Tag Archives: rider training

A couple of exercise routines that can transform your riding feel

By Wiola Grabowska

Even though I am a big fan of off-horse training to improve riding feel (via a better i.e. more aware use of the rider’s body) and I have participated in various sports since childhood, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I actually felt it to be a necessary rather than a complimentary part of riding training.

Let me share a couple of routines from my Equestrian Pilates sessions with Natalie Monrowe that are really fun to try and play with 🙂

LYING DOWN ON A ROLLER

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I found it useful for: 

  • finding “neutral spine” which is a must for upper body control in the saddle. Many grassroots riders ride on horses with a “hollow back”. This often can give a feeling of sitting in a hammock which sends the rider’s lower leg forwards and shifts the overall weight of the rider behind the movement of the horse. This can be very slight and make consistent throughness tricky or be very obvious, like getting left behind in rising trot and ‘double bouncing’. Developing a good feel for own neutral spine can help the rider develop the same in their horses.

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  • pelvis stability. Lifting alternate legs shows various weaknesses in the use of core muscles which can be worked on separately.
  • neck and head alignment. Riders often struggle with their neck alignment (head down, too much left or right, straining neck forward etc) and I find this to be a very simple way to gather proprioception for the spinal alignment throughout entire spine (base of the neck to tailbone)
  • awareness of own straightness. Aligning the roller with own spine gives a very distinct feel of how much of each side of ribcage, shoulders, pelvis is on each side of it. Just lying down in this position for some time increases awareness of where your centre is and that is such an important skill to have when schooling horses of any level. Ability to maintain own straightness on a crooked horse in order to help them move better is the key not only to effectiveness but also to injury prevention (in both horse and rider)

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JUMPING POSITION ON A ROLLER 

 

I found it useful for: 

  • Balance 😉 As the roller moves a little it creates a situation in which we practice stability via mobility and that replicates the balance skills needed for riding. Standing on the floor is not quite cutting to the chase 😉
  • Awareness of weight distribution forward and back, left and right. One sided weaknesses have a strong voice in this exercise and provide a very good feedback to the rider
  • Independence of hand. Moving your arms in various directions without that movement affecting stability of the rest of the “seat” is important for jumping but also, in a miniature version of it – for all rein aids. Without suppleness in the arms it is very difficult to give supple rein influence. Many riders think they aren’t using reins for balance but it can be a real eye opener when you try to ride some movements without the reins. This allows you to check how much effectiveness there really is in the seat, how much we want to rely on the reins for corrections that ideally should be delegated to the seat aids and how switched on the horse is to the seat vs reins. Rein influence is important for overall connection but the less of it there is the more we can wake up our own seat aids. The more attentive the horse becomes to the seat, the more influence we have on small adjustments.

I do believe that the minute we sit on a horse for a purpose other than travel, we are training. No matter if it’s learning to do rising trot for the first time or polishing details of canter pirouettes. We are training our bodies so they are not a burden to the horse’s movement. A few minutes a day can transform that training 🙂

Many thanks to Boudica Equestrian for my fab “yard to gym” leggings 🙂 

How not to override but still be effective – an experiment in ‘active’ and ‘passive’ riding

 

By Wiola Grabowska

We can probably all relate to the situation in which a horse does more of what we don’t want the more we try the opposite and then “out of the blue” offers a behaviour we wanted when we no longer care about it.

It’s relatively “easy” to over-ride a horse with our aids without noticing as well as not to do enough to guide the horse into desired behaviour and we all do a bit of both now and then.

I’d like to chat with you about an exercise in ‘passive’ and ‘active’ riding.

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We often talk about effectiveness when training. I believe true effectiveness starts in ability to “not disturb” the horses in the job we are asking them to do…Whether on the flat, over poles or over the jumps.

When I say passive I don’t mean a slouching rider travelling on a horse but one who shadows horse’s movement while remaining as balanced as possible. This is often a much harder task for a rider than it seems because to follow every movement with every part of your seat without acting upon the horse in any way is much easier said than done. The biggest issue I find is riders’ ability to maintain an absolutely neutral rein connection – most common are two extremes: riders who feel the need to constantly fiddle and those who ride with dropped reins out of belief they interfere too much. Neutral, non-disturbing connection that can become meaningful is hardest to achieve but I believe forms a great starting point from which to start an influence that has biggest chances of acceptance (by the horse).

