A Smile of Satisfaction 

I taught a new client this week and he really made my day. He’s nine or ten, I think, but possibly eleven, and has a little schoolmaster of a pony. I love the pony, he will do anything so long as you press the correct buttons.

His little rider is confident and gung-ho, but needs “refining”. I knew I needed to do some flat work, but when working with boys you have to drip feed them it in short bursts before jumping to keep them focused, and I wanted our first lesson to be a success.

So my warm up was fairly brief, getting my rider to have an active trot and riding a few circles, changes of rein, correcting his trot diagonal, shortening his reins, and making light of his lazy hands, which rest on his pony’s withers. With kids I try not to make their faults too negative, but make a bit of a joke about it; such as “those hands are looking a bit lazy!” with a smile on my face, to remind them to correct their hands.

Anyway, we did some short bursts of sitting trot before cantering. Some quick fire trot-canter transitions to wake his pony up, and asking my rider what he thought of the canter and whether it was good enough to jump out of. 

My rider looked pretty serious, but he was listening and riding well, so I felt pleased with the direction the lesson was moving in.

We moved onto canter poles, checking the quality of the canter on both reins and then built a decent sized cross pole.

All the time I was noticing how my rider looked down at the poles, leant forwards onto his hands a couple of strides before the fence, but had a secure lower leg and was able to create and maintain an active canter on his approach and rode positively away from the fence.

The cross pole was no problem but when it became an upright. They had an energetic canter towards the fence, but two strides before, my rider tipped forward and buried his hands into the withers. And the pony darted sideways, around the jump. Apart from his upper body going forwards, my rider actually looked quite secure, but he’s used to these stops!

I explained to my rider that when jumps got bigger his pony had to make more effort to lift his shoulders and when my rider tipped forward he was making it harder for his pony, which is why he ran out.

Just by sitting up and lifting his hands, they flew over the upright nicely.

After jumping off both reins I made a one stride double of a cross to an upright. My rider was a bit slow to sit up between the fences which allowed his pony to run out. The next time was much better and once they were looking more consistent I made the second fence into an oxer. The back rail was just shy of ninety centimetres. Yes it was big, but within their capabilities and I wanted my rider to realise the importance of sitting up before fences.

It took a couple of tries, but as soon as my rider had his shoulders back and hands carried, with the leg on, his pony flew the spread. And my rider’s face lit up! On the approach he was very serious and focused, but upon landing he had a huge grin on his face. It’s very satisfying to see someone suddenly piecing together the jigsaw and being so pleased with themselves and their pony.

I didn’t want to do the oxer too many times, so after a couple of good approaches we had a break to change the exercise into three jumps. The final fence was about eighty five centimetres as I didn’t want it to be too big if they had three fences to ride through.

The first time my rider forgot to sit up after the first fence. The second time he was a little quick to fold before the final fence so had another run out. It was so good to see them coming together and making progress with each attempt. As well as the huge grin on my riders face as he landed after the final jump and stopped to pat his pony!

That makes my job worthwhile; seeing such progress and happy faces afterwards. It makes my day and makes me glad I do the job I do! I know now what to do over the next few lessons. Grid work will improve my riders position and flexibility so he is quicker to sit up. I’d like to build up to a series of bounces without reins. We also need to check their straightness over jumps which we can do with the help of some guide poles. With the flatwork I’m just going to sneak it in at the beginning of the lesson and gradually improve this area without him getting bored and losing interest. Then perhaps one day he’ll ask to have a pure flatwork lesson!

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