Firing from top to bottom

When I’m training equestrians I try as much as possible to include full body exercises. Much as people like to say we just sit there any rider knows that to “just sit there” requires a lot of effort from your body.

When I discuss the foundations of a an effective rider it comes down to stable seat, shoulders and core. These areas need to be able to function alone and together effectively in order to have a good seat and hands that give clear, concise aids. So it makes sense to train this way off horse. 

A basic squat actually involves all of these elements in order to do it well. If you’re new to exercise/squatting take your feet hip width apart, turn your toes out slightly. Keep your heels on the floor, your chest up and open and squat down to at least 90 degrees with your thighs. Push back up to standing in the same form. To do that well took some effort right? 

Obviously legs and bum were used for the squat, but your back, shoulders and core had to keep you upright with an open chest.

If you’re ok with this adding weight either held at the front or on your back ups the challenge more. This can also start to highlight whether you turn one shoulder as you squat or use one leg more than the other. If you’re doing it squatting you can almost guarantee you do it whilst riding! 

Hence the need for the whole chain to learn to work together as the fault seen in the shoulder may not be the shoulder, it may be instability in the hip or it could be the core muscles not recruiting correctly. 

Many of these elements may work on their own but together there is a disconnect. I often tell my instructor as she goes intermittently from -w“hat’s your leg doing to what’s your right elbow doing” “you can have seat or shoulders you can’t have both!” Obviously that is not the answer I just need to work harder to get everything working together but it’s definitely still a work in progress for me; and gues what? The same pattern occurs when I’m in the gym. Individually my legs, shoulders and core work fine but when asked to work as a team…….. not so much!

So give this some thought when you’re planning your off horse workouts. Look for exercises that require stability and a recruitment pattern from head to foot and see what patterns you notice, what your strengths and weaknesses are and work to correct them off horse and feel the benefit on horse.


Why do riders need to be strong?

Every time you ride each muscle in your body needs to work to control and stabilise your joints.

As I have mentioned before, riding in neutral spine, with Shoulder, Hip, Heel alignment enables all of the joints of the body to line up correctly and therefore be in the best position absorb the movement of the horse beneath you. However they can't do this without the muscles to help hold them there.

The stronger those muscles are the better they will do this and the easier they will find it.

Add to this that as many riders have spent years being bashed about and thrown off, they inevitably carry a few injuries. The most common injuries i see in my clients are back, hip and knee injuries. The best way to manage and support these injuries both on and off horse is to build strong muscles to both support the joints and heal damaged tissues.

So, if you want to ride in true self carriage, in control of your aids and hopefully pain free the answer lies in building strong muscles.

I know we think that pushing wheelbarrows and carrying feed makes us strong but in reality the majority of us don't lift correctly and also favour one side making us asymmetrical and at risk of injury. Secondly, these activities don't make us full body functional strong.

If you're new to exercise a good Pilates class is a good place to start but for the strength seen in the likes of Charlotte Dujardin some proper weight lifting is required.

It doesn't need to be overly complicated or hours of training but some basic Barbell Squats, Deadlifts combined with a  Bent Over Row and Press Ups will start to build you a solid base from top to bottom.

If you'd like some help I've set up a lifting area in a stable next to the studio-so you don't have to even go to a gym! I've got just a few slots available for 121 training so hit reply if you'd like to become a serious Equestrian Athlete this year!


Nail New Year Nutrition

So this week everyone has gone back to work, kids have gone back to school and it’s all New Year New Me……


Although actually I think there has been less of that this year which I think is a good thing. You aren’t magically going to wake up on 1st Jan only wanting green juice and coconut water. Neither should you.


Life is for living and yes food is fuel but it should also be enjoyed. But of course some of us want to lose a few pounds and that’s fine but doing that needn’t involve sacrificing all the food you enjoy and surviving on meagre rations of bird seed. 


Add to that a busy lifestyle with horses, jobs, families….. And spending hours on food prep, existing on tiny portions is not going to help you do all of that and lose weight long term.


The key to long term weight loss is actually just simple maths. You need to create a calorie deficit. Calories in needs to be less than calories out. That’s it.


Of course it makes better sense health wise to make the majority of your diet up with Vegetables, Fruit,  lean meats and pulses but there are no hard and fast rules about what you can and can’t eat to lose weight. 


I like to keep simple with my clients. We set up MyFitnessPal accounts, then start tracking every day. In the first few days we aren’t worrying too much about being over the calorie goal, we just need to know where we’re at and what sort of patterns are showing up. 


