Bucket list item – attend Carl Hester clinic – check!

Our guest blogger Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horse talks about attending a Carl Hester clinic.


I was very lucky to attend the Carl Hester master class in Vancouver over the mid November weekend. It was awesome!!

Seeing this clinic was a bucket list item for me, I have watched him ride for the UK for many years and have found his books excellent reads. I think it’s really awesome what he has done for the Equestrian sport in the UK, especially dressage. Something he empathized was that he did not come from a “horsey” family and he did not have lots of money, he brought the best horse he could with the money he had and it was the training that made the horse, not the price tag.

Mr Hester has an distinct and direct way of dealing with each horse and rider even though most wanted to work on the same concerns.

We got to see a some really nice horses and some excellent riders, which helped the rest of us understand that the issues remain the same even as we progress. We are all looking for better connection, better paces, and more ‘spectacular’ results that can only come from more relaxation and impulsion.

We learnt that they only school the horses 4 days a week, and the actual learning time is only around 30 mins, they are stretched before and after each ride, ridden out twice a week and a day off with as much time out in the field as possible. The young horses live out as much as possible and are only brought in to work.  I think something we can all take from this is that horses need to relax and be horses and we should not “drill” them.

There was some much information, especially on how to improve the upper level movements , but when it really came down to it there were some key points we can incorporate into our own ridden work.

And… stretch….

He emphasized the need for the horse to stretch. Each horse was asked to stretch and to work in a longer frame. Athletes stretch before training, our horses are athletes, they need to stretch too!

Leg on… leg off…

Leg off a ‘lazy’ horse, and leg on a hot one. The hot horse needs to accept the leg and listen to it. The lazy one needs to stop depending on the rider to keep them going. ( Stop nagging them!!) If you ask the horse to do something, they should continue doing it until you ask them to do something else.

Leg = reaction. It may not always be the reaction you ask for BUT that is OK! Appreciate that the horse is learning, and try to be clearer with the ask the next time.

Transition, transition, transition….

Ride every transition like it is part if a test and ride LOTS of them. And by lots he was looking for hundreds…

How often have you ridden a transition, especially down a pace that has just been ugghh… but you have not corrected it because, basically no one is watching. Stop that! Ride them like they really matter, because, basically they do. If you ride each transition forward and correct, it becomes habit, and when it comes to test time, a non issue!


Keep an eye on your hands. A good hand is a hand that is constantly communicating with your horse, it just looks like it is doing nothing! They are forward hands that correct while looking still. First though, keep them in a good basic position. Hands up and in front of you with the thumbs up and close together. This is not news, but it is something I see often, hands are dropped and turned over, this leads to a gap in communication with the horse. Fixed hands block the communication. We often heard, thumbs up, hands together. It is nice to know that even advanced risers need reminding of this occasionally!!

There was so much more information about how to ride different movements, improving collection, changes and piaffe and passage, but the above is a good starting point and easy to implement for any rider.


With thanks to Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horses.

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3 Ways To Rethink The Stress Of Training

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine

Superman was the best selling comic strip of its time when it first appeared in the 1930’s. As the popularity of the comic series grew, it reached million of readers a month. But then something happened. The authors made Superman pretty much invincible. Nothing could stop him, nothing could destroy him, he was always there to save the day. The series became boring and sales plummeted. Who wants to read about someone who has no issues and is always perfect? There was no plot, no tension.

So thats when the authors started with the Kryptonite story. Something that could defeat Superman! There was conflict again, stress and tension in Superman’s life, and that made the stories so much more interesting. Now THAT is something worth reading! I think we need to think about our own dressage training in the same way. Dressage is hard. It feels pretty much impossible at times. But thats what keeps it interesting. How boring would dressage be if everyone and anyone could just hop up on a horse and do it perfectly without struggle and stress? The difficulty is what we love; its what keeps things interesting! But what happens when the stress of training for our sport becomes too much? Here are some ideas to rethink the way we look at stress:

Emotional Regulation

The idea that we can live without stress is ridiculous as it is a critical and normal part of being human. It is also something that we often have no control over. But what we can control is how we perceive stress and how we react to it. The Greeks have a word for this, apatheia, which is the absence of irrational or extreme emotion.

