A system for schooling yourself

I was reading an article in Horse & Hound titled William fox-Pitt masterclass. 

In the article William discusses how he structures his flat work sessions into 3 10 minute slots comprising of:

  • Warm up
  • Suppling
  • Movements & Discipline 

Which got me thinking about how I structure my Equestrian Fitness Classes.

Usually they go like this: 

  • Warm up-Yoga Flow
  • Suppling-Pilates based exercises 
  • Movements & Discipline-Rider specific exercises perhaps breathing or alignment work.

Then every 4th week we have a stretch week.

Then I thought maybe the system would be useful to structure other workouts.

For example gym strength sessions could be:

Warm up-general movements, opening hips and shoulders, activation of muscles about to be worked.

Heavy lifts-The big compound movements such as Squats, Deadlifts, Pressing etc.

Accessory work-Single leg work, Core and Smaller muscle upper body work.

Or perhaps:

Warm up-General movement patterns, gentle raising of the heart rate. 

Cardio-Run, Cycle, Row etc

Core work -Plank variations, rotation work etc.

What do you think? Does this sound like a workable system to you?

Let me know if you find this helpful!


Equal Rein Contact

Rein contact symmetry is a massive thing. It can affect your horse's straightness, how well you apply aids and also how well he is able to come into a contact.

A good rein contact comes from stable shoulders and back,if the shoulders aren’t stable the biceps, chest and forearms will brace to hold the rein which will create tension. Soft hands come from stable shoulders.

Of course it doesn’t just stop there…..we want them to be as equally stable as possible-no good having a great right hand and a flappy left one!

Working on your shoulder stability off horse is a great idea.

 In the gym things like Single arm rows either kneeling on a bench or standing using the cable are great. It is important to slow the move me down and really feel the shoulder and back working rather than letting the biceps do the work.

Kettlebell or Dumbell Windmills are a great shoulder stabiliser, as are bottom up kettle bell press-they’re tricky too!


At home with a band, or in the gym with a cable, single arm dumbwaiters are great for learning to take the arm away without losing the stability.

Sometimes I like to do these exercises in a half squat stance or standing on a wobble board, sat on a gym ball etc. The reason I like to add something else Is that I find I can concentrate on my shoulders on their own but add in a horse and it falls to pieces; so I need to learn to control my shoulders whilst using other muscles.


On horse I find trying to focus on keeping your elbows equal helps to maintain an equal amount of contact in each arm.

Also “closing your back armpit “ switches on the back muscles to further stabilise the shoulder area. 

Try these out and let me know if you can feel the difference.


Nicola x

Single Leg Training for Symmetry

Last week we looked at moving the Pelvis and seat bones in symmetry. 

If we lack control in this area it can either present itself as stiffness or as “crazy hip” I.e excessive movement. 

Both of these things can be due to a lack of stability. Sometimes when we lack stability the body locks up and decreases movement, and sometimes…..well you get crazy hip! Either way working to increase stability in the hips individually can really help to improve your ability to control the seat bones.

As we want to continue to spot and therefore improve on any weakness left to right it can be really useful to add single leg/hip training into your routine.

Single leg work will highlight whether you are more stable on your left or right (you will most likely spot a correlation with your riding) and training it on its own stops it from using the other side for help. 

Here a couple of single leg exercises starting with no equipment and you can add weights/equipment to if you want to progress them. 

Single Leg Bridge.

From a regular bridge position lift one leg in the air and continue to keep the tail bone tucked under, pushing with the glutes to lift the bridge up and down. To make this harder you could put your standing leg on a gym ball or hold a weight on your stomach.


Single leg Deadlift.

Hinging at the hip, the aim is to create a horizontal straight line with the lifted leg and your torso. The core remains tight and as much as possible keep your hips level. You can make this harder by standing on a wobble board/wobble cushion or by holding a weight in your hands. 



Nicola x

Symmetry for Success

You know when you can do something on one rein and not the other? Maybe it’s circles, leg yields or canter transitions, whatever it is it’s really frustrating isn’t it?

This is why symmetry is so important, in both your horse and you.Of course no one is 100% symmetrical but being as close as you can will be of huge benefit.

Where do you start though on trying to make your aids symmetrical? 

Try this really simple exercise (I said simple not easy….) both off horse either sitting on a chair or on a gym ball , then try it again on your horse at walk, then at sitting trot…,

Firstly locate your seat bones. If you need to,  sit on your hands to locate them. They should be pointing straight down. Now, imagine there are two buttons in front of your knees. Slide one seat bone forward to push the button with your knee. Then change sides.

As you start to do this, notice what the rest of your pelvis and perhaps the rest of your body does? Do you twist or tip more one way than the other? Does one hip lift as you move it? Maybe one side is just a bit “stickier” than the other? 

See if you can really focus on that and make them more equal in their movement. 

If you are struggling try some of these things to see if they help.

  • Try focusing on an out breath out as you slide your “sticky” hip forward.
  • Make the movement’s smaller if you have one “crazy” hip, or if you tip or tilt.
  • Focus on just the pressure if you lift or drop a hip as it moves. Aim to have equal pressure on your seat bones.

If you master this at walk, try it in sitting trot and then use the same focus to try out your tricky transition and see if it helps……..


Healthy Equestrian-No Excuses!


There’s no doubt that having horses takes up a lot of time and energy, and it can seem so all consuming that it feels like you don’t have time for anything else.

