We are a small training initiative so places on the programmes don’t come up often and when they do, they usually become taken by friends of riders already on the programmes. For the first time in a long while, I’d like to invite applications from riders who perhaps have not come across such an opportunity before and would like to experience the Aspire Equestrian adventures!
There are several places up for grabs this Spring thanks to fantastic owners I am lucky to work with who enjoy having sharers or loans on Academy programmes.
First go two absolutely fantastic ponies, Jack and Amber.
JACK – 13.2hh Welsh Section C. Available from 1st March 2018 (can be stabled at Northolt or Henley on Thames)
JACK IN A NUTSHELL
Super, versatile pony with a huge willingness to please. Sensitive but sensible, can be ridden by a child, lightweight teenager or a small adult. Jack is a true all-rounder, is easy to do, very affectionate and a true “people’s person”. Brave and spirited yet perfectly suitable for bitless and bareback training.
RIDER PROFILE FOR JACK
– be a caring, patient yet adventurous rider who enjoy developing own flatwork/dressage, jumping, cross-country, hacking skills;
– enjoy taking part in training outings, arena hires, Intensive Training Camps and/or low key unaffiliated shows
– 13 years or older and maximum 8st (younger riders possible if capable riders)
– happy to take Jack on a minimum of 6 months loan (ideally 1 year)
If you would like to chat through this opportunity please feel free to call Wiola on 0749 2202 400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Update 22/03/2018 ****AMBER IS NOW TAKEN*****
GRYFINDOR AMBER FLAME (AMBER) – 13.2hh Welsh Section C. Available from 20th March 2018
AMBER IN A NUTSHELL
Experienced, ex-competition, one in a million kind of pony with numerous Pony Club wins to her name in previous loan homes. Now a very capable schoolmistress, fantastic in the arena with less confident riders but still with plenty of exuberance with more adventurous ones.
RIDER PROFILE FOR AMBER
Amber is available for Start (complete beginner rider) programme or Foundation (novice rider) programme to give her a quieter life she now deserves. She is a fantastic, confidence giving pony with larger than life character and would be a wonderful friend to someone wanting to learn the foundations of riding skills with. Suitable for children 10 years +, small teenager or a small adult (maximum 8 stone for a learner rider).
This Summer Camp 2017 was the first one of upgraded versions of intensive training camps I have been organising in the last few years. We incorporated a training show into it with Life Savings as its Patron (more on the Show later), added sponsored awards and much more focus on the rider’s technique than ever before. I loved it and the riders seemed to as well. We already have bigger plans for next year but for now, let me reflect on this year’s experiences in stages…
DAY 2 – JUMPING SKILLS FOCUS
If you haven’t read DAY 1 reflections and would like to stay on track, here it is: RIDER FOCUS DAY 1
Day two was all about jumping skills. The morning sessions were based on tempo control for most riders with the demands adjusted to the individual riding skills.
Emma and Merehead
Aisha and Prince
Lauren and Gilly
Paige and Oscar
Hayley and Nugget
Myself with Hayley in the background
Hover over the photos for rider’s and horse’s names.
It has always been drummed into me that to jump well one needs a very good feel for tempo as well as be able to maintain the exact speed for several minutes at the time. Whilst this might seem like an easy task, many situations challenge that exactness. Turns, corners, circles, all have their bearing on horse’s balance, power/impulsion, energy level and straightness.
Exercise 1 asked the riders to be able to set a canter at the speed of 325 mpm and maintain it for 1 minute. We set a minute marker and roughly measured the 325 meters. After several goes, everyone nailed this exercise but the differences between tempo control on one rein and the other were quite significant for most combinations which I hope gave everyone a food for thought.
Kelly and Mojo
Emma and Merehead
Hover over the photos for rider’s and horse’s names.
On photo above, I am passing some branches with leaves to Gemma. Ozzy is a very laid back character and generating energy is not always his priority. I think finding what motivates each horse to move is the key. Kicking and generally escalating leg aids is my personal pet hate in riding solutions so I prefer to look outside of the box. Gemma went with the idea (another reason of many why she did get the Coach’s Award) and a little bit of forest around the shoulders did give Ozzy enough flair to allow the rider to improve his posture and way of going further.
