Tag Archives: improving a rider

Gain control over your leg position, joints suppleness and weight distribution through the seat

You will need fluffy socks for this one.

It was Mariana who first shared this exercise with you on here and ever since I’ve been looking forward to trying it with a suitable “rider-subject” 😉 It’s ingenious in its simplicity as it simply takes rider’s awareness of the stirrup iron – ball of foot connection to the next level.

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You might think, stirrups are not that important for the good seat, but there is this curious desire in many riders to let that very seemingly unnecessary stirrup dictate their leg position.
When the rider becomes tuned in to the placement of the stirrup iron, they can in turn dictate the position of the stirrup leathers and the iron through small changes in weight distribution through the thighs and lower leg.
The other benefits include improved suppleness through ankle joints and a better command of the foot in general.
I loved the effect this exercise had on my rider.

Genius and simple.

If you do try it, please share your observations – there are many little aspects of joint use that become apparent in this exercise 🙂 

Wiola

How to jot down meaningful notes after lessons/rides

How many times have you gotten off a horse after your lesson or ride thinking about something that really worked well or made your horse feel great? Or perhaps vice versa, how many times have you finished the lesson or a ride thinking it didn’t go as well as you hoped? Have you told yourself “oh I must remember not to do that at this moment in the ride” or “Ahh that’s what gets his trot better”, “that’s how I can ride sitting trot in a more supple way” etc ?

Now, how easy was it to remember those thoughts until your next lesson or ride? How easy was it to constructively use your thoughts to improve in next lesson/ride?

If the answer is “not easy” you might want to start a habit of 5min-reflection-time. It really doesn’t have to be complicated and if you on’t like writing you can record yourself on your phone or even make a short video with your thoughts just for yourself after each training session. You will be amazed at the results…

When I started doing little online coaching sessions in 2010/11 I created a short print out for my long distance clients which I titled: “After Training Reflections Notes”. 

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The 2011 version of the After Training Reflection Notes

I noticed, probably unsurprisingly, that the riders who took 5-10 minutes to sit and jot the notes down after lessons, were able to not only progress faster but they developed a thinking rider mentality which allowed them to be much more independent and efficient in their riding. I also found the simple reflection method to be invaluable for any instructor who cares about improvement of own coaching skills.

I based the 2011 notes on a very simple model of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle which can be illustrated as below:

Gibbs PDF
Image source: eportfolio.qmu.ac.uk Believed to be free to use but if you are an owner and would like me to take it down please let me know and I will remove immediately.

I have updated the Reflection Notes pdf and will be sending a downloadable 2014 version of it with 1st November Newsletter so if you would like to get your hands on it, sign up HERE for free 🙂

If you would like to learn more about the use of reflective practice check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_practice

If you are an instructor/coach you might like this tool to practice more thorough reflection: http://www.sportscoachuk.org/sites/default/files/scuk_learning_v3.swf

And if you would like to read a more comprehensive article about reflection in sports, check this article: https://www.sportscoachuk.org/sites/default/files/Reflective-Practice-Report_0.pdf

The language of aids – are we making things unnecessarily difficult?

Just a quick-ish post today on something that I’ve been pondering on for the last few years when analysing different teaching methods and tweaking my own.

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I am going to hazard a statement that the only truly difficult and time consuming skill of all the riding skills is the development of a functional and horse friendly seat. Once the rider sits well (not just visually well – although let’s not discount that – but functionally well), the rest is down to hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks and years upon years of patient and well directed practice of imagination, understanding of horse’s locomotion, common sense and body awareness in motion.

My image of technically good seat is like a well put together watch where all the turbines and screws do their work as if by magic. From my experience and observations riders become frustrated most often by an inability to perform certain movements well or get certain amount of effort out from the horse. It’s not so much that they don’t know what to do…sometimes they even know vast amount of theory on exactly how to do what they want doing.

To make things picture rich, let’s assume a horse has that “seat” to master too…the horse’s seat (way of carrying oneself, way of shifting weight from side to side and from front to back) also develops over time and is most difficult skill for him. Not the moving away from the leg, not halting square, not stepping under upon leg cue. It’s the “seat” – the basic ability to remain in own balance with rider’s weight on board in all gaits, all turns, all circles – that’s potentially most difficult skill.

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The issue arises when the rider (or horse) attempts something they have no turbines and screws for in the first place – in own seat and also in horse’s “seat”…Putting together the latter takes time and in horse riding language that equals hours in different saddles, on different backs, on differently pushing hindlegs. Similarly, the horse develops his posture through being ridden by rider with a better and better seat, the weight he carries becomes his best and intricate balance indicator rather than a burden. Eventually, the horse can potentially achieve better precision, rhythm, cadence, quality of steps with the rider than without one…

You know the old dealer trick that rider can make any horse look lame (er) or sound (er)? If we agree that skilled riding was about precise and effective weight shift, the rider’s ability to create (or damage) certain movement pattern shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Language of aids

All that seat development is like nursery, pre-school and primary school put together. Rider and horse work on their “seat” in similar ways to us learning to write letters, then sentences. From time to time, there would be a child out there who writes beautiful poems, play extraordinary music, wins professional golf tournaments and maybe even writes stories at the age of 9. However, we wouldn’t change entire schooling system to match that benchmark…From time to time, there are riders and horses that seem to flow together without apparent effort, time investment and long practice. Should this mean that hundreds of other riders and horses ought to jump the 2-3 or so years of decent seat development?

