Tag Archives: horse training

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

Secret Language of Sweat Marks – Continued

By Wiola Grabowska

sweat-marksFive years ago I wrote this post – Secret Language of Sweat Marks – after teaching a lovely young rider who was sure her loaned horse’s saddle wasn’t fitting him very well but wasn’t sure what to look for. I wanted an easy way to describe to her what to look for and how to spot pressure points and areas of concern that were not immediately visible and so we went for taking photos of the horse’s back directly after the lesson.

There are now many articles out there talking about it issue very eloquently.

This post has since proved one of the most popular on here and I have received many messages about it. There are a few things about sweat patterns as well as structure / feel of the hair on the horse’s body that I didn’t mention at the time and that I reckon are worth mentioning so here we go!


There are horses that sweat profusely whatever they do and those that barely break any sweat whatever they do but observing the muscles that work hardest and therefore sweat more can be a good guide to how correct (biomechanically) the training is.

Repetitive marked presence of sweat alongside the horse’s lower neck muscles could indicate the horse is overusing those muscles in place of engaging the top of the neck musculature that assists in developing better self-carriage.

Sweat patches in front of the wither (base of the neck where many horse’s has atrophied muscles and a smaller of bigger “dip”) and over the middle and top of the neck could on the other hand point towards the fact that those muscles are the ones undertaking harder work and therefore increase in strength and functionality.

Having no clavicles, horse’s scapulas are suspended in a powerful muscle sling that has an ability to significantly lift the horse’s wither (think of those moments when your horse “grows a hand” when they see something that excites them). This anatomy detail means the front end conformation can appear unrecognisable when a green horse is compared to a more advanced one in their training.

Sweat over the shoulders might at first indicate “forehand driving” but it is also believed to be a sign of that powerful muscle sling being employed, especially in collected work (front end has a significant part in “lifting” the horse in collected work).


Observing the sweat patterns over the barrel (belly, lumbar area/flanks) helps in assessing whether the powerful core muscles are being used. Slight belly sweat and flanks sweat is believed to be a good sign of the right muscle chains being tasked.


Sweat over gluteal muscles and sweaty upper thighs are usually thought to be good indicators of an efforts being sustained in the rear engine but it is worth noting that too much localised sweating around stifles is not so desirable, especially if coupled with a feel of lack of power from the saddle.

Although many of these observations are of very old origin and quite possibly don’t apply to every horse working well, I personally see a fairly accurate correlation between functional work and sweat patterns, especially over the neck.

Have you ever observed sweat patterns of your own horse post training? Do they correlate with “the feel” the horse gave you in his/her ridden effort? 









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

TRAINING CASE STUDY: Loose Jumping 5 different horses – the set up, the results, the reflections; when to go higher, change and when to stop


By Wiola Grabowska in collaboration with Brackenhill Stud & Emma Brinkworth Eventing

Today we decided to loose jump several horses for different reasons and I will shortly describe them together with the goals for each.

  1. Ettie owned by Lou 

Warmblood mare recently purchased by one of the riders training with me regularly. She has good jumping breeding with some jumping experience. For Ettie the session was to add variety to her training, for us to assess her natural way of jumping, attitude and capabilities.

2. Repo owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Repo has very little bascule in his jumping under the saddle and jumps with pure take off power rather than technique. He also has a tendency to push stronger through one side of the body/one hind leg and drift strongly in flight when ridden. He has been loose jumped once or twice before. It is believed by some show-jumping trainers that lack of bascule can be improved via regular loose jumping over specific types of jumps and I have seen it used for this reason with success over several months of regular weekly sessions. The goal for today was to refresh Repo’s loose jumping memory and see how he feels over bigger jumps as Emma would like to step him up a level Eventing this season.

3. Merehead owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. Big, strong and powerful horse to jump he becomes very excited on the course. I personally was interested how he copes as he tends to lack confidence at times. He tends to over jump under the rider giving the jumps plenty of air but leaving his legs hanging. The goal with him was to assess his self-confidence as a jumper and observe whether ridden behaviours repeat themselves in free schooling.

