Tag Archives: horse riding

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.

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)


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”
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


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.


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 🙂

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.

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

Snippets from the 11th International Society for Equitation Science Conference

Read more about the Conference here: http://www.ises2015vancouver.com/#!schedule/c1cdx


And finally, a quote that really surprised me…I would like to know more about this statement…

Join in Aspire Christmas Gift Guide 2014 :)

laughter (2)

Do you have a great product or service that might appeal as a gift to a grassroots, ambitious, improvement driven rider who takes lessons, loves to learn, loves to be around horses and leads horse happy lifestyle? 

From 1st November until 24th December, I will post weekly gift guides posts and would love you to get involved! I will chose things I like all around the web but would love to have independent creators, artists, photographers, other instructors (as long as they share our coaching values), trainers, personal trainers, yoga teachers, stable manufacturers, small clothing brands etc etc showcased on those pages.

I will make the pages into downloadable pdf documents to be sent out with Aspire bi-monthly Newsletters as well as blog the pages weekly on Aspire NewsBook (this blog).

Email Wiola now at aspire@outlook.com for format guide and bring your products or services to horse loving audience 🙂

All the best,


PART 1 2 AND 3

How to “Sit Deep In the Saddle” – Part 1: A simple, magic stretch


The phrase “sit deeper in the saddle”, “deepen your seat” or “sink down in the saddle” is heard on many arenas in all countries I have taught and ridden.

If you ask several different riders and instructors what “sitting deep” means to them and how they do it, you are likely to hear many different concepts and ways of achieving a deep seat. How do you understand it? How would you teach it if you were to asked to explain it?

Put simply, a deep seat to me is the ability to remain in close contact with the saddle during motion. This is reliant on ability to synchronise muscular contraction and weight distribution in the rider with that of the horse when both are in motion. The better the synchrony and harmony, the “deeper” the seat looks without also being heavy.

Today I will chat shortly about a very simple stretch that any rider can do before getting in the saddle to help achieving “deeper seat”, tomorrow I will look at a set of exercises that aid the ability of weight transfer without becoming “heavy” in the saddle.


piriformisIf you read my post about achieving stability in the saddle through good use of core and thigh muscles (About Stability (Core, Pelvis and Thighs Connection) in The Rider and Why To Work On It) you will know how important it is to be able to rotate the hip and thigh inward in a way that wraps the rider’s legs around the horse.

For the upper and lower leg to lie closely around the horse’s barrel without undue pressure or unnecessary gripping we need flexibility in one little magic muscle…

It’s an interesting muscle that’s also involved in sciatic nerve pain so if you suffer from sciatica or are at all unsure about the stretches it’s best to consult your doctor.


I start these stretches from beginner courses onwards and below you can see a rider on Start Programme during the exercise. The rider will have groomed and tacked up and so will have warmed up all the muscles in her body as well as marched in place for several minutes – all to make sure no stretches are ever done “cold”.

There is a floor version of this exercise which apparently works better for many but I find it’s vastly impractical in riding environment…I ask the rider to stretch her piriformis muscles before mounting for a few minutes as part of a short stretch routine.

If you have higher step that you use to get on the horse, it will do a great job for this.


  • Sit down on it making sure your upper body is well aligned with your pelvis so you feel the weight of your head dropping right down into your tail bone and your seat bones are pointing downwards (not backwards or forwards). Take a couple of deep breaths and let the air out slowly letting the weight of your ribcage drop down (but do not collapse through your waist)
  • Bend your knees so they are at the right angles with the ground.
  • Lift one leg and position it so your ankle rests just above your knee as on the photo above
  • Inhale and on exhale slowly lean forward bringing your chest to your lower leg. Hold this position for 3-5 deep breaths.
  • Repeat on the other leg
  • To increase the stretch press gently down on the resting leg over the knee (as on the photo)

I recommend doing this exercise 2-3 times on each leg every time before you get on if you are learning to ride or working on improving your seat in sitting trot or canter. I do it often even now and love the feeling of looseness it gives when I sit in the saddle.

Let me know if you try it before mounting next time you ride!

All the best,


Equestrian version of eat in and take away…what kind of rider are you? What kind of rider would you like to be?

Picture this on your day off:

– a coffee shop with comfy sofas, wooden floors, lovely scent of freshly grounded beans, catch up chat with friends or just a long solitary, me-time with your favourite book…Your coffee or tea in a real cup, hot and delicious.

– a coffee shop, quick, efficient queue, convenient paper cup for you to grab, run and enjoy on your way to another place of your choosing.

Now, out of curiosity, what kind of rider are you dear reader? If riding experiences were coffee, would you eat in or take away? 😉

Jo tacking up
Rider on Aspire Intensive Training Day learning to tack up her horse prior to lunge lesson. Start Programme.

In my job I meet both the ‘eat in’ riders and ‘take away’ riders. The former like my intensive training days and the 2 hour sessions when they get to groom the horses, be with them in situations other than the riding moments and get to join a long term experience. The ‘eat in’ riders appreciate effort that goes into every detail of training, they are curious, inquisitive and often emphatetic. Teaching these riders is a life long adventure, it’s educational for a coach not only for the student as well as being a process in which horses are the most important element.

They like to see their horses off either by grooming after the ride, taking to the field, rugging up etc If they own a horse they will most likely keep it on DIY or part livery basis if only their work life allows them. Continue reading Equestrian version of eat in and take away…what kind of rider are you? What kind of rider would you like to be?