In tonight’s lesson I was trying to get my young client more aware of her pony’s rhythm and gait. I also wanted to encourage her to improve the shape and symmetry of her circles.
After she’d warmed up in walk, trot and canter, with some loose circles, getting her mare to start loosening up, I asked her to start counting the trot strides. This was easy because her rising coincided with the strides.
To make harder I then took her stirrups away and had her continue counting the trot strides whilst sitting to the trot. She soon mastered this, and it was amazing how her counting alone improved the rhythm and consistency of the trot.
Now we turned towards riding symmetrical circles, counting the strides between A and X, and then trying to match this number between X and A. It took a few attempts, and her circles started off very large, but soon she could ride a symmetrical circle with fifteen strides in each half. This meant she had to use her outside leg to stop the horse drifting towards the track, and her counting kept her rhythm consistent. As the rhythm and circle shape got more consistent so the mare started to become more supple.
We repeated the exercise on the other rein, before I let my client take her stirrups back. She then rode a little bit independently counting whenever she felt the trot get unbalanced or quick. I was a bit surprised when the trot became a bit looser and more active too, and it was only really my riders change of focus.
I turned my attention towards canter now, as my young client tends to rely on circles to help keep her canter slow. In the canter I asked her to close her eyes and feel each leg working. When she felt the outside hind step under she needed to say “one” and then “two” as the diagonal pair came through and finally “three” when the inside foreleg came forwards. Soon my client could feel and count the leg sequence, and she soon noticed that her canter stayed at exactly the same speed and rhythm on the circles and down the long side. The improved rhythm also helped her sit deeper into the saddle.
We repeated the exercise on the right rein before returning to trot work. My client was feeling what her horse was doing a lot more, but I felt she could get even better. So I encouraged her to try to feel her trot diagonal, and then we experimented with the rising trot; first of all rising for two beats then sitting for two beats, then rising for one and sitting for two, and finally rising for two and sitting for one. The idea behind this exercise was to get my rider to feel her mare’s strides and each leg moving, which hopefully means that she will be more aware of her trot diagonal and can continue to improve her feel so that she doesn’t have to rely on glancing at the outside shoulder. I also got her in incorporate fifteen metre circles, trying to get twenty strides on each one, so that she became more aware of the different sized circles.
It was a really fascinating lesson, in how a simple exercise such as counting can improve so many areas of the rider and horse. The rider begins to use their whole body to control the horse, the hands get lighter, and they begin to get more aware of the rhythm, suppleness and accuracy of the gaits. They work more in tune with the horse. The horse on the other hand, improves the consistency of the rhythm of their gait, and becomes more supple and balanced. This mare also softened in her frame and was more relaxed, chewing on the bit, and at the end stretching long and low, which showed that she had worked over her back during our session. I was pleased with both of them, and it shouldn’t be long before my rider is feeling her diagonals, and her horse is really balanced on the flat.