Pony Swap

19 Aug

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!

Clear Round

18 Aug

Early yesterday morning I took Llani into a clear round, complete with scary fillers. He’s quite a worried horse, who sees ghosts, but is getting much braver. On Saturday he walked straight past a bonfire and just stared for a moment at a herd of cows.

When I’ve been riding him I’ve tried to teach him to stop and look, not run away from scary monsters. He’s definitely learning because, unless he can’t see it, he now stops and looks at things to comprehend the situation before doing what I’ve quietly asked him to do.

So it was nice and early, with no other competitors, so I warmed Llani up in the warm up arena and popped the jumps. They were only about 65cm, but height isn’t an issue for him so I wanted a course that was an easy height to reduce one worry for him, and then we could focus on the filler aspect.

The warm up fences were easy and he took them in his stride so I took him to the clear round as soon as it was open. I walked and trotted near each fence and was pleased that he didn’t spook at any. I didn’t make a point of looking at the jumps, but let him assimilate himself with them.

The first jump was a plain spread, so we popped that from trot easily and then I brought him back to trot for the first of the fillers. Keeping a positive trot, with my shoulders up and looking beyond the fence I just squeezed my legs so that he took me straight to the fence. He had a little look but the pressure of my legs and upright position meant he kept going. He sailed over it as if it was 90cm. I kept the canter towards the second of the related distance, another filler. To my pleasure, Llani didn’t even look at the fence.

I brought him back to trot for each line of jumps so that he had a bit more time to process the question. In the double we had a bit of a wobble, but he responded to me well and straightened himself out.

Then there was a white gate. I thought this may pose a problem to worried Llani, but after a quick look he sailed over and before I knew it I was at the black and white spread. He slowed to look but then jumped it happily enough before sailing over the last couple to finish.

I though Llani showed huge improvement today, as nothing phased him. Yes, it was quiet, but there was still a lot to look at and he listened to me and took my lead. I really think that a few more positive experiences like that and he’d really start looking like a teenagers competition prospect. He looks so needs a quietly confident rider, but he is very honest and gives each jump his best shot, tucking up his legs so as not to touch a pole.

The Circle of Progression

16 Aug

I was talking to a client last week when we spent the lesson revisiting the basics. The previous lesson she had lost her way with her inside/outside, left and rights whilst spiralling in and out on a circle. I think she was overthinking everything and tangling herself in knots, so this lesson I just broke it all down and went back to basics.

This week`s lesson was much more successful and we talked through a couple of changes in her aids – very subtle shift of weight or bringing the outside leg back slightly more. By the end she was riding much better circles as she had a bend throughout her horse, and her shoulder in was much improved too, again because the whole of her horse was wrapped around her inside leg as opposed to just his head and neck coming onto the inner track. My client could feel the difference and it was almost like a lightbulb switching on as she got each aid correct.

What was the point of my story? Oh yes, the circle of progression.

At the end of the lesson I explained to my client that she may not feel like she`s improving, because we`re revisiting movements, but each time we ride leg yield, for example, I raise the bar higher and continue to nit pick. I also used the example of the pyramid scales of training to describe her progression.

The first two scales of training are rhythm and suppleness. Many people say you can`t have one without the other, and I agree. But in very simplistic terms, when you start riding you establish the rhythm of your gait whilst trotting around the arena. Once the rhythm is established you can theoretically tick that box and move onto developing suppleness. However, this is where I think the pyramid is flawed. You cannot just tick the box and move on, because as you ride the new movement you lose the consistency of the rhythm as the horse finds their balance.

In my eyes, once you establish the rhythm, on the track you move on to riding twenty metre circles. The first circle the horse is stiff and unsupple, so loses his balance around the circle and thus the rhythm deteriorates. On the next circle the horse is slightly more supple so stays more in balance and the rhythm is more consistent. After a few hundred circles the horse is supple so stays in a consistent rhythm, and thus you can tick the first two scales of training. Then you move onto the next movement, be it a ten metre circle or leg yield.

