Riding One-Handed

I`ve started teaching a Mum on her daughter`s pony. She used to ride years ago, so is a bit rusty and we`ve started from scratch really, but last week we had a really productive lesson.

Now it`s common knowledge amongst equestrians that ponies are harder to ride than horses; they tend to know all the tricks in the books, are naughty, strong-willed, and cheeky. However, some think that because a pony is smaller they are easier to ride. Yes, to a certain extent, if you yourself are small. But to ride a pony that is too small for you (say a tall teenager on a 13.2hh) actually requires a lot of balance because there is less support underneath you and a shorter, bouncier movement; and the ratio of your weight to the pony is greater so an unbalance of yourself will have a greater impact on the pony`s sense of balance and subsequent way of going.

This is the problem I am encountering with this client. In the perfect world she would be riding a 15.2hh horse; but as the world is not perfect, we have to make do with a 14.2hh. However, it does mean that if my rider falters in her trot, such as her shoulders tipping forwards, then the pony`s rhythm changes as she overloads his shoulders.

There is a combination of building up my rider`s fitness; muscle and balance, which takes time. But there is also the fact that my rider needs to learn how to control her body, and make smaller, slower adjustments and more subtle aids so that she does not upset the balance of her horse, because he is a bit on the small side.

At the moment, the biggest area that needs work on are the aids for turning. There are a couple of bad habits to iron out, such as dropping the inside shoulder and using too much inside rein, which cause the pony to fall onto his inside shoulder and into walk. Even after revising the correct leg and seat aids, we were still losing balance on turns across the school. Which I felt was because of my rider using too big a movements (such as turning to look around the turn too much, or too quickly).

So I decided to take the reins away. As much as I could, at least. My rider put both reins into her outside hand and just hung her inside by her side. We did some trotting working on my rider being less reliant on her hands and arms to help rise – she holds tension in her wrist too, so as soon as she starts to panic or feel insecure her wrist fixes and the arm gets stiff. When she wasn`t holding her reins the arm stuck out towards me in the centre of the arena, highlighting the tension. This alone was useful as she became aware of it and her could focus on the correct muscles working.

Anyway, this soon became easier so I introduced turns. I wanted my rider to turn across the arena, from one long side to the other. Roughly aiming to ride E to B, but it didn`t matter if it wasn’t precise at the moment. In walk it wasn`t too difficult, and the pony moved off the track after a couple of strides, and the rider instantly felt how much smoother the turn back onto the track was. Then we trotted. The first time, she dropped her inside shoulder and the pony slowed to a walk, but not as suddenly as when she`d had her reins. The second time she imagined being a carousel; her vertical spine rotated so that the outside of her body moved forwards and the inside of the body moved back, instead of leaning in like a motorcyclist. This was much better. The pony stayed in trot and made a good curve off and onto the track. My rider could feel her seat, legs and the rest of her body working correctly, as well as how they both stayed in balance.

Once we practiced this a few times I allowed her to take her reins back to ride some more turns. They were much better – more fluent, more subtle, and much more balanced. Of course we then had to repeat the exercise on the other rein.

We finished the lesson by riding figures of eight using the diagonal lines; aiming to stay in trot, not turn too sharply, and ride balanced turns. Compared to our initial changes of rein at the beginning of the lesson, my rider was in better control of her body and had more subtle aids which meant that she didn`t upset the balance of her pony and they maintained trot.

I want to do more one-handed riding with clients as I feel it really focuses them on their seat and leg aids and makes them less reliant on their hands (inside hand especially) for controlling their horse.

Holding the Mane

When I was little and learning to jump we were always told to “hold the mane halfway up your pony’s neck”. A phrase I would hear repeated with the next generations of children as I led th over jumps, occasionally with the addition of “look at the bunny rabbits waving to you in the field” to get them to look up. 

When I started my apprenticeship I was amazed that none of the instructors used this analogy. When I started teaching myself I often got strange looks when I suggested holding the mane for security when learning to jump. After all, I cringe whenever I see a rider restricting their horse’s jump by not allowing with their hands.

Today, to my delight, I was reading one of my coaching books and it had a whole section on holding the mane while learning to jump.

The author advocated putting two bunches into the mane in the right place so that the rider knows where to place their hands. After all, halfway up the neck can be quite difficult to gauge as you’re fast approaching your first fence! Also, you risk throwing your weight forward and becoming too heavy if you hold on too far up your pony’s neck!