4. Prince owned by a Livery client at Brackenhill Stud

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A mysterious “stopper” – very inconsistent in his jumping performance, Prince has days where he is terrified of polework exercises to days when he confidently jumps small courses of unknown jumps. He does regular groundwork and is responsive to the handler but has not been loose jumped before. The goal was to observe him without any interruption from the rider, assess his natural confidence without interference and see how he deals with the situation.

5. Ferris owned by Emma

Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. A ‘green’ riding horse, this was to be Ferris’ first loose jump session with the goal to add to his education, assess his uninterrupted jumping style, confidence and natural tendencies. He has done a few jump sessions over small single jumps and a small training course at home. His ridden jumping is very green but honest with variety in style/technique but with tendency to over jump and leave the cannons hanging.


I personally like if the horse lunges well and responds to body language of the handler without undue stress or worry. I like that the horse goes forwards when asked and slows down when asked and does so reliably as when jumps come into play the excitement can sometimes override training.

It’s a good practice to do 1-2 loose schooling sessions letting the horse trot and canter in the corridor (built alongside the wall with poles, stands, fillers) without anything in it yet to jump. The idea is to get the horse to travel in a calm manner through the corridor, maintaining rhythm and tempo.

If they tend to lose balance in the corners or go into them too deeply, it might help to put a pole on the ground across the corner to encourage smoother turns.


A line of two jumps: A placing plank 7m from x-pole/vertical followed by 11m distance to an oxer. I like to use a plank instead of a pole as a distance marker if at all possible because some horses become overexcited when loose schooled and can easily step on the pole and twist the leg/slide/lose balance. An old plank works great even when stepped on as is flat is unlikely to move anywhere.



  • great re-training tool for horses with difficult jumping habits (hollow back, dangling front leg(s), crooked jumping etc)
  • good introduction to jumping for young horses
  • develops a thinking, aware horse that learns to act on his tempo and adjust energy for efficient jumping efforts
  • re-establishing confidence in horse’s natural ability without influence of the rider
  • riders learn to “read” their horse’s movement on the approach, take off and landing which can improve harmony with the horse when mounted
  • riders learn to “read” the distance in relation to tempo by observing how the horse tackles different problems
  • riders learn to understand their own horse’s preferred jumping style which can help to decrease unnecessary interference
  • riders build own confidence in their horses’ ability to jump “by themselves” (especially good for riders who over-ride and try to “carry their horse over the jump”)
  • riders can observe and understand the biomechanics of the jumping horse, how they use their neck, back, shoulder so when mounted, the riders actions like sufficient give with the hand or not sitting down too early on landing, increase in meaning and importance.


Ettie – the mare started very wobbly in the line which initially consisted of poles on the ground for her to walk and trot over. She tended to overshot her approach and lacked focus over the first jump but after a few rounds her whole attitude changed and she improved to the point of a very straightforward jumps performed with easy to 1m20 (our wings don’t go higher).


She showed no issue with the height at all, it was the purposeful straightness that was missing at the start and made me keep the jumps small. I would;t hesitate to put the jumps higher for her if we had such option but for the goal of training diversity and athletic exercise going any higher isn’t necessary.

She was in the exercise for a total of 9 minutes during which she went from looking green to professional 😉 She either did it before or was simply rusty to start with or is a very quick learner with natural jumping ability.



Repo started very chaotic with haphazard turns to the line but he remained fairly calm and with a few adjustments to the set up to help him find a straighter line of approach he improved each round. His jumping style is very similar free schooling to ridden at this stage which could potentially improve with more free schooling sessions but his overall power allowed him to jump to the same height as Ettie successfully (clearing all the poles). I didn’t hesitate to go up the height with him because he showed a very good attitude to solving his problems, stayed calm despite a couple of serious mistakes and looked confident throughout. I feel he could really benefit from more specific, targeted exercises to address the bascule issue.

Repo’s session was about 11 minutes long with a couple of breaks to calm him down between the rounds and adjust the set up.

Snack break with Nicole. It helps to stop half way through the session so the horse has a chance to process what they are learning.


The big grey proved too excitable to do the exercise well and showed lack of stride control in the similar manner to his ridden behaviour. We ended up just trotting him over the x-poles and poles on the ground because there was no point him approaching the exercise at his chosen speed and without much focus. I feel he would really benefit from methodical free schooling work to help him build confidence in own abilities and body control. He is a master of faster but in a destructive way.


