Compare and Improve

I’m currently teaching a young teenager about riding her pony, shifting our focus from her position and correct aids to how well her pony is going.

Recently I’ve tried to get my rider to think more for herself, and not wait for me to tell her to use her leg or half halt, so lasts week I asked her to rate her walk out of ten. She said six.

Now I went with this score: she’s left herself plenty of room for improvement but is still more than halfway so it is a positive approach. I asked her why it was a six and then to identify an area to improve so that the walk was a seven.

She said that she had an energetic walk but it was a bit fast, so we worked on slowing the rhythm and making the strides more deliberate, using circles and half halts with the whole body.

Soon the walk improved to a seven and I moved on to some trot work. After a bit I asked my rider to ride forwards to walk and let her pony catch her breath. In the walk I asked her to get that seven walk. Which she did quite quickly, so we tried making it a seven and a half walk. This time I focused on her rein contact. She ensured the contact was symmetrical and balanced as we walked around the track, and then I told her to feel like her legs were pushing her pony forwards into her hands, which had to remain light and gentle, and then her hands allowed her pony to travel forwards. I didn’t want to speed up the walk but I wanted my rider to feel like the front and back ends of her pony were working together, instead of a disjointed walk.

Within a lap of the arena the walk had jumped up to an eight out of ten. The mare was soft to the contact and stretching forwards in her neck, taking even, deliberate strides, with activity in the stride. I praised my rider a lot, as this was great progress and we moved away from the walk and onto some canter work, which seemed to be better than usual. Before we finished the lesson I had my rider walk around with a seven and a half walk, before letting her pony stretch.

This week I continued the theme; beginning the lesson with aiming for a seven walk. I had previously explained to my rider that the best work does not come at the beginning of the session, but once the horse has warmed up, so it is unfair to expect the pony to produce an eight walk at the moment. But we should still start as we mean to go on.

When we revisited the walk after a trot my client asked “does Valegro get a ten for his walk?”
“Yes…”
“So if I’m between a seven and eight, am I almost as good as Valegro?”

Now this is a bit of a predicament …

After I’d gathered my thoughts I explained that as lovely as this pony is, she isn’t in the same league as Valegro so our scale of one to ten is different to Charlotte Dujardin’s. The ten we are aiming for is the best that this pony can do. I then went on to explain how our scale changes when the level of training of the pony improves or the rider gains knowledge and experience.

My rider seemed to understand this concept, and was happy to continue improving her walk so that it reaches a ten. When she rides consistently at a ten walk we will change the scale so that that walk is a seven again. And so both horse and rider will continue to improve.

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