Coaching through Disabilities – BHS CPD workshop

A BHS Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshop also open to all RDA, Pony Club, and other BEF associated coaches

One in five people have a long-standing, limiting disability or life-changing condition, and the benefits of interaction with horses and riding are well known. This CPD workshop is an introduction to this huge topic, helping to signpost coaches to a range of practical resources about different disabilities, and safe, thoughtful practices.

The workshop will include a review of life-changing illnesses and injuries in adults and discussion about the practical issues of coaching them. From mounting and dismounting, adapting tack, contra-indications to riding and working with therapists, there is plenty to discuss!

The roles of RDA, BD, BEF, and Para Equestrian competition will be mapped out as well as the emerging field of equine assisted learning (EAL). It will draw on sports psychology principles about the importance of language and recognition of values and beliefs. Finally, it will highlight how BHS coaches can engage with other coaching pathways to build on existing qualifications.

Profits from this workshop go to the Happiness Horsebox CIC, a special accessible service funded by the equestrian community, for the equestrian community.

Workshop Approach

This unmounted workshop is being delivered online in Winter 2023-24, split into two 3 hour workshops (4pm to 7pm). Each counts as 3 points BHS CPD, and can be taken in either order.

We cover the topics in an engaging way, drawing on the group’s experience as well as presenting useful information.  There will be access to a comprehensive workbook and resources after, and the opportunity to join further forums and presentations.  

Dates for Face to Face workshops in 2024 are being arranged around the country, please ">contact Liz if you would like us to host one in your area. 

Venues and dates 2023-24

  • Online – Workshop 1  Thurs, 18th October 4pm-7pm
  • Online – Workshop 2  Wednesday 8th November 4pm-7pm


  • Online – Workshop 1  Thurs, 18th  January 4pm-7pm
  • Online – Workshop 2  Thurs, 1st February 4pm-7pm

Booking and CPD points 

Book both sessions for a discount: BHS/APC member £50 RDA Coach £50

Per Session £30 

Places are limited to ensure personal attention, so please reserve your place on the Happiness Horsebox website or by emailing if you want to pay for more than one person. 

Links will be sent 2 days before the workshop, CPD points are logged via the BHS feedback form. Receipts and attendance certificates are sent upon request. 


How NLP works for riders

Teach your horse to relax

It frustrates me when people ask for a horse to be a ‘confidence giver’.  When we ride we broadly expect to be able to direct the horse’s energy.  A basic knowledge of psychology tells us that our mind affects our body and our unconscious reactions. When we are with horses, especially riding, any body tension in the rider will be felt by the horse.

It is a circuit: the rider’s mind impacts the rider’s body. It is connected to the horse, so the horse feels our response.  The horse will translate our tension – or confidence, or determination –  through their body to their mind and then of course react.  Some horses are bred to be more alert and are sharper to ride, and all of them have a hard wired response to flee danger..

We need to help our horses to relax and trust us when we ride. One of my dressage trainers, Bill Noble,  stressed to us that we needed to teach our horses to relax by always being calm, clear and consistent.  “You can always add impulsion , but you can’t take away tension.. . ” was a mantra to ride by.

So, in my humble opinion, we need to give our horses confidence and build their trust in us,  not expect them to put up with our nervousness!  This is a step by step process, starting with understanding the stresses on a  horse, taking time to build your relationship, and above all – to keep learning.  Watch good riders,  observe at clinics, volunteer at big events, improve your balance and fitness, train with coaches that really understand how to produce a sound and calm horse…. It’s a journey, stay positive and enjoy it!!




Visualisation is more than a just pretty picture

Jo had previously failed her Stage 3 Riding exam, despite having been told she was well above standard. She was therefore very anxious about retaking the exam, to the extent that, as the day got closer, she just spent her time worrying about what might happen. In her mind she was imagining making all sorts of mistakes and just freezing up so that the whole day would descend into a complete disaster…. That sort of thinking feeds a self fulfilling prophecy. As one of her riding coaches I knew how important the exam was to her.

We had a session where she visualised the exam day. Having already been up to the exam centre for a lesson, she could imagine the layout, and having been through the exam she knew the format of the day. We started by setting up an ‘anchor’ for staying calm and confident, so that she could have this resourceful feeling at any point she needed it.

Rather than just imagining a perfect exam, I then asked Jo to imagine the sorts of things that would she would do, building in the importance of checking stirrup leathers, noting what tack the horse was wearing, looking around at other candidates when riding in open order, listening attentively to the instructions given, and relating to the horse in a sensitive way. All of these details were important.

Then we added in the sorts of little errors that could happen, like striking off on the wrong leg or refusing a fence. We visualised how she would cope with them: what she would do to correct it, then how she would stay calm and unflustered and what she would say to the examiner afterwards.

Then we imagined what it was like to be the examiner, stepping into their shoes and seeing it from their perspective. Jo found this very surprising: they actually wanted to pass the candidates, they were not ogres at all!!

We ran through the visualisation as if we were watching a movie a few times, with Jo noticing where she needed to improve it and then discussing what she would do differently. Then she ‘stepped in the movie’, imagining it actually happening to her step by step.

As I saw her happy relaxed expression and confident stance I knew she would pass. She did more than that, getting a pass plus and she was thrilled!

