At the beginning of this camp I was briefed on my ride, who were the more novice group of the camp. They were just into secondary school, and had a variety of ponies and experience.
My chief told me that the youngest of my ride may be a problem. It was her first time at main camp, and she was quite novice and usually preferred riding with the minis (under 10s) at rallies. She voiced a concern that Daisy may not manage camp, and that it would either “make or break” her.
Then I was introduced to Daisy and her pony. When I approached I could hear Mum telling her what to do, and not to forget such and such. While Daisy put her tack in the tack room with her sister Mum told me that she was a fair weather rider, and found tacking up difficult as she couldn’t reach her 14.1hh chestnut veteran. My immediate response was that I hoped she had a box to stand on.
Lunchtime came and went, and all the girls were told to be ready for 3pm for a flat lesson. I took the lesson steadily, keeping the ride in closed order and working them with and without stirrups. Within about ten minutes Daisy came to the middle, sobbing that her arms were hurting from pulling her reins. Her usually docile pony has perked up being ridden in a group and kept trying to catch up to the pony in front. I briefly explained half halts to Daisy, and then sent her back out – he would tire himself out soon! Half her problem was that she looked like a pea on a drum, this cob was so much bigger than her!
Ten minutes later, she was sobbing because she had a stitch, so after a quick breather she resumed. When I mentioned the word canter she had a hissy fit, so feeling impatient, I left her in the middle of the school while the others cantered. At the end I offered her the opportunity to canter around whilst the rest of the ride walked. She agreed reluctantly and her pony, on a new lease of life, tanked around the arena with Daisy crying out loudly. Needless to say she didn’t canter again that day.
Just before 9.30 the following day, I went to my block of stables to find all the girls ready except for Daisy. Her patient pony was ready, but I had to help her zip up her new chaps and put her hairnet on. I think the others were keen to get started so we moved quickly. I noticed that Daisy was keen to please and follow instructions, but lacked the confidence to use he initiative (e.g. She waited until I told her to open the arena gate, whereas most other kids would have followed the initial instruction of “walk into the arena and form a straight line before checking girths and stirrups before mounting”).
Anyway, the flat lesson got off to a better start, Daisy worked in a space and began to ride independently. She had a couple of fast canters around the arena today and then I announced they would be swapping ponies. I put Daisy onto the 12.2hh grey mare who was very sweet and steady. To be honest, she looked perfect on her as they were the right size. The whole ride worked their new mounts and assessed them. I wasn’t too worried about Daisy’s assessment as I wanted her to focus on being confident and independent. She did manage to say a couple of words about the mare at the end, though. As we walked back to the yard Daisy said quietly to me “I loved riding Tessy”. I nodded in agreement and said she had ridden her well.
That afternoon we went in the showjumping arena, and the DC came to watch my lesson. I spent a long time on the grid, building it up steadily so that the more advanced girls didn’t get bored (although their approaches needed much improvement) but also Daisy didn’t feel outfaced. The cross rapidly became two crosses and then three, before the final fence being an upright and then a spread. Daisy was a bit wobbly in her position, but her cob looked after her, and she grew in confidence each time. The grid grew to a good 2’3″, and then I took to adding a top rail to the spread for the other girls, and removing it for Daisy.
To finish, they had to ride a related distance, counting the canter strides and then altering the number. This was slightly above Daisy, but she still counted correctly and kept her canter between the fences so I was pleased.
The following day held another flat lesson and a cross country lesson. When I arrived Daisy was crying because her bridle was tangled and she couldn’t sort it out. I untangled the martingale and explained that no one minded her asking for help. It wasn’t the end of the world; they were all here to learn, after all.
Soon the tears were forgotten, and the first half of the flat lesson went smoothly. We came to cantering, and Daisy cried “I don’t think I can do it!” So I asked why, and she said she thought her pony would canter when the one in front did. I told her not to panic. Privately I agreed, her could be a bit of a sheep, and with the greatest will in the world, Daisy didn’t have the strength to stop him. When it was the turn of the person in front of Daisy, I told her to overtake and have her canter, before letting that person back in front of her at the back of the ride. This worked smoothly, and she had some good canters. We even finished the lesson successfully riding a figure of eight in canter with a change of lead through trot.
Cross country was a challenge because her pony kept tanking back to the ride and skipping around the little logs, so I soon swapped Daisy onto the little grey. I felt they would be happier pottering around whilst the bigger girl would remind Daisy’s pony of his manners and correct behaviour. I assured Daisy that it was only physical strength which limited her riding ability. Both girls were happy, and all of the riders had a good gallop up the hill at the end.
I think Daisy grinned the whole way back to the stables! Apparently that night she text her Mum and asked her to buy the little grey pony!
The next day Daisy sat her D+ test with the rest of the ride and scraped through. I think passing that test boosted her confidence. She was so full of herself that the penultimate day, even after her crises if not wearing enough clothes to bed and freezing all night, she went cross country with her cob and even when he was tanking along she still aimed for the jumps! Today’s gallop was even faster than last time, albeit on a shallower incline. Daisy still thoroughly enjoyed it though!
On the final day we did a few relay races, and I was pleased to see Daisy getting into the swing of it and cantering around with everyone else. She seemed to have fun, and with the musical ride, her Mum saw a vast improvement in her skills and confidence level.
So, we had a few tears daily, which I think were only little things such as homesickness, shyness (not asking for help and panicking), and then confusion and tiredness. The tears were soon brushed away and she smiled most of the time. I think camp made Daisy, and I hope she’ll become more committed and ride more so that she improves. Hopefully she’ll feel a bit more independent from her Mum and start using her initiative a bit more.
After the musical rides, while all the girls were in fancy dress, I had to give out the felts to the successful candidates. Unfortunately, it took me so long to identify and give the felts that I lost track of names! With two white felts left, I went along the line asking if I’d missed anyone. There was no answer, and I left them with the Chief.
It was only when I got into my car to leave, complete with my wine from Daisy, that I realised I probably missed her out because she’s so mouse-like. Now I feel wracked with guilt because this girl, who’s overcome many obstacles this week, has given me a card saying “thank you for being such a wonderful instructor” and I’ve let her down by forgetting to give her her well earned felt! I hope she plucks up the courage to ask the Chief for it…