Tag Archives: Equestrian

Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 1 of 3

This Summer Camp 2017 was the first one of upgraded versions of intensive training camps I have been organising in the last few years. We incorporated a training show into it with Life Savings as its Patron (more on the Show later), added sponsored awards and much more focus on the rider’s technique than ever before. I loved it and the riders seemed to as well. We already have bigger plans for next year but for now, let me reflect on this year’s experiences in stages…


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Emma on Merehead and Lou on Robyn – discussing seat effectiveness vs rider’s balance with great help of the mirrors 

Knowing the steps

In the process of putting together the content of this Camp, I came across a very clever way of describing skill acquisition. At first, everything we are trying to do seem IMPOSSIBLE. Whether it’s an ingrained asymmetry that prevents the rider from sitting well or a horse struggling with own straightness, everyone will have their “impossible’ tasks. In the process of training we convert the ‘impossible’ to POSSIBLE. 

But that’s only a start…Once a skill enters realm of ‘possible’ , it simultaneously begins a seemingly never ending journey towards EASY. There might be some strong reluctance in all of us to work for something very hard because it’s much cooler to just have a talent for something. Working hard is not a glamorous process that was advertised up to be. Even more problematically, converting the ‘possible’ to ‘easy’ takes a damn long time. Months and years.

Building awareness of passive resistance vs pulling; finding muscles that replace the active backward pull on the reins. 

Then again, getting to easy is not the end of the road. It’s only a beginning of yet another stage of converting “easy’ into EFFORTLESS/ELEGANT. In riding, it would be that look where nothing seem to be happening yet a hell of a lot goes into that nothing. A whole history of impossible moments, buckets of “easy sweat” and years of patient refinement.

I personally find, through my teaching and riding experience, that the biggest frustrations come from the attitude that assumes that we can take an Impossible and make it into an Effortless/Elegant in ONE effort. This expectation of oneself and of the horse is what often causes such tension in either rider or a horse or both that it hinders their progress or stops their learning altogether.

Aisha with Prince and Angela with Boo having their session in tropical rain 😉 

With all this in mind, I wanted the Friday sessions to be about letting the learning happen via slow start with some details explained in more depth followed by fast paced second part where you “just listened and did it” without too much analysis – just learning to catch moments and “feels” the horse offered, then analyse it later.

Friday Collage 1
Making small corrections, getting rid of “chair seat” and rein reliance tendencies. Possibly most “popular” seat fault out there but very much correctable with some decent focus. 

Taking the Steps

It might seem “easy” to just do things but it’s not. Many a time riders are more preoccupied with things they can’t do, things they were once taught/learnt by themselves, or questions they have in the very moment or focus on other hang ups unrelated to riding than giving another “unknown” feel a go.

Having said that, the Friday effort was fabulous. I was (happily) surprised many times that day because of the way above average application to the tasks. It definitely helps to get out from home arena and immerse oneself in a learning/fun environment.

Gemma, the rider on the bright bay (Ozzy) won the Coach’s Award at the end – she had put herself in the lead from that first Friday session and didn’t lose her focus or attitude until last minute of Sunday. Paige, the rider on the grey (Oscar), won Bronze Medal Award and had some superb breakthroughs with her riding on Friday. Kate, the rider on Welsh Pony, rode the ride of her life. If she continued her focus throughout the Camp I’d have had a hard time deciding on overall Trophy Winner 😉 

Converting goals into actionable steps

One of the tasks I always give a couple of weeks prior the Camps is goal setting. Each rider sets themselves some aims for the 3 days of training and once I receive them, I try to figure out how realistic they are in relation to timescale we have and if not possible to achieve in 3 days, what milestones or skills are best to focus on in order to get closer to those goals.

Once I have the above, I put together more detailed sessions content for each rider, match it with that of main idea for each day of the Camp and then match it again with closest goals of another rider (in order to put riders together in most compatible way).

