Thinking On Your Feet

I taught at a Pony Club rally tonight, hence the late post as I am shattered, and it was a new club too. I went in blind, as I hadn’t been emailed the group list. It’s not the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last, but it can be a bit nerve racking to say the least.

A few weeks ago I was at another rally and was chatting to another instructor. It was her first time teaching for the pony club and she was very nervous. There’s a good reason for that – you’re teaching a group of unknown riders and unknown horses, usually of a variety of abilities, in an unknown venue. You either sink or swim.

This other instructor asked me what I was planning on working on during my lessons and I had to say that I didn’t actually know. I mean, I had a couple of ideas but until I’d seen my group trot I hadn’t decided which one to follow.

In reflection, I was in her position last year; worrying over who I would be teaching, writing plans A,B,C and D in the hope I could use one. However, once you’ve jumped in at the deep end a couple of times you soon learn to swim.

I think working in various riding schools can help teach you how to wing it. Or to put it another way, to think on your feet. We used to have groups of foreign students come for lessons in the summer – there you had familiar horses but a huge variety of abilities AND the language barriers. You soon learnt to be imaginative. Then on Pony Days you always had a mixed bag of kids, so you rapidly learnt to juggle a lesson to match all the riders. 

In tonight’s lessons I had some young horses and young riders so I warmed them up in closed order but with 2 horses distance apart, and quickly put them through their paces – including sitting trot, which they hated! They cantered individually but it involved passing the ride on the inside, circling, and exiting and rejoining the ride on a circle. Then I worked them over trot and canter poles until the young horses stopped rushing and the other riders were approaching straight and in a rhythm. I made them jump a single fence from trot that was built up from a cross to a spread. They all seemed to enjoy it, and improve too so that was good. I wanted to keep the kids on their toes with busy exercises but keep the content safe and steady as I didn’t know them very well.

In my second lesson I had another mixed bag. One girl on her young pony, another on a trial pony, and a gung-ho but unbalanced boy and a wobbly girl, who seemed to be in her own world. After warming them up in the field and cantering them individually (peeking through my fingers as the boy and saddle slid up his pony’s neck and the little girl on her trial pony bombed back to the others). Then we played some games, and the young pony got a bit over excited and more balls were dropped and poles askew so that we soon gave up, but the kids were laughing and enjoying themselves so I didn’t matter too much that I was having palpitations. I finished that lesson with some interesting trot poles (aka a hundred miles an hour pick up sticks) and a little jump, where I spent a lot of time correcting their position, approach and ride away. I had a hairy moment when the boy and his saddle crept forwards and I told him to hop off and adjust his tack. As he leant forward to dismount, his pony put her head down and the boy rolled down her neck! We all laughed with him, and then I held my breath whilst the little girl practically galloped over the tiny cross.

I think the second lot of kids enjoyed themselves too, but I definitely had to work hard and think on my feet in the last lesson to keep them all occupied.

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