Obstacles make us stressed. When our horse becomes tricky in the contact, is struggling to get that clean change, or is not reacting fast enough to our leg aids (all very normal elements in the training of our dressage horses) it frequently leads to a feeling of irritation, frustration and/or stress. When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed we need to focus on solving problems versus reacting to them. As Gavin de Becker writes in “The Gift Of Fear”, when you are frustrated and stressed ask yourself “what am I choosing to not see in this situation? What important elements am I missing because of my frustration and stress”?

And another great question to ask yourself: Does getting upset open the door to giving me more options? Most of the time frustration limites our ability to solve isssues because we are failing in that moment to think logically and rationally. If an emotion doesn’t improve the situation it can be considered unhealthy. We all feel these emotions in difficult situations, but remember, the most successful athletes focus on the domestication of their emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.

Think Like A Scientist

Emotions can be a result of irrational fears and thus we can’t always anticipate how we are going to feel about a certain situation. By focusing on logic we can bypass our feelings to reach a positive solution to almost every problem. Using logic means asking questions in order to gain valuable feedback so that with enough questioning it is possible to discover the root cause of a problem. Instead of feeling bad over a poor result try to think like a scientist. When a scientist begins an experiment they have a hypothesis on what they anticipate will happen, but if the result isn’t what they expected, most scientists are intrigued by why that experiment didn’t go as it planned. They ask questions, contemplate, and come up with a new experiment to better understand the problem they are studying. The wrong result is a feedback system that we can use to become more knowledgeable about our craft. Thinking in this way, undesirable results simply translate into a potential for deeper understanding.

So, when it comes to the training of our horses, run experiments. When things don’t go as planned, which they most certainly won’t, change your perspective to look at it like an opportunity to come up with a new experiment. The more experiments you run, the more successful you’ll become. There is a direct relationship between the number of experiments we test on our horses and the better we become at riding.

The more we practice being in a stressful or frustrated place, the better we become at managing it. If you plan on training your own dressage horse, you had better have an appetite for risk! I find the most interesting people in the sport of dressage are those who have struggled the most. Struggle has the advantage of propelling us into a new mental state. Every struggle becomes an opportunity to become a better rider and a better person. Psychologists call this adversarial growth. The struggle is the answer.

Your success in this sport isn’t about if you will struggle, it’s about how comfortable you can become with struggle. 

Socrates had a mean, nagging wife but he said being married to her was good practice for philosophy. Become adept at dealing with struggle and your success in this sport will be infinite.

The Process

The biggest mistake people make is looking too far ahead in their training. We are all riding dressage to reach Grand Prix. When we start riding we are all at A, and we are all striving to reach grand prix, Z. It’s so easy to become obsessed with Z that we forget about all the other letters in between. Each of those letters represents critical steps to reaching our end destination. The most successful trainers focus on the process, not on the giant goal. Dressage is about breaking our lofty goal down into small, manageable pieces.

As human beings, we feel the most stressed away from our regular structure. When we have a vision for what we want to happen in the future without a system to get there, we’re sure to be plagued with high levels of stress. But if we have a process or a step by step plan to reach our goal, we immediately feel more in control and stress levels drop. Focus on what you can do today with your horse. Focus on small things. Focus on riding in the present. React to what your horse is doing now. Excellence and success in this sport isn’t about luck, its a matter of steps. Give yourself smaller, more manageable goals and you’ll soon be making progress quicker than you ever thought possible.

Stress Is Important

Make friends with stress. Ask yourself, what advantage do you gain when it all goes your way?

Happy Riding!

My all time favorite books on dressage

By guest blogger Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine

I’ve compiled a list of my all time favorite books on Dressage. All of these books have had an influence on my approach to training Dressage horses.