Kelly and Mojo, the Silver Medal Award & Surprise Your Coach Award winners. Here on the Friday having some issues with sheep peacefully grazing in the field next to the arena 😉 The training photos are not great as Mojo never quite relaxed in that first session but it was possibly one of the hardest lessons for the rider in terms of the lessons tasks and she gave them a go with no excuses, ifs or buts. 

Own goals & challenges

Teaching groups is my biggest challenge, mostly mentally as I find it very hard to switch between varying learning styles especially if they are different from my own. In order to prepare better this time I put as many compatible riders together as I could (to create 2 to 4 riders sessions) in several weeks leading to the Camp and it definitely helped.

Friday Collage 2
Caitlin and Mollie (bay in royal blue) had an amazing start to the weekend with this Friday session but sadly circumstances out of their control put them out of running for the Awards (more on this later)

Bringing the best out of each horse & rider is probably most rewarding part of this job for me so running the same way of teaching for all seems like a waste of time. Another interesting aspect of the Camp scenario was that exercises themselves were often very similar, just the way we approached them differed.  




Angela, my fantastic assistant for the Camp having a short lesson on Aisha’s Boo. We are searching for different feels through her leg here so she can figure out what position gives her best balance that is independent of any problems the horse’s might have in her posture. 

My main focus was on the following areas:

  • functional seat with core muscles working correctly to create stability – finding muscles that help with back to front stability and left to right stability;
  • integrity through entire leg, lower leg stability, use of thighs/role of thigh position and weight distribution through them in horse’s ability to work “over the back” , maintain rhythm and energy (use of thighs and core muscles for speed control);
  • passive resistance when using the reins;
  • “own” balance which allowed the rider to remain independent of the horse’s back hollowing/inverting as much as possible within riders’ current skill level;
  • connecting groundwork with ridden work in cases of severe resistance/misunderstanding/inability to follow rider’s aids;

Helping Merehead, an ex racehorse, to turn his outside right shoulder in order to improve his left turn. Converting groundwork to ridden work.

  • challenging the riders with tasks they found most difficult (as examples: turning from the seat on a strongly one-sided horse, canter-trot-canter transitions for riders who need to upgrade reaction time without becoming tenser by the minute in the process, light seat for riders with tendency to lose balance on a hollow horse etc.)
Gilly being fresh and playful with Lauren 😉 It’s not a “keep me” photo but I wanted to include it because Lauren won Gold Medal Award for the Camp and one of the many reasons she did was because she overcome her nerves with this playful chap to the point where she gave him a lovely XC session on the last day 🙂 

Saturday Reflections coming very shortly: 

  • flatwork for jumping
  • jump seat balance
  • gridwork & course riding

Until then 🙂

All photos copyright: Becky Bunce Photography






First Event Horse sought for a young rider to fall in love with Eventing!

Looking for a genuine, dependable first competition horse for Caitlin – a 16 year old girl who has been training on the Academy programmes for the last 2 years and is now ready go out there and fall in love with Eventing!

The horse must be brave and sensible XC, able to help on SJ course but happy to work on flatwork if needed. 16hh + and ideally no older than 11. Budget in the region of £6k but significantly negotiable for the right horse. Professional coaching and care provided.

Serious enquiries please to Tatiana Thorpe on 07809148716 or email Wiola at Aspire Equestrian on aspire@outlook.com


A few fun ways to Increase Body Awareness and Balance Perception for Riding


But I can’t feel it…

Lack of feel for the right moment/thing/motion is something many riders struggle with and I have met quite a few who think you either feel it or you don’t.

In my experience, there are people with a very strong, natural, innate feeling of balance able to feel loses of it immediately whether they stand on their own legs or sit on a horse. They somewhat grasp the idea of equilibrium very fast. Then there are those who have very little natural body awareness. And of course, there are millions shades of variations of both in the middle.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that feel cannot be learnt. I have seen to the contrary over and over again with riders who started off with very little of it and slowly developed significantly more awareness.

