Equestrian Blog

Choosing a horse riding holiday, By our Head Trainer Jenny Richardson (13th March 2018)

Many people are considering a riding holiday as spring beckons, and lots of us enjoy topping up our horse riding skills in a new location, as well as relaxing and unwinding on a riding trip.

But if you’re planning a riding holiday, do you want a beach ride, a trek, or a training break like the fabulous ones on offer here at Castle Leslie Estate?

Preparing for the climate

There are several important things to consider when choosing your trip, such as the climate. If you are a fair-weather rider at home, remember you will feel just the same way abroad! Rain is one of the worst conditions to ride in if you are unprepared, so check out online travel guides, and in the shorter term, the BBC’s world weather website www.bbc.co.uk/weather for an idea of expected weather.

Here in Ireland, our weather is influenced most by the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, it doesn’t have the extreme temperatures that other countries at similar latitude would have. The average temperature is a mild 50°F. A major warm ocean current called the North Atlantic Drift keeps our sea temperatures mild too!

Chilly climes

If you are heading to a colder climate, or are riding out of season, think about the extremities – if you are riding for hours on end, your body will keep warm, but your hands and feet will be the first to go numb. Thermal socks are a must, but make sure they fit in your boots before you leave! (On that note, it is a good note to break in any new footwear ahead of the holiday.)

Sun seekers

If you are heading somewhere sunny, ask yourself if you can cope with the seasonal heat – and book your holiday outside of the hottest months, if necessary. Find out if panniers are provided, as you will undoubtedly need to carry water with you, when riding, and may need to invest in a small, secure shoulder bag. Always think ‘cool’ – lightweight riding hats and non-rubber boots are also a must for sunny locations.

Tricky terrain

Another aspect to think about when choosing a riding trip is the terrain, something many of us do not consider. Find out exactly where you will be riding. For example, many European destinations boast various types of terrain; if you are on mountainous ride for example, you may be ascending up to 3000m. This of course means a slower pace, and riders must also be fit and mobile enough to stand out of the saddle, leaning forward to help the horses, for some time.

Meanwhile, treks in lower regions are usually faster rides where guests can canter and gallop, as the terrain is flatter and riders can cross open, grassy fields. There’s no use wishing you could be galloping along a sandy beach in the sunshine, if you are visiting an in-land area with narrow mountain tracks.

Horse riding training breaks

Our top tip is a training break – here at Castle Leslie Estate, you can choose from a wide range of horse riding breaks to enhance ALL of your horse riding and equestrian skills! Click HERE for details. We have Happy Hackers, Horse Sport, Getaway, Learn to Ride and Confidence-boosting horse riding holiday packages.

Visit our friends at Horse & Countryside Magazine. They feature a range of articles on horsey matters!

Fittening begins… (10th February 2018 by Jenny Richardson, Equestrian Centre Business Manager, BHSAI)

Our head trainer Jenny Richardson BHSIA teaches many guests and clients here at Castle Leslie Estate’s wonderful Equestrian Centre. She says that, just like the horses at the Estate’s world-leading riding centre, many of us are planning on bringing horses back into work after winter, during the coming months.

Coming back into work

If your horse has had a holiday or a reduction in his fitness over winter, or been off work for unsoundness, consideration must be given as to how he should return to his usual work schedule. There may be some weight changes and muscle tone loss, but many things can be improved as you structure his schooling. If he should be a little stiff on one rein, or you are not sitting entirely square in the saddle, these things can be addressed in your rehabilitation and re-fittening!

Your horse’s hard feed will have been reduced during his lay-off, so be sure to increase this slowly – it is important that the work should increase and then be followed by the extra feed, and not the other way round. Be sure to start with a good ten minutes in walk, whether in the school, hacking or lunging – you can use this time to do bending and stretching, to encourage his flexibility and the mobility of his limbs, and accustom him to carrying you and listening to you.

Arena exercises

Ditch some bad schooling habits and remember to always do your transitions at certain places in the school, to hone accuracy; work gently long and low, slowly bringing him into a contact where he will have to use himself and engage his muscles. If he feels stiffer on one rein, do five minutes more on this rein on a circle, trying to use more of your inside leg than your rein, preferring leg aids to hand pressure. This will encourage his body to bend around your leg rather than him leaning on your hand. Walk, trot and canter work over raised poles is a great way of getting your horse to use his shoulders and bascule his back, ideally stretching his head and neck down low. Be sure to give him at least five minutes cooling down time, at walk, depending on how much he has worked.


Start with short routes at walk and increase each time, trying to include some hill work and then introduce a little interval training whereby you walk for a certain time, then a short trot and back to walk, increasing over a couple of weeks and including some short canter work, if conditions allow. Again, be sure to walk the last mile or so, to bring him home cool and relaxed.


This is great for periods where time is tight and is a good variation to add to your other activities. Sessions need not be long, again don’t forget the essential walking both at the start and finish. There are various training aids, of which the Pessoa-type training aids are a favourite for working the horse in the correct outline; however be sure not to ask for too long, especially when returning to work after a break. It is also important to work both directions evenly, and lunge work will remind him to listen to your voice and commands. It is excellent bonding time without riding!

With all of the above exercises, increase by a few minutes each day until you’re back to a normal level of activity for you both and can be fit and ready for any shows you may wish to attend. Your specific programme should of course be individually tailored to you and your horse.