We’ve set up a little Whatsapp support group with the ladies in my class who want to lose weight-Its called “Grazing Muzzle Club” 


Once we’ve got the hang of the app and looked at our current habits it’s time to make some tweaks. Are we over our calorie allowance because of lots of snacking or because certain meals are much higher calorie than the others?Can we start to look at lower calorie meal option? Are we snacking through boredom or because of genuine hunger? If it’s boredom we need to either accept that its boredom not hunger or look for some lower calorie options to at least keep a limit on how much is consumed. Things like sugar free jelly, low calorie hot chocolate etc are great for this. If it’s genuine hunger we either need to make the meals or the snacks more filling. Usually upping the protein levels so lean meats, boiled eggs, nut butter with your apple  or a protein shake are filling options. Also ensure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.


We continue this just making tweaks as we go along until we’re comfortably in a calorie deficit without really feeling like it’s dieting, more like -This is how I eat now. 


I know this approach almost sounds too simple, and well that;s because it is simple. You still have to make the effort of logging food, starting to plan how meals will fit into your calories etc. However the freedom to make your own food choices based around what you actually like and what is convenient to your lifestyle is what throws people who are used to rules of giving up certain food groups or having weird (non scientific) points attached to things that mean they struggle to navigate an M&S lunch counter or a restaurant menu. 


So, if you’re committed to losing weight for good this year, make the commitment to keep it simple, follow the basic science of calories in vs calories out and create a diet that fits your lifestyle long term.


Here’s a couple of things I will add that will make this process easier.


  • Start to plan your meals and snacks in advance. Take into account the time you will realistically have available on those days to prepare and eat food. If you’re on the run or home late have portable and quick to prepare foods.
  • For the most part coloured vegetables -greens, purples, reds etc. have a low calorie value for the volume of food so use them to add bulk to your meals.
  • Admitting you won’t have the time or inclination to cook and therefore buying low calorie ready meals, soups, packet rice and microwave veg bags is a much better option than throwing in the towel and ordering takeaway. 
  • Weighing, measuring and searching for things in myfitnesspal can seem like  a pain at first, but you can save recipes and meals, copy them into other days etc. which makes it much easier after a couple of weeks and it starts to become more instinctive.

What are you going to achieve in 2020?

Happy New Year!

So, what has 2020 got in store for you? 

  Now is the time to sit down and plan what you want to achieve this year.

Then of course what you are going to do to achieve them. Planning is key to achieving goals. 

Are you going to take up a new discipline? Perhaps you’re taking up Dressage or Endurance.

Are you hoping to move up a level in your discipline?

Maybe it’s not entirely horse related. Perhaps you want to improve your fitness or lose weight.

Whatever it is, the key to success is firstly identifying your why.

If you know how much a goal means to you it can help to keep you going when stuff gets tough.

My why for losing weight was because I ride a pony and don’t want to be too heavy.

My why to be as physically fit as possible is because it’s helps control my hyper mobility which firstly manages the pain and secondly means I ride my pony better.

My Why for  Carriage Driving is just pure passion. I really want to do it because I love it.

So ask yourself why you want to achieve your goal and what it means to you personally, when life tries to get in the way remember this why to help push you through.

Secondly make a plan of how you are going to achieve your goal.

If you have a specific event to train for,do you need a training plan to help you peak at the right time?

Will you need extra training, a specific trainer etc? Get that organised and plan where you can fit that training in and how you will pay for it.

Do you need some new gear -any excuse right? 

Will you need to adjust your schedule to fit in your schooling sessions etc? Be realistic about what you can fit it,  but also be ready to make some sacrifices along the way. I’m sure there will have been plenty of times those at the top would have preferred to be at home watching a box set rather than riding in the cold but those box sets won’t help to improve your performance.

Those that achieve great things will have made sacrifices, had tough days and set backs along the way but because they really wanted that end result they kept going.

So, get your planner out. 

What are you going to achieve this year?

What do you need to help you achieve it? Is it new kit, support from family, friends or a coach?

How will it impact your current lifestyle and what will you need to change for it to happen?

I’d love to know what you’re goals are and how you plan to achieve them. 

Reflect on 2019

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

I think this time in between Christmas and new year is a great time to reflect on your achievements this year before you start planning your 2020 goals.

Hiave you done some big stuff this year with your horse this year?

Won a big class? Qualified for a big event?