Oncewe had the tempo on the flat under control, I added two cavaletti/small jumps, one on each side of the arena half way the long side of it. It’s interesting how even a tiny jump can affect all canter skills…My idea was to stay put until everyone got it as well as I thought they were capable of unless it meant over-working the horse. It worked and I was very pleased with everyone’s efforts.
I believe the good feel for the right kind of canter is a huge part of jumping skill and developing that in the riders is one of my top priorities whatever their level.
Throughout these exercises I added individual corrections to suit the goals each rider set for themselves before the Camp for the duration of the weekend. It was possibly one of the most influential training session of the Camp as I wanted to see if the riders were able to apply Friday’s lessons into their riding as well as staying focused on new demands.
The afternoon consisted of training sessions over a course & Training Show Round. This kind of show has been on my mind for a while and the Summer Camp 2017 provided a perfect testing grounds. I asked all riders to wear competition gear to get them in the right frame of mind 😉
I wanted to create a kind of show that would award partnership, style and performance in that order and I was assessing the riders in that exact order too. I do believe riding is a team sport of sorts – the team spirit between horse & rider should shine through every step on the course. I don’t mean here the vigorous whipping or other means of “hard” riding in order to get over a jump or any other methods that have fear or abuse at their roots. I don’t find it “class”, “brave”, “admirable” etc nor did I want to foster an environment in which the horse was some kind of an enemy to conquer over the course of jumps.
The style referred to rider’s seat and way of riding – again all adjusted to the individual skills level and I didn’t expect those riders who only started to jump to show any particular perfection ;). However, riding in balance with a horse is what personally drives me in my own improvement and I always strive to pass that mission on to everyone I teach.
Performance referred to results but not in terms of poles down but in terms of meeting personal goals for the horses and riders.
All rules of the show were set with this in mind.
The training round:
focused on practicing some component of skilful course riding: tempo control, control of balance in turns, maintaining suitable impulsion in canter in front of the jump and rider’s position and its influence on horse’s ability to jump well.
The show round – consisted of 2 phases:
phase 1: ride the course – “trial” round
dismount and watch your round on video straight away
10 minutes discussion on what was good and what could be done better
phase 2: ride the course – “show round”
Day 3 reflections with Cross Country, Dressage and Awards Ceremony coming soon 🙂
Earlier this year I decided to open several more places on the Academy programmes and it’s time to invite further 3 riders to join us! Place one – with Oscar.
Meet Oscar, 16.1hh, 6 year old Irish Sports Horse gelding owned by Paige Burford.
Oscar is a young horse with a history of a few serious injuries which means he requires sympathetic and thorough approach to training in order to help him develop further. He can be straightforward to ride on his good day and might need more rider’s guidance on his weaker days. He can be quirky but his behaviour is not dangerous, it is more of a schooling quirkiness than violent playfulness.
Rider Profile for this training place:
Oscar is available for the rider ready to join our Development Programme i.e. one who:
is aware of natural crookedness of every horse and how this affects their performance;
has stable basic seat in walk, trot and canter, stable light seat over poles/cavalleti and is happy jumping small jumps (2’6 to 3ft)
has a calm and patient attitude to schooling
has plenty of curiosity about how to help a horse work to its best and has a strong desire to learn more about schooling for soundness and longevity
is confident enough to be able to remain relaxed and calm when dealing with horse’s balance and straightness issues like falling in and out on turns and circles (no need to be gang – ho, simply being confident in own seat and balance is all Oscar needs)
loves solving schooling puzzles!
loves training and taking young horses out and about to learn more about life and compete from time to time at grassroots levels of dressage and/or jumping.
weekly lessons (more frequent training options also available)
opportunity to take Oscar to training trips (lessons at variety of venues – flatwork, jumping, XC)
Intensive Training Camps
How it Works
All Academy training for riders without own horses (or wanting to join in without own horse) is based on riders loaning or sharing suitable horses at the venue the training takes place. Availability of training places depends on availability of those horses. More information on our website http://www.aspireequestrianacademy.com. Please have a look around before contacting us so you can familiarise yourself with the coaching offer and decide if it’s for you. Happy to answer any questions and queries anytime 🙂
Available from: 1st July 2017
Minimum training commitment required: 3 months (but priority given to riders interested in long term training adventures)
Location: Northolt, West London/Middlesex (UB5)
Monthly loan/share: £80
Lessons: £40/lesson (minimum 4 lessons a month)
JOIN US 🙂 Please contact Wiola at email@example.com if you would like to organise a visit, meet Oscar and discuss the opportunity further.
