Tag Archives: flatwork

How not to override but still be effective – an experiment in ‘active’ and ‘passive’ riding

 

By Wiola Grabowska

We can probably all relate to the situation in which a horse does more of what we don’t want the more we try the opposite and then “out of the blue” offers a behaviour we wanted when we no longer care about it.

It’s relatively “easy” to over-ride a horse with our aids without noticing as well as not to do enough to guide the horse into desired behaviour and we all do a bit of both now and then.

I’d like to chat with you about an exercise in ‘passive’ and ‘active’ riding.

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We often talk about effectiveness when training. I believe true effectiveness starts in ability to “not disturb” the horses in the job we are asking them to do…Whether on the flat, over poles or over the jumps.

When I say passive I don’t mean a slouching rider travelling on a horse but one who shadows horse’s movement while remaining as balanced as possible. This is often a much harder task for a rider than it seems because to follow every movement with every part of your seat without acting upon the horse in any way is much easier said than done. The biggest issue I find is riders’ ability to maintain an absolutely neutral rein connection – most common are two extremes: riders who feel the need to constantly fiddle and those who ride with dropped reins out of belief they interfere too much. Neutral, non-disturbing connection that can become meaningful is hardest to achieve but I believe forms a great starting point from which to start an influence that has biggest chances of acceptance (by the horse).

Conversely, when I say ‘active’ I don’t mean in any way ‘busy’ but simply becoming in charge of direction, speed, shape of the horse’s body, amount of impulsion he or she creates etc.

Here’s what we did at Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018 (full blog post on the Camp coming up later this week)

The WHY

We work on the below skills in order to create a situation in which the horse finds our ideas easy to understand, logical to obey and enjoyable to partake in (assuming horses tend to gravitate towards harmonious movement).

The lesson objectives:

  • to increase awareness of degree of influence the rider’s actually have on a horse,
  • to increase awareness of “doing too much” or “not enough”,
  • to build a feel for moments when the rider needs to allow the horse to listen, understand and act without being “busy” with own posture
  • to increase awareness of “own anticipation”
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MEET THE RIDERS: Derek on Boo and Sasha on Ferris – the horses decided to travel from one corner of the arena to the other and sometimes just stood in one of them observing 😉

The how

I asked the riders to drop the reins and allow the horse to make choices about directions. The riders were to stay completely passive (as if they wanted to simply shadow the horse’s movement) yet stay in as good a balance as they could. They were to stay in walk and trot but act if horses became in any way unsafe.

Game on

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First of all it turned out to be a one funny session although I admit I did not plan it that way 😉 Horse that notoriously avoids corners for various reasons gravitated towards them like a magnet, the one we thought would be worried and stressed (an ex-racehorse) turned out to confidently stroll around, relaxed and happy leading the other horse most of the time. The mare that normally avoids the arena ends, took herself out of the arena and climbed a small mound 😉

I wanted to get the riders to feel how easy it is to anticipate something and how difficult it is to “do nothing at all”. For example approaching a corner most riders will have a set of automatic behaviours they don’t even think about that prepares the horse to turn. This can cause various muscle engagement patterns in the horse that leads to inverting away from corners, running on, avoiding bend/flexion etc etc I wanted the riders to make sure they listen to the feedback from the horse and it was much easier to do once they experienced the passive rider game.

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Second part of the session

I asked the riders to slowly include their influence but in a very tactful way i.e. do as little as possible but as much as necessary to ride certain figures and exercises I asked them to do. The difference in the horse’s attitude, relaxation and ease with which they did the exercises was significant. The riders found it very enjoyable and as we know, we do learn best when having fun 🙂

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Very good attempt at neutral rein connection in canter

Their handling on reins and frequency with which they used them improved too – the rider who tends to override rode with much more awareness of that and the one who tends to to leave the horse a bit too much without guidance, rode with more attention too.