As riders and instructors we can make things very difficult both for our horses and our pupils by asking them to speak a language they have no words for. We can also make things extremely frustrating for ourselves…

Seat differences

Sometimes I am asked what I think about that and this riders’ seat and although a beautifully sat rider with even body proportions might always look nicer on a horse than one with very short legs and long torso, it’s not that visual seat development that I am chatting about here.

bridle and gym ball

Some people have terrible hand writing yet write beautiful stories…Some have incredible calligraphy that never produces more than a pretty looking word…Good seat and language shows in the quality of work of the horse and in the harmony between horse and rider.

We might have different levels of that work and different levels of that harmony from a beginner to an advanced professional but when I start teaching someone I look at building those words first (seat skills) rather than ask for essays. This means I like to explore many avenues of skills acquisition and I might ask more experienced riders to do seemingly unrelated exercises but it’s really interesting to see the results of well thought out play 🙂

So, how’re your aids’ language skills? Do you know why some riding sessions are frustrating for you? 

All the best,

Wiola

www.aspir1.wix.com/aspireequestrian2014

Photo report from Aspire Grassroots Clinic at Lindrick Livery, Ripon, North Yorkshire

I have just returned from teaching on Aspire Grassroots clinic at Lindrick Livery and what a great weekend that was! I hope the pictures tell the story well and that you enjoy the wonderful set of them taken by Ceri of Pure Essence Photography (Check her website HERE if you would like to book a photo shoot 🙂 ) I will be writing more about the exercises shown on below pictures in Aspire’s bi-monthly newsletter coming up on the 14th October so if you would like to read some of my thoughts on those simple body awareness techniques, sign up HERE 🙂

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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either sides). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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Fabulous, little 3 year old ex-racehorse in early stages of re-training. Learning to move like a riding horse.
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Addressing posture and effectiveness of the leg
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Intro to an exercise which helps with control of the horse’s shoulders
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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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When we sit on a moving horse, we don’t always feel how physics and motion disorganise our position and as a result destroy our balance. Testing Olivia’s front to back stability here.
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When schooling we communicate with a horse via diagonal aids (inside leg – outside rein, outside leg – inside rein) to help with balancing the horse (prevent over use of either side). For this communication to work well, we need to be aware of cross-coordination in our own body…
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Introduction to a simple yet powerful exercise: “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
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Awareness of own crookedness is a first step to understanding schooling of the horse – simple exercises can awake muscles that we didn’t know existed 🙂
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Learning about horse’s posture via becoming a horse 😉
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Another version of the “monkey” position – which helps with getting the idea that joints (hip, knee, ankle, elbow, shoulder) need to be relaxed for the posture to become effective, it’s the muscles that need to work…
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In-hand work to help with crookedness
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3 year old ex-racehorse Casper learning to yield from the “leg” in-hand
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Laura having a go at “monkey” exercise
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Searching for strengths and weaknesses in rider’s body as far as balance in the saddle is concerned 🙂
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Cantering on foot to address excessive shoulder movement – fun and very effective to build awareness 🙂
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As Ceri, the author of the photos said “Never too early to start 😉 ” My cracking little client – grand age of 5 – on his pony, preparing for simple and fun coordination exercises.
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Everybody understand various instructions differently. How do you soften your hand/elbow/shoulder? What does it mean “give” with your hand? Here Louise is feeling the difference between locked and “soft” elbow.
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Quick video feedback before proceeding with exercises. Visual feedback never lies and helps immensely with speeding up learning process.
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Every movement of the horse needs to be absorbed by rider’s joints. If one or more joints “block” the motion, harmony can’t be achieved. Here the rider is experimenting with passive joint movement to determine which of her joints (hip, knee or ankle) is the one she blocks the movement with.
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Learning to move on large circles in balance and relaxed posture without the rider. A 3 year old ex-race horse Casper – I can’t wait to watch his improvement over months to come. He has wonderful brain and fantastic attitude.
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Learning how rider’s crookedness affects turns and circles – and finding ways to correct a few issues 🙂
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Short in-hand sessions for 3 year old Thoroughbred, Casper.
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Posing with a lovely young rider and her wonderful pony, Mouse, who sadly decided not to smile with us here!
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Louise and the lovely Henry – great partnership! Henry is now 3 months into post kissing spine operation and looked and worked very well!

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If you would like to organise similar clinic at your yard, give Wiola a shout! Anyone welcome 🙂 More details below:

http://issuu.com/aspireeq/docs/aspire_grassroots_clinics_overview?e=8118509/9629742

Do you live in Yorkshire, UK? Please feel invited to our July Clinic at Lindrick Livery!