Caitlin Thorpe on Nugget
Sofija Dubianskaja on Jack
Really good exercise for both young/inexperienced and older, more experienced horses as well as riders learning to jump.
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
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.
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.
For every horse, saddle type and rider there exist an optimum length of stirrups that brings the best out of the rider’s seat. For anyone who ever experimented with riding at various stirrup lengths will know that some options give better ability to follow movement, stay with it, stay secure, stay out of the horse’s way and let the horse do the job well.
Even for riders’ with zero interest in the biomechanics of the seat it will be clear when their reaction time is quicker, their back more supple, their joints more able to absorb movement, muscles more engaged where they need to be and more relaxed where they need to be.
Having said that, the below views on stirrups length are drawn from my own teaching of hundreds of riders according to my own preferred riding styles so it might not suit everyone 🙂
For relaxed, athletic experience, a jumping rider needs a decent range of motion in the seat. By that I mean:
conditions for a comfortable three point/full seat that is a little “lighter” than a full dressage seat but always able to have full influence on the horse’s balance (used when bringing the horse’s centre of gravity back in front of the jump for example)
conditions for a two point/light seat/”jumping position” – the seat where the rider is able to comfortably stay out of the saddle without compromising own balance and suppleness
conditions for supple, calm, balanced actual jump seat on take off, flight and landing that allows the horse to perform an uninterrupted jump
able to quickly yet calmly change between this three as and when needed
In the below video, which I put together for another post (you can read it HERE), you can see me riding an unknown horse over a few jumps from 1m to about 1m20/25. You can see that as I learn to find the right canter to each jump that will suit that horse our take off points change but I have enough security through my seat to be able to follow the horse reasonably well each time.
I often see riders riding quite long and struggling with effortless jump seat. If you are a Novice rider learning to jump, stirrups on a longer side, the length that you might hack in for example, are a good call. They give you a little more basic stability overall in case things don’t go to plan as you have “more of your legs” around the horse and you are only likely to be jumping small fences.
Shorter stirrups do come with more of an “eject” mode in case of trouble (as your legs come higher up and have less ability to hold) but to me, they are the preferred option for a more advanced rider. Shorter stirrup length helps close the hip and knee joints which can then open swiftly on the take off without unnecessary throwing of the upper body forwards (no leg work = upper body work to compensate). The “quieter” the seat, the better the jump.
I often hear riders saying about having an “unlucky pole down” but I was always taught that 99% of the time, there’s no such thing as an unlucky pole. Unless the jump wasn’t adjusted properly after another horse knocked it a bit or perhaps strong wind blew etc, there was something in the way the rider approached the jump or how the horse behaved in the air that threw that pole. The air time can be very much improved by the rider staying out of the horse’s part of the job.
Finding your own anatomically friendly “jumping angles” comes via trial and error. What might be visually correct, might not work in practice so it’s important to keep experimenting. Different shapes of the horse’s ribcage, different styles and shapes of the saddle and the size of the horse overall will all determine how to adjust the stirrup length.
To sum up, when assessing the rider’s stirrups length for jumping I look at:
their riding experience/skill
whether they can easily go into light seat and stay in it without problems in halt,walk,trot and canter for several minutes.
whether they can sit in the saddle in trot and canter and still have good command of the horse’s way of going (without unnecessary tension through their body)
whether they can happily change between the above seats every few strides when asked
This must be one of the easiest and most cost effective ways of transforming your plain jumps set into a proper colour and pattern challenge!
We’ve dressed several jumps with the Jumpstack and been using the covered bales for all sorts of jumping exercises both ridden and on the ground.