This is how I see training the horse and rider through each school movement and lateral work. Obviously the next couple of steps in the stages of training come into riding each movement too. After suppleness is contact, and once the horse starts riding movements in a rhythm and with suppleness they begin to accept and work into the contact correctly. Once this occurs they can begin to move with more impulsion. But as you develop each step you lose elements of the previous steps and need to revisit each one and improve them.

So if we go back to my client. She`s been riding leg yield and shoulder in successfully for a couple of months now, but as we raised the bar higher she lost her way with her aids and the suppleness of her horse – in that he was not bending correctly through his body, and cheating her by turning his head and neck. This meant that our lesson that revisited trotting forwards and in a rhythm, with circles and serpentines, got her thinking and feeling about her horse moving correctly underneath her and her aids working together in unison. Once she stopped thinking too much about her riding and brought her aids together (for example thinking of pushing her outside hip forwards on a circle to allow the outside of the horse to stretch around the outer track of the circle. As the outside hip pushes forwards, it pushes the inside shoulder back so that the spine stays vertical and the body weight distribution helps the horse balance around the circle.) her circles became very consistent and balanced.

I felt that the next step to utilising this new found feeling was to try riding shoulder in. We used ten metre circles to get my rider a bit freer and looser in her outside hip so that she was working with the horse as opposed to against him, and then she rode shoulder in down the long side of the arena. The first time she didn`t allow her outside hip forwards and resorted to pulling her horse`s head to the inside, but the second time she kept her hands still and brought her upper body around and voila! They produced a lovely three track shoulder in for half of the length of the arena.

I think this week`s lesson brought it home how important it is to revise the basics every so often, especially when we all get so fixated on riding sideways everything else goes out the window and we forget about our left leg or we overcompensate with our right rein.

Saddle Slippage

15 Aug

Due to Otis`s rather large and strong shoulders I find that my saddles tend to sit further back than usual, and are prone to sliding south when he stands in his tack and a loose-ish girth, or going uphill.

Recently I`ve been doing a bit of research into the best way to stop saddles sliding, and my first port of call was to invest in a non-slip girth. It has elastic on both sides, which I was surprised at, but it doesn`t seem to affect it`s use. It also has a neoprene pad between the horse and girth, to help stabilise the saddle.

Next I started looking at breastplates and breastgirths. I`ve always had a hunting breastplate with martingale for Otis, because I wanted to have the option of a martingale when jumping, and of course hunting breastplates look smart and are easy on the eye. They don`t shout “My horse`s saddle slips!” at every spectator. Recently I`ve noticed that the hunting breastplate puts pressure on the top of his shoulder, and pins the front of the saddle down. When Otis puts his head down the back of his saddle pings up, looking quite uncomfortable. Does the saddle fit, I can hear you shouting. Yes, the saddle was only fitted to him in July, and I`ve noticed the issue with previous saddles.

So perhaps the hunting breastplate works on the wrong part of Otis`s chest? My internet research has told me that traditional breastgirths are by far the best way to stop a saddle slipping. Unfortunately for me, if I got a breastgirth for Otis I would need to invest in a martingale too and then try to overlap them on his shoulders. I always think this looks bulky and they risk interfering with each other`s jobs. So my research took me away from breastgirths. When I was younger I used to worry that an incorrectly fitting breastgirth could interfere with the horse`s trachea and breathing.

My research took my back to the breastplates, and firstly to the five-point breastplate. Now I always thought they looked fancy, and labelled a horse as an “eventer”, and it seems they were a fashion statement about a decade ago. Still commonly seen, I read that they can be notoriously difficult to fit because there are five parts to get right, and the design doesn`t tend to suit non-Thoroughbreds.I decided that the five point breastplate was a bit over the top for Otis and me, especially for every day riding.