As Jo explains : ” Rationally, I found it easy to visualize passing, but found it difficult to actually believe it deep down. It was only when we ran through the visualization of the whole exam, slowed down with all the detail that I could believe it. Then I felt calm and confident and that I could sort out anything that went wrong on the day.”

She reflected “I realised that I had been fooling myself that everything was alright, yet I needed to face a deep rooted problem of exam nerves and deal with it. And it was a fun way of sorting it out- Liz made me laugh as we worked it out and in the end I really enjoyed the exam.”

As her story illustrates, our approach to Visualisation is much more than positive images, or saying unrealistic affirmations to yourself. When effectively coached, you can go back to your best performance time after time, and add in how to get even better.


Jump with confidence again

Jumping with confidence is a block for many riders at some part in their riding career. It is an area where real experience of training horses and riders for jumping – as well as mindset coaching – is needed.  The following example demonstrates how NLP can be built into jumping lessons to develop new behaviours.

Breaking a cycle of lost confidence in horse and rider

Jenny used to love jumping, but a series of incidents had left both her and her mare nervous at the thought of jumping. The horse would sweat and start napping, if they went near the jumps in their schooling field. Of course this made Jenny tense and nervous too and the cycle just escalated.

First, it was important to break the cycle with a change of states – for once the rider has changed their emotional state eg from fear to confidence, the horse will quickly follow.  This is a key part of why an instructor can usually ride their pupil’s horse better than they can.

So, as a pre-assessment I ensured that the issue with jumping was not due to back soreness, lameness, poor fitting tack or any other issue with the horse.  I was able to assess the rider’s competence, contact and balance on the flat.  Therefore, in this situation as an experienced instructor I knew that the jumping could be made safe, enjoyable and appropriate for the horse and rider at their stage of training.

In our first session together I asked Jenny to remember a time when she had really enjoyed jumping – a magic moment. She described it to me and by asking more questions we ‘intensified’ the memory. Then we ‘anchored’ it so that she could bring the memory and feeling back when she needed it. It was easy to see by the way her posture changed and her face lit up… By using it during the lesson she was able to keep the good memory as she came towards a small grid. The horse picked up Jenny’s new found confidence and relaxation, so she also relaxed significantly and we were able to work over trot and canter poles.

Then, as we talked of moving to small jumps, Jenny admitted that she was seeing a horrible image of crashing among poles, which was interfering with the good anchor we had set up. Just 5 minutes later the ‘collapse anchor’ technique to shift the image left Jenny incredulous! ‘I can’t believe it, it’s just gone’ she said!

Try as she would, she couldn’t get it back either…..  They finished that session with some low jumps approached in trot and canter, a huge smile on both their faces!  This example summarises an important  aspect of the relationship between coach and rider. NLP techniques should only be used in the right context and with regard for horse and rider safety.   Please beware of working with these techniques with people who are not qualified – or insured – to train riders and their horses in mounted sessions.

Horses connect us to ourselves…

Sometimes, with the complexity of modern life, simply taking time out in the natural world is the perfect way to get a new perspective on a problem. And with a horse to help there is a very special, highly memorable dynamic.  This is because horses absorb our senses – their size and power is implicit and they demonstrate immediate engagement and response with their surroundings.

This is because horses absorb our senses, allowing unconscious responses to emerge.

Liz Morrison was one of the early explorers of  using horses in  metaphorical coaching and dynamic constellation approaches. She worked with individuals, management teams, offenders and youth workers to explore new perspectives on situations and coach out solutions together

It requires sensitive coaching using a clean language approach and allowing metaphors to emerge.  The facilitator ‘holds the space’ for participants, this enables an authentic connection with the horses in their environment and there are chances to reflect on the complex issues being faced. This approach is  also known as experiential learning and it offers a range of creative facilitation techniques that help to engage people with in fresh ways.

People can choose to engage with the horses at a level they feel comfortable with – we create a safe space, and even observing from a distance will bring valuable insights.

Playing with your mind

Even the smallest fence would look like a huge brick wall to Mel….. it was certainly not jumpable. On one hand she wanted to jump, but with her mind playing tricks on her, she would just panic and pull up the horse. Mel loved working with horses and wanted to take her British Horse Society exams with a view to becoming a professional coach.

She came to me to see whether NLP  coaching could help on a one to one session. We started with Mel describing the imaginary fence, and went into some detail about how high it was and the colour of the bricks. This was to help her understand her visual imagination. We made it higher and wider and then put it back to its original size – this was tough for Mel and she genuinely looked and felt a bit queasy at times.  As her coach I had to be quick to calibrate how to loosen up this ‘stuck’ thinking and keep her mind moving. I also worked with her beliefs about jumping and helped her review her thinking about how to jump effectively.

I asked Mel to look more closely at her imaginary fence and she realised that in fact the bricks were so perfect in their repeating pattern that they had to be wallpaper. With the earlier stretching of the jump to being bigger and wider, she had brought the image to conscious attention and therefore in her control. So what would she do with the wall now? We considered whether she should just burn it down, jump through it like the police horse demonstrations or trample it down or whatever. She decided that she would dowse it with water until it became a soggy mass!

The mind can be wonderfully quick at making changes..

With the jump dissolved, she was able to think about jumping in a really positive manner and happily booked a lesson with her own instructor.  She rang  to say how well the lesson had gone, how the old brick wall had never even appeared and how much she had enjoyed being able to jump again. A few weeks later she passed her Stage 2 and several months later  passed her Stage 3 – she was well on track for her goal again.