1) The Complete Training Of Horse And Rider by Alois Podhajsky

This was one of the first books I ever read that was about Dressage. To this day I still recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the fundamentals of Dressage training theory. It covers all of the essentials in an easy to understand format.

2) Reflections on Equestrian Art by Nuno Oliveira

This is a super simple and fun to read book. It introduced me to Nuno Oliveira, and subsequently a 3 month trip to Portugal to study the Portuguese system of riding. Nuno’s deep love of horses and his devotion to the art of training for the pure beauty of it has always been an inspiration to me.

3) Riding Towards The Light by Paul Belasik

Paul Belasik takes storytelling to a whole new level when it comes to Dressage. His passion to learn and share this knowledge in the way humans were designed to learn, through engaging stories, is second to none. Often as much philosophical as it is a training guide, this book will sit well with the thinking rider.

4) Gymnasium Of The Horse by Gustav Steinbrecht

I don’t believe there is a more thorough book on the technical aspect of Dressage training than this one. The chapter on Shoulder-In itself took me a few days to get through. While dry, this book digs deep into the details that make Dressage what it is.

5) Misconceptions and Simple Truths In Dressage by H.L.M. Van Schaik

This is another fun book to read which covered some cool things I hadn’t heard of before. An example of this would be how some old classical masters taught a 2 beat walk before teaching piaffe. Some interesting stuff!

6) Academic Equitation by General Decarpentry

This book was written by a member of the Cadre Noire who eventually wrote the first FEI rulebook on Dressage. I found this book super fascinating as its the first book written on Dressage from a “Classical Dressage” trainer with a passion for sport. There are some really cool insights from his observations of watching the Olympic Dressage competitions of the early 1900’s.

7) Art Of Horsemanship by Xenophon

This book blew me away as it was written in 400 BC. Xenophon describes training horses in much the same way we approach training nowadays. So many principles he discusses are still relevant, which shows the deep understanding Xenophon had of this art. Impressive.

8) Breaking And Riding by James Fillis

For those of you interested in the French school of training, this is a fascinating book. Fillis studied the methods of Francois Baucher but I find Fillis’ books much easier to understand than those I have read that Baucher wrote.

9) Lyons On Horses by John Lyons

While this book isn’t dedicated to the sport of Dressage, this book made me think about my approach to training horses probably more than any other book. It delves deep into the nature of horse psychology and helped me understand why horses react the way they do.

10) The Nature of Horses by Stephen Budiansky

This book helped me understand horses from a more scientific perspective, again which helped me clarify some of my approaches to training. Some cool studies are discussed in this book which gives lots of food for thought!

So if you are looking for some summer reading, you won’t be disappointed in any of the above books!

Happy Reading!

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Behind the vertical?

Dr Hilary Clayton is an internationally renowned veterinarian, author, researcher and clinician. Her work in the field of equestrian biomechanics has provided incredible insight into equine sports, and the relationship between the horse and rider. She has carried out research across an extensive range of areas including, though not limited to; bit fitting, saddle fitting biometrics, kinematics, kinetics and locomotion. Her work has helped to further knowledge and to improve welfare for horses across the globe.

Dr Hilary Clayton was involved in the research into the head and neck position of elite dressage horses in competition between 1992 and 2008. While we would assume that the general level of training and welfare has increased throughout that time, their report made for interesting reading.

In the FEI handbook it states that: “The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the Athlete.” The team evaluated video of the horses and categorised them as on or in front of the vertical, or behind the vertical. The collected canter and collected trot show that the amount of horses behind the vertical has decreased over those 14 years.

However the results for the passage and piaffe show a very different picture. In 1992, 48% of horses in the passage and 45%, in the piaffe, were behind the vertical. By 2008 these figures had risen to 71% of horses being behind the vertical in both the piaffe and passage.

