This week TGP chats to Wiola Grabowska, founder of the Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy. Wiola runs a series of coaching programmes, which she created to provide inquisitive, ambitious riders with a clear training pathway.
What was the thinking behind your training programme?
I didn’t want to limit the content to any particular system or methods so instead, we mix and match different horse friendly, rider biomechanics oriented approaches to suit individual horse and rider. The leading mission is to provide riders with holistic, thorough, inspirational equestrian training adventures. The focus is on the three main disciplines: dressage, jumping and eventing.
Can anyone join in?
Yes ! The Academy runs 2 main coaching services: training for horse owners and non-horse owners. The former is a fully individual, well planned series of lessons. The latter consists of 4 programmes/levels: Start (12 sessions of seat training on the lunge), Foundation (all-round basic education of the novice rider), Development (working on understanding of and ability to school the horse) and Performance (training and competing for specific shows/events). The riders without own horses train on leased/loaned/shared horses.
Alongside the above, I also run theory workshops on horse care and equitation in Reading and London (Aspire Equestrian at Cafe Time) and unique, tailor made Aspire Equestrian GetAways which are designed to create a training and learning experience that complements the Aspire programme. We went to Italy in 2014, we shall see where 2015 takes us!
As most of us have given up on our New year’s Resolutions, can you talk us through some positive training methods to kick start our good intentions and ensure we stick to them?
I don’t favour any particular quick methods that might motivate us to stick to our intentions. What I do think works best is turning your attention into a project and then becoming passionate about accomplishing it.
You need to define the “why” of your project so you can determine how important it is to you to accomplish the goal and then you put all your efforts into tiniest details (like getting up 30 minutes earlier in the morning for that Pilates session that will help you with your posture in the saddle before you can dream of improving more detailed aspects of your seat so your horse is more comfortable in his back during your sitting trot).
If the reasons for doing something are superficial and primarily externally rewarded, the chances are, you won’t stick to them.
If you have a “why” that is aligned with your true wants, needs and dreams, then you have a chance of sticking to your intentions. You will endure failing at them over and over again and you will keep at them because it’s not about when and how but it’s about the why.
This year, I bought this little wooden message plaque that says “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about dancing in the rain”. It’s a well known quote but it reminds me to focus on doing what can be done rather than finding reasons not do things when conditions are not ideal.
Actually, there is one quick method that I do like with regards to sticking to your intentions and it goes: “do it now” ! Not after 6pm, not on Monday, not from next week, not when you feel better. Start now. Fail at it and fail again and keep going.
What or who inspires you within the equestrian world? Past and present.
I am inspired by initiatives and by people who go an extra mile to make equestrian sports focus on wellness at the grassroots levels (both when it comes to the horse and rider) and on ethical pursuits of physical superiority at higher levels. I love getting to know the ideas and ethos of trainers like Manolo Mendez, Karen Rohlf, Beth Baumert, Luca Moneta, Marijke De Jong and Sally Swift.
Different people inspire me for different reasons too. I am inspired to be better and better by my clients on Start Programme who are learning their seat basics on the lunge, to riders on my Foundation, Development and Performance Programme where they learn to school the horse and compete. Coaches and riders who started from the bottom with very little support, like Anna Ross from Altogether Equestrian here in the UK, inspire me to get up and keep going even when the going is tough.
Do you have any favourite equestrian possession?
Not really but if I had to chose something it would be a comfortable, well made pair of full seat breeches and a well balanced saddle. I love to ride in well made jumping saddles.
Is there an all time favourite yard or stables you have been to and why?
I have had the pleasure to visit and work at some fabulous yards but I am yet to be at one that combines the two ingredients that to me, are a must to classify as perfect:
1) an environment which allows a horse to be a horse
2) training/working conditions that allow a rider and a coach/an instructor to do their absolute best
I have worked at yards that really nailed one or the other but never both. There are many places still for me too see though so I don’t lose faith!
Which country does equestrian best? And why?
This is actually a difficult question because I have witnessed both amazing and dreadful procedures and training methods in almost every country where I had something to do with horses.
I love teaching in Norway where owners have a really palpable gratitude for horses in their life, they really treasure the connection, the training opportunities and seem to also take a lot of responsibility for their “pleasure horses”. In Poland, I love the notion of letting horses be horses, ditching over-rugging, over clipping, over humanising horses. In Portugal, it is the incredible connection developed between Lusitano horses and their handlers and riders, the attention to cooperation.
In the UK, I love the variety and a huge grassroots movement that creates a wonderful environment for passionate hobby and semi-pro riders as well as grassroots coaches like myself to pursue their goals and to have horses in their lives at any stage of it.
I can’t possibly say which country does equestrian best. There are good and bad sides to the industry all over the world, I much rather look at individual organisations, coaches, riders and learn from those worth learning from regardless of nationality or location.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Ha! That’s a heavy question!
A very well known author and speaker, Seth Godin, wrote “Don’t say, “I wish people wanted this.” Sure, it’s great if the market already wants what you make… Instead, imagine what would happen if you could teach them why they should.”
The latter is what I would love my legacy to be…I would like it to be in the mindset of riders and riders-to-be, the mindset that says: “I really understand I need to have basic knowledge of how my body affects my horse. I truly know that I need to develop those basics so that I can ride in a way that brings the best out of the horse without force, gadgets, kicking, pulling and bullying. Let’s get working on that”.
I would like to be able to contribute to the improvement of how we use horses for pleasure and for sport, to see training methods become truly horse friendly, rider-centred and for riding to become quality rather than quantity focused. I would prefer not to see the riding school model where horses work 4-5 hours a day looking like zombies, depressed and resigned.
There are many initiatives out there now that encourage more and more people into the sport. That’s great. I would, however, want to come up with more retention ideas…ideas which ensure that once someone gets into horses, they stay in horses. That they don’t leave because they are told to kick and pull so they feel they are developing bullying skills rather than riding skills…
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on The GaitPost!
Link to Seth Godin on TED Talks