Conversely, when I say ‘active’ I don’t mean in any way ‘busy’ but simply becoming in charge of direction, speed, shape of the horse’s body, amount of impulsion he or she creates etc.

Here’s what we did at Aspire Equestrian Spring Camp 2018 (full blog post on the Camp coming up later this week)

The WHY

We work on the below skills in order to create a situation in which the horse finds our ideas easy to understand, logical to obey and enjoyable to partake in (assuming horses tend to gravitate towards harmonious movement).

The lesson objectives:

  • to increase awareness of degree of influence the rider’s actually have on a horse,
  • to increase awareness of “doing too much” or “not enough”,
  • to build a feel for moments when the rider needs to allow the horse to listen, understand and act without being “busy” with own posture
  • to increase awareness of “own anticipation”

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MEET THE RIDERS: Derek on Boo and Sasha on Ferris – the horses decided to travel from one corner of the arena to the other and sometimes just stood in one of them observing 😉

The how

I asked the riders to drop the reins and allow the horse to make choices about directions. The riders were to stay completely passive (as if they wanted to simply shadow the horse’s movement) yet stay in as good a balance as they could. They were to stay in walk and trot but act if horses became in any way unsafe.

Game on

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First of all it turned out to be a one funny session although I admit I did not plan it that way 😉 Horse that notoriously avoids corners for various reasons gravitated towards them like a magnet, the one we thought would be worried and stressed (an ex-racehorse) turned out to confidently stroll around, relaxed and happy leading the other horse most of the time. The mare that normally avoids the arena ends, took herself out of the arena and climbed a small mound 😉

I wanted to get the riders to feel how easy it is to anticipate something and how difficult it is to “do nothing at all”. For example approaching a corner most riders will have a set of automatic behaviours they don’t even think about that prepares the horse to turn. This can cause various muscle engagement patterns in the horse that leads to inverting away from corners, running on, avoiding bend/flexion etc etc I wanted the riders to make sure they listen to the feedback from the horse and it was much easier to do once they experienced the passive rider game.

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Second part of the session

I asked the riders to slowly include their influence but in a very tactful way i.e. do as little as possible but as much as necessary to ride certain figures and exercises I asked them to do. The difference in the horse’s attitude, relaxation and ease with which they did the exercises was significant. The riders found it very enjoyable and as we know, we do learn best when having fun 🙂

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Very good attempt at neutral rein connection in canter

Their handling on reins and frequency with which they used them improved too – the rider who tends to override rode with much more awareness of that and the one who tends to to leave the horse a bit too much without guidance, rode with more attention too.

Maintaining a perfectly neutral rein connection that neither drops or holds unnecessary tension in three basic paces of walk, trot and canter is a skill I consider one of the most important for all my Foundation & Development programme riders. Without that relaxed stability, rein aids rarely can be truly independent yet harmonious with the rest of the seat.

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Sasha in a very good attempt at following the contact in trot – she could perhaps show a little more carriage of the hands (as they dropped a bit here) to truly show that rider’s hips, elbows and shoulders are as supple as can be but very good job nevertheless.

Please note: One of the riders has taken up riding a year and half ago as an adult, the other had a 7 months old break from riding due to University commitments, both are very aware of their riding seat issues which we are working on so please try to avoid riding critique from the attached photos 🙂 

All photos in this post are copyright of Becky Bunce Photography and Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy

New training support group by Aspire Equestrian…

By Wiola Grabowska

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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

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Solarium
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

 

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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.

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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. 

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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

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INSTAGRAM POST

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

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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.

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Muscle therapy under the lamps after all the hard work 🙂

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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 🙂

screen-shot-2017-09-21-at-16-04-05.pngBRACKENHILL STUD: FULL, PART AND COMPETITION LIVERY AVAILABLE

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
Solarium
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.

Through coach’s eye: Post Summer Camp 2017 reflections. Day 1 of 3

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 1 – FRIDAY

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Emma on Merehead and Lou on Robyn – discussing seat effectiveness vs rider’s balance with great help of the mirrors 

Knowing the steps

In the process of putting together the content of this Camp, I came across a very clever way of describing skill acquisition. At first, everything we are trying to do seem IMPOSSIBLE. Whether it’s an ingrained asymmetry that prevents the rider from sitting well or a horse struggling with own straightness, everyone will have their “impossible’ tasks. In the process of training we convert the ‘impossible’ to POSSIBLE. 