Personally I find that when riders learn to jump they are often reluctant to move their hands away from their body, which although totally natural, makes it harder for them to balance. This means the hands are restricting the horse’s head and neck over jumps. Which may not be a big deal over a bottom hole cross, but the idea of learning to jump is to create good habits which benefit both horse and rider in the long term.

A rider concentrating on balancing in their jumping position will be more likely to wobble with their hands, using them to help balance whilst their muscles develop. So holding onto the mane can help the rider stabilise themselves until their muscles develop because they have something to lean on slightly.

I often see riders sitting up too early after a jump, which can be due to balance issues or a lack of confidence. However the pony is then snatched in the mouth so can then become reluctant to jump. Holding on to the mane helps keep the rider forward for longer and in balance with the pony. Then hopefully the rider learns the feeling of staying folded for a micro second longer.

A lot of instructors are probably now thinking, “just use the neck strap”. Personally I hate using the neck strap with beginner jumping. The neckstrap mainly sits at the base of the neck, so holding it doesn’t teach the rider to allow with their hands. Additionally, the strap also moves, which can cause the hands to snatch back over the fence, or for the rider to lose their balance because the neck strap has slipped and so their hands, which they are still using to balance, no longer have a fixed support (such as the pony’s neck). Top riders who have a neck strap know how to slip their reins correctly so can wrap their fingers in it for support without upsetting the horse’s jump.

The downside of getting riders to hold onto their mane is that they can be overly reliant on holding the mane, which means that they aren’t completely self-balanced. Also, if enough focus isn’t paid to where their centre of gravity is then they can risk toppling forwards.

When riding a course of jumps you often need to do some steering and riding in midair, or immediately upon landing, and holding the mane slows down the process and interrupts the fluency of riding a course. But then an instructor can introduce the idea of the rider hovering their hands over the mane when they are more balanced jumping. Also, teaching and practising cross country position will reduce reliance on physically holding the mane as the riders core strength and balance increases.

Call me old fashioned, but I will still be getting my clients, especially young children, to hold on to their mount’s mane when they learn about their jumping position and start going over fences because I would rather see happy horses jumping correctly with beginners, and beginners who are as safe as possible getting the feel for a nice, round bascule, rather than hollow, flat backed jumping. Below you can see even this high level rider has allowed her horse to stretch his neck over the large fence and is staying in balance with him, not restricting him in any way. 

Matt`s Diary – Week 4


The Chauffeur fed me breakfast again. Apparently Young Mum was having a lie in. When she eventually surfaced in the afternoon she had funny coloured fingers and straight hair –  weird! She lunged me and I dined with Otis. Well, rather Otis scoffed down his meagre dinner (apparently box rest is making him a tad rotund) and then craned his neck and started licking my dinner off my face! Gross!


Well, she was back to normal today – up at the crack of dawn to practice Prelim 2. My dressage debut is getting closer! It`s not so hard really, except for this strange free walk on a long rein. Apparently I`m not supposed to lift my head and look around …

Young Mum told me I`m getting good at telling the time, I’m always waiting for breakfast and dinner.


It seems that Tuesday is my day of rest; Young Mum is busy riding early morning, but tonight she was late! Dinner was over an hour late. Apparently, she`d ridden six horses and clipped two so was very tired. I forgave her and Otis told her not to bother grooming him so she could go home for a nice hot bath.


This morning it was Novice 27 that we practiced. It has some kind of weird half circles and something called giving and retaking the reins. Which is when Young Mum throws the reins at me and expects me to keep cantering without losing my rhythm or outline! I tell you, it`s difficult!

I`m pleased to report that dinner was on time today.


It was still dark when Young Mum took me into the arena for our dressage lesson this morning. We started warming up and then practiced all the different parts of the dressage tests. I think I understand this free walk on a long rein malarkey, and I think the test is looking pretty good – I hope I do Young Mum proud! Especially as I heard that Old Mum is coming to watch!

Dinner was late again today; standards are slipping here in Berkshire. Particularly as my field hasn’t been poo-picked today either. If things don`t improve I will have to insist on The Chauffeur taking over responsibility for my care.


I was lying down in the dark, at the top of my field, when Young Mum crept up on my this morning. What on earth was she getting me up at that sort of time?

