What does Douglas do?

You may have seen recently I was featured in Your Horse Magazine. It is a regular feature they run about how people fit horses around their jobs. Those that have read it have asked me how I do fit so much stuff into a day/week. The answer? Good time management. This is definitely something that helps when trying to get multiple ponies worked throughout the week and keeping them all on track with their individual training.

So, how can you do it?

Firstly, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog; make a training plan. If you know what your goals are you can then look at what your schooling/exercise plan needs to entail in order to get there. That way you know exactly what you have to achieve in each session so you don’t waste time just going round in circles (unless your plan was to work on circles…) and you can plan this across the week looking at what time you are likely to have each day to get things done. There is no point pretending you are going to school for an hour 5 times per week when you barely manage to ride twice per week now, it clearly isn’t going to fit with your lifestyle.

I will use my driving pony Douglas as an example. Douglas had been chilling out in a field for a couple of months before he came to me so one of his initial goals is to improve his fitness and endurance. Then as he is a driving pony to encourage him to use his back end more to give him more power and finally to work on his manners/schooling as although he isn’t particularly naughty he can be a little cheeky, doesn’t like to halt and we are still figuring out each others cues.

So, Douglas’s plan looks like this.

Monday: I have a little time but not much so we lunge, do plenty of Canter work, Poles and little Jumps. This is his cardio and building muscle and as its on the lunge just 20 mins is enough to tire his little legs out.

Wednesday: Usually have a little more time so I will either long rein or go out in the Carriage. If I’m short on time I actually long rein pretty much at a trot for 20-30 mins (sneaks in a cardio session for me too!) or we walk, trot, do circles and practice our halt and groundwork if I have more time.

Friday: Usually similar to Wednesday. Or I do what I didn’t do on Wednesday so if I just took him for a trot I will do groundwork and a little schooling and vice versa.

Weekends: We are starting to get the Carriage out (it’s just too much faff if you don’t have much time during the week!) and do our schooling session for that.

I’m finding that although he may have only done less than a couple of hours work though the week, it’s all relevant to his Driving work so he is primed and ready to go. Fit from the lungeing and long reining, and on the aids from the groundwork etc. It’s like we’ve been doing the same stuff all week, which we haven’t but they have all been relevant to getting out driving at the weekend.

So I know the majority of you aren’t drivers but this was just an example. You can apply the same thing with your own horse. Maybe lunge sessions, ground work (The Equitation Science work of Andrew McClean is great) and faster and shorter ridden sessions when you have less time through the week and then longer more advanced schooling or hacking etc. at the weekend when you have more time.

Then there's looking at whether you would be better getting up early and training your horse before work? Or maybe arranging lessons on week nights when you need the motivation to ride!

I apply this theory to my own fitness routine (I can highly recommend long reining as a double whammy!) Just looking at what I want to achieve and how much time I will have on given days.


Practice Differently

We all have that one element of our riding that we just can’t seem to crack. For me it’s Canter transitions, they are like a mental block and if I don’t get my Canter on the first ask I fall to pieces and start to flap away like a lunatic-achieving nothing!


Now I’ve spent a fair bit of time lately working on these Canter transitions as the horse I was riding was not making them easy for me-Jamie just wants me to learn I’m sure he’s doing it for my benefit…..


The thing is, I’ve been riding for many years so I’ve done thousands of Canter transitions so you’d think I’d know how to do one, which I kind of do. But if you break it down do I REALLY know how to do one? If I did why would I not get into Canter on the first ask? Or why if I didn’t get it the first time because the horse was being lazy could I not just ask again a bit firmer? You see I went round and round trying again and again but they weren’t getting any better, sure I got into Canter but it was messy and certainly not effortless.


So what did I do? Well I got help via a couple of different mediums.


Firstly I am fortunate that often I have a friend with me when I ride so she was able to watch EXACTLY what I did I.e not what I THOUGHT I did and we could then discuss which bits of this did and didn’t add up to a Canter transition. Apparently what in my head was sitting up tall, giving with the reins, leg just behind the girth was in fact tip forward, chuck the reins at him and swing your leg at his hip bone…...so not exactly a Canter aid after all!


I also had lessons on a different horse -who was a little more amenable so that I could practice the aids knowing I was going to get the Canter.


I also had lessons on Jamie to deal with the steps leading up to the transition to give us the best chance of a successful Canter.


I also went away and did some research-I’m a huge fan of Dressage Training TV with Mary Wanless and Peter Dove and I found a great session on Canter aids by Peter that really helped.


So with all of these new tools under my belt, I practiced and practiced and well they have definitely got better. The reason not being because I have practiced but because I have practiced differently than before. I have broken down what was going wrong, found new ways of learning it and then begun to practice with these new tools under my belt.


It would have been easy to blame Jamie for not responding to my aids but in reality it’s me that needs to learn to communicate with him not the other way around. If he doesn’t respond to what I’m asking I need to change how I ask the question.