Obviously there are all sorts of conclusions that one could draw from this, but it is worth bearing in mind, that we should always hold the welfare of our horses at the utmost of our minds. It is important that governing bodies regularly review and maintain their own standards to ensure a high level of welfare across the world

(Comparison of the head and neck position of elite dressage horses during top-level competitions in 1992 versus 2008 by Morgan J.J.O. Lashley, Sandra Nauwelaerts, J.C.M. Vernooij, W. Back, and Hilary M. Clayton. Published in The Veterinary Journal, 2014, volume 202, pages 462-465)


Dr Hilary Clayton is the author and producer of “Activate Your Horse’s Core” available from our shop.

The 2 Rider Types Who Ride Dressage

by Stephen Forbes 

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to ride under the tutelage of some pretty amazing riders, ranging from Steffen Peters to Ulf Moller. At these world class training facilities, I was surrounded by a multitude of other riders and trainers all striving to be the best in the world. We all know everyone has a different personality, but I feel there are 2 types of people who make it to the top of the dressage world, and they couldn’t be more different.
Type 1 – The Mathematician 
This is what I would consider your classic Type A personality. Overly well organised, structured, and dare I say a tad OCD. They are the ones that bring a shelving unit to organise their locker at the barn and clean their tack after every ride. I call them the mathematicians because I feel their minds work in a 1+1=2 kinda way. They approach their training in the same way. Structure and discipline rule the world of the Mathematician rider.
Type 2 – The Artist
You know that girl who shows up to the barn with so much trash in her car water bottles roll out every time she opens a door? She’s the artist. Probably running late, she approaches training in a creative way, often with rules the seemingly contradict one another. Flexible and non-linear, the artist eyes her canvas, the horse, as a giant puzzle and can work on little pieces here and little pieces there. But in the end, the puzzle forms a picture with all the pieces fitting perfectly together.
I have seen both types of riders excel at the sport of Dressage. I don’t feel one is particularly better than the other, in fact, I feel their different approaches are equally successful. I once worked for a trainer who only started her day when inspiration hit her, sometimes not beginning her day until 4:00 pm and riding well into the wee mornings of the next day. I’ve also worked with a trainer who hand wipes his tires to his vehicle every time he drives into town. Both are successful Grand Prix riders and trainers.
What I do think is important is trying to figure out which type of trainer best suits you. Meshing with your trainer in terms of personality types is of the utmost importance, but always remember there is something to learn from everyone who has ridden down the centerline at an international level!
Happy Riding!
Our guest blogger is Stephen Forbes from Solo Equine
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Why consistency sucks

In 1999 a pair of Harvard scientists, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, performed an experiment where volunteers were asked to watch a video of two groups of people, one group wearing white shirts and one group wearing black shirts. The groups walked around the screen and tossed a basketball back and forth. The volunteers were asked to count how many times those wearing white shirts passed the ball. The entire video lasts less than 30 seconds. During the course of the video, a man dressed in a gorilla suit walks into the screen, stops, pounds his chest, and then walks off screen. The fascinating part of the experiment is that only half of the volunteers noticed the man dressed as a gorilla. This concept became known as “inattentional blindness”. When humans focus on something with great attention, we often miss, or become blind, to things starring us right in the face.

Inattentional blindness happens in dressage training all the time, especially when we ride alone. It’s easy to become so focused on a problem we are trying to overcome and forget to look at the big picture. Sometimes the problem has been fixed and is no longer an issue, but we have missed the gorilla walking through the arena, and keep drilling an issue thats been resolved. This happened recently, let me explain. We have a horse thats a hot tamale, and likes to take over in the canter. It became necessary for him to learn to wait and not rush in the canter. His canter was huge, and we needed to make it shorter and more controlled. The daily training became focused on improving this aspect of the gait.

Some time passed, and we began to focus on introducing the flying change but we began to have trouble with the change because we had now made the canter too short. He began to lose the jump and range of motion needed to make the change. The blind focus on improving the canter started to have the opposite effect! We became so focused on one element of the training that we lost sight of others. Why did this happen? Well according to those scientists from Harvard, because we’re human.

