Moving Up From Riding School Ponies

I teach this teenager on her Halfinger pony, who she has been riding since Easter. He’s a big step up from her previous “perfect first pony” as he is sensitive and very powerful.

In the summer we did a bit of jumping, but it wasn’t hugely successful. The pony rushed and my rider felt a bit out of control and so let the pony run out. A bit like driving your car too fast.

Not wanting to teach this Haflinger to run out, we returned to flatwork and have really stepped it up a notch. My rider is naturally very quiet with the hand, so recently I’ve taught her to ride her pony “between leg and hand” a bit more. I don’t want him to be very collected and engaged, I just want to encourage the feeling of togetherness. This has been really successful, and their rein connection is more secure and the rider finds it easier to affect her pony’s way of going because the lines of communication are tauter.

With the darker evenings she is having to spend more time in the school, and I thought pole work would help provide variety to her rides.

The first lesson was not particularly successful. I think I made the exercise a bit tricky and overestimated my rider’s self confidence and progress. Or I had forgotten the speed the pony picks up when he thinks about jumping! Either way, it took a lot of tries to get her to canter over the poles.

The following week I took a step backwards. We warmed up paying particular attention to having the Haflinger between leg and hand, and then I introduced the trot poles.

I reminded my rider that she needed to ride every step towards the poles. Her pony isn’t a riding school “point and kick” pony, so needs her to be very focused on leading him to the poles and telling him what to expect.

She circled until he was balanced and rhythmical and then headed straight for the trotting poles. She looked at a fence post straight ahead, so she wasn’t looking down, and kept tunnelling her pony straight towards the post with her hands level and together, legs squeezing him down the tunnel of her hands.

As expected, he was over dramatic and leapt them. But he hadn’t thought of side stepping them. She rewarded him verbally and came round again, in exactly the same approach. He knew what was coming so tried to rush, but because he was up into the hand, the tiniest of half halts with her upright position, lifting her core, was enough to balance him so that he floated over the poles.

Another reward, and then off to ride a circle or two before re-approaching. Again, straight over.

I adjusted the poles slightly to suit his stride, and she came over them on the other rein. Perfect. When we discussed the exercise after she said she could feel her core muscles working, keeping her horse balanced and steady, but could definitely feel the benefit.

Next I turned to the canter. I asked her to ride the canter in a similar way to the trot, so he wasn’t trying to pull into the forehand – his canter is much improved already – and then for my rider to be strong through her upper body (he goes onto the forehand and she collapses through her upper body). On the flat she could feel the effects of these changes, and maintained it for longer periods at a time.

Now my rider cantered a circle, balanced both herself and the pony, and approached the poles. It was like pick up sticks! Not because the pony galloped through, but more because the poles were light and his out-of-sync stride just flicked the poles out of place.

Once I’d reorganised the poles we tried again. A better approach, with an even better canter, meant they cantered through the poles only knocking one. However, the pony was straight and didn’t even think about bypassing the poles.

My rider worked hard maintaining the canter as we repeated the exercise a few times on both reins. They didn’t have one run out!

I was really pleased for both of them as it gives a solid baseline to work from, and my client realised how she has to be the leader when riding a green or non-riding school pony. Roll on next lesson!

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One thought on “Moving Up From Riding School Ponies

  1. nbohl December 9, 2014 / 8:43 pm

    Great reminder to engage your core when riding!

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