Ok so what the point of my little confession on the crapness of my Canter aids, well hopefully you will feel a little better that other people struggle too, but also my point is that if you are struggling with something in particular instead of just bashing away with the same skill set, go away and develop a new skill set on it.


You could try doing some reading on the exact aids, some schooling exercises around the aids and then really analyse whether you are using those aids. Again someone on the ground or if I don’t have that I set up my phone camera in a corner of the school and video it so I can watch back. Having lessons on another horse or with a different instructor can help too. Our brains all learn differently so what explanation may work for one person may not work for another.


I challenge you now to decide what you’re going to tackle and spend this weekend looking for a different way to practice it! Let me know how you get on!


If you would like to improve your riding performance off horse I have space for 121 clients at my private studio located WN8 9QP so hit reply if you’d like a consultation.



Improve Your Personal Performance

You may have noticed that fitness for equestrians is having a bit of a moment (great news for me!). It seems that suddenly there are programmes popping up everywhere all promising to improve your fitness for riding. I think this is a great thing as I really do believe fit riders make better riders. A fit rider is in better balance and control of their body as well as able to maintain that level of balance of control for longer periods before becoming tired.

However not every rider wants to be an avid gym bunny. You may have absolutely no desire to take up running or lifting weights. That’s cool it doesn’t mean you can’t find an off horse way of improving your riding.

In order to see what needs to be done to improve your own performance you need to look at two things.

Firstly your specific discipline. What does it entail and require of your body? The demands of a jockey are very different to that of an endurance rider, dressage rider or showjumper etc. So have a think about what level of cardio fitness you require. Do you need to remain focused and strong for long periods or short rounds? How do you need your body to be move and be active? The working position of a showjumper is very different to a dressage rider and therefore again the flexibility and stability needs will be different.

Secondly, what are your current strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps as a Dressage rider you have a very good alignment but you struggle to absorb the movement of the horse in bigger movements and therefore require more stability. Perhaps as an Eventer you are quite strong but get tired on the cross country and therefore need to work on your cardio endurance.

To avoid doing a generic improve everything programme have a look at these questions and then focus on your off horse exercise into improving these elements specifically.

I have 1 2 1 training availability so get in touch if you would like some help with your specific training plan.

Planning Winter Training

No matter how many years it has been since I left school (a few….) September always feels like a fresh start.

Maybe it’s because it’s also the switch over from summer to autumn so the nights get darker, the weather gets colder and with that comes a change of routine for riding and fitness sessions.

I think it’s a really good time to sit down with a pen and a diary, planner, piece of paper etc. and make a plan of how your training is going to look for you and your horse from now until the end of the year. (Without causing alarm there are just 16 weeks left of 2018!).

For your horse:

  • What activities will he be doing? If he’s not likely to be out competing etc. maybe you want to give him a break, or if you have some winter competitions planned how fit do you need him to be?
  • What facilities do you have? If you have an indoor then time and weather may not be a problem, but does your outdoor have lights? Maybe you don’t have an arena and will be limited to hacking in daylight hours. Make a plan based on the fact it will be dark in the mornings and evenings and it may well be wetter and windier.
  • What do you want to work on? Have you struggled with a particular issue out competing this summer? Make this time your chance to really nail it and plan the exercises, schooling sessions etc. that you will use to help you overcome it.
  • Get your trainer involved in your goals so they can be best advised to help you when training you. If necessary also get your saddler, vet and horse bodyworker on board to help you along the way.

Of course we all know with horses you can make a plan and the next day you’re phoning the vet and ripping the plan up! However instead of falling at hurdles along the way go back your plan, regroup and amend as necessary. For example we had spells over summer when the arena was too soft to ride on, so instead I did groundwork with backwards, sideways and walking over poles. My original plan was work to get my horse using his back end improving his muscle tone so we still achieved some of those things just in a slightly different way so that when I got back on we hadn’t regressed at all-in fact I think it helped immensely.

For you:

I personally feel that autumn/winter is the perfect time to really work on your on fitness, balance, symmetry etc. As you are likely to be riding a little less, and the dark nights mean you tend to spend less time socialising at the yard so more time to focus on you!

  • What activities do you need to be fit for? There is difference in being fit to go a full days hunting to be being fit for a Dressage Test.
  • How fit for this activity are you currently? If you are feeling very unfit then start slowly and if you are fairly fighting fit maybe just a few tweaks to your routine could make all the difference.
  • Have you been struggling with something on your horse that could be caused in part by you? Now is the time to assess and work on any imbalances, injuries and weaknesses.
  • As with your horses training, get your planner out and write down your training aims and plan and get them scheduled into your week.
  • Who will you need to help you? Maybe it’s just a local class you need to sign up to, or you may need the help of a physio, personal trainer etc. whoever it is, contact them and get them on board to help you achieve your goals.

If you need some help with your goals I have availability for 1 2 1 training in the studio, so get in touch if you would like an appointment to see how I can help you.