But that’s only a start…Once a skill enters realm of ‘possible’ , it simultaneously begins a seemingly never ending journey towards EASY. There might be some strong reluctance in all of us to work for something very hard because it’s much cooler to just have a talent for something. Working hard is not a glamorous process that was advertised up to be. Even more problematically, converting the ‘possible’ to ‘easy’ takes a damn long time. Months and years.

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Building awareness of passive resistance vs pulling; finding muscles that replace the active backward pull on the reins. 

Then again, getting to easy is not the end of the road. It’s only a beginning of yet another stage of converting “easy’ into EFFORTLESS/ELEGANT. In riding, it would be that look where nothing seem to be happening yet a hell of a lot goes into that nothing. A whole history of impossible moments, buckets of “easy sweat” and years of patient refinement.

I personally find, through my teaching and riding experience, that the biggest frustrations come from the attitude that assumes that we can take an Impossible and make it into an Effortless/Elegant in ONE effort. This expectation of oneself and of the horse is what often causes such tension in either rider or a horse or both that it hinders their progress or stops their learning altogether.

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Aisha with Prince and Angela with Boo having their session in tropical rain 😉 

With all this in mind, I wanted the Friday sessions to be about letting the learning happen via slow start with some details explained in more depth followed by fast paced second part where you “just listened and did it” without too much analysis – just learning to catch moments and “feels” the horse offered, then analyse it later.

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Making small corrections, getting rid of “chair seat” and rein reliance tendencies. Possibly most “popular” seat fault out there but very much correctable with some decent focus. 

Taking the Steps

It might seem “easy” to just do things but it’s not. Many a time riders are more preoccupied with things they can’t do, things they were once taught/learnt by themselves, or questions they have in the very moment or focus on other hang ups unrelated to riding than giving another “unknown” feel a go.

Having said that, the Friday effort was fabulous. I was (happily) surprised many times that day because of the way above average application to the tasks. It definitely helps to get out from home arena and immerse oneself in a learning/fun environment.

Gemma, the rider on the bright bay (Ozzy) won the Coach’s Award at the end – she had put herself in the lead from that first Friday session and didn’t lose her focus or attitude until last minute of Sunday. Paige, the rider on the grey (Oscar), won Bronze Medal Award and had some superb breakthroughs with her riding on Friday. Kate, the rider on Welsh Pony, rode the ride of her life. If she continued her focus throughout the Camp I’d have had a hard time deciding on overall Trophy Winner 😉 

Converting goals into actionable steps

One of the tasks I always give a couple of weeks prior the Camps is goal setting. Each rider sets themselves some aims for the 3 days of training and once I receive them, I try to figure out how realistic they are in relation to timescale we have and if not possible to achieve in 3 days, what milestones or skills are best to focus on in order to get closer to those goals.

Once I have the above, I put together more detailed sessions content for each rider, match it with that of main idea for each day of the Camp and then match it again with closest goals of another rider (in order to put riders together in most compatible way).

Kelly and Mojo, the Silver Medal Award & Surprise Your Coach Award winners. Here on the Friday having some issues with sheep peacefully grazing in the field next to the arena 😉 The training photos are not great as Mojo never quite relaxed in that first session but it was possibly one of the hardest lessons for the rider in terms of the lessons tasks and she gave them a go with no excuses, ifs or buts. 

Own goals & challenges

Teaching groups is my biggest challenge, mostly mentally as I find it very hard to switch between varying learning styles especially if they are different from my own. In order to prepare better this time I put as many compatible riders together as I could (to create 2 to 4 riders sessions) in several weeks leading to the Camp and it definitely helped.

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Caitlin and Mollie (bay in royal blue) had an amazing start to the weekend with this Friday session but sadly circumstances out of their control put them out of running for the Awards (more on this later)

Bringing the best out of each horse & rider is probably most rewarding part of this job for me so running the same way of teaching for all seems like a waste of time. Another interesting aspect of the Camp scenario was that exercises themselves were often very similar, just the way we approached them differed.  