The most stressed of all the horses we schooled today, Prince showed very little self-control loose schooling which surprised me somewhat as he does regular groundwork. Definitely something to think about when checking how focused he really is in those sessions. He found being let loose very stressful and after a couple of wild rounds to a single x-pole we settled for just corridor training – calm walking through the set up. Prince is the type of horse with whom I would not attempt any loose jumping until he can calmly work free around the arena in walk, trot and canter. His adrenaline overtook him completely and continuing the exercise in such a state is counterproductive since no learning can happen then.

Prince coming around the corner to a single small x-pole with no balance and at too great a speed.


Ferris first go

Last to go Ferris proved to be calm around the arena and through flat corridor where he was first led in walk and jog. He remained receptive to us guiding him around and his technique improved within a few goes. He was reasonably eager to continue which we let him and he is a good lesson in how easy it is to over-do the good things. After a few educational rounds where he made a very honest effort we should have stopped him but we let him go that “one more time” where he lost momentum and stopped. We repeated over x-poles which he jumped well.

Ferris third go – much more awareness of front legs despite no change in the jump height

I think Ferris is a typical horse where exercise should be stopped even before we think it should. Calm and willing attitude can be a trap to unnecessary mistake so always stop before you think you should stop. All Ferris’ jumps well kept below 0.6m but his technique improved with each round.

To watch all the horses on short video clips see our Instagram account at @AspireAcademy; direct link: INSTAGRAM VIDEO: LOOSE JUMPING CASE STUDY

Big thank to Emma and her boys and Lou and Ettie for taking part, to Lou and Nicole for the help with handling the horses throughout the sessions and to Brackenhill Stud for hosting 🙂 


Gemma Hill: My two days training at Brackenhill Stud. Part 2: Day 2

By Gemma Hill

To read Day 1 – see HERE
ozzy grazing day 2

I arrived slightly earlier before my lesson to take ozzy for a grass walk just so he could stretch his legs after having a busy day the day before. After 20 minutes of grass it was then time to get ready so again I made use of the heat lamps just to warm his back up before our flat lesson.
Ozzy felt great when I got on and was walking around, he felt like he was stretching in his walk and felt looser, sometimes Ozzy tends to start with a disconnected walk so he gives the feeling that he is not quite connected and his stride gets short.

gem yellow 1
Again me and Wiola discussed what we the lesson aim was and for this lesson we was going to do a pole exercise to help with balance and canter rhythm. We had 4 poles out, one at each quarter of a circle, 2 of the poles were slightly raised. We did the exercise in trot to start with and then we did it once in canter each way. My first attempt in canter on both ways highlighted the areas in where both me and Ozzy struggle.

circle 1

On the right rein was where we struggled as his canter was more strung out and his turning on the right rein is more difficuault, as for me I tend to lean in a lot more on the right rein and Ozzy puts me in a position which when turning makes me rely more on the right rein then keeping him even in the contact and controlling more of his outside. On the left rein his canter wasn’t as strung out therefore by the second attempt he was able to find it a little easier and found his rhythm.

As a rider I found it difficult at the start as I was aiming for him to get over each raised pole and was trying to push him for a stride rather than just waiting and letting him find his own feet and balance, towards the end I got better at this and Ozzy became more established.
Because Ozzy found it harder on the right rein towards the end I put him in canter but on the outside of the circle so without going over the poles, he then settled into a canter where I could feel he was really trying and he had that bit more of a push from behind. He became a little on the forehand but I was able to support him a little more when he did this and was able to help him balance before returning back to trot.

gem yellow 4gem yellow 3gem yellow 2

I was super pleased with Ozzy at the end of this lesson as I have been working on his canter and felt that we had established it even if it was just for a brief moment it just showed that he is becoming stronger and with more patience it will all fall into place.
After working so hard, thanks to the staff at Brackenhill Stud they kindly agreed to allow Ozzy to go in one of the paddocks so he could have stretch and a roll for a few hours. Meanwhile while Ozzy got to have his wind down time, it was time to do some ball exercises to mimic my errors and how to correct them. One of the exercises was to correct my turning position so making sure my sternum stays inline with the withers, figuring out how to turn the body without turning before the horse.

