Tag Archives: groundwork with horses

New training support group by Aspire Equestrian…

By Wiola Grabowska


When I first created a Facebook group to go with the Aspire coaching programmes I made it “Aspire riders access only’. I did so because I shared many videos from lessons, including live videos, and felt that I wanted that added learning opportunity to be exclusive for those riders who rode on my programmes. We also planned Aspire riders exclusive events, arena hires, training outings etc on there which again didn’t seem right to share publicly.

The more times I had to press the “Decline” button, however, the more I thought about the best solution for this issue because it didn’t make sense to turn away riders who were obviously interested in what we were doing. I am not sure why it took me so long to simply set up another, much more inclusive training support group, but finally the lightbulb moment arrived this week and here it is:

Aspire Equestrian – Training, Coaching and Horse Care Support


Why a support group? 

For a long time I was thinking why are there so few discussion groups for riders who love to train and perhaps also compete yet who disagree with traditional methods of training in which horses “must do as told”; riders who are as interested in developing the horse from the ground up via classical in-hand work, progressive conditioning or perhaps even rehabilitative schooling and who focus on themselves as a big element in the game as much as they are interested in reaching their personal best with their horses.

There are many great divides in the equestrian world and I wanted to create a place where riders who love to train and who value understanding of how horses learn, move and think can meet for a constructive discussion or just a bit of support.

It is often believed that to train and compete riders have to exert certain amount of dominance over a horse (you know, “good ‘ol pony club kick etc) in order to be effective. I found this approach to be false and to be killing my enjoyment of training and teaching so decided to move away from it and thankfully, so did many riders in recent years. I realised that the belief that riders need to be focused, well balanced, aware of what is truly happening underneath them and able to act upon that awareness in order to not have to be dominant, worked for me as an educator.

With progressive training  of both physical and mental skills of both horse and rider and solid foundations there should be no need for lunging/ridden gadgets, aggressive riding, frustration and impatience.

It really can be a beautiful sport in a full meaning of this word: harmonious and a pleasure to watch and that’s the kind of sport I’d love to teach, watch and support.

If that’s your goals too, please feel free to join the group and let us know about your horse and your aims with him/her 🙂

Photo above:

Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018 – Sofija on Ferris. We are not just browsing our phones but connecting on audio call at the start of the lesson 🙂 Photo by Becky Bunce Photography

The Aspire Spring Camp was supported by Boudica Equestrian

E.P., the ex-racehorse with “kissing spine”: How attention to detail can improve rehabilitative groundwork

By Wiola Grabowska

Every Wednesday evening from April to August I run groundwork sessions at Brackenhill Stud. One my recent clients agreed for me to post a few photos from our initial session which I am very grateful for because they showed beautifully how small corrections, attention to detail and good evaluation of current training situation can help kick start the progress.

E.P.’s owner has put a tremendous effort over the last couple of years to bring the horse from what can only be described as skin & bone state to one where you can really see the horse’s potential.

I was asked to help with structuring the rehabilitative training and help add more ideas to the current work.

There were many aspects of the training that we discussed and we formulated a plan of work for the next few months but I wanted to share on here a small but very significant improvement we were able to achieve during just one session and that’s ALIGNMENT. 

Good body alignment is a key to healthy posture and as a result to successful training. Most horses and all rehabilitative schooling clients I have worked with, struggle with that aspect of training and therefore no matter how good the content of the training is, the results might be disappointing.

On photos above you can see E.P. trotting on a circle to the right with no corrections to alignment from the owner who is long reining him from the middle of the circle (he’s wearing a proprioceptive band – a bandage – that attaches to the roller).

On photos below you can see E.P.’s posture being influenced by the owner using variety of postural corrections we have worked through for about 30 minutes beforehand. These corrections are based on small changes in horse’s preferred weight shifts, balance, suppleness and body awareness with no use of any schooling gadgets):


The subtle visual differences on these snapshots are great to see but what made it even better was E.P.’s quality of movement before and after the owner’s corrections. I believe that movement quality is of huge importance if the rehabilitation is to progress in the right direction.