Focused work and consistency are great, until they’re not. While difficult, its important to occasionally stand back, out of the box, and try to see your training from an open perspective. You don’t want to miss the gorilla walking through your ring!

Happy Riding!

Our guest blogger is Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine.

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Real men don’t ride dressage

I was reading an interesting article in Psychology Today (http://bit.ly/1JiBMZG) that discussed the differences between a woman’s and a man’s brain. The differences in how each sees the world, interacts with it and responds to illness was all mentioned. As Louann Brizendine, M.D. says, “Until recently scientists assumed we all had a unisex brain. But now we know that isn’t true.” You must keep in mind though that we are talking about averages and not absolutes. This article got me thinking about what kind of “brain” excels at training dressage horses.

I think the biggest emotional trait one can have when working with horses is empathy. Accoring to Roman Krznaric ,author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, “Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person (or animal), understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions”. The only way to consistently train horses to perform at the top of the sport is to be able to relate to and understand them. I’m talking about horses that perform the exercises in a relaxed and honest way, and not fear-based training that is devoid of all empathy. Without empathy, there simply cannot be a harmonious partnership between horse and rider.

In Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain, he states “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.” And according to scientists, men are predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems, but often lack the same levels of empathy that woman have. I think this is why you don’t see “stereotypical” men participating in dressage. They don’t understand, and/or can’t relate to it because they lack the empathetic awareness needed to be involved in this sport. Now don’t get me wrong here! If you are a tattooed, Harley riding, smoke hanging out of your mouth, mechanically inclined, greased covered man, I’m not implying you lack all empathetic abilities to excel in dressage. Again, we are speaking of averages here, and not absolutes. I’m not saying it can’t happen. It’s just factual that you don’t see that very often in our sport. I also don’t mean that “stereotypical” men don’t have empathy….just that they, on average, do not demonstrate it to the same level as the average female.

I find that in most cases the men I meet who excel at dressage have a strong empathetic streak. I think regardless of gender, you need to have strong abilities to read your horses’ emotional levels, kindness, softness, and if your approach isn’t based mainly on empathy, then I would be surprised if you ever have much success.
According to a Scientific American article (http://bit.ly/2k43uUY) empathetic qualities are in a decline among young people. The good news is that with the discovery of mirror neurons (which allow humans to experience pain or discomfort in someone we are watching) people can actually learn to become more empathetic. Then, maybe dressage training can teach people to act with more empathy? Perhaps, more than ever, now is the time that we need more “stereotypical” men participating in dressage.
Be kind, and Happy Riding!
Our guest blogger this week is Stephen Forbes of Solo Equine
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Physio clinic at Stourport Riding Centre, 24.5.16

Stourport is such a nice place to run a clinic at.  The staff are all friendly and welcoming, there’s free tea and coffee (and sometimes chocolate – but don’t tell anyone that, because I’m supposed to be on a sugar free diet!), and the facilities are ideal.

Each month I treat several horses, either belonging to the Riding Centre, or horses who have travelled to the clinic for me to treat.  This month included Arnie, Lincoln and Uno, amongst others.  Uno is a young horse, in ridden work for around a year now, and he’s one of the nicest ‘people’ you could ever hope to meet.  He was also a model for us at the Horse Massage for Horse Owners course that we ran last weekend – I think Sara, who was working with him then, would have liked to move into his stable with him!  He’s just started jumping, and Gemma, who runs Stourport, is great at making sure the horses are checked out regularly, so she wanted to make sure he wasn’t struggling physically with the change in workload.  Lincoln is reportedly his usual self, showing off his huge talent – he knows he’s the star of the yard!  And Arnie is coming on in leaps and bounds with rosettes every time he goes out.  It’s a pleasure to work with such pleasant, relaxed, happy horses – all credit to Gemma, Dan and the team for creating an environment that both encourages and allows this.  I’m already looking forward to going back next month!

If you’d like to bring your horse along for assessment and treatment, drop me an email through my website, www.thehorsephysio.co.uk.