Then a friend suggested the new V Check breastplate, which has just made it onto the professional scene. I looked at many different makes and liked the fact it was elastic so had some give in it and seemed to move the pressure away from the top of the shoulder, and more towards the centre of the chest, which I thought would benefit Otis. It is more like a breastgirth in the way it works. The martingale clips to the D-rings at the front of the saddle and are not joined at the withers. There are removable martingale rings so I can use the martingale for cross country but not for hacking. Some breastplates advertised that they came with a hunting attachment, which I can only conclude is a chicken strap, which mimics the hunting breastplate by joining the two sides of the breastplate. To me, this seems to defeat the purpose to the breastplate, and you may as well stick to the hunting breastplate.

Duly, I made my decision and ordered a V Check breastplate to trial. It arrived, looking shiny and smart, so I took it with me on my next trip to the yard and played around at fitting it. The bottom strap, between his front legs, is easy – one flat hand between the leather and the horse so that they do not get their front legs tangled up. Initially, it was tricky getting the elastic straps into the right place, but once on they adjusted over Otis`s shoulders (even though they differ from the ideal). I set off on my ride, taking particular note to find some hills to test the stability of the saddle. We flew up the hill and I`m thankful to say that I definitely stayed in the right place, and that his shoulder`s weren`t restricted. I`ll test the breastplate a few more times before going to a competition, but I`m hopeful that it was have some effect, and at least Otis is more relaxed now.

I`d be interested in what other people use to keep their saddle in the right place, and whether they think each piece of equipment works.

Teaching Young Children

13 Aug

For my sins this week at Pony Club Camp I have a mixed and challenging group.

On the first day I started with six children, but by the end of the day I had swapped two sisters between groups and collected another child.

The group are all beginners and on the lead rein, and the youngest siblings are three and four. There are also competitive twin boys. There is a novice rider on a novice pony. One boy has Down Syndrome. One nervous girl was on a whizzy pony.

Yesterday I met them all, complete with leaders, and took them to an enclosed arena. We walked around in a ride, changed the rein and they demonstrated their transitions to halt. Then I asked them to trot one at a time to the rear of the ride so that I could assess them. The twins had lovely positions, but they were very reliant on their leaders and not particularly effective, but they could rise to the trot. The little ones bounced to their trot. The novice rider and pony rose relatively well, but gripped with her knee and her pony wouldn’t trot without Mum. The boy with Down Syndrome just about rose to his trot. When he thought about it!

We practised rising trot and then sitting trot (which initiated a lot of giggling and bouncing) one at a time and then I had everyone walking around the track and we took our feet out of our stirrups and shook our legs out. Then the kids played “heads, shoulders, knees and hips” with the addition of toes once they got confident. They played helicopters and windmills with their arms and then they trotted one at a time with one hand out to the side. We built up the exercises so that they did a windmill with both arms whilst trotting. This built up their confidence as well as stopping any reliance of the hands. At the end of the lesson everyone trotted around together on the lead rein demonstrating a much stronger and more established rising trot. We finished in the school then and went for a little walk around the woods.

During our stable management session we talked about caring correctly for the horse’s foot and I was pleased that even the little ones were able to demonstrate hoof picking and point out the frog. We spent a good hour painting the ponies hooves, picking out feet and looking at horse shoes, and then they started to grow bored of this topic. So I moved on to feeding the pony and we found some hay and haylage as well as feeding our ponies. Lunchtime came and I had a reprieve.

In the afternoon I used my imagination and put two sets of poles across the arena to walk between. Once they were competently walking and trotting between they rode transitions in the poles. This allowed the older children to learn about preparing transitions and riding them correctly, whilst the younger ones went through the motions. Once these exercises had run their course we walked and trotted over the poles, trying to fold into their jumping position. The idea of this exercise was to improve their balance and coordination.

I’m not going to lie, I was all kidded out by the end of the day, and knowing I now had an extra nervous child joining my group the next day, I scratched my head for ideas.

