Are you a Help or a Hindrance?

Last week I was able to start 121 training with my clients again-outside so we can social distance but most of my clients are familiar with an arena so training in there isn’t an issue. It’s just nice to have a sense of normality back and see people face to face again rather than via a screen. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can have classes in that arena too-I’m banking on the first week just being a massive pony gossip catch up week, if we do it whilst sat on a gym ball I’m sure that counts as productive training!

I imagine for some of you lessons have also been restarted which hopefully has given you your focus back.

One thing I’ve really enjoyed about lock down is the amount of online training experts have made available. I’ve been watching webinars from Dr Russell MacKechnie-Guire of Centaur Biomechanics about his research into horse and rider asymmetry.
On one of his webinars he said something that really resonated with me and what I want to achieve for both myself and that of my clients.

“ A rider needs to be strong enough to absorb the movement of the horse and correct the forces of asymmetry.”

A strong muscular system is able to absorb the movement of the horse and remain stable and therefore able to give clear aids. It is also able to hold itself in self carriage. Can you imagine the difference for your horse between the rider that wobbles about, moving side to side, forward and back trying to stay on board versus the rider who is able to hold themselves still and in control. It’s like the difference between having a well packed ruck sack on your back versus a wriggling, floppy child of the same weight on your back. Which do you think is easier to carry?

Also think about all those little asymmetry’s that occur when you’re riding? Your horse falls in a little on that circle, he’s not quite straight down that centre line. Whether the asymmetry comes from you or your horse it is still your job as the rider to address correcting them.

If you can have the control from your body to ride a perfectly straight line you have a much better chance of training your horse to do so.

I’m going to address the effect of rider asymmetry next week, but for now I want you to think about how good a load you are for your horse to carry.

Are you a help or a hindrance in your partnership?

If it’s hindrance and you want some help I’ve got an arena I can help you change that in!

Are you part of the problem?

Last week I talked about how it was your job as the rider to be strong enough to ride your horse straight and work with him to correct his asymmetries.

This week I want to talk about how your asymmetries may affect him.

According to Dr Russell Machkenie Guire’s research

  •  a horse took 6 weeks to adapt his locomotion to rider asymmetry. 


  • There is an increase in horse asymmetry when the rider is asymmetrical in trot.


  • Rider asymmetry destabilises the horses thoracolumbar region


So I’d say that makes it pretty clear that our own asymmetry affects our horses way of going. If it affects their gait then over time of course this could contribute to lameness issues. 

Now I know none of us wants to do that intentionally.

But of course we don’t always know we are asymmetrical. The horse can give us clues but it’s always really helpful to have eyes on the ground as our perception of how we are is not always what is happening.

I ask my clients to send me videos of them riding so we can assess any issues and then implement that into our training. 

Why not set up your phone at the side of the school, or ask a friend to video you and then watch it back. Look at what your body does on turns, does it differ on each rein? Are you sat in neutral? Equal front to back left to right? 

Your findings can help you decide what to focus on in your off horse training and of course long term help to keep your horse sound-not accounting for the many new and inventive ways horses can injure themselves…….

Insurance policy for injury

Riders that exercise off horse can fall into a couple of different camps.

Those that want to be fitter, stronger etc generally.

Those that want it to directly influence their riding so-core, symmetry etc.

And those that do it under duress because their instructor is constantly telling them to strengthen their core!

I’ve got all of those types in my mix of classes and 121 clients.

However what many don’t consider and yet it’s probably one of the most important reasons to train off horse is prevention and fast recovery from injury.

One of the biggest reasons for muscles strains, ligament damage etc. Is a limb being taken past it’s comfortable range of motion.

So, it stands to reason the more flexible you are the bigger range you will have before an injury occurs.

Secondly a stable joint-that is one supported by strong muscles is better able to withstand force whether that be just the absorption of force from riding a horse or from a more direct force being applied to it like a kick for example.

Of course the inevitable can still happen as horses are big powerful animals and the ground is most definitely hard!

However if a joint, tendon or ligament already has a supportive network of muscles surrounding it the healing and indeed strengthening process is much quicker. You may have noticed top athletes recover much quicker from injuries and are back to top performance much quicker than that lady in work who still can’t put full weight on the ankle she broke 5 years ago…….Of course athletes also put full effort into rehab programmes and that is something you should co wider for your own injuries. However this process is much easier if there was a base of strength to work from initially.