Groundwork with Leo. We use a combination of classical in-hand work exercises and methods developed by Equitation Science International (www.esi-education.com)

After a few hours in the field, I got Ozzy in, gave him a groom and got ready for our next lesson. Our last lesson we had a joint lesson with Kelly and Mojo and for this lesson we planned to do some grid work. While Kelly was warming up and going through some exercises I gave Ozzy a long walk and a brief warm up as by this time he was tiring.
Gridwork is really hard for Ozzy as he is slightly on the forehand so when landing he has to recover quickly enough to make the next jump, it became even more of a challenge for him as we had some bounces included so here Ozzy had to be quicker with his legs and not to jump too flat. The first few times I felt like we were nose diving through them but it was about letting him figure out his feet and how he could make it more comfortable for himself. By the end he felt bit better as he didn’t feel like he was on the forehand as much and he was being quicker with his legs and more powerful.

I ended slightly earlier as I felt he had done well but also felt like he was tired, he had worked super well over the two days and gave every lesson 100%. There wasn’t any moment over the two days where he felt like he was working too hard. We finished the two days with big improvements and more tasks to work on until the next camp in November.

Thanks to everyone at Brackenhill for having us and thanks to Wiola for the lessons and making us work hard 🙂.

Gemma’s training stay award was co-sponsored by Brackenhill Stud, a Henley base for the Academy’s training. Big thank you to Emma Brinkworth and everyone at the Stud for making Gemma and Ozzy feel so welcome 🙂

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 16.04.05We have limited availability for Full/Part/Competition Livery at Brackenhill Stud in Henley-on-Thames, a well-established and beautiful yard with fantastic facilities.
Indoor arena with Martin Collins surface, full set of showjumps and viewing area
Superb hacking
All year turn out with options for individual and small group
Yard manager on site
Full kitchen and chill out room
Toilets and shower
Lorry parking
Onsite trainer
Option for BHS training
Competition preparation and grooming
Breaking and schooling
If you simply want to enjoy your horse and our superb hacking, or if you are a serious competitor we will cater for all of your equestrian needs in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with dedicated and knowledgeable staff.
Call Emma on 07557677163 for more information or to arrange a visit.

Gemma Hill: My two days training at Brackenhill Stud. Part 1: Day 1


By Gemma Hill



After winning the coach award at the Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy Summer Camp 2017, I booked my 2 day stay at Brackenhill Stud sponsored by the Stud and the Academy. I enjoy having the two days training sessions as Ozzy always comes away with a big improvement.

Our first lesson on our 2 day training stay was a flatwork lesson, we put Ozzy on a circle and talked about our aims for the lesson and what we were going to work on.


We talked about the contact being consistent and the push and reach which Ozzy creates from behind with his hind legs becoming more even. At the start it was about getting me to feel for which hind leg I felt Ozzy was pushing from more or if he felt like he was pushing evenly. We then worked on my position on a circle/turn to help Ozzy with his balance in order to allow him to have a better push.

The aim here was to improve both the rider feel for and the horse’s use of a positive thrust of energy from both hindlegs. I wanted Gem to gain better feel of Ozzy transferring the energy from his left hind all the way through left side of his body, over the poll and to the left rein and same on the right. In other words I wanted her to focus on throughness. We discussed the combinations of that energy transfer (in short: left hind to the left rein, right hind to the right rein, left hind to the right rein and right hind to the left rein i.e. direct and diagonal shifts/transfers) and how to improve on them in order to improve the quality of Ozzy’s working gaits. 

gem on app1
Illustrating the problem of “disconnect” of the rider’s outside side with the horse’s outside side by using Centaur Biomechanics “Objectivity” app. Simple and so useful, Gemma found it very helpful to see the issue on the screenshot with the lines applied and was able to make very good corrections that will need time to consolidate and become consistent. More on the app HERE

On turns and circles I have a tendency to turn before him and over turn my shoulders or lean inwards. I looked at a freeze photo from a video that Wiola took and from there we made the necessary changes.At first when I was waiting for Ozzy to turn before I did it felt like he was never going to turn but then chatting to Wiola it was just simply because Ozzy does everything in slow motion mode, so his turning was happening but not as fast as I was turning. The small correction then made Ozzy find a better way of going in order to allow him to be little more consistent while engaging from behind. Overall Ozzy felt like he had improved and that he tried really hard to make the changes, he felt more responsive to my aids and body positioning.

