The week I have a group of five boys aged six to eight at a mini Pony Club Camp. They are all off the lead rein in trot and canter, with the exception of one boy who has only just started riding and needs a bit of help from his sister. They could all jump but I was sure they overestimated the height when I asked!
On our first morning I assessed them on the flat, finding that they didn’t know what a twenty metre circle was, so we soon sorted that out. Sort of. Much to my relief they could keep trotting as a ride, which obviously makes life much easier for me and my helpers. I asked the junior instructor who was helping to explain trot diagonals to the boys, which she found difficult but they seemed to have all understood it. After a few canters we practiced jumping position over a pole and a tiny cross, during which I had to remind the boys that it wasn’t a race and that they had to fold over the fence.
I was pleased with the ability and teachability of the boys – right up my street! They all wanted to have fun but were also really supportive of each other.
After lunch I announced that they needed to be wearing body protectors as we were going cross country. This brought a few gasps of horror from mothers, whoops of glee from the boys, and then one wobble from the more nervous boy.
To me, the first time going cross country doesn’t involve that much jumping, so I consoled the concerned as we walked across the trailer field. The first part of the cross country course we went to was a strip field where I could get the boys riding in the open field independently.
Firstly we discussed body position when going up and down hills, and had a practice, and then we walked over to the little water and individually the boys walked and then trotted through the water, remembering to lean back going down the hill and leaning forwards when coming out of the water and up the slope.
Next I had the boys trot away from the ride, along the strip field and around a log jump before trotting back. Here they could feel the lumps and bumps of the field, keeping their balance, and maintaining a constant trot – typically they were all slow going away from the ride but all the ponies picked up when they turned for home.
The ponies were being brilliant. One boy had a helper with him as he was a bit worried, but the others paired together so the little nappy pony who was a sheep in a past life followed the even littler dun pony, and then the sensible cob paired with the martyr pony looking after wobbly rider who also happens to be deaf. We had a couple of trots and then practised cross country position, and when I felt everyone was thoroughly warmed up and there was no chance of the ponies getting excited when we did some tiny logs we started jumping.
Initially the boys jumped over a tiny telegraph pole on the ground a few times until they were all straight on their approach and remembering their positions.
Then we moved back into the main cross country field and the boys jumped another log, then up a bank and then back down, avoiding the large Intermediate log at the bottom of the bank. The boy with the sensible cob then told me “I sometimes can’t control him after a jump so I’ll find it difficult to avoid that jump” I told him I was sure his cob wouldn’t try to jump it, and then sent a helper to sit on it!
Once they’d all done that I added in another log at the beginning, which was on a slight angle. They all navigated the little course really well – look at the position of the youngest boy and his dun on the bank! This turn was before the pony tried to take a detour down the step!
Finally, we moved on to a double of logs, which the boys all jumped brilliantly, although I did have to have the mothers standing in front of the ditch in case the ponies took matters into their own hands.
I did more on the cross country course than I expected we would do, and I was really pleased with the progress that the boys made and how much they concentrated and helped each other out.