For articles and information on equestrian matters please visit our friends at http://www.equi-ads.com – visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

Winter fitness for riders! (2nd January 2018 by Jenny Richardson, Equestrian Centre Business Manager, BHSAI)

In our last blog we discussed the importance of enjoying some indoor show jumping training and competition over the winter. Here, our head instructor Jenny Richardson BHSAI shares her top tips for maintaining rider fitness this winter…

Yes, Christmas is over, and many of us may have over-indulged! But now’s the time to regain health ahead of spring, as it is key that horse riders maintain fitness, especially if they compete. Being at optimum fitness and on top of your game will give you a huge advantage in the competition ring, as your thought processes and your reactions will be sharper, enabling you to make fast decisions on approach, direction and stride, and you will also feel more confident in your ability to do the job of jumping.

Mobility in the saddle is paramount, and if you are supple and adjustable, you will be able to cope with any sudden unexpected movements underneath you, and have less chance of being unseated. Certainly, on competition days, adrenalin runs high, but this can be draining, especially if you are in multiple classes and/or have several rides. Although each round lasts only up to about two minutes, just consider how many decisions you make and how much physical action is required each time to realise what a lot of effort is packed into a relatively short time. This makes show jumping a very intense sport, and will be physically exhausting if you are not fit and prepared.

Our bodies are fit for what we do on a regular basis, so if you ride eight to ten horses a day, you will be fit for riding! If, however, you are a one horse owner, you probably need additional fitness training from other sources. Regular pilates, yoga, jogging and swimming are all excellent activities to improve core muscles, stamina and suppleness, providing you are careful to remain consistent.

Added to regular riding and stable work, this should see you through to being a healthy, fit adult with no weight problems. You probably select the best feed for your horse and design a well thought out diet for him, but you must do the same for yourself. We all understand the basics of healthy eating these days, so drink plenty of water to keep your fluids high, and ensure your snacks are protein bars, not from fast food vans! Start the day with a good breakfast to get the metabolism going, and prevent hunger pangs setting in too early.

All your preparations will stand you in good stead if you find yourself at the end of a long day, tired with a long drive home, and waiting for your turn in the last jumping round at a show, which is often the most important challenge, and you want to do well. Your reserves of energy must be high enough to respond to your desires; your brain is your most powerful tool, and if you can apply mind over matter you won’t go far wrong if you have a fit, healthy, responsive body.

For a full list of our range of luxurious equestrian holidays, including jumping and XC breaks in the heart of Ireland, just CLICK HERE.

For articles and info on equestrian matters, please visit our friends at www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . Visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

Winter Show Jumping (21st December 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI)

It is time for many equestrian enthusiasts to enjoy some indoor show jumping training and competition. Our head instructor Jenny Richardson BHSAI shares her top tips!

Jumping indoors for some horse and rider combinations can provide somewhat of a challenge! The space is often much tighter, and often, spooky horses find the indoor environment more intimidating. It almost always takes riders by surprise, when they first compete or even attend a clinic indoors, and have to contend with smaller warm-up spaces, and tighter turns.

Learning to jump well in at an indoor venue is all about making the most of the space you have, and that means that your horse must be super-responsive to your aids. Straightness is key, as if your horse drifts or is spooked by fences or banners, it is harder to stay on course when the fences are coming up quickly.

Practice makes perfect

Working on straightness at home can be a great place to start. Why not start with a grid of cross poles at whatever height is applicable to you and your horse, and focus on jumping exactly in the centre of the fence? Sounds simple, but using a cross pole is a great way to give your horse a clear message of where to jump; and as a rider, you can assess your position to be sure that you stay straight in your own position during take-off, over the fence and also in the descent, so you don’t influence the horse’s ability to be straight by being crooked! Remember, practice makes perfect. Once this is established, set up some ground poles before and after the fence, encouraging your horse to stay straight in the approach and get-away.

Practice moving up and down the gears, e.g. getting ten canter strides down the long side of the arena, and then eleven, and then nine.

A great tool is being able to make sharp walk to canter transitions, and also canter to walk – this is especially useful in a busy warm up area. Practice at home utilising shapes like serpentines and circles, or using a dressage marker as your ‘target’ spot to make the upward or downward transition at.

On show days, when you arrive at a competition, make sure you have always got sufficient time to walk the course. Take in everything your horse may see, such as advertising banners, flowerpots and the judge’s box, which could be distracting, especially for young horses or one that hasn’t jumped indoors for a while. Riders should walk the course as they plan to ride it, taking note of any areas where they can make up time, or take a short-cut.

Remember to have fun and enjoy the winter show jumping circuit! We hope to see you in 2018 for some horsey fun here at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate.

Click here to see our range of luxurious equestrian holidays, including jumping and XC breaks in the heart of Ireland.

30th November 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Fast & Furious!

Here’s my tips on speeding up your showjumping round.

It seems that as we climb the showjumping ranks, e.g. by jumping higher fences or progressing from unaffiliated to affiliated shows, there’s more at stake. The class numbers get higher, as do our expectations. Initially, we entered for the experience – then we were hoping for a clear-round, and maybe a placing – and now we’re perhaps wanting a first place!

Accuracy is key, but time will of course play an important part in our success. The time allowed in any class should be viewed as a reminder not to go too slowly; not as the ultimate goal! The jumps themselves are the test in hand. It is easy to make mistakes if you feel under the pressure of a tight time limit, and it is a common error to ride the first half of the course a little slowly, and then realise you might be running out of time, and then take unnecessary risks to catch up.

Top tips-

1.Choose your short cuts at the course walk stage

The course walk is vital. Find the course plan and study it well, noting the speed at which it is set, and the time allowed. When walking the SJ course, there will usually be a few options for the route, eg. going around wings or cutting inside. Pick one or two obstacles that are favourable to you and your horse to shorten your route, without having to increase your pace.

2.Plan your pace

It is important to plan your route and pace early on. If you do need to make up more time, note the most achievable places to do so – e.g. a straight area where you can slightly open out your canter, regaining collection a few strides before your next fence.