Our second lesson of the day was a jump lesson, I started warming up and Ozzy felt great, his reactions felt quicker and his trot felt more active and bigger. We did a small warm up as Wiola had planned some slightly trickier exercises for us to work through so I didn’t want him to be to tired, for those who don’t know Oz, he is quite a laid back guy anyway.

Ozzy day 1 jump

The exercise which was set up was poles which were set out as half a circle with “bounce” distance (3m) in between each pole. To start with we just cantered through the poles on a half circle to just see which rein was going to be harder for Ozzy and just so he could find his bearings. Wiola then started to make some of the poles on the half circle into jumps, the idea was for Ozzy to find his feet and just to treat the jumps as if they were poles on the floor and just try and maintain a good canter throughout as his canter is his weaker gait.

To watch a video of Ozzy doing this exercise, see Aspire Equestrian Instagram post: HERE

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 15.35.27

Surprisingly Ozzy didn’t feel like he was struggling as much as i thought through this exercise. His left rein was better than his right as on the right rein when jumping he doesn’t always land right, we came to the conclusion that i may have a slight twist while jumping to the right which makes it easier for him to land on the wrong lead, but we managed to get him to land correctly on the right lead at the end.

The second exercise we did was just a related distance down the long side of the school, it was set with 3 strides in-between an oxer and a vertical on comfortable 13.5m and the aim was to come off the left rein and make sure that we had a good enough canter around the turn so using what we learnt in the morning session and creating the power. Ozzy found this much easier and jumped super down the line, his canter after doing the half circle exercise felt more balanced especially around the turn to the first fence of the related.

ozzy day 1 oxer

He was then able to create enough energy after jumping the first fence to maintain his rhythm and to get a good stride to the second.

To watch Gemma and Ozzy in the second exercise, see Aspire Equestrian Instagram post HERE


We ended the lesson on that exercise as I felt Ozzy had used what we learnt from the morning session and the pole exercise and jumped really nicely.

gem solarium
Muscle therapy under the lamps after all the hard work 🙂
Ozzy solarium
Muscle therapy under the lamps after all the hard work 🙂


Read Part 2 HERE 🙂 

Gemma’s training stay award was co-sponsored by Brackenhill Stud, a Henley base for the Academy’s training. Big thank you to Emma Brinkworth and everyone at the Stud for making Gemma and Ozzy feel so welcome 🙂


We have limited availability for Full/Part/Competition Livery at Brackenhill Stud in Henley-on-Thames, a well-established and beautiful yard with fantastic facilities.
Indoor arena with Martin Collins surface, full set of showjumps and viewing area
Superb hacking
All year turn out with options for individual and small group
Yard manager on site
Full kitchen and chill out room
Toilets and shower
Lorry parking
Onsite trainer
Option for BHS training
Competition preparation and grooming
Breaking and schooling
If you simply want to enjoy your horse and our superb hacking, or if you are a serious competitor we will cater for all of your equestrian needs in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with dedicated and knowledgeable staff.
Call Emma on 07557677163 for more information or to arrange a visit.

A few notes and reflections from the training day with Luca Moneta Horsemanship

By Wiola Grabowska

It seems to me that the most difficult clinics, demos or forums to find are those that explore training methods which can produce a sports horse without traditional systems of dominance, submission and fear training.

It is one thing to train a well mannered happy hacker/typical pleasure horse with non-bullying methods, another to train a lower level eventer, show jumper or a dressage horse. Nearly every single CPD type event I have attended or training session I watched (some with top national/international trainers and riders) in the last five years used some form of “must do as told right now” method whether in foundation training of the horse or later in specialised schooling.

I personally dabbed in many different ways of schooling horses during my twenty + years of active involvement in this industry and I became plain bored with many and demoralised by most of them. The perpetuating nature of the UK coach training system where changes are hard to implement straight away added to my professional frustration.  Ever since setting up the Academy 7 years ago I have wanted to get to know many other ways of combining thorough foundation training of a horse with its athletic training for grassroots sports. Searching outside of mainstream took me on a great learning journey and I feel like it will probably never end.