Arguably, there will always be those riders whose balance is superior, even at a relatively low level of equestrian pursuits. This doesn’t mean that if yours is muted, you can’t improve.

Fun ways of Developing More Awareness and Perception

Children, although they might be falling off a lot in some cases 😉 , do have a great sense of balance. They often sit very naturally upright with no tension in hip joints allowing for a very soft, absorbing seat. There is one thing kids do a lot of to have that heightened body awareness. They PLAY 🙂

I get riders to carry poles, to lunge each-other, to walk on lines, to be pulled off XC jumps, to do many exercises on the lunge, to do the wrong things (like collapsing in the waist, or carrying hands unevenly)  – all with just one aim: play with balance and feel of own posture in space.

Below is a short video of several different exercises I like to use. The carrying a pole trick has many advantages. The variant you see on the video is focused on teaching the rider to feel for her upper body posture and rhythm of her steps (especially in leg yield). She tends to angle her upper body when riding lateral work so the exercise is helping her remain parallel to the fence. She can then “carry” that feel with her into the saddle.

Continue reading A few fun ways to Increase Body Awareness and Balance Perception for Riding

Dr Inga Wolframm: Let them be kids!

kidspostThis is my first summer as a mum. Perhaps that is the reason why I notice them more than ever. They seem to be everywhere, redefining the definition of cuteness. And as I stand and watch and chuckle to myself, imagining my own wee boy bouncing up and down on a little fur ball in a few years time, I’m reminded of those icons of British rural life – the Thelwell ponies and their diminutive riders. But in addition to causing much hilarity, Norman Thelwell also managed to capture an important message: kids should have fun with their ponies, learning by doing, and most importantly, getting a thorough grounding in the principles of horsemanship.

Nowadays though, the main focus of those childhood years seems to have moved from all-round horsemanship to doing well in competition. Considering the price tags on some of the ponies on offer, it’s actually not all that surprising: Parents who spent tens of thousands of pounds on a miniature mount might wish to see a return on their investment, preferably in the shape of a medal, a rosette or even some prize money. At the same time, they may not be too happy seeing said pony cavorting around the countryside in Thelwell-style. If those illustrations are anything to go by, the risk of injury to child and/or pony are considerable – or so they fear! Still though, this overt concern with the colour of a rosette or ribbon might have some serious repercussions on the sporting attitude of a child.

Researchers in the field of sport psychology and coaching clearly distinguish between athletes who are “ego-involved” versus those who are “task-involved”.

Ego-involved athletes measure their own levels of success on the performance of others, that is to say they are “other-referenced”. Their main aim is to demonstrate either superiority over other competitors, or to avoid being seen to be inferior to them. Riders with an ego-involved mindset are really only ever satisfied when they get to stand on the very top of the podium. Certainly in the long term, but also in a more immediate setting, ego-involved mindsets are likely to lead to motivational problems (“What’s the point in riding today, I am not going to win anyway”) and maladaptive behaviours (use of the whip after the pair has left the ring: “Stupid pony didn’t do as I wanted”). Unfortunately, these types of attitudes are ripe in environments that focus on “winning at all costs”, where mistakes are punished, social comparisons are drawn, or riders with the better (read: more expensive) ponies are being paid more attention.sofijalesson

Task-involved individuals on the other hand define success through personal levels of accomplishment. They are “self-referenced”, i.e. they compare current to previous levels of performance. In essence, these young athletes (riders) feel successful once they have mastered a new task, witnessed personal skill improvement or gave their best effort. More importantly, they are likely to feel that they have achieved their goals as long as they did well within their own frame of reference – even if, for example at a show, another rider went home as the winner.

There can be no doubt that a task-involved approach to riding is both healthier and more sustainable in the long run than an ego-involved obsession with winning. Equally evident is that during their formative years young riders will develop appropriate goal-orientations as taught to them.