3.Note the line between the fences

See if you can find out the line between the fences that the course builder used to ascertain the time and distances; as this is the optimal route. Watch the course builder early on if you can, to see where he places his wheel; or see if the course plan shows the measurement route drawn between the jumps – or just ask the course builder for some tips, if he or she is available!

4.Practise your strengths

In your preparation and training at home, work out your ‘short cut’ strengths, based on your horse’s expertise and size, e.g going outside or inside fences. Practice this at home, e.g. cantering through a small gap representing two jump wings.

15th November 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Our head trainer Jenny Richardson BHSIA teaches many guests and clients here at Castle Leslie Estate’s wonderful Equestrian Centre. She says that, just like the horses at the Estate’s world-leading riding centre, many of us are winding our own horses down for winter now.

Our hard-working horses at the Castle Leslie Estate Equestrian Centre will shortly be enjoying a well-earned break from holiday visitors. As autumn continues, many horses will be wound down for the season, as competitions become more scarce, and the nights draw in. Here in Ireland, our eventing calendar is now fairly quiet, until Ballindenisk and Millstreet in March. This break for many competitive horses results in changes to their management routine, including workload and feeding, which of course are intrinsically linked, and also extra considerations like rugging, stabling and the management of boredom.

So, what are the challenges we all face in terms of ‘winding down’ a horse’s routine, or even ‘turning away’ completely?

1. When the horse ‘winds down’ his fitness programme this brings an increased chance of injury due to reduced fitness levels. A common problem is tripping or over-reaching, due to laziness or lack of concentration – fit protective leg boots when riding, to be on the safe side.

2. Another potential problem is muscle strain due to insufficient warm up at the beginning of a training session. Consider riding in an exercise sheet in cold weather to keep the horse’s back and quarters warm.

3. In addition, there is the need for a revised feeding programme as the horse adapts to his new work level – make sure your rug wardrobe is up to date!

4. Furthermore, cold spells later on in the year may bring slippery ice and frozen ground, so there is also the added possibility of slipping or jarring the horse’s limbs.

The science bit

Studies have shown that the horse’s functional muscle capacity, e.g. the capacity to utilise oxygen, is usually well maintained as the horse goes through ‘winding down’. The respiratory ability to take in oxygen also tends to be well maintained. However, enzymes in the skeletal muscles do return to their pre-training levels after just five weeks of winding down. These enzymes break down glucose for energy and create glycosis, when glucose and oxygen are converted into the fuel molecule ATP for energy. The ATP is stored in the horse’s muscles and allows the muscles to contract intensely for longer periods. Energy enzyme levels increase with training and decrease at ‘wind down’, meaning that the ‘winding down’ should be conducted gradually to allow all of the horse’s systems to adapt properly.

Essentially, the longer the horse has been in training, the longer his fitness is generally maintained during detraining. If the horse decreases his fitness gradually and consistently over a period of four to six weeks, followed by a long term period of maintenance work, he will ‘wind down’ safely and his systems will adapt properly.

How do the horse’s systems adapt to a reduced workload?

Cardiovascular and muscular systems – warm up and cool down periods must be adapted and hard, fast work must be significantly reduced.
Bones, tendons and ligaments – hard, fast work must be reduced as fitness decreases, or limb injuries could occur.
Nervous system – the horse could tire more quickly, potentially resulting in over-reaching or stumbling.
Therefore, reduce workload gradually over four to six weeks. (Just in time for the Christmas break!) Generally speaking, schooling sessions around three times a week will keep the horse ‘ticking over’, providing he is also getting sufficient exercise in the field. As the horse winds down his fitness levels, his feeding regime should be adapted to include higher levels of fibre to ensure good digestion and also maintain body temperature.

We offer luxurious equestrian holidays in the heart of Ireland. Visit www.castleleslie.com for more details.

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit our friends at www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . Visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

25th October 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Our head trainer Jenny Richardson teaches many guests and clients here at Castle Leslie Estate’s wonderful Equestrian Centre. She says that of all the common mis-understandings between horse and rider, there are four that stand out, detailed below…


A rider who loses his own balance will compromise the balance of the horse which in turn will affect the horse’s way of going. Whether it be riding a simple upward or downward transition or over jumps it may create one or more of the following problems: hollowing, wobbling, wrong bend, wrong canter lead, running or leaning. Ensure your position is central, straight and fluid so that you move as one with the horse and not in any way against him. Simple pointers like not looking down, upright shoulders and stirrups on the balls of the feet with heels down are all the correct foundations for harmony between you.


Most commonly seen when jumping water trays or spooky fillers, as they draw the eye and sometimes catch the rider out, unaware of the mistake he is making. Side effects of looking down are that if your head lowers, your shoulders and hands will also drop forwards and down and can cause the horse to run on to his forehand rather than sitting on his hocks ready to take on the fence. The best way to judge your take off point is to focus on the highest point of the jump, i.e. the top rail of an upright or the back bar of an ascending spread.


Rhythm is everything in any discipline. It is very common to see riders only schooling at home in a collected canter and then wonder why they are not making the distances in combinations in a show jumping competition or why in dressage that their marks are so low. In dressage the judges are looking for balanced, expressive big movements and in a jumping competition the course builder is asking you to jump from a medium to forward canter, especially as the fences get bigger. It is important to train at home in the same canter as that required in the ring. There are brilliant exercises to test your ability to adjust the pace as is needed for whatever you will be doing, such as lengthening along the long sides and shortening through the short sides of your arena.


Never under-estimate the level of fitness needed to be an effective rider. Core strength is paramount together with the stamina needed for the correct heart rate over the period of time required. Should you be struggling for breath or your muscles aching, how can you expect to be able to command the obedience and attention of your horse. A top tip is to pace yourself, allowing breathers at certain points between separate tasks, eventually you will be able to continue longer without breaks.