Perhaps you took up a new discipline or bought a new horse?

What about other stuff? Did you get a new job or do something mad like a sky dive?

Perhaps it’s something simpler like you managed to deals with your confidence issues better this year, stuck to an exercise habit or you made more time for friends and family.

These are all achievements that have contributed to your happiness this year so it is important to acknowledge them. 

I’ve grown my business with new classes and clients this year and  I’ve done two new qualifications. 

I started the year with one pony out with a serious injury, one in rehab for  minor issues and the other with a vet saying she was dangerous and I should consider having her put to sleep. I’m ending it with both injured ponies back in work and the other not being quite so scary anymore. 

Then I’ve got back in the gym properly and taken up Olympic Lifting. Orla and I also finally took up agility this year too-she’s a natural. 

Looking at this I realise how much I’ve achieved this year and if you’ve been with me on this journey you will know how many ups and downs there were along the way, and how many times I could have quite easily have thrown in the towel and swapped it for an office job and pet hamsters! 

Amongst my clients we’ve lost horses, gained horses, had lame horses, prize winning horses and lots of firsts of everything from getting on board to eventing. It’s been so important to have each other to remind us of how far we’ve come when at that moment it feels like we’ve gone nowhere at all.

So, before you start planning 2020 look at what you achieved in 2019. Be proud of yourself for those achievements, and then look at what you didn’t achieve and ask yourself why? Did circumstances just throw you off course (injuries and illness etc) or did you just not want it hard enough? 

This will make planning 2020 a little clearer.

I’d love to know what you’ve achieved with your horse this year.

Time Saving Rider Fitness

Last week I said you should be sticking to your exercise habit as much as possible so here’s some Inspiration to help you out.

I know you might be thinking “ but Nicola I’m already pressed for time with a horse, job, family as it is” Firstly I’ve got classes full of ladies with the same commitments and they turn up for an hour every week. Also I heard a podcast with German Dressage Rider Jessic Von Bredlow and alongside riding 5-7 horses per day and having a child she fits in a couple of rounds of Sun Salutations every morning- she does about 3 rounds each side and it takes about 4 minutes so no excuses. If you want to follow suit the here’s a Sun Salutation video for you to follow along to. Sun salutations are great for a full body stretch out and promoting symmetry.

However if you want something a little more like gym work here are a couple of options you can still fit in to 4 minutes.

Pick 2 exercises and set a timer for 20 seconds work 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds. Alternate the 2 exercises each round so you will do 4 of each. That’s 4 minutes exercise you can make as tame or heavy as you like.

No equipment:

Squats - Press Ups




KB/DB Swings

Weighted Squats 


Single arm overhead press

Single Leg Deadlift 


Pure Cardio option.


Kb Swing


Lunge Jumps

Mountain climbers 

Shock Absorbing Ankles

Whilst I’m not a huge advocator for putting too much weight in the stirrup (if you press down you’ll pop your seat up….. its physics) we do still need a connection to the stirrup and the ability to absorb the movement of the horse through our lower leg and ankle. Being unable to do this causes our lower leg to flop around and essentially be ineffective.


There are two elements to being a good shock absorber. 


The first one is the mobility of the joint to move freely. If a joint is stiff and restricted the movement of the horse becomes an impact -think hitting a wall rather than an absorption of force such as hitting a boxing pad.


To mobilise the joint is very simple, just making circles in both directions aiming to take the joint through its full range of motion each way.


Secondly we need to ensure the joint is not restricted by the muscles attached to it. This means stretching the calf muscles.


I like this kneeling stretch as it hits both the big calf muscle (the Gastrocnemius) and the often forgotten smaller muscle below it (the soleus). 

Now they are mobile we need to strengthen them.

The muscles around the foot, ankle and shin can be strengthened using a resistance band to pull away from the outside of the foot and then the inside.

Then having a strong set of calves can help so simple, slow, controlled raises off a step can do this.

Then to up the ante, some instability work on a balance pod (with no shoes on). Just trying to stand on one leg on these can be a challenge, but once you’ve mastered that you can add Single Leg Deadlift and Squats….

Plan a Healthy Horsey Christmas

December is here so it’s officially Christmas. 


This time of year can be both a blessing and a curse for horse owners. If you’re off over Christmas this can give you some extra time with your horse but the run up with all the Christmas parties can be a bit hectic. 


If you’ve got competitions coming up then it can be helpful to plan in your schooling sessions now and stick to them like business meetings. 


