Yesterday my Pony Club ride (yes I am teaching at camp number three!) requested to swap ponies in today`s flat lesson, so I replied with “only if you ride well in the first half of the lesson”.
The girls promised they would, and started guessing who would ride who. The oldest cried “I love swapping ponies, I want to ride Ginger!” My instant response to this is that Ginger is the exact pony she will NOT be riding! I hate kids trying to tell me who or what they want to do. My regular clients very quickly learn that the one who doesn`t shout gets first choice.
Anyway, the girls rode quite well on the flat so I brought them in onto the three quarter line (once they`d found it) and told them to dismount. I then explained that we were swapping horses and that I wanted them to assess their new pony and talk about positives and negatives of the horse`s way of going.
Strategically, I moved them onto different horses – no way was I letting them fight over the ponies! I moved the riders onto ponies that were completely opposite to what they usually rode. First of all I moved the smallest, nervous girl from her 14.1hh veteran cob onto the 6 year old 13hh Welsh pony. I thought this pony was least likely to frighten her and that she would look after her. I moved the little pony`s rider onto the biggest horse – a 15hh schoolmaster who tended to go onto the forehand and is crooked to the left. This gelding`s rider, who was the oldest and tends to just be a passenger (she also wanted to ride the 14hh veteran), was moved onto the Fell cross who when left to his own devices gets faster and faster like a steam train. I thought this rider would have to think and “ride” more. The fell`s rider, who is quite a handy rider, went onto the smaller 13.2hh pony who is very tense and doesn`t like a heavy hand. The idea here was for this rider to become less reliant on her hands. Finally, the plucky teenager who rides the quirky 13.2hh who often stands on his back legs went onto the 14.1hh veteran pony; this move was to give her chance to think about her position but also experience a steadier ride.
Then I sent the girls out in open order on the right rein to work their new mount in walk and trot. After a change of rein we cantered individually on both reins.
It was very interesting, and I think they all learnt a lot.
Little Nervous Rider – she loved riding the little pony, and looked much happier on her as the mare was the correct size. The slight rider was more confident, and whilst her riding is the weakest and she`s not up to improving the horse`s way of going yet, she could describe the mare`s action and how she felt she went. It was also great to see this rider working more individually. This partnership was so successful that in the afternoon`s cross country session I swapped this little rider onto the little pony as her veteran horse started getting strong and taking the Michael.
Girl who now rode the 15hh schoolmaster – this rider took a moment to get used to riding a much bigger horse (she`d come from a 12.2hh pony) but she soon correctly identified this gelding`s stiff rein and it was pleasing to see how she responded to my directions and started using her inside leg and encouraging the gelding to straighten in his frame and take the left contact. In her canter she balanced him effectively so that he didn`t rush onto the forehand. If anything, this rider rode the gelding better than his usual rider.
Oldest girl on the Fell cross – this rider is tends to sit as a passenger, which doesn`t work on the quick black pony. His usual rider uses lots of half halts to balance him and hold his hand, so when left to his own devices he just trots quicker and quicker. He gets very tense in his neck if the rider just pulls the reins. This rider learnt a lot, and soon found that she had to think and be effective in her riding. I also think it grounded this rider, as she tends to think she`s a better rider than she is.
The Handy Rider – this girl usually rides the Fell horse, who needs a lot of steadying and balancing and had resorted to relying on her hands. I`d already made her ride with her whip across her thumbs and encouraged her to use her weight and seat to balance her horse. The pony she swapped onto is very sensitive in his mouth, and doesn`t accept the leg and is very tense. This rider was receptive to my comments and instructions, and had to ride tactfully, with relaxed and quiet hands. I think she benefitted from the swap because she rode her horse a lot more quietly this afternoon.
The Gutsy Rider – this rider is used to a tense short striding little pony (although we have got him to lengthen his frame and stride over the last couple of days) so the bigger, lolloping stride of the veteran meant that his rider could focus on her position, and it made sure that she could still effectively use her leg. She could feel the slight crookedness in this horse and how he was quite heavy in her hand and tended to drop his head and pull through his shoulder. I explained to her that the slight stiffness she could feel was probably due to the fact he was an older man rather than the fact he had been ridden with a favoured side, like the schoolmaster.
Swapping ponies is so beneficial, even if it makes you appreciate your own horse more! It gives you chance to try a slightly different riding style (i.e. on a lazy or whizzy horse) and to feel and develop different movements (such as experiencing shoulder in for the first time). As a rider you learn different techniques and different exercises to help this particular horse, which means you are more rounded and a more intelligent rider as you respond to the individual horse and their needs. Today the girl`s learnt a lot, which I hope will be reflected in their riding tomorrow!