Tag Archives: seat training

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…


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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.

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.

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.

Friday Collage 1
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.

Friday Collage 2
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.  




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.)
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






About Stability (Core, Pelvis and Thighs Connection) in The Rider and Why To Work On It

How do I get my horse to move “more forward”, how do I get him to have “better impulsion”, how do I keep my lower legs from swinging forwards/backwards, how do I stop my horse from “falling in or out” through the shoulders and have a better balance – all these questions are some of the most commonly asked ones among many riders and so today I would like to chat about an important element riders might need to work on before being able to solve those issues. 


Our stability in the saddle or in other words being independent of horse’s actions yet harmonious with them, is probably a single most difficult and most important skill to acquire for anyone who wishes to school/train horses. It also determines how effective you will be on a horse that is already well schooled.

up and down 2a
Sometimes up…Sometimes down…The balance of the horse changes from stride to stride and even within the stride…as a rider, to be effective, we need to remain constant and not “allow” the horse to adversely affect our own balance. If we do become overly affected, we lose our ability to improve the horse’s balance. Photos from my own training. Portugal. September 2012.

When in the summer of 2011 I tried to ride a series of 7 one tempi changes across the long diagonal of the arena for the first time, I felt like I was competing for an Olympic Diving medal. My usually ok stability of the seat proved useless as the physics put the horse more and more downhill with each change, our line reminiscent of slalom giant and the reins going form lightly connected in canter to having stupid amount of weight attached to each. It took me several goes on that day to even complete the task in semi-acceptable manner without hitting the ground with our noses but as soon as I was off the horse I knew I needed to up the strength in my seat if I was to help the horse.

Several weeks of everyday focus on my stability on and off the horse helped me improve both my own and horse’s balance and we could do the changes with the mare staying lighter on the bit, happier and more relaxed. She was a schoolmistress and knew the job, it was up to me to work on myself so she could do the movements better. If I was to teach her those lines of changes, I would have to work much harder on my own skill at the time.

I tend to think that without stability, there is no true relaxation (try standing on a tennis ball on one foot with the other in the air…with practice you can relax the “redundant muscles” and only use the ones you really need to maintain your balance on the ball but at first you will very likely be employing way too much tension and effort. Once you can relax some muscles and only work the ones you need, your balance will feel much more effortless) .

Without relaxation there is no greater balance. Coming from this belief it is no wonder I put a lot of emphasis on seat training in all the riders who come to me wanting to improve their effectiveness.

How stable is stable enough?

You might ask, why do I need this hard earned, fantastic stability if I am not interested in ever riding movements that require high degree of coordination and balance from the horse? You will be right, you don’t need such a degree of it at all. If all you want is a healthy balanced horse doing low level dressage or jumping or hacking, you simply need to acquire enough stability to match requirements and needs of your horse.

Start and Foundation Level

For riders on my Start and Foundation level programmes (beginner to intermediate riders who work primarily on own skills rather than those who learn to school a horse) I focus on developing a thorough basic stability.

I do this by working on:

1) Core muscles: major and minor deep muscles of the torso and pelvis. There is so much about it all over the internet I won’t go into it now (but if you want me to do a post specifically on how I work on rider’s core muscles please let me know and I am happy to do so 🙂

2) Identifying and using rider’s thigh muscles correctly in order to:

a) be able to start using the thigh position and inner strength for maintaining own balance

b) teach the rider the meaning of the “seat” (core + pelvis + thighs)

Here’s my teaching routine: 

First of all I ask the rider to sit as relaxed as possible with their legs loosely dropped from their hips. This allows me to asses the natural tendencies in the rider’s body like perching forwards, leaning back, collapsing one way or the other, gripping etc It also gives me a chance to relate the rider’s built (like the length of the thighs, the proportions of their bodies: upper body to lower body etc) to the horse’s conformation, the saddle, the position of stirrup bars etc All those details will influence the rider’s position and later the way they influence the horse.

Once I have an idea about the above I ask them to find neutral pelvic position. I don’t think there is a text book image of this as everybody is different so the rider has to find its own neutral spinal alignment. I use posterior and anterior pelvic tilt to give the rider an idea about the two extremes, then help them find the one in between.

I then ask the rider to sit with what they perceive as a relaxed but toned upper body posture (when possible we practice this off-horse before moving on to the saddle), elongate their spine and maintain slight abdominal muscles engagement.

Then we move onto identifying different muscles around pelvis and thighs….

finding the muscles that stabilise1
On photos above you can see me helping the rider isolate different muscles so they can stabilise the leg (in this rider’s case, she needs to find the muscles that will stop her going into “chair seat”).