 

 

 

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Angela, my fantastic assistant for the Camp having a short lesson on Aisha’s Boo. We are searching for different feels through her leg here so she can figure out what position gives her best balance that is independent of any problems the horse’s might have in her posture. 

My main focus was on the following areas:

  • functional seat with core muscles working correctly to create stability – finding muscles that help with back to front stability and left to right stability;
  • integrity through entire leg, lower leg stability, use of thighs/role of thigh position and weight distribution through them in horse’s ability to work “over the back” , maintain rhythm and energy (use of thighs and core muscles for speed control);
  • passive resistance when using the reins;
  • “own” balance which allowed the rider to remain independent of the horse’s back hollowing/inverting as much as possible within riders’ current skill level;
  • connecting groundwork with ridden work in cases of severe resistance/misunderstanding/inability to follow rider’s aids;

Helping Merehead, an ex racehorse, to turn his outside right shoulder in order to improve his left turn. Converting groundwork to ridden work.

  • challenging the riders with tasks they found most difficult (as examples: turning from the seat on a strongly one-sided horse, canter-trot-canter transitions for riders who need to upgrade reaction time without becoming tenser by the minute in the process, light seat for riders with tendency to lose balance on a hollow horse etc.)

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Gilly being fresh and playful with Lauren 😉 It’s not a “keep me” photo but I wanted to include it because Lauren won Gold Medal Award for the Camp and one of the many reasons she did was because she overcome her nerves with this playful chap to the point where she gave him a lovely XC session on the last day 🙂 

Saturday Reflections coming very shortly: 

  • flatwork for jumping
  • jump seat balance
  • gridwork & course riding

Until then 🙂

All photos copyright: Becky Bunce Photography

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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 🙂 

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

Case Study: Re-educating rising trot

By Wiola Grabowska

A solid, correct biomechanics of a rising trot is probably the simplest way of encouraging the horse’s seeking reflexes and as a result, the elusive roudness over the back.

For all grassroots riders I teach, there is no escape from this and although I don’t tend to drill mechanically into a “perfect position”, the goal of a good, horse back friendly rising trot will never disappear from the lesson content until it’s sorted.

If you follow us on Instagram you will have seen the below two photos of Lauren. The third, bottom photo, is from this past weekend, 3rd June.

3 months apart lauren

Maintaining this position is not easy for Lauren and her perception of it is very different to the visual effect! In fact, she feels like she is diving over Gilly’s head with her upper body and that her lower leg is much further back than it really is.

This is normal as the brain gets used to the new movement patterns but over time, she will also be able to relax much more into this new position and it will feel much less alien.

The main reason I believe the correct rising trot to be one of the top basic riding skills is that it gives the novice rider a “seat tool”; it limits the use of reins for control and it allows the rider to build upon a robust, safe and functional foundations. 

Unbalanced rising trot, i.e. one where at various stages of the rise and sit the rider is not in own balance (not in control of lower leg, upper leg, upper body, energy of the rise etc) is incredibly common even in more advanced riders who are otherwise skilful and have a good feel and it’s a shame because it encourages head riding instead of back and hind quarters riding. It creates a hollow horse every stride the rider has to then “repair” somehow.

Lauren’s rising trot re-education happens via: 

  • gym ball exercises to help her with alignment, symmetry and proprioception

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  • lunge lessons with intensive corrections

Lauren 3rd June
You can see changes in Gilly’s posture, stride length and self carriage as Lauren makes changes to her seat: balance, alignment and matching Gilly’s stride with the enough energy & positive tone in herself

  • jumping lessons with exercises targeting lower leg stability like gridwork, pole work and light seat training in all paces
  • individual moments with me just observing and filming for Lauren to reflect on later

Super changes already and Gilly is definitely benefiting from them!

 

Gridwork: “Staircase” exercise

By Wiola Grabowska

Riders:
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.

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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!

