I taught a young boy this week on a monster of a pony, who he has been persevering with for a few weeks.
This pony is in the riding school and needs a special sort of rider. He`s only 12 hands high, but I have been known to squash him when he is particularly petulant, but his riders need to be on the bigger side for him and be very confident and assertive.
Initially, when a new rider asks him to trot on he swishes his tail and slows his walk down. So they get bossy and use their leg with a sharp tap with the whip. And the pony responds by cantering off before slowing right down and repeating the procedure. The key here is to play the pony at his own game and make him canter until he stops messing around and trots nicely. Then you have to be on the ball and predict any napping or change of rhythm to keep that cheeky pony going. To mix things up, he can throw in a cheeky buck too.
Having said all that, if the kids can ride from their seat this pony produces some lovely medium trot, and he has a fab pop in him when jumping. The trouble with him is that he needs a very talented little rider to get the best out of him, and will take the proverbial out of anyone more novice.
So this young boy I have been teaching has been riding this monkey of a pony for the last three lessons. Last week he sat a cheeky buck in the canter but ended up jumping a little grid in canter with that perfect canter stride between each element, so I felt he was getting the measure of the pony. Much to my surprise this week, he opted to ride the naughty pony instead of the riding school favourite.
The long arena was set out, which gave me a good opportunity to introduce the new letters and for him to practice his school movements in different places. The five loop serpentine was particularly entertaining. It was great for the pony though, as he wasn`t sure where he was going and subsequently listened more to his rider. The warm up was looking promising when we moved onto canter.
This pony can canter on the spot, pinging his back legs in such a way that it unbalances his riders, It`s not bucking, more engagement of the hindquarters. He also has a big movement in his neck whilst cantering and usually gets pulled in the mouth. So I told my rider to encourage the bigger striding canter, instead of the pogo stick imitation.
It wasn`t pretty the first try – the pony cantered on the spot, shaking his head because my client hung on tightly to the reins, We slowed the lesson down for a moment and discussed how to make the canter better. I told my rider to trust his pony a little bit more, to have slightly longer reins and think of them being elastic. He was to sit tall and push the pony with his seat and leg to a bigger striding canter. I told him not to worry if it felt a little fast at first.
I explained that the pony, as mischievous as he is, expected his riders to pull him in the mouth in canter so anticipated it by shaking his head. My rider`s job was to keep his hands quiet and still, allow the pony to shake his head until he realised that this particular rider had nice hands and wouldn`t hassle his mouth. Off they went.
As they went into canter the pony tossed his head, and my rider sat perfectly still, encouraging the pony forwards without hassle and after cantering the long side, the pony dropped his nose and lifted his back into a large striding canter, with a very active hind end. After that, every canter was lovely and it was great to see the pony moving more freely and wanting to go forwards, with his ears pricked.
Once we`d cantered on both reins I started putting out a double. They cantered comfortably through the poles and then over the jumps, fitting in two two balanced canter strides. We finished with a placing pole to a cross, followed by two canter strides and a spread, of about two foot high. My rider`s lower leg position was looking much more secure, and he started to understand the principle of riding the approach, between and after the grid to maintain the rhythm.
I was really pleased with how my rider is handling this cheeky monkey, and how he has persevered to get the best results from the pony; but also with how well the pony responded and seemed to enjoy his workout. I think the variety of the long arena helped keep them both on their toes, and opening up the canter engaged the pony so that he could jump out of a good rhythm with lots of energy. It gave his rider a much more comfortable ride, and he didn`t end up scrambling over the jump.