On photos above from left to right: I put my hand behind rider’s calf asking her to push against it as if she wanted to move my hand backwards. Then I draw her focus to the feel she gets when she pushes my hand back and how it engages her thigh muscles. I then place my hand in front of her toes and ask her to push against my palm again. These muscles are often much stronger than the latter. Finally, I place my forearm against her lower leg lightly and ask her to push against it with her lower leg outwards as if she wanted to take her whole thigh away from the saddle. This gives her feel for yet another set of muscles..

The muscles that I really want the riders to find are those that will almost instantly give them control over thigh position...Here is how I do so in the saddle: I ask the rider to palpate their hip bone and then slide their fingers to the side of it where they can feel a little dip/shallow shape. They are to keep a couple of fingers there. I then press my hand against their lower leg (as on the big photo on the collage above – excuse the quality, it’s taken from a video) and ask them to rotate their thigh bone inwards just a fraction and push against my hand outwards with the whole leg starting at the hip. This action moves whole thigh away from the saddle for a moment. Then I help the rider to achieve the same while keeping their legs gently touching the horse’s sides.

Sometimes it takes a few goes to do it right but when done correctly the rider can feel a tiny muscle belly popping up underneath their fingers. Once they can feel it, there starts the game of using those newly find muscles in motion 🙂 This little change brings huge results when it comes to rider effectiveness…

[I was taught this method by a Centred Riding instructor in 2003 and in 10 years I have been teaching this I am yet to meet a rider who, when corrected this way, did not improve their seat effectiveness and posture dramatically]. 

From my observations of riders learning to develop their seat as well as from analysing my own riding, no matter how strong the core muscles are, if we don’t use our thighs correctly (both in terms of position and muscle use) and then connect both the core, pelvis position and thigh use, we are going to struggle with seat effectiveness and stability.

Development and Performance level

For riders who school own horses or those who want to test themselves more, I work on dynamic stability more extensively including regular off-horse exercise routines. Even when done once a month by fairly leisure riders, they do bring very visible results!

Movement of the horse always unbalances the rider. It is up to us to what degree we will become unbalanced. Jumping, especially at speed (like XC), requires the rider to work on coordination, reaction time, independence of horse’s mistakes (a trip, left leg etc), confidence in own balance. All of these can be worked on off-horse to speed up the learning process…

My off horse workshops on very simple rider bio-mechanics games are designed to awaken rider’s balance skills. Apparently, and I quote a professional physiotherapist here, balance skills are one of those every single one of us can improve. Some of us have it naturally better developed, some less but they are not static in their status!

Below is an older video I took of two riders on Aspire Development Programme during their pre-XC work out on balance and stability. How we position each part of our bodies matters. The riders are playing and experimenting with different angles of their upper bodies and learning to remain in a “kneeling down” or “skiing” position at all times in order to maintain their independence of horse’s problems as well as to absorb the horse’s movement to the best of their abilities.

As you can see, it’s not easy 🙂

More experienced riders will appreciate how connecting their core use to pelvis stability to thigh use expands their feel and control of horse’s movement. How it helps improve throughness in the horse, this elusive big goal many dressage riders strive for.

One rider after she first tried it described it to me as a “feeling of all the insides of the horse” 😉 To me it feels like I could pick a horse up or place it left or right by their ribcage and guide them wherever I need them to be. It’s the feeling of control over impulsion in the horse, over own body parts, over contact…It’s the most incredible feeling as it allows you to be light yet shape the balance of the horse. It comes and goes and it doesn’t appear from nowhere. It takes a lot of work. Independent, supple and stable seat used with empathy is to me what makes a good rider.

How do you work on stability of your seat, core and thigh use? Do you? Do you think it matters? 

Until next time 🙂


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What are your plans for 15th of September?

Hello All!
Another of our Intensive Training Days is coming up on 15th of September. There are maximum of 4 places available (1 booked already so maximum 3 left) and the cost includes hire of horses, Racewood Equine Simulator, all facilities hire, all coaching, video feedback and some cookies if you deserve them 😉

15th Spt Poster
15th September

All levels welcome but most suitable for those riders who want to improve their skills and effectiveness.

Video from equine simulator session from our last Training Day at the venue:

Approximate times: 10am-5pm

Venue: Cullinghood Equestrian Centre (www.cullinghood.co.uk)
Cost: £200 per rider per day (BRING A FRIEND OFFER – rider who books with a friend receives £15 OFF each).

Message Wiola on aspire @ outlook . com for more information and booking. If you have never trained on Aspire Intensive Training Days and have any questions please email away, always happy to advise if this is suitable Day for you.

Feel free to share with friends!

To see some photos from the same venue from Aspire June Intensive Training Day see here