It turns out that I was due my pedicure. It wasn`t my usual farrier, but a tousled, half-asleep, young man. He was very friendly and said hello to Otis before doing my feet. I stood perfectly still, showing off my good manners, and then promised to see him in six weeks time. Unfortunately also at seven o`clock in the morning …

I got to eat breakfast in my lovely stable, and then Young Mum took me back to my field after teaching the lovely grey mare that I have been keeping my eye on. Unfortunately, I`ve heard on the grapevine that she is rather taken by Otis …


Building Confidences

Today I took a horse out for a hack who was very nappy when his owner first got him, rearing and spinning round to head home, but she`s done a lot of hacking in company (sometimes with me) and he has settled and been much better recently, taking the lead and not being silly once.

Now I have taken this horse on to hack on a weekly basis, and couldn`t find myself a hacking partner today, so decided to just see how we got on going solo!

I`ll be honest, I was feeling like a limp lettuce after riding six horses beforehand, and still nursing aching muscles and ligaments from my flying lesson a couple of weeks ago, so was hoping for an easy ride. We set off along the drive, I tried to sit with a “don’t care” attitude and light rein contact because the horse seems to relax when we take this approach.

We didn`t get very far along the drive before he stopped and tried to nap. I sat very still, didn`t let him turn to home, and waited until he stood still. He didn`t rear, just threw his head around a bit. When he was standing I stroked his neck, and told him he was a good boy. Then, with my voice and leg, asked him to walk on.

He was still reluctant to go along the drive, so I pushed him towards the woods instead and we left the yard along the wooded track. He was quite happy with this, and even walked along the lane with only a glance towards the drive as we passed the gates. He was thinking about home, but it was no more than a passing thought. However, about halfway along this lane he suddenly realised he`d had enough. There was no reason for it, nothing spooked him; the lane was quiet.

While an oncoming car waited patiently, I sat quietly until my horse had stopped faffing. Then he happily walked on from my voice. I carried on talking to him as we passed the car, thanking the driver. And I carried on my one-sided conversation along the lane.

We had two more moments, where he stopped for seemingly no reason, reversed a little,  shook his head, and bounced on his forefeet, trying to turn for home. Each time I waited for him to stop, gave him a moment to think, and then asked him to walk on.

It seemed to me that whilst this horse isn`t the spooky type, and not that reactive to his surroundings, he lacks confidence, especially whilst hacking alone. His little tantrums are moments when he feels out of his depth, loses confidence in the hack, and needs some guidance.

The worst thing I could do would be to get angry or reactive. That will only panic him and cause him to lose faith in me, his rider. My voice was probably my strongest tool, and chatting to him helped relax him and improve my bond with him.

For him to improve and become good at hacking alone he needs to bond with his rider and learn to trust them implicitly. Then when he had his moments of self doubt he can overcome it easily and continue his job. Which should also help his cross country rounds. 

The second half of the hack was absolutely foot-perfect. It was a hack he is familiar with so he should be confident in the surroundings which will increase his self confidence. 

Over the next few weeks I think the horse will benefit from slight variations on the hack that he knows, so that he doesn’t become too engraved in his route. Because he also has the tendency to nap towards home it’s also useful to reverse the route, and use different entrances and exits to the yard. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress and grow in confidence.

Dogs and Me

One of the things I hate most when hacking is meeting dogs. Which is really annoying because they are one of the most commonly encountered things whilst riding out.

I`m sure many of you are wondering what has happened in the past, and there have been a couple of incidents, that Matt kindly reminded me of. Just for the record, he didn’t do anything, his presence reminded me!

We used to hack through a village, which was a lovely single track, straight hill. We`d encounter various spooky things, and it was always a good spook-busting hack. At the top the lane turned into a green lane, ironically with National Speed Limit signs at the grassy cusp of the lane which bordered the local golf course. We`d walk down and through the twisty wooded track before turning on our heels and bombing along, ducking branches, skipping over the stream that ran in winter. At the end we had to slow down, turn a sharp right and gallop back up the hill to the National Speed Limit signs, dodging stray golf balls as they flew over.

The last house in the village had a stone wall around the garden, which was at the side of the house. Every time a horse (and probably a walker) passed, the resident dog, a large black Labrador, would bound out over the wall and bark loudly at us while the middle aged owner mildly called it to heel. And every single time without fail, Matt would jump a mile.

I remember I used to anticipate the dog as much as he did. Then one day, the dog went too far. He bounded over the garden wall, barking loudly, and ran straight over to Matt. Who kicked him pretty sharpish. The owner looked quite upset, so I just shrugged at him. He hadn`t bothered to train the dog properly! After that, the dog didn’t go further than the wall when horses passed, so it obviously learnt it`s lesson!