Another way to demonstrate this is an injury recovery in an elderly person versus a younger person. It is not merely the age that is the factor here it is because as we age our muscle mass declines UNLESS we actively continue to train it and therefore build it. So an elderly person is more likely to have very little muscle mass to support the injury versus the youngster.

So, whilst most of us still have a little extra time on our hands why not consider starting a strength programme-it doesn’t have to involve heavy weights or equipment your own body weight will do. Just think of it as your insurance policy for old age and injury.

If you would like some help with bullet proofing your body I have space for 121 clients-currently via Zoom of course!

Nicola x

Breath work to improve your Lateral work.

How are you doing? I know it’s dragging a bit now but keeping busy is definitely helping me as is spending time with my little spotted pony Douglas.

I’m trying to spend time on things that always need work but usually we are so focused on that next lesson, clinic or competition that we can skip the basics.

This week I want you to try some breathing exercises. You can do them on horse, on your gym ball or just on the sofa.

Breathing can have such a huge influence on both our bodies and our mindset yet it is so often over looked.

If we are stressed, our breathing has the power to calm our mind and release tension in our body.

If we have tension in our muscles, learning to breathe as we move those muscles can assist in releasing it.

The exercises in this video can help with asymmetry as well as assisting your horse falling in or out on circles or during lateral work.

So, why not give these a go and see if you spend some time ironing out those niggles with just a little breath work.

Unleashing your inner Dressage Diva

How did you get on with neutral spine last week?

This week I want to look at how your pelvis moves when you ride.

This has a huge impact on how you give aids and move with your horse.

Think about it, if you were asking for an aid on the left and as you shifted your seat your left hip lifted, but as you gave the same aid on the right your right hip perhaps didn’t move at all that isn’t clear communication is it?

The seat bones and pelvis are also your main communication tool. Using it effectively means you can give almost invisible aids to lengthen or shorten strides or to move left or right. Like watching a Grand Prix Dressage test, you see some tiny leg aids but very little else? That’s because they are asking with their seat.

If you have never tuned into your seat in this detail before why not spend a little time now whilst we aren’t striving for peak performance for competition etc to give it some focus. I promise you, tuning into your seat bones will make your aids way more effective and yet way more invisible-basically we are unleashing your inner dressage diva.

Again if you aren’t riding you could practice this on a gym ball, on a chair or standing up-you could probably try it sat on your sofa.


Neutral Spine

How is everyone doing?

Now we haven’t got any competitions for the foreseeable future now is a great time to perhaps look at those niggly problems when you ride. Or perhaps just fine tune your skills a little by checking in with your position and straightening up any wonkiness.

Neutral spine is mentioned a lot – I definitely say it a lot when teaching. But what is it and why do we want to achieve and maintain it whilst riding?


Neutral spine is when all of the joints of the body are stacked directly on top of one another in perfect alignment. When the body is in this position it all of the stabiliser muscles, tendons and ligaments to assist the joints in absorbing force. If we are not in neutral absorbing force requires some of the stabilisers to take on more work than others. Over time this can increase tension in some muscles, weakness in others and increase risk of injury. It also makes you less effective at absorbing the movement of your horse underneath you and therefore not as effective a rider as you could be.

There is also the issue of maintaining your own balance of the most stable part of the horses back. If you are tipped forward you have more weight forward, pushing your horse more onto his forehand and therefore increasing the pressure on his front legs. If you are leaning back you are placing more weight at the back of the saddle and on the parts of the spine not supported by the rib cage. This makes it more difficult for him to engage his hind end correctly. It is therefore important for both your horses wellbeing and performance that you are striving for neutral.

How do you achieve neutral? Of course it sounds simple to say you need to line up your ear, shoulder, hip and heel. However firstly how can you tell if you are doing that with the added complication of a horse underneath you? Secondly you could have these points lined up and still have wiggly bits in between.

In Equipilates we split the body into boxes and then use visualisations and cues for “feel” in order to be able to use this system to check in with yourself whilst you are riding.

I’ve made a video to talk you through it. If you aren’t riding at the moment you can still practice this on a gym ball or a chair.


I forgot to write a blog post so here’s a free workout

Ok, full disclosure I forgot what day it was-it’s a miracle I did all the online sessions I was booked in for! So I haven’t written a blog this week. I was going to leave it because obviously it’s not a serious omission, no one dies if it doesn’t happen but it kind of didn’t feel right. Particularly whilst many of you will have more time on your hands and therefore be eager for things to do.