Huge thank you to E.P.’s owner for letting me share photos from the session! All images copyright: Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy

Introducing first “How to be The Gadget” [instead of using one] course by Aspire Equestrian

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post on my Diary blog titled “Be The Gadget“. It got some insane amount f views and really lovely comments so I started thinking about putting together a little course that I could run and teach anyone some basics of groundwork without gadgetry…


Most horses require no additional leather work but a well fitting cavesson and a lunge line to learn how to move in balance, with engagement, relaxation and looseness in the body. ANYONE can learn how to be the gadget and create a positive connection with a horse that is so much more than standing in the middle of a circle and let the horse run around.

So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Bailey (your learning partner) and the first Aspire Equestrian How to be The Gadget course 🙂 


Overview: The course consists of 16 private sessions and will cover: lunging, in-hand work and long reining. Sessions are 1h long and include both theory and practice.

Suitable for: anyone who looks after/exercises horses – riders, parents of riders, nervous riders, non-riders

Perfect for: anyone who wants to learn how to structure groundwork training without use of gadgets and achieve lasting results in horse’s posture, attitude and quality of work under the saddle.

Duration: 16 weeks (weekly sessions available on Tuesdays, Fridays and/or Saturdays)


Share of Bailey: £160 payable to horse’s owner

Coaching: £25 per session (£400 per course) If you are already training on Aspire programme and would like to do this course please chat with Wiola about special fees for current riders.


Bailey is a 15.2hh Welsh Section D bay gelding who will be your learning partner on this course. He is very accustomed to wearing gadgets so let’s see if we can get him to work well without them 😉


For further information and to book your place email Wiola at aspire@outlook.com

Look forward to meeting the keen learner – horse person 🙂


Canter Troubles Part 2: One aid, one response. Establishing leg reaction and starting bending exercises.

If you haven’t read the Part 1 of The Canter Troubles you are best to start there (CLICK) so you have a full picture of what is being discussed.
Today in Part 2 I will look at the leg response issue that Anna has with her pony…


The scenario described by Anna is very common although can have many variables – horse might be active by himself yet when rider wants to refine the way of going, they find the horse has no clue what the response should be. They either don’t respond at all, go sideways, go faster or offer no reaction at all – all in reply to one and the same squeeze…Or perhaps they are “lazy”, unresponsive, uncooperative and switched off and again, this doesn’t change whether the rider’s legs are active or not.

One of the ways of re-education are groundwork exercises that make it clear to the horse what leg aids actually mean. Someone once said, “you can teach a horse to canter when you spit at his ears” and I think this rather crudely sums up a very simple fact: any reaction to rider’s aids needs to be trained. We can’t assume the horse knows that if he is tapped in the ribs it should step under himself more with his hindlegs or create more pushing power or indeed step sideways. It is way beyond the scope of this post to describe many exercises so I chose one of the simplest one:


Equipment needed: 
1. lunge cavesson, well fitted and with a ring on top of the nose so you can apply clear instructions when you want certain head position. Headcollars with bottom ring are not suitable. If you don’t have a lunge cavesson, simple snaffle bridle will be better than a headcollar.
2. Lunge line or a lead rope
3. A dressage whip ( or any longer whip that you can easily move about without any swishing) – lunge whips are too long for in-hand work

Let’s start: Turn about the forehand with emphasis on one aid-one response principle


With practice, this very simple exercise teaches the rider the timing, precision and feel and the horse discipline, clarity and calm reaction to the whip which shouldn’t mean punishment but help the horse understand which body part he needs to shift and where. This is also a great exercise for horses that grew ignorant to the aids and for riders who tend to over-ride their horses, give them many aids/clues with their body, not giving the horse time to react etc It teaches to plan aiding, plan reaction time, plan “recovery/thinking” time.
 Exercise in short: 
– you touch the leg, the leg moves

Exercise in detail: 
A turn about the forehand is a simpler version of the turn on the forehand (difference being: in the former the front legs can move on small circle, on the latter, the inside fore leg should lift and land on the same spot while hindquarters move around the inside foreleg).