Another Matt story, which involves a dog, was one Christmas. I had cycled to the yard so it must have been the holidays and a weekday because Mum was visiting Granddad and Dad was working. My friends and I decided to go on a pre Christmas hack, one of the longer routes, but still a favourite because it included the Green Lane and the hair-raising track to the village on the way home. There hadn`t been any snow yet, so the world was muddy and dreary.

We blasted along the green lane, spraying mud at the one behind us, and then calmly walked past the little house (which we were always convinced some sort of hermit lived in) before turning right. We walked up the lane, then down the lane, past some sheep peeking through the fence, around the corner and …

As we passed a stone wall and gated drive a sheepdog suddenly started barking, nose sticking under the gate. We all jumped. Matt especially, and as he landed he slipped on the mud at the side of the lane and down we both went, my leg squashed between road and pony. He got up, unhurt, but my leg was pretty painful and numb. So we had to try to get some phone signal to ring for help, and I got a lift back to the yard, while another friend rode Matt back. After the bag of peas treatment and rest, my leg was fine.

However, my stirrup iron was bent! The bottom of it was almost at forty five degrees from where it had been squashed, protecting my foot. I only realised how much protection the stirrup had given my foot when I was working without stirrups in the indoor arena a couple of months later and a dog emerged from the shadows. We were on a corner, so obviously Matt slipped as he shied, and this time I had a very squashed foot! Sidelined from games for a few days, much to my netball coach`s disgust if I remember correctly.

So yeah. Dogs and I don`t really go well together. I feel better when I see owners holding them, getting them to sit, or putting them on leads, but I still have to make an effort to squash any anxiety so that the horse I am riding stays unperturbed.

Only a couple of weeks ago I met someone walking five dogs in the woods, and she clipped all but one onto a lead, holding the other one. Once I`d gotten around the corner and down the hill a bit I heard hysterical screaming. The dog was only chasing me and my horse! Thankfully, the process of me turning the horse to face the sprinting dog was enough for it to stop, cower, and turn tail.

This is by no means me having a go at dog walkers, it is just a trip down memory lane, and an explanation as to why I will always pull up and wait for dogs to be controlled before I get too close.



Carrot Stretching

How many of you use carrot stretches with your horse?

I used to do them a lot with Otis, but I`m afraid I don’t do them as much as I should now. He`s still nice and flexible though – at least judging by the way he balances on three legs to scratch his poll with his hind leg!

Anyway, why do we make our horses contort their bodies just to reach a carrot?

Well, in the same way that we stretch our muscles before exercise, stretching a horse can help release any tension, strengthen muscle fibres, and increase the flexibility of muscles. I also find it really interesting to see how symmetrical a horse is. Sometimes it`s very enlightening to perform carrot stretches, as you will find that one side is far more restrictive than the other. Carrot stretches are dynamic or active, in the sense that the horse is the one doing the stretching as opposed to a human creating a stretch by pulling on a limb. They are useful because they can be done when a horse is cold, so you can do it when you bring your horse into his stable for the night, in the field, before riding, and it will still be beneficial, and not cause them to strain anything.

Carrot stretches are useful tools in conditioning horses as you can teach them to stretch and strengthen more specific muscles than when riding or lunging, and you can also trigger the release of some tighter, bad muscles (like the brachiocephalic muscles on either side of the underneath of the neck – yeah, you know the ones!)

Quite often physiotherapists or vets will recommend particular carrot stretches  to help the rehabilitation of a horse, or to help prevent re-injury.

Below are a couple of carrot stretches that you may want to get your teeth  into. Remember, it make take a few attempts for your horse to understand so be patient and don`t expect them to be able to do the full stretch.

Stretch to point of hip

With the horse standing square, or as close to square as he naturally goes, slowly use the carrot to guide his nose around towards his point of hip. When he reaches his furthest point, hold it for a few seconds before rewarding him with the treat. Make sure you perform this on both sides. This stretch stretches the shoulder, neck and intercostal muscles on the opposite side of the body and strengthens those muscles on the side he is turning towards.

Stretch to the side of the forefoot

Again, with the horse standing square-ish, get him to follow the treat down to the outside of his front hoof, without bending his knee. This slight abduction stretches the muscles in front of and behind the scapula on the opposite side and strengthens those muscles on the near side.

