Being stretched

Frustrated with my lack of progress at the local riding school, I booked an intensive weekend of lessons with Wiola of Aspire Academy.  Last weekend, she finally got a chance to look at my riding, rather than reading about it, and tried to help me improve it.

Over two days I rode three different horses – four if you count the simulator – and managed to clock up more hours in the saddle over that period of time than I have in months.  I knew my body was in for a shock, given that I’m pretty unfit and my position needed a lot of work, but I tried my best to ignore the fact that various muscles were being painfully reawakened and make the most of it.

aspire academy riding lessons horse trot march 2014 kickingon

photo credit:

Even when I’m in the situation of being a client, I get nervous when I’m riding for someone new.  At the start of my first lesson, Wiola asked me – given my vague career aspirations – whether I wanted to be treated as a leisure rider or a (sort of) professional one.  I went for the latter: I always want riding to be something that I enjoy (though the frequency with which I can lose sight of that is another story), but it’s also something that I want to be good at and seek to improve greatly, so it seemed the best option.

Having warmed up to allow Wiola a chance to assess my current status, my position was quickly re-arranged to an extent.  I knew one of my major problems was my seat, and that was swiftly corrected along with various other things.  The lesson then became me frantically trying to hold my new shape whilst digesting all of the information I was being fed, and considering how the horse was moving and how I could improve that – the mental workout is always more difficult than the physical one!

Happily, confidence wasn’t an issue which arose throughout the sessions, and this has been a massive problem for me recently.  Another benefit which I usually find with a new instructor – and was true on this occasion – is that I tend to finally understand something that several people have been trying to explain for a while.  There were at least two things which I managed to grasp having been grappling around for them for a long time, which I was very pleased about.

There were, as usual, some things that I feel I let myself down on, but Wiola tried to encourage me to stop perceiving the situation as a test, and to treat it more as an opportunity and a learning experience.  I think I failed on that one, particularly at the beginning of the jumping lesson that I had!

What I probably need to do is make a note of the huge variety of exercises I completed over the course of the lessons, so that I can continue to practice them and improve.  I was surprised by how quickly some things could improve by making certain changes – the refrain that many equestrians will give is that horses and riding aren’t what you should be involved with if instant results are your thing, so it was nice to learn some key skills I was missing which quickly improved my efficacy in the saddle.

I’m glad I decided to do an intensive course, as it suited my current situation of lacking transport and a local instructor (and horses!) who I think has the right skills to push me.  It was my first real experience of learning from a horse and rider biomechanics approach, and that was an element which I really enjoyed and hope to do more of in the future.  I’m disappointed that I won’t have access to regular lessons of a high quality at any time in the near future, and the summer will be spent focusing on other people and horses rather than myself, but it was nice to have a taste of what’s out there, and a glimpse of what I might achieve.

9 thoughts on “Being stretched

  1. I’d give anything to ride robo-horse! 🙂

    On a serious note, what a great opportunity for you! I couldn’t agree with your comment more about the mental workout being more physically challenging than the actual physical workout. That’s part of what I love about riding. It is a thinking sport. And the subtle nuances of a weight shift or looking a certain direction can communicate volumes to the horse. It’s mysterious and beautiful–that we can partner with such a grand creature and communicate without words!

    I aspire to work with Wiola of Aspire sometime before I get to old and frail.


    • Haha! It’s a weird experience: if I tried a horse out with the view to buying it and it trotted like robo-horse, I’d dismount quicker than you can say “diagonal pairs” and be out of the arena, in my car and down the driveway looking for another horse 😉 but it’s great value for improvement – as you’re not worried about the machine doing something unexpected and don’t have to maintain the animal’s gait, you can focus solely on yourself in a way that you can’t even do on the lead rein or lunge line.

      So many athletes have gone on the record saying that physical challenges are more about your brain than your body – your mind gives up a long long time before your body does, so that’s where the real battle lies. To some extent, you want to switch your brain off with riding, focus on the instructions you’re being given and just DO IT, but then you have to be able to think for yourself too, self-assess and assess the horse and figure out what’s going on and why, because you won’t always have someone to tell you what to do. Riders aren’t taught enough independence of thought and feel, in my opinion, so it’s a lot to learn and take in. And your sentiment about communication is absolutely why I love riding too, the sense of achievement is phenomenal.

      You should come over and do it, it’d be worth the trip. Or maybe given the difficulties you’re having there should be an Aspire California 😉

  2. Thank you for this great write up Becky. You did really well and in fact, considering you have ridden very little, I would say you have made more than average improvement to your effectiveness and position as well as ability to change things in a relatively short period of time. I am really glad it was a good experience and hope to see you again after the summer.

    I am uploading your videos as I type so they will be with you either later tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully, they will help you recall the exercises and corrections needed 🙂

    Susan – I hope I will get to know you too!! 🙂

    • Thanks. It’s a good point about how little saddle-time (and particularly instruction hours) I actually get at the moment, so perhaps I should be a little less hard on myself. I think the reason I managed to improve a fair amount was the determination to make the most of the opportunity, even though I got a bit tired and frustrated at points! I’ll definitely do another day in the future – it’ll be really interesting to see how I get on over the summer riding all sorts of horses (although they’ll be ones I’ll know really well by the end, which should be a good thing) and what changes I can make. Last year I’d barely ridden before I went to the US and I threw myself into the deep end and came out alive, so hopefully I’m in a better position to take more opportunities this year. We shall see!

      I’ll watch the videos through my fingers, but they are definitely a brilliant memory aid. If I write the exercises I did down, I’ll use them on myself and, where relevant, my students too – teaching things to other people always helps you remember them better, and the trot exercises in particular will be great to help keep things interesting for campers who want to progress (it’ll give them more variety to keep them engaged). I was already planning on getting them to do the rising trot exercises, where you play with the number of steps of rising and sitting, and I now can’t wait to see what they think of doing rising trot with just one stirrup, so thanks for that! That’s a good one I can practice when I’m out riding trails too.

      See my comment above to Susan – Aspire USA, anyone? 😉

      • I hope you have a fabulous time at the camp and I am super curious how the more riding hours and this new/combined knowledge shapes your skills! It would be super interesting to see you after US 🙂 I will email Kari’s details with the videos too!

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