a session with a positive personal trainer who will make you work like no tomorrow. Be it running, cycling, weight lifting or extreme yoga – try out the total body workout. Make some notes. Adjust your horse training accordingly…

5) Demand only what you can keep up with

Being a good rider means being in harmony with your horse, supporting them with your own body action and matching their effort. Be prepared to do the work with your horse. If they need to be more supple, work on your own suppleness too, if they need to be stronger through their abdominal muscles, get on that workout too, if they need to be mentally calmer, you might need too…You know this saying “show me your horse I will tell you who you are”?  

It’s supposed to be a very quick guide so I will stop here 🙂 What would you add to this list if we were to make it into a Full Guide? Add your own suggestions 🙂 

*Source: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/78138%7C0/International-Velvet.html


Video Day Tuesday: What INSPIRATION really is…Christmas Countdown – Day 7 (a must watch for all riding instructors)

Time for the second countdown video and this one is all about inspiration with a side to it that perhaps we don’t think about a lot. Most of us wants to feel inspired to do something or be inspired by something. The video below, however, talks about the real essence of inspiration…Please do watch it until the end 🙂

And once you have watched it, do share in comments what or who inspired you to follow your passion, whatever that might be…horses, art, business, photography, travel, writing… If you have any great videos on the subject that you would like to share please link to them. I’d love to watch them.

Inspire Me by Dr. Brad MacLain

I’d love to say that my own inspiration to improve equestrian teaching & riding at grassroots level came from something incredibly grand and valuable like the experiences mentioned in the video but it’s safe to say it didn’t. At 16 I damaged my knee which resulted in me having full leg plaster on 8 times for months within few years and so I bottled up my passion for riding and training horses and poured it all into teaching people. I watched my friends’ training sessions for hours from the bench next to the arena. Some lessons were good, many were awful. I realised there and then that no matter how much effort, knowledge, compassion, time and understanding we put into schooling horses they would never, ever have good lives if there are no well educated riders to ride them. It was not a highly intellectual but nevertheless important light bulb moment for me 😉

I have put myself through many different experiences ever since, not fully consciously I don’t think, to be able to fuel my passion constantly. There is still a lot on my experience list 🙂

Continue reading Video Day Tuesday: What INSPIRATION really is…Christmas Countdown – Day 7 (a must watch for all riding instructors)

Adult Beginner/Novice Rider – What You Might Want To Know about booting and whipping of horses

Last night I read this conversation on Horse & Hound Forum:

Click on the image to read the replies…

My reply was as follows:

“This is something very close to my heart as an instructor who is trying to fight with the “booting culture” I really hope that you find another riding school where standards are higher and understanding of teaching in place.

I wouldn’t believe everyone who says months of lunge lessons are boring as they most likely did not experience a good, fun, creative and educational seat training programme. If they did, they may have another opinion of lunge lessons!
I very highly recommend them as seat education for beginner riders is the first step to get rid of switched off/resigned horses.

The time spent on the lunge depends on your general learning ambitions. As an example I keep my beginner riders on the lunge for minimum of 3 months. That’s for your average leisure rider.

If your body awareness and alignment are very good (as advised by your instructor) it might be that you need to focus more on how to use this good posture you have in a way that helps the horse rather than demands…

I must add – I think it would be great if you wrote to Horse & Hound magazine with your experiences. The booting culture must go if riding schools are to survive. More and more riders want to have good basics and ride well. Leisure riders shouldn’t have to loan or buy horses to experience high quality education, they deserve to learn at places where horses are not used as kicking boards.

Good luck with your search”


The subject of brutal and abusive riding, yes let’s call things by its name, comes up often and the fact several posters in the above conversation tried to find excuses for abusive teaching methods is a very sad state of affairs.

Before you read on, I should note that certain amount of assertiveness and confidence is required from riders at all levels. Some amount of firmness and decisiveness is always necessary with some horses and less with others. There is a big difference between assertive riding and abusive riding and that difference is called EDUCATION. Both you and the horse must know why and what for pressure is applied and how to work towards decreasing that pressure to achieve results invisibly.

Continue reading Adult Beginner/Novice Rider – What You Might Want To Know about booting and whipping of horses

11 Thoughts on Teaching Children to Ride Aspire Equestrian Style

teaching kids to ride
Aspire’s new website: http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com/

Today I will share with you 11 thoughts on teaching children to ride.  The thing I enjoy the most about giving lessons to kids is their imagination. Unrestricted, unspoilt, free mind. I feel we can learn a lot from that as adults.

Here are some of my “rules” when teaching 6 to 9 year old pony mad kids:

1) I get the child to help me prepare the pony for first lesson. Especially, when they are afraid of ponies. It lets  me show them how to groom and tack up the pony. From my experience most kids love doing it.

2) I teach them basic pony body language before they get on.

3) I let them just feel the movement of the pony first before letting them touch the reins. I always start on the lunge or lead rein doing various exercises to get the child to feel happy in the saddle and connected with the pony.


4) I always teach sitting trot first. Most children, if not scared or tense, will follow the movement of the pony’s back beautifully.

Continue reading 11 Thoughts on Teaching Children to Ride Aspire Equestrian Style

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




1.adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2.the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.

3.a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

This post is not for faint hearted. Feel pre-warned.
The aim is for riding school clients to open their eyes, seek quality education and become aware of the fact there are places out there they should avoid and places which can turn their weekly lessons into a life changing experience.
It is no secret to those who know me that my goal in coaching life is to improve the grassroots teaching system for non-horse owners and those new to horse ownership as much as I can. I might be fighting a lost battle but I hope I am not.