The covers for the bales made fantastic fillers, you just need a good tape to secure the openings as if your jumps are outdoors, the stickers that come with the covers won’t be strong enough to stay on.
The pole covers are great for transforming plain poles and do a super job used on raised poles as horses being vary of them, pick their feet up neatly.
We are looking into adding some yellow and green patterns now. It makes training interesting and helps the horses get used to variety of different jumping challenges. I find some fillers are more of a rider’s frighteners so it helps the riders to become accustomed to jumping more than simple poles.
The covered bales are also very handy for creating gymnastic set ups like small grids to work on technique – improving quality of the canter and rider’s position.
When used for groundwork, they provide a low level distraction for the horse habituating him/her to situations where they need to ignore slight worry and go forwards when asked.
Patricia over at The Dressage Tipster/The Crystal System invited me to guest blog for her fabulous blog so if you love jumping and would like to read a few of my thoughts on how useful dressage can be to avoid “unlucky poles down” or always landing on the wrong lead, read on:
If you are at a DIY yard or one without regular training option, I would love to invite you to try Aspire Grassroots Clinics at your location. One or Two and Three Day Clinics available for amateur, grassroots riders seeking professional, horse friendly and rider focused training that truly makes a difference.
Arm stiffness comes in various forms. Some riders ride with straight elbows which automatically stiffens not only the arms but the neck and shoulders. Some keep their hands very low almost beneath the pommel of the saddle closing their chests and perching forwards. Some lean back and stretch forwards through their arms as if wanting to reach the reins.
Whatever the visual representation of stiffness I am yet to meet a rider whose actual arms were the primary issue…So let’s look at where they might come from and what we can do to un-stiffen those arms.
DENTED SELF-CONFIDENCE or RELYING ON WRONG BODY PARTS FOR BALANCE
There is nothing that gives us more confidence than a hand on something even if we are to keep it there for reassurance. Picture this: right in the middle of your living room there is a wooden panel about 2.3ft wide. The panel lies flat on the floor and goes from door to the back wall. You are asked to walk on it without a step sideways for a hefty reward. You will likely find it pretty laughable that someone thinks you can’t walk on a wooden panel 2.3ft wide and wouldn’t think twice about going for it.
Now, picture this very same panel going over a bit of a ditch…
Many would still go across albeit slower and probably with some more attention to where they place their feet. Many would likely hold or just hover their hands on the ropes.
Now, picture no ropes on either side, just the wooden panel…just your body, your balance…and feel the hair at the back of your neck rise as you put your foot on the panel..
When you ride your horse that’s all you have – your body control, your confidence in it and your eyes for guidance. Rigid joints will make balance that more difficult and it will make the rider hang on to “their ropes” more and more at any sign of trouble.
WANTING TO KEEP “HANDS STILL”
Many riders become stiff armed riders because in their early education when their confidence in own balance was still low they either told themselves or were being repeatedly told to keep their hands still. They then try very hard to follow this command forever on but as they feel their bodies moving significantly when the horse moves they try to immobilise their wrists by going rigid in their arms.
If you are a rider who hears the above command a lot, first check if your elbows are bent. If they are not, then you are denying yourself a very important movement absorption mechanism. bend your elbows so they are just in front of your hip bones and then try to imagine that your hands need to be held in front of you in a box. This box is as wide as your horse’s bit and as high as it is wide. It’s lined with soft material so your hands feel warm, relaxed and cosy enough in there that they don’t want to leave much. There is just enough room inside for little movements left and right but not much up and down.
Whenever you need to use an opening rein or lift your hand a little, always return it to your little box.
TRAINING THOSE STIFF ARMS OUT OF THE RIDER
My personal belief and experience tell me that to improve rider’s arms we need to first improve rider’s confidence in own balance, centred position in the saddle and feel for movement.
There are many exercises we can employ here and I will share a few with you in case you would like to try:
1) Lateral sliding.
