Day One of Pony Club Camp

Pony Club Camp has started.

Not that it`s a bad thing, I`ve been looking forward to it since last year when it was over! This week is a proper old-fashioned kind of camp, all the kids from three to sixteen are there during the week (the mini monsters only arrive on the last couple of days) and we have the run of a family`s estate. It`s bliss! In the riding field numerous arenas have been fenced off, with a specific showjumping ring, gridwork ring, dressage arena, and arena cross country ring. The only competition we have for space is with each other, vying for extra time in the surfaced arena to practise our top-secret musical rides in preparation for the big competition on Friday.

Away from the riding field, there is also the cross country course through the woods and two small paddocks for Handy Pony and Mounted Games.

As an old hand at Camp I felt a lot more confident going in – after all, I actually knew some names! It was nice being recognised from last year too. Knowing the layout and the routine helps put you at ease too, as well as knowing the dynamics of the instructors so you can join in on banter. Which this camp has a lot of.

That reminds me of our Instructors Supper a couple of weeks ago. We were all sat around the table having a serious conversation about Health and Safety over chilli con carne when the sole male instructor at the table picked up the Chief Instructor`s brand new BMW car keys. After a muted conversation our end of the table decided that the remote would work on the car sat on the drive outside. So he pressed the button to open the boot.

With a polite cough, he informed the C.I. that “he thought her car boot was open”. So she got up and peered through the living room window. With a tut she slipped on her flip flops and went outside to shut the door.

The C.I. came back in, closed the front door and was just taking off her flip flops when the M.I. said “I think it`s happened again” as he pressed the button again. This time he had to dodge a smack on the back of the head!

I think I had tears in my eyes as we rolled around with laughter.

Anyway, I`m sure you can imagine how conversation flows over the lunch table.

My group this year is an interesting mix of boys and girls. Last year I had six sweet six year old girls, who all got on very well and would do anything to please, but were all very similar in ability and confidence.

With the boys I have one competitive, very fast yet I must say very polite boy with an equally fast pony who loves mounted games and jumping. Another boy is slightly quieter, but equally confident and happy around a cross country course. The third boy hasn`t ridden for very long, is shy, and lives in fairy land.

On the girls front, there is a nervous girl, who panics about her pony taking off with her so trots very slowly, and in actual fact her pony would be less likely to take off to catch up with the others if he opened his stride and didn`t get left behind – I`m working on it. The other two girls are both on Section A`s, which is actually rather nice to see. Kids who are on ponies slightly too small for them, yet are perfectly happy and the ponies are well behaved and toeing the line. These girls both have strong positions and are confident.

I had to do a tack check at the beginning of the day, focusing on the safety. I always ask the kids who cleaned their tack, and if they say “Me” they gain a point, even if it is not as clean as that which has been scrubbed by proud mothers. I`m also a bit more lenient if they haven`t put it together quite correctly – like the boy who had a twisted martingale which I untwirled. Checking stirrup leathers is a must, and I found two culprits who had stitching about to fray. They were fine for todays activities, but would need a new pair for Tuesday`s cross country. I also checked the bottoms of their stirrup irons for cleanliness and tightened girths.

Our first riding session was mounted games, which I was slightly worried about as I`d already identified the weaker riders and was worried they would be fazed by their confident counterparts. But I began our session with a bit of a lesson on the flat, so I could assess their control, trot, knowledge of diagonals, security, position, independent riding, and canter. First the trotted individually, and then after a trot as a ride on both reins they cantered individually.  Then I paired them up into teams.

I was surprised, if I`m honest, that I managed to make the teams so evenly matched they almost drew in our tournament. Mounted games was a great way for them to get to know each other, start to work as a team, and support each other so it was actually a really good starting point for the week. They all enjoyed the morning and we finished just before the ponies got overly excited.

The kids got a shock when we went back to the pony line though, as they all prepared to hand over the reins to their parent and dash off for lunch. I had other ideas. They all had to untack themselves, brush off, give their ponies haynets and water buckets, before I would let them sit down for their own lunch. And I strongly discouraged parents unless absolutely necessary.

This afternoon we had dressage practice. This is where we had to run through the test that they would be riding on Friday`s competition. Again, I warmed them up in a ride and ran through riding circles and changes of rein together, before running through each test individually. It was really interesting to see the gender divide in their approach to dressage. The girls all wanted to do well, focus on sitting trot and riding accurately, whilst the boys hoped for more than 46% and had long reins, swung across their change of rein two strides after the designated letter. More interesting, was the fact the boys had very little knowledge of the layout of the arena, the physical size of a twenty metre circle,  and couldn`t do sitting trot to save their life. As they bounced around one of them yelled,

“Why do we have to do this? It`s hard!”

To which one girl primly replied with “sitting trot helps develop your seat.” Touché.

They got there eventually, but I don`t envisage myself taking their stirrups or saddles away this week!

Before riding the dressage test we had a little discussion about what a dressage judge was looking for – riding position, using the corners, riding to letters, rhythm, correct canter lead and diagonals, and ensuring their pony was forwards, were all answers. I didn`t think they did too badly.

Each child tried when riding their dressage test, and I gave each one a couple of things to work on so that I didn`t overload their brains, and they would hopefully make some improvements. I think the girls would have happily run through it again, and worked on specific movements, but the boys were bored of it, and we`d run out of time, so we headed back to the pony line to untack and clean our tack ready for tomorrow.

Tomorrow we`re practising our musical ride and having two cross country lessons – wish me luck!

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