Click here for information on our amazing training breaks and holidays at Castle Leslie Estate. And for articles and info on equestrian matters, please visit our friends at www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk Visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

11th October 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Tips on Saddle Fitting

As a trainer here at Castle Leslie Estate, I see plenty of horse and rider combos that are imbalanced. Optimal saddle fit for both horse and rider is a key factor for being balanced in the saddle, and this is important, as the rider needs to be in balance in order to enhance the horse’s way of going. A balanced saddle gives a good bearing surface, and distributes the rider’s weight over the largest possible area. At Castle Leslie, we have our riding horse’s saddles checked regularly, both for our horses’ welfare, but also so our visiting riders can be totally balanced and comfortable when riding.

Did you know the natural balance point of the stationary horse is at the sternum? The horse while grazing with its head down has most of its weight on the front end, but when riding, the rider influences this natural sense of balance in order to keep the horse off the forehand, and working in a more uphill fashion. Young, inexperienced horses are often heavy on their forehands, and therefore can feel downhill, unbalanced and uncomfortable to ride; but as a horse becomes better trained, their centre of gravity changes, which becomes more harmonious and balanced with the rider in situ.

Once you have your horse working more uphill, and off the forehand, the rider’s goal of being balanced in the saddle comes to the forefront. Sitting correctly dictates a straight line from the shoulders to hips and then to the heels, and this is a concept many riders struggle in achieving. Essentially it can only be achieved if the rider’s pelvis is basically in the same position in relation the rest of his body as it is when the rider is walking. Once this positioning is created (through years of hard work and a well fitting saddle!) the feet, knees and hips and the spine can then provide shock absorption, allowing the rider to maintain balance on the moving horse.

The saddle must fit the horse, but it should also fit the rider. A well fitting saddle should position the spinal column of the rider and the seat bones in such a way as to allow the four natural curves of the spine to act as shock absorbers, and move with the motion of the horse, and this will promote balance of the rider, enhancing the horse’s movement! The angle of the tree in the saddle should conform to the slope of the horse’s shoulder and of course the shape of the horse’s back.

If you enjoy reading about equestrian matters, why not check out Horse & Countryside’s website – www.horseandcountryside.com – lots of horsey news and views!

15th September 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

All About Accuracy

I am Equestrian Centre Business Manager here at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate; you can click on our main site www.castleleslie.com to see what we have to offer!

We know from speaking with the many visitors and guests that experience our own XC course at Castle Leslie Estate that most event riders are very confident in the cross-country phase. Most are also established in the dressage section, but when it comes to the show jumping round, this is where mistakes are made; partly because this is the final part, the climax and ultimately will decide the result, so pressure plays a huge part along; with the fear that the poles fall down very easily, unlike the cross-country jumps!

It is very important to train ourselves to stay focussed and keep our minds under control in the SJ round. The most common error is to think too quickly, resulting in upping the pace, perhaps without realising, and therefore the horse may not make good shapes over the fences, but run a little and flatten his bascule. If we are able to ‘think slow’ amidst everything around us, it will give us the edge to assess the situation and react to it rationally. It is also important to know your own horse, and not to worry what others do in the ring, whether it be the number of strides in a distance or the line to the jump. Don’t worry about the way others ride; consider only the best way to conduct your own round according to how you have trained together and perfected as a partnership, over time.

Showjumping is an accuracy test

We are aiming to maintain a collected canter throughout the showjumping course, and to wait for the jumps to come to us. A simple arena exercise is to place three canter poles approx. 3 – 3.5 metres apart in front of a fence, to ensure we maintain our rhythm and let the horse ‘use himself’. Where possible’ you can build two or three fences in this manner’ and string them together as part of a course. If your horse rushes over the poles, you can raise them slightly to become bounces, which will help to slow him down and encourage him to use his hocks, rather than rushing on the forehand. Leaving the poles in place in the showjumping phase is best attained by remembering that this is an accuracy test just as much as the dressage.

A good technique to train the horse to respect poles is to train over raised trotting poles using low blocks (or whatever similar, suitable arena equipment you have to hand); the aim of the exercise being to get him to stretch his head and neck long and low, and pick his feet up; this should help produce an obedient and careful horse.

If you are in need of a targeted show jumping training break, why not consider a trip to Ireland – we welcome riders of all abilities to our beautiful Irish venue here at Castle Leslie Estate. Our ‘Horse Sport’ packages are always popular with eventers and showjumpers!

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit our friends at www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . Visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

17th July 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Hacking Spooky or Young Horses

In our latest blog, our head equestrian trainer Jenny Richardson takes a look at hacking a spooky or inexperienced horse safely; perfect timing, as we all enjoy the beautiful summer weather in the countryside!

Jenny says: “The warmer weather and longer evenings in Ireland and the UK have inspired many equestrian enthusiasts get out hacking and enjoying the beautiful countryside! However in order to enjoy hacking to the full, it is important that we are up to speed with our riding and road safety knowledge. This will ensure we are as safe and confident as possible whilst riding out this summer. If you have a young horse or a particularly spooky horse, hacking can sometimes be daunting, but you don’t want to miss out whilst all of your friends are getting to enjoy summer hacking! Let’s take a look at things we, as riders, can do to help our equines feel more confident.

Firstly it is important to remember that our horses are flight animals and this means that their natural response when afraid is to run away! This can be a risky business when out on the road and there are cars, vans on the road and on bridle paths sometimes cyclists and walkers to take into consideration. So what do you do? Well it’s your job to convince your horse that there is no need to be afraid.

