Training through Covid-19 with Danielle Ffrench

Covid-19 has certainly thrown a spanner in the works for many horse riders, especially those of us who had big plans for our competition goals this year! 

Danielle Ffrench is Chief Instructor at Gooromon Park Riding School, and as well as coaching many students at all levels, she competes her own team of young horses in dressage. 

I caught up with Danielle to get her tips on training during lockdown, and how she's been keeping her talented horses in work.

First, tell us a bit about you and your current horses.

Hi guys, my name is Danielle Ffrench – I am a horse rider, coach and mother of two amazing little humans.  I’ve been riding for as long as I can remember, but to be more exact I started riding when I was 6. 

I started coaching other aspiring riders when I was 16.  I have had so many amazing horses! My current partners are the amazing Hollands Bend Skyfall, a 7yo gelding, we are currently training Advanced. He is a dream come true horse, he’s read the German Principles of Training and has it all planned.  It wasn’t always that easy but boy, am I proud of how far we have come together! 

My other beau is Brierley Selby a super talented, flexible lad still learning to control all that power and scope. And lastly the baby of the gang is Holland Bend For Amour he’s just way too sweet. 

Over the years I’ve been also very fortunate to have so many amazing coaches most recently I’ve been very honoured to have the amazing; Matthew Dowsley, Jim Collins and the wonderful Racheal Downs. 

During lockdown, a lot of riders have been forced to train without their usual coach - can you tell us what you think should be key focus for riders when working their horses on their own?

Firstly I would say apply the KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) principles for this period.  The basics are so important - Straightness, Transitions and Forward. A lot of us dressage riders get stuck not going forward, and I don’t mean racing around. 

Okay, let’s talk straightness – so maybe test yourself and ride a whole week off the track on the ¼ line –what goes wrong? What is your horse telling you?  Where are the gaps? 

Try and do the things that are going really well on the track on the ¼ lines.  If it’s easy, maybe try bending to the right and then bending to the left - can you keep your horses body straight on the ¼ line while he is bent in different directions?  (P.S. – don’t pull your hand back, take it wider to bend and keep your horse's shoulder free).

Transitions are very important - transitions within the pace, in and out of the pace and you can perfect these in this time!

What is your favourite exercise to work on when training alone?

One of my favourites to help you better understand tempo and forward is a little exercise I call ‘The Pie’ exercise – firstly start with a regular tempo and nice rhythm in your chosen pace.

Now, imagine your 20m circle is ½ a pie – during one half use it to escalate (go forward) build this up to medium paces. Use the other half to go to working paces.  This exercise can change into so many forms. For instance now make it ¼ of a pie exercise increasing and decreasing the tempo – one ¼ walk ¼ trot – or ¼ forward canter – ¼ more together canter.

Another great exercise is to use the leg yielding on the 20m circle increasing and decreasing the size of the same circle – then moderate this exercise by changing the flexion to the outside and yield in to the circle and then change the flexion to the inside yield out.

What would you consider to be a movement/exercises that shouldn't be attempted alone for the first time, without your coach?

You don’t want to be getting too many things wrong, for instance – if you were just on the cusp of starting flying changes but now you’re on your own.  Just keep working through and really consolidate your basic training foundations during this time – the more you solidify your foundations the better things will be in the long run.

Any final advice?

It really has been a tough time – I get it, I have two primary school age kids, that I’ve been home schooling until recently, don’t be too tough on yourself.  Firstly, I made the mistake of continuing as normal on my training even though my horses' work loads had reduced – some will cope, some did cope – others needed me to take it back a notch to just tread water in the basics. 

I needed to not get hung up on the fact that I wasn’t progressing at the same pace.  After a cry into my wine glass, I just had to be okay with what my horses needed not wedded to my own timetable.  Horses really are the best teachers, maybe they should have been teaching the kids? 

Things are different now, I approach each time I ride with new found joy that I get to do what I love – it’s been a lovely reminder that thing can change so quickly to be grateful for just being able to do what I love.

If you want more training exercises and advice on both riding and horse management, check out Gooromon Park's online riding tools at Team GP Online!