Position your horse in the middle of the arena or in place where there are no obstruction around him that he might walk into as you do the exercise. Think about 20m diameter of free space around both of you.

Stand partially in front, partially to the side of your horse so your shoulders “close” the way forward but he still feels like slight forward movement is ok.
Decide which way you want his hindquarters to move. I’ll adjust my instructions to the photo above, so:
– You will be moving the pony’s hindquarters to the left. Head is turned slightly to the right by your hand (this is an easier version). You will touch your pony’s right hind leg with your whip (aim at fleshy parts of the leg like lower thigh – avoid tapping joints/bony parts).
– You will touch the leg until the pony does SOMETHING with it. At the beginning, it doesn’t matter if he actually moves it up and away making the first step. You want a reaction. Perhaps he will lift it and stamp it, perhaps he will kick out with it. Perhaps he will only lightly take it off the floor. Perhaps he will ignore you and search through your pockets. You want to praise all movement but kicking reaction. If he kicks out violently at simple touch, ignore it with no positive word but do not punish the horse either in any way. Ask him to stand calmly for 10 seconds and try again. He is just figuring out what you want or might be conditioned to be scared of the whip due to previous training. Repeat until he calmly just lift his leg upon you touching it.
Some horses will immediately move away 3-4 steps. This is ok at the start but not a reaction you want later. You want to touch once and the horse to give you ONE reaction (i.e. one step). He must trust you and understand you – it is not an easy exercise because you will need to remain calm and stoic when your pony walks about without knowing what on earth you want.
To make sure the clear communication happens, it is very important how you handle yourself and the whip. Whip touching the ground means no questions asked. Horse stands still. Whip lifted a little means preparation for reaction. Whip pointed towards a leg/touching a leg, means reaction is needed. This is a great exercise for riders who tend to over-ride their horses, give them many aids/clues with their body, not giving the horse time to react etc It teaches to plan aiding, plan reaction time, plan “recovery/thinking” time.

For next step you will need a helper on the ground with whom you can communicate well or a helper in the saddle while you stay on the ground. The rider applies upper leg pressure (avoid heel digging) against the pony’s side while the ground person repeats the touch of the hindleg on the side of the rider’s aiding leg. It’s important to retain action-release principle. The key is to be disciplined too and not allow yourself to start kicking to get a reaction. Allow the pony to learn and figure things out. Assume you are starting from scratch. Assume he doesn’t know what “the leg means”. Imagine teaching him to bring you post from under the door. Yes. That sort of “new” 😉
When you can touch/lightly squeeze his ribs on one side and get a hind leg lift/reaction on that side you are good to move on to the next exercise.

Set up some visual aids for you that mark a 20m circle (cones or jump blocks are good). You might want to keep your helper – ground person with you to make learning easy and fun for all of you. Walk your pony on the 20m circle and using opening rein bring his neck onto the line of the circle (think of him following the circle line from the poll to the tail). As you bring his neck onto the line (head in the middle of his chest), touch him once or twice with your inside leg while your helper touches the inside hind leg in tune with your leg aids (you might need to communicate to time it well). The pony should respond by stepping a little more actively and a little more forwards with his inside hindleg whilst also moving out as if doing a one step leg-yield. During these 1-3 steps he will elongate the muscles on the outside of his body (especially the muscles in between his ribs) and contract the muscles on the inside of his body i.e. will be put in a slight bend.
This at first might be a very slight bend, especially when your pony’s stiffer/more naturally contracted side is on the outside. It’s important not to drill this for too long. Think about asking for 5 steps in correct bend, 5 steps let him be as he wants, then again 5 steps bend, 5 steps let him be. Aim for his neck to remain relaxed at all times and find the length of the reins that gives you control but allows him to stretch gently down and forwards. Lateral bending helps longitudinal bending (from tail to ears) so as he stretches his side muscles he will be likely to want to stretch down too. Aim for the neck in natural position to his conformation, generally most relaxed horses will carry their necks just above the wither line but if your pony has a high set neck this might not be the case.
I would continue with these walk circles until your pony can easily hold the soft bend to the left and right for 3 consecutive circles on both reins. Once he no longer tries to carry his neck to the outside or cuts the circle to the inside, it’s time to start all over again in trot. With some very crooked ponies, this might mean starting on the ground again.