The first step to hacking comfortably and confidently both on the road and on bridlepaths is to accustom your horse to different sights and sounds that they might meet out hacking.

Why not ask a friend or family member with a bike, a dog, young children or even a motorbike to visit your yard? You could lead your horse around or ride in the school. In a similar vein, we all know horses can be spooky with the most commonplace of things, so if you have a particularly spooky horse you’re concerned about hacking, why not try placing objects such as open umbrellas, footballs, and flapping bags and so on in the arena and spend time getting your horse accustomed to them? You may need to enlist the help of a more experienced horse to give yours confidence in going past the ‘deadly’ flapping bag!

Once your horse has become accustomed to the sights and sounds he may come across whilst on a hack, think about how you are influencing him from the saddle. Staying calm and confident will go a long way, as your horse will look to you for reassurance if he is worried. Take calming breaths, and ride out with a confident friend or instructor on a safe and sensible horse. If you feel your nerves getting the better of you, you could always ask an experienced rider to take your horse out for his first few hacks, so your emotions don’t add to the anxiety.

Remember in the early stages of acclimatising your horse, it it sensible to only undertake short hacks and avoid peak times for traffic. Finally and importantly – always take a mobile phone with you! Good luck everyone and enjoy the summertime!”

Click Here to view our latest equestrian deals on holidays that incorporate glorious hacks around the Castle Leslie Estate.

We are big fans of the sport of eventing, and therefore would encourage our horsey friends to visit the site www.eventingnation.com – check out their range of horsey news stories.

30th June 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

The importance of accurate dressage tests

Many pupils here at the equestrian centre at our world-leading riding facility often ask me for tips in the area of honing their dressage tests, and increasing marks. The accuracy of riding and the horse’s movements is critical in the dressage score received for any combination, and when it comes to riding a polished dressage test, preparation is the key to success. Accuracy is a dynamic which often gets lost when riders simply focus on the horse’s way of going – which in turn often leads to increases in their own stress levels, and those of their horses. Riding a truly accurate test is an important way to gain marks, so let’s take a look at the key areas.

Riding an accurate test

One of the achievable ways to gain extra marks in any dressage test for any rider is to ensure your transitions or turns are exactly on the marker specified by the test. Riders can’t always be sure that their horses won’t lack straightness on the day, or show some tension at a show, but looking out for markers in the area is something everyone can do, and making sure that a movement or transition happens where it is meant to will make a real difference to the final score.

In order to be as accurate as possible, riders need to give themselves as much space in the area as they can. It is often a neglected factor, and the rule of thumb for any dressage rider is to ride into the corner as deep as your horse can manage; that is, so he can keep the same rhythm, tempo, balance and quality of his gait. By making sure riders give themselves the maximum space possible, they can be more accurate and get better marks for not cutting the corners.

It is also crucial to know your movements. If you are not sure of the exact size of a circle, loop or serpentine, measure it out at home in advance, or ask your instructor to show you so you can visualise that when in the area. This is a great way to snap up marks, and avoid judge’s comments on the sizes of the circles not being quite right!

If your horse is likely to be tense, riders should take the opportunity to get in to the arena as soon as possible, giving themselves the best chance to show their horses the judges box or car, the white boards, or any scary plant pots which all may be rather suspicious to a nervous equine. Displaying a relaxed test is sure to increase the level of accuracy and the marks.

My other top tip is that in my view it is essential to memorise your test. You want to be able to do your dressage test on autopilot, so you know the movements inside out, and can focus on riding the horse. This will ensure fluidity between movements and harmony.

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . This is the website of the UK’s Pegasus Magazine. Click here to find out more and read articles.

20th June 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Remembering Course

We spend lots of time helping our riding clients hone their showjumping. But as an instructor, I often hear that people find it hard to recall the set course! Fortunately, the more you compete, the more natural it will become to remember your course of showjumps. It is common to be anxious at the beginning, or on returning after a break. Most courses are built on natural lines to be flowing and inviting; the course builder does not aim for you to have worries about direction, but to encourage a rhythmical, correct round of jumping.

1. Walking the course

At any affiliated competition a course plan will be displayed at the collecting ring, and it is common sense to study this prior to walking the course, so that you already have prior knowledge of what is to come. It will also have useful information such as the time allowed and the jump off course, if applicable. It is important to know exactly how many fences there are and not to miss the last jump! Do check where the finish line is, it has been known for riders to miss riding through it and therefore get eliminated. When walking the course, devote your full attention to the business in hand, either on your own, or with a knowledgeable friend or trainer. Too many people walk the course as a social stroll with friends. You need to walk your distances, lines and corners exactly as you intend to ride them. If it makes it easier, break the course down into sections, a beginning, a middle and an end part.

2. Letting it sink in

Where possible, try to go towards the end of the class, giving yourself time to watch some of the early riders. You will be able to see how the lines and distances are riding, and if there are any particular problems. Again, watch on your own or with a trusted mentor, but not as part of a social gathering. Another good tip is to visualise your round, ideally in exactly the way you wish to ride it, fence by fence, thinking positively and imagining a perfect clear round.

3. Your performance

After warming up, allow yourself enough time to watch the competitor before you. You can both catch your breath and have a last minute recap. Remember to wait for the bell and that you have 45 seconds from the time it sounds until you pass through the start timer; which is normally plenty of time!

Your brain is a muscle, and with enough practise will soon become used to the mindset needed for the job in hand. Once you are confidant at remembering the first round, when you look at the course plan, if there is a jump off or second round, train yourself to also learn this, and when you are walking the course, walk this second round too. This will give you invaluable knowledge on different lines, distances and potential time saving turns. If you don’t do a first round clear, nothing has been lost, whereas if you do qualify for the jump off, think how much more insight you have gained!