Yet, as I mentioned last week there are two athletes in your team. Your horse can be feeling and moving tip top but if you’re tired, weak and stiff you aren’t going to get the best out of him or you.

It’s entirely possible to take good care of yourself and your horse it just takes a little organisation, and also the mindset that you can change your habits…..

Eating well takes a little planning ahead, however good nutrition will ensure you have good health and also give you great energy levels which makes all the yard chores seem a little easier.

No matter how much you think planning meals a week in advance is a massive headache I can assure you it saves you loads of time in the following week. Yes, the initial habit might seem a little time consuming but once you get into it, it takes no time at all. Think about all the time spent having to pick up lunch during your day or popping to the supermarket after the yard etc. Then there’s making the decision about what to eat after a long day and you’re starving. If that decision is already made its brain power you don’t need to use.

Don’t make life hard for yourself on this. If it’s not realistic that you’ll spend time cooking it’s totally fine to use microwave veg, microwave rice or healthy ready meals etc. I use supermarket bought soup for my lunch (which I heat in the morning and take with me in a flask), I add milk and protein powder to some oats in the evening for overnight oats the next day and boil eggs for snacks or make a protein shake.

This sounds like I’ve done a lot of prep however I microwave the soup whilst the kettle is boiling in the morning. In the evening when my dinner is in the microwave I make the oats, and either the protein shake or put some eggs on to boil. It takes minutes! I also do my washing up from the day in this time-basically use every single minute you can to save time later.

If you want to fit in a gym session, decide whether you are more likely to get it done first thing or later in the day. If it’s first thing have your gym kit laid out for the morning and your back packed with your work things etc for the day.

If you’re going at the end of the day, have your gym bag in the car so there’s no excuses at the end of the day.

When I had an office job I would go straight from work to the yard-changing in my tack room, then straight to the gym if I hadn’t been first thing. It wasn’t far to go home in between but it still uses up time and it’s easy to get side tracked if you just “nip” home isn’t it?

Also have some healthy snacks in your car if you think you might get hungry and decide to go home to eat. Just some granola/cereal bars, apples (you can share these with your horse) or a protein shake can give you a little boost to keep going for that ride and gym session.

Now onto that gym session depending on your goals depends on what kind of workout you are doing but if you are struggling to find motivation keep it small and keep it simple. Just getting into the habit of even 20 minutes steady pace on a bike etc is fine-it’s a hell of a lot better than not bothering at all.

To save yourself time wasting in your riding ask your instructor for things to work on between lessons-get them to help you plan your week of riding. Again this saves brain power when it might be dwindling at the end of the week! You also might find you only need shorter schooling sessions because you go in and do what you need to do rather than just trotting around for ages until you’re both just tired.

Having horses can be all consuming but in all walks of life and areas of sport people are achieving things others can’t. Not because they are super human but because they really want it.

If you really want something you will make it happen no excuses!

Keeping up your end of the riding partnership

Often I hear riders say they don’t need to go to the gym as yard work and riding keeps them fit. 

However I listened to a podcast the other day with Alice Oppenheimer. She said she rides up to 10 horses per day plus goes to a Pilates class one night, trains with a trainer a couple of times per week, goes to the gym and currently runs 3 times per week (she’s training for a marathon). I was exhausted just thinking about this! Charlotte Dujardin has a similar routine, as do many event riders. 

So, if the professionals are riding all day and still feel like getting stronger off horse benefits their riding, surely riding once perhaps twice per day isn’t cutting it in the fitness stakes for the rest of us? Admittedly it makes you fitter than the average couch potatoe but as riding is a sport and as I’m sure you know we don’t just sit there whilst the horse does everything. That makes us both the athletes in this partnership.

I imagine Athlete number 1-your horse has a carefully managed nutrition and exercise plan….. he probably gets physio too……

He’s only one half of the equation! It sounds harsh but if you aren’t giving yourself the same care and attention you aren’t keeping up your end of the deal. Athlete 2 is letting the team down. If you expect him to give his best then surely he can expect the same from you?

Now I get that unlike the pro’s lots of you aren’t aiming for the Olympics and although you love riding you’ve got other stuff going on so the 100% dedication may be a big ask, but what about giving it an extra 50%? Say training 2-3 times per week off horse for at least 30 minutes. I reckon your half of the partnership could improve quite a bit with that, and Athlete 1 would be really happy to up their game a bit if Athlete 2 is fit enough to keep up!

Body weight Movement Patterning

Last week we talked about getting our muscles firing from head to toe and using weight lifting to achieve that. However whilst I think that the majority of riders would benefit from getting stronger I don’t believe that lifting weights is the only way to improve movement patterning. If only strength were required most top level riders would look like strongmen surely?


 So let’s look at some exercises that don’t necessarily require weights-although they could all have weights added if you prefer that style of training.


The Turkish Get Up!


Basically from lying down with one hand in the air holding a weight you proceed to kneeling then standing and then do the movement in reverse. The added weight encourages you to stabilise your shoulder and of course the act of getting up to standing requires hip stability so that’s head to toe stability sorted.


You don’t need any particular weight just a bottle of water will do. 





Bird Dogs-in a 4 point kneeling position with a strong core and flat back throughout take opposite arm and leg away.




Dead bug-like a lying version of Bird Dogs, keep your back flat and abs pulled in, take opposite arm and leg away.




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.