In the arena this morning I set up the bending poles and the kids started off with some trotting individually and then as a ride, before practising weaving in and out of the poles. I managed to get the older children off the lead rein for their trotting and weaving. Next we practised picking up flags and putting them into another cone. Surprisingly, the four year old was pretty savvy at this, grabbing it first try. The twins made it harder by choosing a specific colour flag to pick. A couple of the ponies took a dislike to the flags, and after the third time the novice pony walked straight up to the flags.

During stable management I tested the children on yesterday’s topics and I think they all deserve their mini achievement badges. They eagerly asked questions and demonstrated their knowledge. Soon we moved on to the “horse clothing” badge, and they were just starting to get bored when lunchtime came.

I was worried I may be over tiring them, and they need to be on the ball for tomorrow’s show, so after lunch we went into the woods for a scavenger hunt. They collected leaves, fern, flowers, stones, y-shaped sticks and many other things. An error on my part sent the kids hunting for ivy … Our part of the woods didn’t have any ivy in!

So the final day of mini camp is tomorrow, and I hope my kids enjoy their show, and show off their newfound skills to their parents. I’ve definitely got more skills in handling a diverse range of abilities and ages, and more tricks up my sleeve for the next pony day or camp!

Otis’s Massage

12 Aug

Yesterday afternoon Otis had another visit from the McTimoney chiropractor. It’s been eight weeks since her last visit, when he had all his problems with his right hind.

Whilst I didn’t think there was a problem with him, I thought it was best to get him checked out regularly.

Since his last treatment I’d spent four weeks lightly hacking him, building up his muscles and suppleness, and just going into the school once a week to assess his progress. We walked up hills and leg yielded along paths, but it took six weeks for him to feel one hundred percent even and normal. I had almost given up and rung the vet for a MOT when I rode him and realised the first trot felt strong and the diagonal pairs were even.

Since then he’s been in usual work and his jumping fitness built up steadily. At the end of July we went showjumping, where he jumped a double clear in both classes. I was really pleased and went home to enter our next one day event. Last weekend we competed at dressage and he felt very consistent and was second and fourth in two strong classes; I think the time spent suppling and strengthening him has really paid off.

Anyway, back to his massage. There weren’t any knots or sore spots other than what you would expect from an athlete, which is great news. However, Otis was a bit tight in his neck which I think is where he has braced himself against me treating his sore ear (which needed the vet to sedate and clean and is healing nicely) so hopefully that tension won’t reoccur.

The physio was very pleased with Otis and after a couple of days gentle exercise we are back to normal!

Risk Assessing

10 Aug

Risk Assessments are our only weapon against the Health and Safety monster, but I actually found a use for them last week.

I was walking through the woods with one of my young clients on her pony. She’s quite nervy out of the school, and sees many monsters, so as we walked through the car park she piped up,
“There’s a balloon over there.”

“So?” I replied looking at her. It was a helium balloon about fifty yards away, now blocked from view by the parked trailers.
“Well, Pal might be scared of it.”

Then I had an idea.
“I don’t think so. Shall we put it in perspective? On a scale of one to five, with one being a lead on the ground and not scary, to five being a big frightening explosion, how scary do you think that balloon is? It’s not windy today so it’s not moving.”

“Two?” She suggests hesitantly.

I nod. “Now on a scale of one to five, can you tell me how close it is. One is the other end of a field and five is right by your feet.”

“One” she replies with a little giggle.

“Yep. Now we add these numbers together and the bigger the number the scarier the thing is. Ten is the maximum and two is the minimum.”


“That’s what I got too. Now, is that balloon scary?”

“Noooo!” She laughs and we moved across the car park quite happily.

As we went along the drive we played the game again with everything we saw, and my little rider soon got the idea and as she was assessing each hazard she stopped panicking and downgraded everything to “not scary” even though initially she thought they were going to be troublesome. The result was a more confident rider and her pony was more obedient and less inclined to look out for monsters.