We welcome riders of all abilities to our beautiful Estate – CLICK HERE for further details.

16th May 2017, by Jenny Richardson BHSAI

Tips for Training

During the spring and summer months, it is just so lovely to ditch the schooling in favour of lovely ambles in the countryside but if you’re not careful it’s easy to neglect the carefully structured regime of training and discipline that keeps our horses structured and well behaved in their work.

Keep it interesting

It is very easy in the arena to be too repetitive and we must avoid the possibility of boredom setting in for both horse and rider. Here are a few changeable and interesting routines to keep you both on your toes and enjoy the sessions.

Flatwork techniques

It is very easy just to stick to your twenty metre circles and riding large around the arena, but there is plenty of unexplored territory! How about you try to ride a square instead of a circle, using pivot turns and a diamond shape is another good one. Use the letters and sides of your arena to pinpoint your shape. Always start in walk and progress on through the paces. Try a spiral where you begin with a large circle and slowly make the circle smaller, say, to around five metres and then leg yield out until you are back to your original size circle. A good straightening exercise is to ride down a three-quarter/centre line as straight as possible. Horses do tend to drift and this is always one of the more difficult tasks to perfect.

Mix it up

Often, exercises will be aimed at trot or canter but how about mixing it up a bit and setting up some trot poles along one three-quarter line, canter poles on the opposite side and the same across the two diagonals. This will keep you both alert and thinking ahead and will involve plenty of trot/canter transitions both up and down and in both directions. You can even include walk transitions in between the poles if you want to be a little more advanced.

All exercises should be performed on both reins equally to produce flexibility and rideability and will improve the enjoyment of your hacking days for you both. You will enjoy your beautifully behaved horse and he will be very happy pleasing his rider.

As you will see from our main website, Castle Leslie Estate is one of Europe’s finest equestrian playgrounds. If you need to hone your skills, why not investigate Castle Leslie Estate’s fabulous ‘Get Back Your Confidence’ riding trip? Our dedicated team of experts, which includes myself, coordinates a five day package that includes three hours’ of daily lessons. Guests can choose the type of lessons they want, based on their individual needs. Visit www.castleleslie.com

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . This is the website of the UK’s Pegasus Magazine. Visit http://pegasus-magazine.co.uk/magazine to find out more and read articles.

27th April 2017, by Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Time to travel?

Why are riding holidays often booked in spring? As business manager here at Castle Leslie Estate in Ireland, I think it is because we all experience such a busy, time-pressured period at the start of the year that we feel we are ‘owed’ some riding time to ourselves. Plus, improving our riding skills and also simply relaxing and doing the thing we love most in a relaxing environment is often at the forefront of our minds at this time of year!

Obviously I am a fan of equestrian vacations – they offer many benefits, from improving your riding skills and making new acquaintances, to developing fitness and challenging your own boundaries. Riding trips are popular with single travellers as they are safe and well managed – and you are bound to make friends – so if you have never travelled alone, this could be the ideal first trip.

Here are some tips for anyone looking to take a riding holiday:

1. Be honest about your experience. In a training setting you will be assessed, however if you’re joining a trail ride, there may be more emphasis on what you’ve told the providers about your riding experience.

2. Get riding fit. Probably the biggest issue that riding holiday guests face is a lack of fitness appropriate to their trip. If you can find time, try and get in some general fitness work before you leave home, or increase the amount of riding you are doing. If you’re taking a training break then you can discuss your limitations with your instructor, and the lessons can be tailored to your needs – however a trail ride can mean long hours in the saddle.

3. Pick a trip that meets your needs. There’s no use craving fast canters if you have booked a trip that involves trekking through rough woodland; and truly adventurous rides may actually be very slow, due to difficult terrain, while beach rides can be fast and furious. If this is your first riding holiday, a training centre-based break is probably the most sensible option, as there will be more focussed training, and you will come away feeling that you have improved your skills.

4. Pack carefully. You should ideally take your own riding helmet meeting safety regulations. Some providers may supply hats, but their fit will be questionable. Plus, not wearing a helmet is likely to compromise your insurance cover. Also, don’t forget several pairs of jodhpurs, riding gloves, polo shirts with collars for protection from the sun if you travel at a hot time of year, and a waterproof coat. Here in Ireland, the weather is very changeable! For jumping, take a body protector meeting BETA standards.

As you will see from our main website, Castle Leslie Estate is one of Europe’s finest equestrian playgrounds, and is located in County Monaghan, nestled in 1,000 acres of undulating Irish countryside. If you’re planning to visit us in spring, you will be greeted with vibrant yellows, blue hues and pastel flower shades that fill the grounds with hopes of warmer weather – the beautiful bluebells, tulips and bright daffodils will surely be welcoming you to the Estate and filling you with inspiration! If you need to hone your skills, why not investigate our fabulous ‘Get Back Your Confidence’ riding trip? Our dedicated team of experts, which includes myself, coordinates a five day package that includes three hours’ of daily lessons. Guests can choose the type of lessons they want, based on their individual needs. Click here for further details.

For articles and information on equestrian matters please visit Pegasus Magazine . This is the website of the UK’s Pegasus Magazine. Visit http://pegasus-magazine.co.uk/magazine to find out more and read articles.

24th March 2017, by Jenny Richardson BHSAI

It’s all about the skinnies!

I am Equestrian Centre Business Manager here at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate; you can click on our main site www.castleleslie.com to see what we have to offer!

I love training, and am thrilled that the competition season in Ireland and elsewhere is firmly underway – we have many visitors to our extensive XC course with hundreds of lovely jumps of all types. I’d like to share some info about a specific type of jumping challenge. If you enjoy cross country schooling or eventing, you will undoubtedly come across ‘skinnies’, or narrow fences such as ‘arrowheads’, ‘coracles’ and ‘pimples’ in the course of your training and competing.