Stretch to the girthline

Now it is important that this stretch is brief, and a stretch as opposed to Rolkur. G get the horse to follow the treat down between his front knees towards his girth. Otis loves this stretch, and has been known to take his nose so far between his legs he somehow touches his tummy! This stretch causes the abdominal muscles to engage and is very good for stretching the nuchal ligament and the entire topline. The horse should not lift, or bend a leg in order to perform the stretch. The longissimus dorsi muscle, lumbar muscles, gluteals and nuchal ligament are all stretched, whilst the abdominal and chest muscles are strengthened.

Let me know how you get on; if your horse is more flexible than you thought, asymmetric, or just greedy!


Matt’s Diary – Week 3

For weeks one and two, click Here and Here.

Saturday and Sunday 

This weekend was pretty boring, Young Mum went to visit Old Mum, who is apparently convalescing well. The Chauffeur was in charge, which is fine and at least means a day off for me! He did ask me why I called Old Mum old though… well how else can I describe her?! Otis suggested Granny but she’s not that old! And I can’t call her Big Mum because she’s really quite petite. I could call her Short Mum I suppose, because Young Mum is taller than her. But that seems silly too…


It was back to the grindstone early this morning with a flatwork session in the arena. I tried my best at leg yielding, but it really is very difficult! We didn’t do too much canter because Young Mum is still sore from her flying lesson last week. Apparently she says my canter is “big moving” so it hurts more. I think it means I have a nice canter though.

I was a bit chilly this morning so I’ve been upgraded to having an over rug put on at night, and taken off during the day – I feel so spoilt!


I was pleasantly surprised to be brought into my luxury apartment forbreakfast this morning, but I had to watch Young Mum ride that grey lady I had the pleasure of escorting out on my first day here …I did give a squeal of displeasure when they came back to the barn – if she wasn’t so pretty I’d have more than a few words to say about stealing Young Mum!

I stayed in my stable all morning. It was really quiet. Like being in a church, none of the other horses talked! So I nibbled my hay and sipped my water until Young Mum returned and tied me outside Otis’s stable. Immediately Otis started harassing me for a wither scratch. Honestly, he is so needy at the moment! 

I was still wondering why I wasn’t in my field, when a lady who Otis told me is very nice came in. She gave me her apple core, which I ate quickly before Otis took it, before stabbing my neck! Then she cooed over how handsome I am (yes, I know) and how lovely it is to see a Welsh Cob who is fit and not carrying excess fat. I blushed with pride – I spend a lot of time working on this figure of mine! 


This morning was a bit of a shock to Young Mum and me. She took me for a walk around the block, which I must say was not at all scary and I think I can put of my brave pants and do more of this solo hacking. When we got back in the arena it turns out we were supposed to be dressaging it up with our instructor. So with my nose to the grindstone, I did lots of trotting and transitions and spirals – Why do they have to make circles even harder?! 

I was pooped by the end of the lesson, so made sure I had a good roll and made my face all muddy when I got back to the field – it’s my only option of rebelling now that my rug covers me ear to tail!


I was surprised to have Thursday morning off, but even more surprised with what happened at Thursday lunchtime!

Young Mum caught me, brought me in, forced me to scratch Otis’s withers while she brushed me in the empty, silent barn. Then she put my travel boots on – why? No one else was getting ready to go out – and before I’d had time to do even one of my compulsory seven poos she was leading me to a trailer. Not my blue trailer. Or Otis’s shiny palatial blue trailer. But a green one! I stopped in protest. But a quick smack of the lead rope on my bum by Young Mum and I reconsidered my stance. 

After a couple of minutes a very attractive lady came into the trailer. Ooh I did like her wide, white blaze! I’m not sure if she’s interested in me, because she squealed when I tried my chat up line. I kept trying the whole journey though, and I think she mellowed a bit.

We unloaded in an empty field. Where was the show? Young Mum mounted and we walked across a field to a huge open space of cross country jumps! Wow!

While I warming up I had a good look round – some of those jumps looks scary! Young Mum took it easy with me first of all – some logs and then we did the revolver jump, shiny barrels, sushi jump, skinny, tabletop, pencil, corner, army tank … then she made me jump a ditch! Not just a ditch in the woods, but a proper dug out ditch! I was a bit frightened, but after watching my lady friend let her rider go over her head I decided I’d better not do the same to Young Mum and jumped it! Then I did it again, and again. It wasn’t that scary anyway, I don’t know what my lady friend was thinking!

We did loads of jumps – steps up and down, coffins, boats, and then – a spider!

It was pretty scary, with all those legs and a tiny space to squeeze my belly through, but I was brave. I did it first time! Below is a video of me showing my skills, excuse the dirty tack at the beginning, apparently phones don’t work very well with gloves.