If you don’t have anything important coming up then it may not be a bad idea to take the pressure off yourself and give your horse a break. 


So get your diary out now and put in your schooling sessions, taking into account social events, hangovers the next day etc and you might be surprised at how easy it is to fit in 2-3 sessions across the week with a bit of planning, even if it’s just 20 minutes on the lunge or 10 minutes groundwork.


The same goes for your own exercise regime, just 20 minutes a couple of times per week will keep you ticking over. If you want to do the ultimate horse owner life hack, long rein your horse for 20 minutes with plenty of trot work in there and you’ll have had a decent cardio session too! 


Then there’s all the extra eating and drinking to contend with. If you don’t want to hit January feeling like a Christmas Pudding then I suggest employing a sensible attitude to eating and drinking. I’m not saying you can’t have any of the tasty food but I promise you that eating your own body weight in mince pies won’t give you the energy you need to make it through all those parties. Also waking up in January with an extra half a stone to shift is just no fun.


So at least aim for a little balance this December. 


Whilst I can’t banish all those treats from your office I can help you plan how to manage them. Back in my office days I got around this by insisting my secretary did all of the coffee making so I didn’t have to go near the treats,  Obviously this showed no regard for my secretary’s health but it s every woman for herself! This of course is not a viable solution…….


Firstly make sure you have your own healthy meals and snacks with you so you aren’t reaching for the chocolate because you’re hungry. Secondly be realistic, you aren’t going to abstain completely but you can limit yourself to one treat per day. So maybe one mince pie or a couple of celebrations instead of your usual afternoon snack is a good way of a having a treat without it being a month long blow out.


Then there’s the alcohol conundrum. Now this stuff appears to be the only advice anyone ever takes on board from me so here goes!


Unfortunately there is no getting around the fact that alcohol has a high calorie content. You can switch to light beer, low alcohol wine but let’s be honest it doesn’t usually taste as good! So, just try not to have a month long drinking session, have some days off and save your drinking for your socialising not just for your regular Tuesday.


Here’s a couple of top picks though if you do want to watch your calories.


Champagne-90 cals a glass = winner! Basically fizzy wine tends to be lower calories than other wine so that’s essentially permission to pop corks.


Spirts such as Gin, Vodka and Whisky have a calorie content of around 100 calories, it’s the mixers that add calories so stick to diet mixers or soda water and you’re saving hundreds of calories. The supermodels current drink of choice is Vodka, lime and Soda so of its good enough for them…..


I’m imagining you’ve all stopped reading now as you’re already on route to the bar…..


Release Your Shoulders For Better Rein Contact

As a horse owner your shoulders take a bit of a battering. Firstly there’s all the mucking out, lifting feed etc. Then there’s the extra “fun” of your horse dragging you off for some grass, maybe having a mad gallop on the lunge……


Alongside this you may also have a desk job, do a lot of driving and therefore spend a lot of time hunched over.


Add to this the stressful nature of life and horse owning sometimes and you might find your shoulders are solid bricks stuck to your ear lobes most of the time.


However when we ride those shoulders are in charge of the hands attached to the reins. Your shoulder is the joint at which your arm is attached and therefore it’s function is vital to the function of your arms. If they are stiff or weak they aren’t going to be that soft, steady contact we want to give out horse.


Here are a couple of simple exercises to help you first release your shoulders and then activate them to keep them strong and ready to ride.



Yoga for Equestrians

Last week we looked at the benefits of Pilates for riders, so this week let’s look at Yoga for riders. I use both in my classes as I think they are equally beneficial, however they do differ slightly. 


Yoga tends to focus on the lengthening of muscles and often there is a relaxation element. However I teach specifically Sports Yoga which adds in the stability element found in Pilates. Yoga is also a really good way of teaching Proprioception and body awareness due to some of the postures requiring movement and balance, as well as being able to join movements together to create a flow that will challenge coordination and concentration alongside stability and strength.


Sports Yoga specifically looks at the demands of a sport, the areas that may become shortened/tight and then the areas that need strengthening to improve performance. 


For riders this would be a focus on 


  • Symmetry 
  • Both mobility & stability in the hips
  • Stability in the core
  • Stability of the shoulders
  • Mobility and shock absorption of the ankles -I’m going to look at this next week 
  • Body awareness 


Adding yoga to your routine needn’t take up hours of your time, just 10 minutes a couple of times per week is enough for you to feel the benefit.


Here is a short flow you can use to improve your body’s performance for riding.