She may never be the biggest fan of hacking, but if her little risk assessments make her feel safer and more confident then it’s worthwhile. I think most adult riders sub-consciously risk assess when around horses, taking note of the weather or the feed bag outside the stable and responding appropriately, without the need for a sliding scale.


Very True!

9 Aug


Taking A Tumble

8 Aug

Is it really a bad thing falling off?

Someone I used to work with used to describe confident kids as  an “alright rider, but needs to fall off.” We used to laugh and joke that one day he`d push the children off. Now what he meant by this phrase was that the kids were balanced riders, and knew they were good and were always pushing to jump higher or canter faster. He thought they needed grounding, a reminder that they were still learning.

Now I`m not a fan of picking children up off the ground, especially when there are tears involved, and yesterday my youngest client was jumping on her own. She`s just turned five and when I say jumping, they are six inch crosses. Anyway, she`s progressed to going over them unaided and at one point was merrily cantering towards the jumps while I held my heart in my mouth! Her pony is an angel though, and looks after her.

Unfortunately, he got a little over enthusiastic over one particular cross pole yesterday and when he skipped over with his hind legs he just pushed her forwards out the front door. With a few tears she soon got back on and she was led over the three jumps, while I diligently shouted “heavy heels!” at her and reminded her to hold her mane. To finish the lesson she trotted over a different cross on her own and went back to the stables smiling again.

I wasn`t overly worried about her injuring herself, and she hasn`t fallen off many times, butI was worried about her confidence levels dropping (which has rocketed since having her own pony). Pleased that we had finished on a good note, I was also pleased that she had another lesson today.

We started as normal, riding serpentines and circles in sitting and rising trot. She goes alone, but a petite five year old versus an 11.2hh pony is an uneven match, so I hold a schooling whip and prod him in the right direction when his mind wanders. A very successful technique is for me to hold the schooling whip over his back and against his outside flank to help guide him around on a circle. My little rider is then using the correct aids without flapping unnecessarily.

Back to my story. After we`d warmed up she rode some exercises, focusing on keeping her heels down and lower leg secure. After yesterday`s tumble she seemed to have taken to heart what I said about keeping her heels down over jumps. We did a lot of jumping position and then worked over some more poles and crosses.

She happily steered over the tiny poles, showing a much stronger jumping position, so I was pleased. and then I made a little upright. Her pony trotted towards it, but didn`t seem to realise it had grown a bit and stumbled slightly as he stepped over it. My rider fell forwards, but her heavy heels meant she quickly sat up again. I was so pleased! She grinned and went over it again with a little bit more energy and they cleared it easily.

We finished on that final note, but it was amazing how a tumble yesterday meant that she picked herself up, thought about her riding, and came back today just as confident and with a much more secure position. I think the fall did as my friend said, and grounded her to stop her wanting to jump bigger and go faster, when really she needs to carry on improving the basics so that she is more secure. Today we still improved without making the exercise harder, but were more focused and diligent about her position and accuracy towards the jumps.

Which surely means that it isn`t a bad thing to fall off every once in a while?

Horsey Jokes

7 Aug

A selection of semi-funny Equine related jokes …

Q: What has four frogs but doesn’t croak?
A: A horse!

Q: What is a horse’s favorite football team?
A: The Colts

Q: What do you call a clean Appaloosa?
A: Spotless!

Q: Can anyone tell me what it means if we find a horseshoe?
A: That a horse is walking around in it’s socks?

Q: What is a horse’s favorite game?
A: Stable tennis 

Q. What has four legs and flies?
A. A horse is the summer

Q. Why did the boy stand behind the horse?
A .He thought he might get a kick out of it!

Q: What do you call a horse wearing Venetian blinds?
A: A zebra!

Knock Knock!
Who’s there?
Rhoda who?
Rhoda horse yesterday and fell off

Q: What kind of horse likes the wind best?
A:  A Draft Horse!

Q:  What’s the scariest kind of horse?
A:  A night mare!

Q:  What’s a horses favorite fruit?
A:  Canter’ lope!

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