I know I’m only at the beginning of parenthood. I know I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what it means to be a “good parent”. Yet I truly hope that, in a few years time, I’ll be able to encourage personal development and horsemanship skills over winning in my own little boy; that I’ll be able to highlight the joys of horsemanship over the economic value of a pony; and that, on occasion, I might use Thelwell as a source of inspiration!

Then again, perhaps my son will end up wanting to play football instead….

Work with Aspire!


Thank you for reading. Perhaps it’s you who can help us develop further and create more training opportunities for grassroots riders!

Are you an open minded livery yard or riding school owner/manager (London or Reading area preferred) wanting to have an exciting freelance coaching programme based on-site? 

Aspire Equestrian training is horse friendly and rider centred – we aim to inspire, motivate and educate those riders who ride for improvement, ethical sport and joy of being around horses. We offer positive, dynamic tuition that is creative and fun.

What could this cooperation bring to the yard:

– committed, passionate instructor happy to help with existing business

– quality tuition for existing liveries if needed/wanted at special rates

– freelance teaching cover

– schooling for ponies and horses ridden, groundwork, in-hand

– teaching training for trainee instructors – quality “teaching to teach” service

– assistance with marketing & PR

– overall helping hand

I am looking for someone with Aspire values and passion for equestrian grassroots sports…If that’s you, please contact Wiola at aspire @ outlook.com and let’s do something amazing 🙂 

Thank you!

Wiola Grabowska BHSAI/INT’T




2nd Place for Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy – Equestrian Social Media Awards 2014. Thank you!!!

Esma finals
The news of the day is that we came 2nd in Category: Best Use of Social Media by a Riding School at 2014 Equestrian Social Media Awards! Huge thank you to everyone who voted for Aspire and to the ESMA judges who decided we were worthy the mention 🙂

Congratulations to the People’s Choice Winner Donegal Equestrian Centre and Judge’s Choice 1st Place: Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship!

Here’s to another year of providing online help and general social usefulness in the form of Aspire social media channels (watch this space!)

Thank you once again for each and every single vote!

Embracing Podcasts – For all house and yard chores…

If like me, you love reading and dislike wasting time, you might like to embrace the incredibly varied and interesting world of podcasts 🙂 They are perfect to listen to during all sorts of chores we need to do everyday when reading is out of the question and they let you learn something new even while you seemingly “wasting your time” washing floors, hoovering, cleaning tack or poo picking the fields.


I first really got into listening to audio books and podcasts when I worked on my own as a groom and had to muck out 10 to 15 stables a day. There was pretty much no one to talk to and there is nothing more boring than a repetitive shovelling. Manure really doesn’t need acute concentration and I was so bored with the radio in the barn which pretty much repeated songs to the point of brain death, I loaded my phone with various files and gave it a go.

And I still love it. It’s great for washing dishes and tidying up around the house (which I also find infinitely boring but like everything to be clean and tidy), great for when you travel London style (i.e. a’la sardines) and reading a paper book or a magazine is out of question, for driving long distances etc etc

I have since started to listen to all sorts of podcasts from business through psychology, coaching, marketing to, of course, horses. I will list a few equestrian titles which update regularly in case you wanted to give them a go:

http://www.thehorse.com/podcasts – great for anyone interested in equine medicine, latest research and general horse health

http://chrisstafford.podbean.com/ – very enjoyable podcast with interviews, educational segments, book reading, veterinary episodes. A little bit of everything from UK and US.