Maintaining a perfectly neutral rein connection that neither drops or holds unnecessary tension in three basic paces of walk, trot and canter is a skill I consider one of the most important for all my Foundation & Development programme riders. Without that relaxed stability, rein aids rarely can be truly independent yet harmonious with the rest of the seat.

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Sasha in a very good attempt at following the contact in trot – she could perhaps show a little more carriage of the hands (as they dropped a bit here) to truly show that rider’s hips, elbows and shoulders are as supple as can be but very good job nevertheless.

Please note: One of the riders has taken up riding a year and half ago as an adult, the other had a 7 months old break from riding due to University commitments, both are very aware of their riding seat issues which we are working on so please try to avoid riding critique from the attached photos 🙂 

All photos in this post are copyright of Becky Bunce Photography and Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy

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…

DAY 1 – FRIDAY

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

 

 

 

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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.)
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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

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Ex-racehorse to Event Horse in progress: 3 months flatwork training – comparison video

Merehead comparison
Scroll down for video 🙂

 

Merehead: Foaled March 24th, 2006, Grey Gelding, Al Namix – Moneda (Cadoudal)

Merehead (Harry Derham)

 

National Hunt Racing

See Merehead’s racing photos here

I have just put together some footage from one of the first lessons I gave to Emma and Merehead (this was possibly the second time we worked together with this horse) and yesterday’s session. We’ve been meeting weekly since December last year and taking it slowly with the gangly chap. He has made a huge progress and I am so happy for this pair!

Two weeks ago they went to a local dressage show to do a walk and trot test (his canter is coming along nicely but he still eats up a long side in 4-5 strides so there was no point in asking him to contain himself in a small arena yet) just to see how he will behave and with a goal to just let him look around and potter around the warm up and arena. He took it all in his stride and will soon go out more.

Great job Emma!

Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Lindrick Livery, North Yorkshire; 15-16 March 2014 – Photo Report by Pure Essence Photography

After an epic road trip we returned from North Yorkshire. It was so much fun teaching riders at Lindrick Livery and we are delighted they invited us to come back next month!

Here are some lovely photos from the weekend by Pure Essence Photography – if you click on the collage below you can view all photos separately as larger files 🙂

Aspire Yorkshire 15-16 March 2014

What’s better than the crisp, fresh, intensive, Aspire training air ? :)

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Beautiful sunny day at work (thank you to Emma for pictures 🙂
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Working on lateral flexibility in – hand. Emma learning how to improve the school pony’s ability to bend. She is asking the pony to walk in a shoulder fore position to help him step under his centre of balance with his inside hind leg, contract the left side of his body and relax the right (tight) side.
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Emma and Orpheus earning his pat for a few good steps
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Emma and Orpheus later in the lesson. She stays out of the saddle to help the pony as he tends to drop his back and basic engagement. She is learning to feel for more quality steps that in turn help Orpheus with his balance.
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Gemma on straight lines mission…Learning to ride the horse straight in light seat and on a given line without overusing the reins for steering
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Working on suppleness in sitting trot

Continue reading What’s better than the crisp, fresh, intensive, Aspire training air ? 🙂

What are your plans for 15th of September?

Hello All!
Another of our Intensive Training Days is coming up on 15th of September. There are maximum of 4 places available (1 booked already so maximum 3 left) and the cost includes hire of horses, Racewood Equine Simulator, all facilities hire, all coaching, video feedback and some cookies if you deserve them 😉

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15th September

All levels welcome but most suitable for those riders who want to improve their skills and effectiveness.

Video from equine simulator session from our last Training Day at the venue:

Approximate times: 10am-5pm

Venue: Cullinghood Equestrian Centre (www.cullinghood.co.uk)
Cost: £200 per rider per day (BRING A FRIEND OFFER – rider who books with a friend receives £15 OFF each).

Message Wiola on aspire @ outlook . com for more information and booking. If you have never trained on Aspire Intensive Training Days and have any questions please email away, always happy to advise if this is suitable Day for you.

Feel free to share with friends!

To see some photos from the same venue from Aspire June Intensive Training Day see here