You need a helper for this to hold the horse and walk with him. First at halt, slide your seat to one side as if you wanted to clumsily get off the horse. One of your legs will be travelling towards the ground, the other will be hooked over the saddle. Once you can’t go any lower, pull yourself up using your hands on the pommel and own abdominal muscles. Go shallow slide at first, then as you get braver slide lower. Do it 10 times on each side (20 in total). This exercise helps very cunningly with rider’s ability to feel centred in the saddle, makes rider less worried about being moved from the centre and switches on the muscles that stabilise the upper body on left-right panel. Additionally it tires the arms muscles which then makes the rider want to relax them. Win – Win.
You can do this in walk and trot on a suitable horse and with an experienced helper.
Many riders only feel up-down motion of the sitting trot which they tend to control by holding on with their thighs and lower leg, going rigid in their hip joints and “wavy” in their spine. This amplifies discomfort and sense of insecurity or wobbliness so the arms tend to stiffen more as an after-effect.
Riding in a mini-trot (almost walk) gives the rider the feel for the three dimensional movement of the horse’s back (up-down and left-right). They can feel how each seat bone moves with slight independence of the other and how holding through their legs kills that little motion. I like to call this “oiling” the hips because when done well (no slouching, neutral spine, relaxed neck and centred position in the saddle) it has a fantastic supplying effect on the rider’s pelvis, especially when done after the sliding exercise. Slow motion of the mini-trot also gives the rider confidence to “let go of the ropes” and switch on the real balance keeper, their seat, their upper body.
3) Imaginary juggling
When in mini-trot I like to ask the rider to imagine they juggle something in front of them in the rhythm of the trot. I guide them in when and how to release through their elbow joint so they can feel the movement of the horse’s back not only in the seat bone and the hip joint on one side but also in their elbow on this same side. Once they can relax each elbow in this manner we do mini-juggling: moving hands up and down on alternate sides an inch up and an inch down. Although at first counter intuitive, the exercise teaches the rider that they can only achieve stillness through motion. They are often surprised to see on the video that the hands which they thought were moving (juggling) a lot they actually look still on the footage 🙂
For this you will need a Pilates ball (or something unstable to sit on), pair of reins (or dog’s leads, lead ropes, thin ropes) and someone willing to play the game with you!
Perhaps the most simple exercise is for the “rider” to close their eyes and establish a connection through the reins with the helper that is neither pulling nor slack. The helper will then move their own hands in various directions by using small movements, they can imitate the motion of horse’s neck in walk and canter or be totally random.
First, helper asks “the rider” to feel for those movements with straight, stiff elbows. Very quickly it is obvious that it won’t be possible.
Then “the rider” bends elbows and locks them rigidly by their sides – the effect will be felt also.
The actual rider behaviour can now be acted out here so the rider can sit in their usual riding position and test how much feel they have. If they ride with opened fingers they can try this now too to feel how helper’s hands motion reaches them with delay…
Once the rider starts discovering where to release tension in their arms to feel the movements easily and quickly, more seat exercises can be added using Pilates ball. “Rider” can do rising trot on it and re-test the connection again. Canter movements through the hips can also be practised and then confronted with feeling through the arms again.
Most often than not, stiff arm rider needs to supple up through their hips first, build their confidence in upper body position second and establish more secure seat overall as a third step.
5) Rising Canter
This is one of my favourite exercises with novice and advanced riders. It really improves joint suppleness in the rider, feel for rhythm, improves the quality of the canter (because rider feels loses of rhythm or impulsion straight away) and makes any rider more agile. It’s impossible to do a good, balanced rising canter on every stride if you are stiff in your knees or hip joints and once these release the arms also follow pretty quickly.
If you would like me to write more on rising canter, how I teach and see it on a video let me know and I will make a post on it as I don’t want this one to become too long.
To sum up…
Stiff arms start with a hidden stiffness somewhere in the “main” body. If you teach try not to correct rider’s arms but switch on your eagle eyes and search for rigid spots in the seat, positional faults (like chair seat) or general nervousness.
Many a time asking a rider with stiff arms to relax them is the same as asking them to walk with courage to the other side of that wooden plank bridge without holding on to the ropes. Balance first. Then suppleness.
It’s the same with any horse. Without basic balance, suppleness never improves.
Please share your own ways of dealing with stiff arms or rigid hands. Do you battle with this issue?