After the last couple of busy days I was glad to have a field day today, and much to Young Mum’s relief I’ve started waiting for dinner by the gate;  I did try making her bring the bucket all the way to me, but she refused! 


It was an early start for Young Mum – she had a wedding to goto so   it was a long morning of making herself look presentable. She still lunged me though. First time this week! I’m getting better at it though, and could feel my trapezius muscle aching by the end. She said I’d put on a bit of weight though, which I’m not sure how to take …

The Chauffeur fed me in the afternoon, which was nice to see him.

Solving Problems

Going into winter there are definite changes in our horses: one cob I know has become very lethargic because he can’t wait to be stabled! Another has been giving me flying lessons! Even if you have strong suspicions about the reasons for behaviour changes – good or bad – it’s still worth investigating all avenues just in case because unfortunately they can’t tell us and it could be multiple reasons.

The Rubber Curry Comb

Someone I know is going through the age old process of problem finding out why their pony “isn’t quite right” so I thought it was the ideal opportunity to list the areas to research.

1. Does the saddle fit? It’s always worth getting an objective view on your saddle, when stationary and when moving as an observer may spot some movement or imbalance, which can be followed up by a visit from a saddler. A lot of people forget that flocking gets squashed over time, particularly in a new saddle, so your saddle should be checked by a proper saddler at least once a year. Additionally, horses change shape as they grow and mature or as they get fitter muscles will develop and fat will be lost. Girths and numnahs should also be checked too, as sometimes a girth can pinch and cause behavioural problems.

2. Is there any pain…

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Stages of Learning 

As you may know, I’m busy swotting up for my next teaching exam. I’m currently ploughing my way through the recommended reading list, but found an interesting and useful explanation of the stages of learning. 

From a teaching point of view it is very useful, but I also thought it would be useful for learners to know which stage they’re at.

Here are the four stages:

  • Unconscious incompetence 
  • Conscious incompetence 
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence 

Initially they seem a bit out there, and not very clear, so let me describe them for you.

Unconscious incompetence is the first stage, and I feel it’s slightly different to the others because it applies more to children than adults. Have you ever watched a child in their first riding lesson? They usually have this total lack of awareness of what they are supposed to be doing, but are grinning and thoroughly enjoying themselves. They are unaware of the fact that they haven’t developed any riding skills, and are totally reliant on their helper. They are just happily copying their friend/sibling/parent. So they are incompetent because they haven’t developed the necessary skills to actually ride a horse, but because they are sat on a pony, like their friend, they think they are horse riding. Which means that they are also unaware of how much they need to learn in order to ride a horse. Which leads to the title, unconscious incompetence  (because they are unaware of their lack of skills).

Conscious incompetence is the first stage of adult learning. An adult embarks upon learning to ride with the knowledge that they have a steep mountain to climb, and are only at the beginning of their journey. So these riders are aware of their lack of ability, and consciously incompetent.

Now as you learn and develop your skills you become competent. However, a certain amount of brain power and concentration is required in order to coordinate your aids, keep your balance, and think about where or how the horse is going. There is also an awareness of the skills you are yet to acquire. So you are consciously competent in your abilities – quite capable, but have to devote some mental focus in order to achieve.

The final stage, the one we all aspire to be at, is the stage of unconscious competence. This is when riding is second nature, autonomic, and you don’t need to think about what you are doing. Think of the top level riders, they don’t have to think about every single movement, aid, rebalance, in order to achieve their goal.

I’m sure most of you are thinking that you are consciously competent. And most probably you are, but I think the stages of learning now need to be developed further.

Once you have reached the competent phase, it is important to relate your stage of learning to the activity. Let’s take shoulder in, for example. If you are Charlotte Dujardin then you are unconsciously competent at riding shoulder in. If you are working at elementary level then you are more likely to be consciously competent at riding shoulder in, because you have to think and place yourself in order to achieve it.

The same goes for jumping. William Fox-Pitt probably doesn’t think twice about riding a skinny fence cross country, he adjusts his position and canter automatically, but the amateurs amongst us have to go through a checklist to ensure they have the correct canter approach to clear the skinny.

Perhaps the stages of competent learning should be viewed as more of a helix. As you develop a skill you are consciously competent, and once it is mastered, you are unconsciously competent and can move on to learning the next skill. You move up the helix like this until you are the world number one.

Hopefully this makes sense to everyone, but I think it is interesting to understand which stage of learning you’re at for which exercise, movement, or activity so that you can realise when you are progressing.