The lovely Lindrick Livery, one of the yards where we go to run our Grassroots Clinics have kindly opened the places up for outside riders for our July clinic there. If you live nearby and would like to join us, please don’t hesitate. All levels of riders are welcome, the only requirement is that you want to improve your riding and your horse’s way of working with you.

Many riders struggle with one thing or another for years and our clinics are designed to get to the bottom of the problem, chew it and enjoy the outcome. There are no quick fixes in our coaching and we never use any gadgets (although we might get creative with various props to improve rider’s body awareness 😉 but there might be many eureka moments instead!

Please see the poster below for info for outside riders and contact Ceri Dickinson to book your place.

Hope to meet some new local riders in July!

All the best,

Wiola

aspire Yorks

“Busy hands syndrome” and how to work on it…

Question:

If you are a more advanced rider: Would you be able to ride a good, round circle in trot or canter without the bit with your horse working correctly in a slightly rounded posture? Would your horse work “on the bit” without you acting on the reins other than retaining connection?

If you are a novice rider: Can you turn, stop, circle, change direction, leg-yield on your horse without using your hands as a dominant aid (imagine having no bit, would your horse go where you want it to go)?

If the answer is no to any of those questions you might want to read on…

Ventus and I circle
series of video frames showing a pony being ridden without the bit and allowed to chose his desired body posture on a 15m circle in canter. More about this picture in the post below…

Something that surfaces over and over again as a riding issue across all disciplines at pretty much any level is difficulty in keeping rider’s hands “quiet” and therefore not causing discomfort or having detrimental effects on the horse’s mouth.

The issue will have many shades and variables depending on rider’s experience and will vary from complete lack of independent hands, through hands that love to see-saw on horse’s mouth to keep its head “in” to more specific sins of contact like for example overusing inside hand in turns.

My way of working on rider’s “hands issue” has its origin in a simple belief:

YOUR HANDS WILL ALWAYS TRY TO CORRECT WHAT YOUR SEAT HASN’T SUCCEEDED IN ASKING FOR

Following this thought, “hands issue” is very rarely to do with hands themselves – at least in my experience – and pretty much everything to do with the seat skill set.

90% Seat 10% Hands

The kind of riding I like to teach, watch and do is one that doesn’t focus on pain response i.e. doesn’t abuse horse’s mouth in order to turn, stop, round the neck or engage. In other words I like to see 90% of rider’s seat/energy/thoughts and 10% of head placing through the reins or simply hand positioning. For this to be possible the rider needs to be able to successfully communicate with the horse through intricate pattern of slight muscular and weight adjustments that are correctly perceived by the horse.

With this in mind, I generally see 3 main causes of “hand problem”: 

1) Inadequate balance in the saddle (lack of independent, balanced, safe position in the saddle)

2) Low level of seat effectiveness (can be due to no. 1 point above but also due to incorrect schooling of the horse, laziness of the rider, horse’s soundness problems, tack issues to name a few)

3) Impatience (this I see most often in experienced/advanced riders and with complete beginners)

Sometimes the rider battles with all three causes at the same time or a combination of them. The first step in making a change is to determine the cause.

There are of course ways of working on the symptoms – like attaching a balance strap to the saddle and holding it throughout the ride – which do sometimes solve the problem by revealing real reasons for ‘handiness’ or simply by increasing rider’s confidence. However, if like me, you are a cause focused instructor or rider, you will want to widen your training plan a little.

Continue reading “Busy hands syndrome” and how to work on it…

Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider

Hello everyone! There’s been a few quiet days on the blog due to various things taking over my time but the daily posts are back now. Meet Wanessa, the brave new-ish guinea pig on my Aspire Video Library project and her 10 year old coloured mare which I will just call J. as her name is unpronounceable 😉

Wanessa is 17 and together with J. jumps at regional shows at 1m and sometimes 1.10m.  In our initial chat she said she has had problems with confidence when jumps get bigger and speed control as J. likes to take over and run onto the jumps. They have problems with J. liking a long spot too and with Wanessa’s indecision as to which take off spot to direct the mare to as they go over a course of jumps.

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29th July: Wanessa at her first session in which we define the starting point and things to work on…

Before you watch the below videos let’s have a think…

Motivated, keen riders often deal quite well with their own technique, riding style or methods and they go on to even have reasonable success at shows, winning or going clear. I believe that we have to be very weary of a difference between winning or doing well at a show and having training results.

I am fully aware this might sound a little controversial but here is why I think so. It’s not so difficult to do reasonably well at lower or even higher levels whilst skipping on own basics and/or have badly trained or fear trained horses. I am talking about show-jumping here. Dressage is somewhat more difficult to do well at under judges you respect if your training isn’t done correctly with long term soundness of your horse in mind.

Continue reading Where to start when you want to improve…Thoughts on building training plans & developing as a rider