At least 10% of most XC tracks are said to be made up of either single skinnies, or a combination of narrow fences. Although jumping skinnies is all about accuracy, control and steering, it is also important that horse and rider trust each other! The horse must trust his rider not to ask too much in terms of his ability and experience, so jumping practice at home or at a XC schooling facility is essential. The following exercise will help you to hone accuracy by building the challenge up gently, without over-facing the horse; ask a friend or your instructor to help you in the manege.

Step 1

Place two jumping poles on either side of a jumping block – (also called ‘practice show jumps’ or ‘practice blocks’) – you could also use any other low-profile obstacle that is safe, such as an upright barrel; the poles are acting as guides or wings. Start with the poles quite wide, but angled slightly towards you, rather than being completely horizontal. Approach positively, with a short, contained canter, and treat the fence as normal – aim for the centre of the fence and look up and ahead.

Step 2

Move the lowest end of the poles towards you, so you are creating a triangle shape, with the block as the point. Your horse has more opportunity to run out as the angle of the poles increases, so work on keeping the horse straight between your hands and legs. Widen your hands if required to help ‘channel’ the horse in, and approach from a positive canter.

Step 3

Move the ends of the poles closer together, so the angle is more acute – you can now build the exercise up, ultimately creating a narrow approach. Bear in mind the horse will be more inclined to run out, so keep your straight line and use lots of leg to give confidence and help the horse to stay on the line. Maintain your contained canter, rather than allowing the horse to ‘flatten’.

Step 4

If your horse is experienced and comfortable jumping in narrow spaces, move on to placing two lightweight, upright wings (modern plastic ones are ideal, rather than the solid, heavy versions), either side of a barrel or similar narrow obstacle, with no pole on top. Start off with the wings a little further apart, and gradually bring them closer. This is very challenging, as the horse has to trust that this is a safe space to jump through. Approach as above.

Top tip

This last exercise is great practice for the jumping real arrowheads at an event, which will have flags either side of the obstacle, which can help guide the horse in. Short, broken wooden poles can also be used in place of the long poles, if they are safe to use, to present even more of a challenge.

For articles and info on equestrian matters please visit our friends at www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . Visit the site to find out more and read horsey articles.

24th February 2017, by Jenny Ricahrdson, BHSAI

English magazine Absolute Horse recently ran a lovely feature in their January issue about staying at Castle Leslie Estate in winter, and we thought we’d share it with you! It was written by our business manager, Jenny Richardson.

If you are planning a visit to Castle Leslie Estate over the winter months for a riding trip, you can be sure of a lovely treat. Nestled on 1,000 acres of undulating Irish countryside, the venue is dotted with ancient woodlands and glittering lakes. You will ride through rich, eye-popping colours, beautifully-lit panoramas and a multitude of wildlife activity.

There are crunchy leaves underfoot, begging to be trotted and cantered through; and of course, plenty of warm, country fires in either your Lodge, Castle or self-catering accommodation! The winter light is beautiful on the Estate, because the elevation of the sun above the horizon is relatively lower – if you can venture up and out of bed at sunrise for a pre-riding walk, you will be rewarded with a magical illumination through the woodlands and across the famous lake.

On your visit you may still catch the welcome return of our favourite winter bird, the robin, and the striking murmurations of starlings, which weave in the sky in great numbers. In winter as you’re hacking through the woodland, the wetter ground means that the footprints of deer, fox, badger and otter are easier to spot on your horsey adventure. February sees snowdrops peeping through, and hedge plants such as hawthorn, rowan and holly bursting with the hopes of spring.

If you’re more intent on riding in the cosy indoor arena, you will be able to take advantage of the advanced arena-surface that allows year-round riding and training – maybe you will try some indoor eventing over our moveable jumps? Winter time may seem like a time to ride less because it is colder, however once you warm up, there’s much to be achieved in terms of keeping the basic skills going, such as equine (and human) mobility, straightness and suppleness. If you compete and have a break over the winter months, this is also the ideal time to put in the practice for 2017, and work out your goals and plans.

If you’re planning to visit Castle Leslie Estate in spring, you will be greeted with vibrant yellows, blue hues and pastel flower shades that fill the grounds with hopes of warmer weather – the beautiful bluebells, tulips and bright daffodils will surely be welcoming you to the Estate and filling you with inspiration! This is the perfect time to focus on your cross country skills, as the expansive XC course at the venue will be offering perfect ground and grass cover, and will have been prepared and tidied by our staff ready for the season ahead.

Click Here to view our array of horsey holidays.

Check out Absolute Horse magazine at www.absolutehorsemagazine.com

Ode to horsey holidays, (19th January 2017), By Jenny Richardson BHSAI, Castle Leslie Estate’s Business Manager.

The time has come to book a trip; enhance your riding skills!

A beach, a plain, or training base with undulating hills?

At Castle Leslie, fun is key, with so much here to do.

Walking, angling, outdoor fun and some horse riding too.

“I want a break, to canter fast, improve my skills,” she sighed.

“A training venue sounds just right – I really want to ride!”

We boast a home-from-home resort, if your home’s a great estate.

Castle luxury at every turn, and service that’s just great.

The lodge, the castle, riding school, an experience sublime.

We guarantee a trip with us will give you the best time.

Ireland’s revered destination is one many guests know well.

Welcoming and opulent; a glorious hotel.

For riders, it’s your paradise, with elite cross country course.

What better way to explore the woods than on a trusty horse?

A hearty breakfast is the best start when the guests awake.

And then a lovely Estate ride, with views of the grand lake.

