#ForTheRider - Developing thoroughness, rhythm and balance
Three to four times a year we push the boundaries with the riders here at Aspire Equestrian by getting together at one venue and test how good we can be. Our gatherings are in the form on Intensive Training Camps and our Winter training is heavily rider skills focused.
It’s amazing how much you can achieve when you narrow your focus, immerse yourself and your horse in a positive learning environment and move comfort zones. We put emphasis on detail and that detail brings some impressive results.
Let me take you on a little tour of our Intensive Training Camp Winter 2017 we have just completed and perhaps you can grab some of the ideas for yourself and friends at the yard. I guarantee you, you will surprise yourself at how much is possible when you put your mind (and body) to it with 110% of your attention and by banning yourself from “I can’t” :
It’s impossible to improve on a weakness we are not able to pinpoint. We might know left canter is tricky for us “for some reason” or right leg doesn’t sit around the horse in the same good way as the left one but that knowledge is simply a statement of facts. The truth is, we might have tightness in one of the many hip muscles on the other side or a shoulder that always travels up that will cause that right leg to have a life of its own. We use the Camps to play detectives and figure out what exactly is and isn’t working in our seats. We’ve had sessions with a chiropractor and a personal trainer before (big shout to Clare Gangadeen from RiderCise for her awesome sessions at our Spring Camp!) but this year we decided on introduction to Equestrian Pilates warm ups with Natalie Monrowe. The idea being to start at the very core - literally and figuratively speaking ;)
Alongside Equestrian Pilates, Natalie has an extensive experience in sports massage (which we tested too and which was an amazing addition after XC training at the Sumer Camp this year!) as well as Eventing herself so we are looking into a much more comprehensive involvement of her skills into the Summer Camp 2018.
From coaching point of view I find teaching riders who are aware of what’s happening not only easier but much more interesting too. You have a completely different learning environment when you teach a rider who empowered oneself by increasing their feel for what is happening under the saddle.
Even though awareness of each muscle and its complex connection throughout the body is just the start, I find it changes the rider quicker than hours upon hours of in the saddle training.
Training The Mind
Many years ago I watched an experiment. Four riders where given a few minutes long video footage of a horse & rider and were told to copy-cat the style of the rider they watched on the video. The footage showed various riding styles from Western to specific riding issues to a jockey trying to do dressage in a racing saddle.
Every single rider did this amazingly well copying various quirks and particularities they watched. They thought it was a fun game, the believed they could so they went and did it. If we can copy “wrongs”, quirks and funny postures we can surely also copy the desired traits?
We use video footage throughout the Camps extensively and all riders are encouraged to watch, re-watch, analyse and discuss what they see vs what they would like to see.
For the last three Camps we have also involved photographers, Christine Dunnington and Rebecca Bunce, who have not only documented the sessions with their photos but also created endless possibilities to study all these great and not so great moments-in-time ;) Becky especially produced thousands of incredibly useful shots during the last two Camps that help me immensely in putting together spring and summer coaching plans for the riders and horses.
It’s a mind training that trains the body and if you don’t use any form of video feedback in your regular training, I would recommend you start and surprise yourself :)
Training The Body
All the training Camps have some form of a theme and our Winter 2017 was under exploration of training scales with polework, gridwork and covaletti training both in the flat and jumping sessions.
Poles focus the mind so the body gets a good workout: the rhythm becomes second nature when it needs to be maintained over 10-15 trot poles or 7-8 canter poles. Setting cavalettis in corners exposes every behind-the-leg stride. Gridwork can help settle the nerves by providing a repetitive challenge yet lets the rider and the horse concentrate on technique. Flatwork with poles challenges accuracy, spatial awareness, discipline as well as adding an element of a purpose to exercises that not always make sense to young riders or young horses.
Using poles is an inexpensive way to increase muscle work in the horse as well as an ingenious way to improve proprioception and balance so needed for any riding horse.
At the Camps the challenges are set on the verge of comfort zones with some tasks pushing the boundaries so the riders can challenge their own “fifth leg”. The dexterity that develops as a result of a holistic approach to training in both mind and body is what we feel every grassroots competition rider needs to help their horse in a tricky moment and be of no burden in a smooth moment.
I personally believe any pain-free horse can be helped to both look and work well. Sometimes, when the rider is learning alongside the horse, it takes a long time. However, the most empowering realisation is that improvements really are in our hands (minds and bodies). It is possible to improve beyond what we perceive as impossible at the time and that has been proven over and over again by many of the everyday riders I have a pleasure to train regularly.
Happy Winter Training from myself and the whole team of riders at Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy.
Photography by Becky Bunce http://www.beckybuncephotography.co.uk