So, here is something to fill some time and hopefully help to keep the Easter Egg weight at bay. This is a session I wrote for one of my 121 clients for her home workout during this time in lockdown. I’ve filmed it in the arena using a mounting block but you could use a chair, footstool, sturdy table or the sofa whatever you have access to.


This can be done as single exercises as say 3 rounds of 10 reps or as a circuit 10 reps for 3 rounds, whichever way works best for you.


If you’ve got any questions you want answering, anything I can help you with at this time ask away and I might just write a blog about it.


Nicola x


Home Pilates Workout

How are you bearing up in week 2 of lockdown?


I know plenty of you are still working, and hopefully still able to get to your horse.


I know my little Carriage Pony, Super D (or Douglas as his actual name!) is keeping me sane because he is such a ray of sunshine. If you haven’t seen him get over to my Instagram nicola_equestrianfitness or Facebook equestrianfitnessnicola to check him out -I’m not just biased because I’m his mum he really is cute.


Anyway, I know lots of my clients are finding they need to do a few more short bursts of exercise throughout the day just to keep them feeling alert and mobile. 


So, I’ve put together a short Pilates workout you can do at home, no equipment just a bit of floor space.


Stuff to stop you seizing up this week

Well, it has been a bit of a crazy week hasn’t it. 


I hope whatever situation you are in with work, finances etc. You are doing ok. I know for many of us our horses are a major part of our mental health so if your yard is on lock down meaning you can’t visit then honestly I can’t even imagine how you are holding it together right now-but it’s not forever and if anything Equestrians are tough so we can totally do this.


I’m definitely considering myself very lucky this week as I’ve been able to train most of my clients via FaceTime or Zoom, and classes have been held in a private Facebook group and on Zoom-so we can have a natter like we usually do. So, it’s pretty much been business as usual. However that did mean I had to completely change all my pre-planned sessions so if you have noticed I’ve been quiet on my regular social media I’m sorry this is what I’ve been up to.


Anyway whether you can get to the yard or not I’m sure you’re finding you have a little more free time. How are you spending it? 


I’m hoping to spend some time this weekend planning some more interesting groundwork sessions for my 3 ponies. 2 are in rehab and the other is my driving pony so all my work is in hand, lungeing and long reining and I could do with some inspiration.


What are you up to?


Maybe whether you are riding or not during this you could spend a little time working on your own fitness, symmetry and movement patterns. Especially if you’re spending more time sitting. 


With that in mind, and based on the fact I had little time for anything other than trying to keep the show on the road here’s 3 workouts that I have previously only released in a private group.


There’s a Yoga flow, a strength workout and a stretch session.


Hopefully these will help to keep you entertained over the next few days and stop you seizing up at home!


Let me know what you think!


Keeping Sane in a Mad World

We are living in an unprecedented absolutely mad time, bringing a huge amount of uncertainty with it.

I’m not going to go too much doom and gloom as we’ve got the news for that, instead I want to look at some ideas to keep us busy whilst we are more confined than usual.

Firstly from what I understand you will still be able to go to the yard (because horses don’t feed or muck out themselves!) so why not use the opportunity to spend a little more time on grooming, maybe do some groundwork.

With competitions cancelled why not do some online dressage or showing? Or perhaps pay your instructor to give you feedback and things to work on from a video of you riding. 

Listen to some horsey podcasts. I really like 

  • Equiratings
  • Buck off Banter
  • Horse Hour
  • The horse podcast
  • Heels down happy hour
  • The pony podcast


Or read some training books.

I’m currently reading Carl Hesters Real Life Dressage. It is really easy to read and full of useful nuggets for training horses whether you are riding dressage or not. 

I also really enjoyed Mary Wanless Ride with your mind and Rider Biomechanics.

Spend some time at home working on your own fitness, 

Set up your phone to see yourself ride in 3 gaits on both reins then watch it back to see whether you notice any asymmetry. You can then look at ways to improve those asymmetrys off horse whilst your at home.

Work on your general riding fitness. You can do some great workouts from your living room, I find Yoga and Pilates helpful for riders as it increases both mobility and stability as well as improving body awareness-which goes a long way to improving any problems you do have on horse. 

Or for more general fitness but with an emphasis on riding, work on your glutes and hips for your seat, your shoulders for rein contact and obviously your core.

What are you planning to do to help pass the time in any lock down?

Are there any topics you’d like me to cover to help get you through?