Our trusted horses will take care, so you don’t take a paddle…

Instead, a cooling ride through water while ensconced in the saddle.

If leisure riding is your thing, then grab your hat and tack.

It’s time to explore Castle Leslie’s land, with a long hack.

So if vacations sound the best with whinnies and a neigh,

Why not try Castle Leslie, for a memorable holiday?

Could desensitisation help you and your horse? (20th December 2016), By Jenny Richardson BHSAI, Castle Leslie Estate’s Business Manager.

If your horse is proving a handful, and creating dangerous situations for you due to spookiness, what can you do? It is impossible to completely ‘bombproof’ a horse as they are flight animals, but by desensitising them to certain situations and objects, you can be prepared to face frightening hazards head-on.

Top tips-

Start your horse’s training as young as possible.
Bear in mind that we simply need the horse to be where we want him, with the required speed and direction, in any given situation. It is a training issue.
The key to overcoming equine fear is repetition and discipline.
The horse must learn that no harm will come to him when facing a hazard.
Sight considerations

Horses are not colour blind per se, but do have less acute colour perception than humans. Horses are often wary of going into dark spaces, for instance dingy stables or trailers. This is because horses have a horizontal, ‘widescreen’ band of sight which is quite clear, and can see objects in the middle to far distance; however, their binocular vision (directly in front) is limited. This means that approaching a hazard or entering a dark stable requires a good deal of trust in the rider or handler.

De spooking

Common ‘spooky’ situations that are encountered on a regular basis when riding include farm machinery or lorries, which are often accompanied by noise and vibration; flapping objects like bags, laundry and clothing; loud, unexpected sounds such as backfiring cars, and water obstacles such as cross country complexes or even large puddles. There are various ways to recreate potential hazards in your own schooling or yard environment, no matter what your facilities. It is just a case of being inventive, although you will need people on the ground to help organise some props.

There are many objects that can be used in a desensitisation programme to accustom the horse to sudden noise; popping bubble wrap, holding balloons, rustling feed bags and flapping umbrellas are all useful ploys. For example, ask a helper to appear at unforeseen moments in the arena with an umbrella, quietly opening it up at first. You could also hang long plastic streamers or tape over the stable door, and ask the horse to walk through them on his way in or out of the stable. Perhaps if you have a dumper truck or tractor at the yard, a friend could start it up and drive past while you’re schooling? Horses often have problems walking over strange floor coverings, such as road markings. Try riding your horse through a random line of tyres and rubber balls in the field or arena, or asking the horse to walk over secured pieces of plastic or tarpaulin on the ground.

Whatever you try, make sure you are giving the horse the right signals yourself – are you scared or anxious, do you have a stable, secure riding position, and are you encouraging trust and leadership rather than instilling fear? If your own confidence needs a boost,

Consider a training break at Castle Leslie Estate – click on our package holiday pages for inspiration!

For articles and information on equestrian matters, please visit www.pegasus-magazine.co.uk . This is the website of the UK’s Pegasus Magazine – the major source of information for the large majority of equestrian enthusiasts across the South East of England and the Home Counties. Visit Pegasus Magazine to find out how to access the printed version, of which 25,000 copies per month are read.

Planning for 2017, (5th December 2016) By Jenny Richardson, Castle Leslie Estate’s Equestrian Centre Business Manager

Many horse riders like myself are eventing fans! Over here in Ireland, Camilla Spiers stopped the Irish leader board, while in the UK, Oliver Townend was victorious. Well done to all of these elite eventers, who dedicate so much time to their sport. The eventing season is of course now over, and the depths of winter are fast approaching, as we head into December. However, whatever our levels, this time of year offers us the chance to focus on 2016’s successes, ascertain whether riding and training goals have been reached, and plan for next year. Although there’s now a lengthy break from competition, many eventing competitors will be keeping their horses’ training programmes ticking over, and getting ready for the next season.

If you are unfamiliar with the sport of eventing, it is often described as ‘the ultimate test of horse and rider’. The sport, also known as horse trials, comprises three main disciplines, dressage, cross country and show jumping, that take place over one, two or three days – however, unless you are competing in international classes, most events are run in a single day. The scores from each element combine to produce an overall total. Like other equestrian sports, eventing sees men and woman of all ages (professional and amateur) competing against each other; riders commonly compete in affiliated competitions from the age of 11. Riders start at a level that meets the combined abilities of horse and rider, and progress ‘up the ranks’ if desired.

The key to enjoying eventing, and being placed if you are riding competitively, is in the preparation. Eventing can be an expensive sport, so it makes sense to maximise your chances of enjoying a competition, or getting the most from the facilities you are using. If you are riding professionally, or at least hoping to accumulate competition points from your country’s governing body, it is advisable to have specific goals about what you want to achieve from attending an event with your horse.

My top tip as a trainer is to use winter as the time to go back to basics, and focus on your flatwork – it is the cornerstone to achieving balance and rhythm over fences, and the suppleness and obedience your horse gains will also make you safer when jumping. Falls are common in eventing, so if you plan to reduce the risk factors for a fall, riding a supple, well-schooled horse is essential. Using pole work in your winter schooling programme will help keep your training fresh – there’s nothing worse for horse and rider than endless, boring arena-work with little focus!

As Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Castle Leslie Estate, I am delighted to help clients achieve their riding goals, and we do offer a great roster of luxurious equestrian training breaks here, including ‘Build Your Confidence’ breaks. If you need to fresh up your training and just get some new ideas, check out our main pages for details.

We love sharing our expertise – to see a range of articles, videos and reviews concerning animal and countryside matters, visit www.horseandcountryside.com

Top Tips For Canter (2nd November 2016) By Jenny Richardson, BHSAI, our Equestrian Centre Business Manage


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