Below is a short video showing a young rider working on variation of the above exercise with a driving pony who is very one-sided and if lunged in conventional fashion, moves in inverted posture/opposite bend.

As mentioned in Part 1, all exercises should be adjusted to the handler’s skills and pony’s character. It’s impossible to give exact exercises without seeing the pony and the rider in action. Please pick and mix the advice given to suit your circumstances. In Part 3 we will look into a few more bending and flexing exercises as well as those establishing more control in the canter when ridden. Stay tuned.

All the best,


If you enjoy trying new exercises and would love to train with a supportive, knowledgeable trainer but can’t afford regular lessons/travel, try our online coaching programme! All you need is desire to improve, a camera and someone happy to film you. Click on image below to learn more! 

Aspire EAcademy

Spring Training season commences

It seems like flooding and downpours are the thing of the past in the UK and the first day of our 2014 training adventures at Cullinghood Equestrian Centre welcomed us with beautiful sunshine and warm, gentle wind 🙂

Intensive Training Day at Aspire Development Programme level

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)



On the Hay-Net’s Equestrian Advice page, one member have recently asked a question about loose schooling and mentioned that her horse lunges well but it can get repetitive and boring. You can see my own and some other replies to her HERE but as it’s quite a common issue with many horse owners I expanded on the subject a bit more below.

I like to think of lunging as a crookedness-banishing part of training and as such it is a fascinating training tool.
Before you start more purposeful lunging, teach your horse turn around and on the forehand in-hand. This will require some body language training as well as gymnastic training. If you are not sure how it should look like have a look at this video:

Continue reading LUNGING AS A CROOKEDNESS-BANISHING Part of Training

Aspire Coaching Weekend 17-19 May 2013. Photo Snippets.

Claire and puzzle
Learning turn on the forehand in-hand
Building awareness through visual feedback
Emma and Hazel
Learning turn on the forehand in-hand
Emma and Hzel ridden
Ridden work after in-hand work. Using the knowledge from groundwork to achieve better gymnastic results

Continue reading Aspire Coaching Weekend 17-19 May 2013. Photo Snippets.

ESTIMA – AN EX-RACE HORSE RE-TRAINING VIDEO DIARY. Part 1: Meet Estima. Reflections on Posture, Crookedness and Way of Going.

Preface to the series: I am currently involved in training of 11 “project” horses belonging to a “breeder/dealer”.  Together with another Aspire Equestrian instructor, Magda, we would like to share the training journey of some of them. This series will take form of video diaries and reflections on the horses’ progress. The goal  is not to criticise any training methods or breeding choices but to document a no-gadgets, sympathetic yet purposeful training work we prefer. A way that is based on understanding the “why?” not just the “how to?”. This is also the kind of horse training we teach to all our riders. The main character in this series is a 5 year old, ex-racehorse mare – Estima. 

Put your legs up and join the journey – comments, views, observations always welcome. 



PART 1: Meet Estima

Five years old Estima has done very little since her racing days. At least very little as far as correct training goes.

Continue reading ESTIMA – AN EX-RACE HORSE RE-TRAINING VIDEO DIARY. Part 1: Meet Estima. Reflections on Posture, Crookedness and Way of Going.