Horse Radio Network: http://www.horseradionetwork.com/  These guys have many shows within the network and here are some I listen to regularly:

horse radio

Dressage radio: http://dressageradio.horseradionetwork.com/

Horsemanship radio: http://www.horsemanshipradio.com/ (new addition)

Eventing radio: http://eventingradio.horseradionetwork.com/

They also recently started a kids show too but I haven’t listened to it yet. Here’s a link if you wanted to share it with your pony mad offspring: http://www.blazekidsradio.com/ 

The Second Life of Show Rosettes / Ribbons…

Pretty great idea for re-using your show rosettes (or ribbons as they are also known) instead of hanging them all over the walls or hiding them in the drawers 🙂


Click on the image above to go to the Etsy shop by TheRepurposedRider who makes these 🙂

Rein Bows Rein-Loops – Can they help with improving feel for contact?

Image source: http://www.equiport.co.uk/products/horse/training-aids/reinbows-rein-loops-l14/

Very few rider’s errors are more damaging to the horse than a busy, insensitive hand and therefore the development of good feel of how much connection is too much and how little is of no help, is something many riders work on for years.

Although I dislike horse training gadgets, the rider training gadgets always have my attention. I am all for trying anything that helps improve and heighten awareness without negatively influencing the horse  and so when I spotted these rein-loops they intrigued me.

They are not completely unfamiliar to me as I have seen similar rein bows being used by para riders and I also known someone who used reins with several loops at different places on her very fizzy jumping mare. I decided to give it some thought and try a home-made version to test the “device”.

My observation are as follows (I didn’t use the loops pictured but made a pretty similar DIY version of them; my version wouldn’t be good long-term and I am guessing the rein bows rein-loops are much easier to clip on/off than my rather imperfect imitation):

– the device certainly helps with maintaining rein length. It gives a very defined hand position, steadies it and makes the rider more aware of the hand placing which I liked for my Foundation level riders who generally don’t ride with meaningful rein contact.

– it helps with relaxation of the lower arm, wrist and hand muscles. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the rider no longer focuses on keeping the reins from slipping or perhaps somehow holding a loop feels “softer” and alike carrying something than when rein is held conventionally and invites a downward pull

– speaking of downward pull – this is another bonus I noticed. Riders were less likely to carry their hands too low or putting pressure downwards towards their little finger. I really liked this effect because downward rein pressure not only stiffens the horse through the neck and at the wither but also starts a vicious cycle of the rider haunching through their shoulder, sitting on the fork of the seat and “riding the head” instead of the entire horse.

– it was easier for some riders to understand and feel the concept of “riding the neck away” from them rather than shortening it in transitions. It seemed they were happier to relax their upper and lower arm in transitions perhaps due to the fact the loop gave them more “contact security” to fall back on if they wanted to hold.

– the riders had more awareness of “left hand being connected to the right hand” and so they tended to feel better for the position of the bit in middle of the horse’s mouth as well as for “carrying just the weight of the bit” and not pulling it up/out/down. I noticed better use of supporting outside rein and less tendency of inside rein over-use. That I found very interesting.

– the effect I didn’t like was that when the rider wanted to exert more backwards pressure they could and they would hold it for longer than with a single rein. I am guessing this is why in the product description the seller advertises that “Rein-Bows can be useful on horses that tend to lean and pull, as they prevent the reins being pulled through the rider’s hands. “. However, as I strongly disagree with using stronger pressure on pulling horses (except for when you are approaching a tree/car/train and you have no other option but hit it!), I see this feature as a counter-education for both rider and the horse. 

Horses that lean on the rider’s hands or pull on the reins need re-education by an experienced and tactful rider who can school them to use their body correctly under the weight of the rider. Using the loop reins in this situation would be like adding fuel to the fire. Pointless. Dangerous. Not even remotely horse friendly.

Based on my little experiment and considering the negative effect mentioned above I would not want to use those reins for re-training riders who tend to be “handy” and correct all body issue in the horse by manipulating the mouth as I found this device to be counter-productive in such situation. 

To sum up, I would personally be quite happy to use these periodically with some riders to train awareness and relaxation in the wrists, fingers and arms.

Has anybody tried this product? What did you think?

Continue reading Rein Bows Rein-Loops – Can they help with improving feel for contact?