Today`s post is a continuum from my last post, How Institutionalised Are We?, purely by chance.
It was the following morning, so Thursday, when I went to teach my first client at 10am. I was beaten to the yard by another instructor who started teaching in the arena. We could have shared, but adjacent to the arena is a nice flat paddock, which happened to be empty, so I asked my client if she wanted to test her pony in the field.
She agreed, because she`s always up for a challenge! Her share pony is a Haflinger, who is very sensitive to the leg and has a little bit of a reputation for being naughty. He`s the sweetest, most trying horse in the world though, so I feel that his past behaviour is a fear reaction. For example, he doesn`t cope very well with the rider losing their balance, so when he was jumping and his rider got left behind, his natural reaction is to run. To cut a long story short, this little horse now has the reputation for bolting after jumps.
He doesn’t, I`ve seen him jumped by my client very calmly and quietly.
Back to my story. Given this pony`s reputation my client and her Mum have slowly introduced new things to him, so he walks around the field to cool off happily and goes out quietly round the lanes with other horses. It`s been great that they are so patient with him and let him acclimatise and process everything, only moving on when he`s happy.
We began the lesson by walking out the arena we would use. I suggested my client found an object, such as the windows of the nearby house, to focus on to help establish a straight line for the track of our arena. She kept the horse walking positively forwards in a good rhythm until she had familiarised herself with her path. I told her to still think about riding a straight line, followed by the corner, and then the straight line so that her horse learnt to not to drift around the field in a lackadaisical way.
With a good walk on both reins I also talked about riding circles to her, saying the in order to keep her horse`s focus she needed to be busy, and not ride around our track too many times. She struggled for a moment to establish the size of her 20m circles, but once she mastered them at either end of the field we moved up into trot.
Her pony got rather excited, and tried trotting in a rushed rhythm on the forehand, so we did circles, serpentines and transitions to get his attention. He was funny as he went through the longer grass because he quickened his trot and lifted his knees high! I had my rider balance and steady him before the longer grass, but be consistent as she rode through the patch so he learnt not to rush and got used to the grass tickling his cannon bones.
In the field was a shallow dip, which I told my rider to use to her advantage. It didn`t do her horse any harm to trot down and out of it, he had to think about his balance and it kept his focus on where they were going and the ground beneath him. He is footsure, but it was nice to see him balancing himself and it was good for my rider`s balance too.
We have been working on keeping a consistent rein contact and getting the horse between her leg and hand, so the field was a useful way to test her, as she didn`t have the walls to help control her horse`s outside shoulder. We struggled for a while, but the feeling soon clicked. Once her rein contact was correct and her horse listened to the leg for the school movements he lifted his back and started working in an outline.
He was working really well, so I brought them back to walk for a quick breather, before getting my rider to start riding travers. We started on a circle, pushing the quarters in a little bit and then down the straight side of the school. To my delight, she got a response. Her horse thought about the question and then tried moving away from her outside leg. When the balance of aids was wrong, she got a bit of leg yield, but soon they had slight travers in trot on both reins, down the straight side of the field. Both were working really hard and we were running out of time, so I brought the lesson to a close, getting my rider to trot on a long rein around the field.
It was great to test this horse and rider combination; and it did prove my point of the last blog post that taking it slowly in the field and being insistent on the way the horse goes results in a more relaxed, consistent, active way. I didn`t canter; not because I doubted their ability, but because they were going do nicely I didn`t want to upset either of them and cause us to end on a bad note. My rider now has a positive experience of riding in an open space to build upon, and when she`s ready we will canter, which will really help her control of her horse when she hacks out with others.