Today, I will share a few notes from a clinic with an International Show Jumper – Luca Moneta.

Luca Moneta1

Nicknamed the ‘Carrot Man’ due to him using Parelli Natural Horsemanship tools in his training, Luca Moneta is currently one of the top show jumping riders in the world. I read this interview with him several years ago (to read see: The World of Show Jumping – Luca Moneta) and his methods intrigued me because I have not come across anyone combining any form of “natural horsemanship” at top level of show jumping before.

I used “natural horsemanship” term in inverted commas because many a time, it’s simply common sense, understanding of how horses learn and interact with us and how to communicate with them so both parties understand each other. It so happens, there are people branding those concepts. 

The clinic consisted of two days training, day one being round pen focused and day two was a continuation of foundation training but on the flat and over jumps. The riders riding in the clinic were of varied standards from novice to coach/competition rider level.

I didn’t attend the Day one but as I am familiar with the concepts it didn’t seem a problem for me to follow the continuation on Day two.

Simple (but not necessarily easy) 


Luca’s training method is simple: everything we do with the horses must makes sense to them, keep them calm, focused, light and responsive.

The day started with groundwork which was alike a fast version of the in-hand work I know. Turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, rein-back, go, stop but all in a much quicker succession, more attention to release under stronger “pressure”.


It was especially interesting to watch the riders who were unfamiliar with the concept and who attempted the work on the ground. I am not surprised that methods like Parelli often have bad opinion when witnessed at various livery yards because quite frankly, when the rider is just learning the timing and reactions, it isn’t a nice viewing. However, Luca worked with each horse by himself too and the importance of quiet, non-emotional approach was immediately clear as was the relief and relaxation in the horse’s bodies following his work.


“The more the horse doesn’t respond, the more he is showing us that there is a problem. The more we ignore the problem and leave the horse alone, the bigger the horse’s problem become.”

In real life terms this might mean never letting the horse run after the jump, never letting them become emotionally distressed with the situation to the point of no response.

“We need to help the horse come back from that emotional situation.”


He also puts big emphasis on the rider being quiet in the saddle. He likes limited amount of aids with full results. One of the tasks the riders faced was to carry a young rider on their back. At first the girl was told to just sit quiet while Luca gave commands – go forwards, turn left, turn right, back up. Then the girl was asked to become “busy”, lean left and right and back as much as she wanted which immediately disturbed every single step of the person carrying her.

The jumping work was all based around light, quick and calm responses. If you had a light and quick response but the horse was stressed, you need to try again. And again. Until you learn to combine all three elements.





Whilst all the above was familiar to me and it was just very interesting to watch the logistics of teaching it and doing it from a slightly different angle, one element of the day really stood out for me and I wish I learnt his way of looking at it sooner (when I rode competitively myself). 

Luca discussed the feel the rider has in front of the jump as he was setting a small course  for the riders. He told them they must know when a particular jump was making them scared and tell him to lower it. He said they needed to know how to control their emotions in front of the jump and not take on an impossible challenge. However, when they felt a reasonable level of challenge, they needed to keep coming until they learnt to control the emotions (nerves, excitement etc) in themselves and in the horses.

He described one way of thinking about it: 

You normally think that in Show Jumping there is a horse and there is a jump. But you can also think like this. There is no horse and no jump. There’s just energy. My energy, the energy of the horse and the energy of the jump. I just send the energy of the horse in the line that puts the jump in the middle. Then the energy of the horse will tell me, I am confident, I respond light, quick and relaxed, that’s it. But maybe we find resistance in this energy, maybe the horse arrives at the fence and stops. Maybe he will try to avoid the jump. Then I just teach them that it’s all about going straight on, on that line of energy, back to basics.

Super day and a privilege to learn from people like Luca Moneta.

P.S. Huge thank you to Mairi for arranging for my ticket for this clinic for my birthday 🙂 

Mairi and one of the horses taking part in the clinic – a Lusitano x TB, 20 years young

Gridwork: “Staircase” exercise

By Wiola Grabowska

Caitlin Thorpe on Nugget
Sofija Dubianskaja on Jack

Who for

Really good exercise for both young/inexperienced and older, more experienced horses as well as riders learning to jump.