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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

Rider’s Question: What length of reins should I ride with and how to develop the right feel for it

By Wiola Grabowska

Rider Question: “[…]thanks for my videos. Can we have a chat about rein length at some point […] They just always look so much longer than they feel on Gilly and look awful to me! I feel like it’s something I have the wrong feel for and need to fix.[…]”

Mairi and Gilly blog post
A frame from the lesson the rider is referring to

Video feedback forms an important part of all the lessons I do and I try to send some footage to every rider at least a couple of times a month. Those videos are then open for discussion and I encourage the riders to send me their observations and thoughts on what they see on videos vs what they felt when the rode. I think it helps with being self-critical in a constructive way, reflect on what happened and how it happened. The “reins length” question is very common and in fact is asked often in the search function for this blog so I asked Mairi if I could use her session and her question to discuss this at more length (no pun intended here 😉 ).

She agreed so here we go. Remember that these thoughts might not apply to all riders and all horses. Just take out what you feel might be useful.

First, have a look at the frames below. They are taken at random out a 1min footage and rider’s reins do not change length significantly at any time…:

Mairi and Gilly length of reins
Notice variety of postures Gilly is offering on the same length of reins depending on his balance….

The interesting aspect of this session was that it was what you might call, a breakthrough session. There are some elements which we are training for and Mairi got a “real life” feel for them rather than only understanding them in theory.

I personally was not at all concerned  about her rein length during this session and at the stage we are at so her question made me think…

  • why the length of reins was the element she most noticed while watching the video?
  • why it looks “awful” to her and why?
  • what “feel” do we need to build up for her to make further progress

Some considerations when deciding on the “right” length of reins: 

  • do they create a neutral, supple, steady connection (not yet “contact” as that’s what the horse gives the rider not vice-versa) i.e. the rein is neither slack nor taut/pulling nor changes in between one option to the other from step to step.
  • do they allow the horse to carry his neck in a posture that matches his current level of training and conformation. In terms of Dressage training, Mairi and Gilly are working towards a quality Preliminary level (British Dressage). This level asks for minimal of engagement, forward basic paces (medium walk, working trot, working canter), progressive transitions between gaits and basic body balance and alignement that makes the Preliminary “test shapes” easy to perform.
  • do they allow the rider to act with passive resistance or encourage the rider to pull back
  • is the rider able to help the horse with balance through the connection (ask for poll flexion or a half-halt) without unnecessarily busy hands

Mairi & Gilly’s case: 

  • the rider’s reins are a little too long at times but this is more due to her allowing them to slip between her fingers
  • her feel changes from “all good” to “my reins are too long” when Gilly lifts his head above the bit. As these moments are very short in real life but can be unsightly when watched on the video, her attention is drawn to those “washing lines reins” rather than other issues (like loses of rhythm, half – halt that came too late and cost them balance, her own upper body posture that is changing and affecting balance, the seat that can be a little behind the movement or in front of the movement which again affects balance and encourages Gilly to catch it by lifting his neck)
  • rider’s adjustments are done “in front” rather than “behind” – this means that the slack or heaviness of the rein is not a “rein issue”, it’s a balance and engine issue. If the energy produced by the hind legs is misdirected or insufficient, this will show in the quality of connection the rider has between their hands and the bit.

I like to tell the riders to try to feel the horse’s hind legs in their hands and by that I mean that they ask the horse to travel forward and then catch the energy from the hind legs with the bit. Carry the hands and let the horse’s neck relax into most natural and functional (allowing athletic movement) position for the particular horse. That’s the starting point.

To answer Mairi’s question: the way to learn to feel for the right rein length is to learn to feel balance in the whole horse. Once the rider truly feels how to balance the horse with seat aids, how to energise or calm the paces in order to help with that balance, how to truly ride forward without chasing/running and how to maintain own steadiness, then there is rarely any doubt as to what rein length to have. Simply shortening the reins might help in some cases, but not this one.

Sometimes what feels good, is good for that particular moment, even if visually it’s not yet ideal 🙂 Once Gilly’s balance improves and rider’s feel for that good balance improves, he will raise his shoulders/withers and will be able to work with shorter neck and shorter rein. At the moment, short rein causes him to react defensively, block the hind legs energy at the wither and become disconnected through his body.

In summary: the reins are a little too long but perfect for this stage of learning the feel and experimenting what’s right and what’s dysfunctional for this particular horse. 

ATTENTION ACADEMY RIDERS: I WILL ADD A SHORT VIDEO FROM THE SESSION IN OUR CLOSED FB GROUP TO ILLUSTRATE THE ABOVE POINTS FURTHER SO HEAD OVER THERE IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE MAIRI IN ACTION 😉