Blog sofija1
Sofija and Jack. You can watch them in action over this exercise on our Instagram video: Sofija and Jack

Benefits for the horse

  • improves athleticism & reaction time
  • encourages the flexion and “tucking in” of the pelvis to produce a better bascule over the jump over time
  • quickens reactions of “slow” horses
  • encourages thinking and focus in “quick” horses

Benefits for the rider

  • focuses the rider on straightness on the approach and in the grid
  • improves the jumping seat as it magnifies any issues like unstable lower leg, busy upper body, fixed hand, stiff knees, overall anxious behaviour between the jumps to name a few
  • teaches the rider to stay out of the way of the jumping horse
  • is fun!
collage Caitlin and Nugget
Caitlin and Nugget. An ex-racehorse, Nugget has a very different jumping style to Jack, is slower through the grid and with repetition this exercise can be very useful for him to help him jump less hollow and with quicker reaction time. For Caitlin it was a great exercise to improve her jump seat. To see them on video, check Aspire Instagram here: Caitlin and Nugget

The set up

You’ll need three jumps of which the first and the last can be in form of cavaletti as they won’t be changing heights and should be kept low (60cm is plenty).

The distances between the jumps are bounce distances and need to again be adjusted to individual horse. I usually set mine at 3.5m.

Caitlin and Nugget 2

In this exercise you don’t want to be increasing the distance but it can be beneficial to shorten it to encourage a more experienced horse to work harder.

The middle jump can be adjusted in height to suit the experience of the horse and rider but should be higher than the other two to create a “staircase” like effort. Or think of dolphins jumping in and out of the sea 😉

If you do go for a higher middle jump (like I set for Jack and Sofija) don’t additionally shorten the distances because a bigger jump produced by the horse will automatically land him closer to the next element.

Have fun 🙂

Jack landing

Schooling a “difficult” horse – defence, vulnerability, trial and error

By Wiola Grabowska
I had this post in a draft form for some weeks now but wasn’t sure if to post it. It’s tricky to make oneself clear on a wide subject such as this one. However, last week’s message from the owner of the pony featured here made me think that perhaps I should just tweak the content and let the post go live…

Last week I received a message from an owner of a pony I’d been schooling twice a week for about a year and a half. The pony was seen by his regular physiotherapist and for the first time since we started his “getting better programme” there was nothing specific for the physio to work on. It’s the sort of message I was hoping for since taking the pony on as he’d been one of the more “difficult” cases I have ever worked with.

April19th – stretching after canter work

The meaning of “difficult”…

What I mean by difficult here has nothing to do with the pony being dangerous. The difficulty lied in the fact he had (and still has but we will get to this later) so many ingrained defence mechanisms that most exercises or even simple things like trotting or cantering around the arena in a balanced posture, were impossible for him. Thankfully, he is a small pony as the extent of his crookedness and evasions in the decent size horse would be a much harder task to tackle.

At the time we met, Jack was a strongly inverted, incredibly one-sided with very high neck carriage, fairly spooky and quite anxious pony in the arena but very loveable on the ground, very people oriented and despite his issues, very willing to “do something”.

Getting the basics right

For about a year I worked him with emphasis on relaxation and straightness with combination of ridden and in-hand work and together with his owner doing her best to match all I was doing and the physio helping us re-educate his odd movement patterns, we made a fairly good progress.

The true breakthrough in my work with him though came when I realised the extent of his defence patterns.

Making mistakes

About six months ago, I had an incredible ride on Jack. I was riding him a bit more for a couple of weeks and at some point it was as if he said, ok I get it, you do this I do that, I relax my back you sit quiet. I said to Jack’s owner that wow, I think we fixed the canter.

But then I made a mistake – I expected him to pick up in the next session from how we left off. Even though I know full well not to ever do that. It was a costly mistake but one that eventually led me to discover how deep the problem sat and what I needed to do about it. This kind of get it – lose it game is part of the reason I encourage all the riders to experiment and make mistakes because without them there is no learning, just military drilling.

“Defence – the action of defending from or resisting attack”

Jack with his owner at my Intensive Training Camp – end of April 2017

I pushed his schooling on and lost him for some weeks again but I had my answer. “Schooling posture”/Dressage posture (however you want to call it)  is for a horse a vulnerable posture. It’s a posture and a way of moving where the horse allows the rider to influence and instigate change. It’s relaxed yet active. How often would you allow someone else to tell you what and how to do something? How to move your legs? How to hold your head?

Dressage posture is everything but flight readiness which is Jack’s preferred option.

In our own social interactions vulnerability is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally”. In simpler, less dramatic terms this can mean allowing someone to see that we want and need them in our life, and trusting them not to hurt us. The horse needs us to help them move better with us on their back but it also needs some level of confidence to believe we are going to be fair. I don’t mean to anthropomorphise horses but we are humans after all and comparisons can help get the head around a problem.

Some horses are very trusting and being vulnerable comes at what seems a small price. So small in fact we don’t ever think about “offending them”. Others seem to see everything we do on them as an attack and that is more of a Jack’s mentality.

The solution

I needed to be absolutely consistent and confident in everything I did with him from rein connection to amount of impulsion. No chancing, no random aids, no random questions. It seems obvious but if you think about it, how many times do we ask the horse to “go” in EXACTLY the same way? How many times do our left leg acts PRECISELY in the same way in every single step of a leg yield? How many times do we stop for a moment and ask for that halt EXACTLY the same? It’s the kind of focus riders at top level have but not when pleasure riding a 13.2hh pony 😉

I don’t have a grand prix rider body control nor the skills to repeat every movement exactly the same but the moment I became aware of the extent of the problem, I started seeing his reactions differently and came up with different ways of dealing with them.

I do realise that this mental side of training is often disregarded in many “horse training” articles or is considered a “soft” approach and somewhat inferior if we train for “sport”. If you do have a “difficult” horse that you think is in turn making your life difficult, it might help to look at how he might be perceiving the aids. Physical defence is what the rider is fighting but it starts way deeper than the skin and muscles level…

Jack is a work in progress and simply realising how to train further doesn’t mean he is “fixed”. He will never be as dependable under pressure as some less sensitive and less defensive horses but I am happy he is comfortable in himself now and gives both the owner, myself and his sharer plenty of good rides 🙂

A little Before & After fun with Ferris & Mojo

By Wiola Grabowska

Blog Mojo and Ferris
Mojo, owned by Kelly Hill – 8 years old AES Gelding, backed later in life and bought from the field in November 2016. Ferris, owned by Emma Brinkworth – 11 years old Thoroughbred, ex-steeplechaser, purchased in 2016 and rested in the field.

Biggest bonus of taking regular photos and videos is that we can go back and look at all the stages of development both in the horse and the rider. Whilst it is fun to compare and see the difference over time, it is also a good lesson when working with the next horse and rider.

Important thing to note here is that both Ferris and Mojo are owned by experienced, competent riders with a lot of riding feel and ability to act on many “green moments”.  They are both challenging in the best possible way, trainable yet with good own instincts  and I think we have a good understanding of what we want to achieve through working together. I do think this is important in any coaching situation.

Top photo: 29th April 2017. Aspire Equestrian Intensive Training Camp. Bottom photo: 22nd November 2016, first time Kelly rode Mojo with me.
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Bottom photos: Emma’s first lesson with me on Ferris 8th March 2017 and Ferris’ first flatwork session under the saddle since his “let down time”. Top two photos: 14th May 2017. Ferris being ridden by one of my young riders, Sasha Eastabrook.

Both Mojo and Ferris work in-hand regularly. Ferris with myself and Mojo with Kelly in lessons and individually. I believe it helps hugely with the horses’ understanding of training and its demands, both physically and mentally.

These comparisons shots are not to show what can be done in a short space of time because with a learner ride, the same horse might take five, six sometimes ten times longer to reach similar level of improvement.  However, this is a fun way of showing that regular training without any gadgets brings good results with seemingly ordinary horses.

I believe that wellness oriented training makes any horse more beautiful, athletic and able and I love being part of the process of getting there 🙂

Both of these horses are a work in progress. Don’t be fooled or discouraged as there are many not so perfect moments happening in their every day training 🙂 They are still learning, building the right muscles and gaining experiences. Hopefully in another several months time they will have learnt to move with even more balance, suppleness and spring in their steps!