Problem Solving Polework

Logic puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords. I love all sorts of puzzles, and one of my favourite things when teaching is working out what exercise suits a horse or rider, and why. Why have they developed that way of going, and how can we improve it? Where is there weakness and how do we hone in on it?

So with one of my young clients, who’s really forged a great relationship with her new pony over the summer, I wanted to get her brain going. She’s a very thoughtful rider, with good feel, so I wanted to get her to deduce their weak points. I find that if a rider feels and understands the weak area then they are more motivated to improve it, and will focus more of their energy into practicing and self-correcting, which leaves me with more lesson time to focus on more exciting things.

In our lessons we’ve discussed the stages of training; rhythm, suppleness, contact and impulsion, but now she has more of a feel for a steady and consistent contact, and an understanding of the correct way a horse propels themselves forwards I wanted to re-address suppleness.

Whilst she warmed herself up with the criteria of working evenly on each rein, using circles of various sizes, serpentines and shallow loops, I set up four pole exercises. I should probably add that she’s only nine years old.

The first exercise we did was the S-bend, often seen in TREC competitions. All they had to do was walk through the path through the poles without touching or stepping over the poles. I’ve seen an agile Belgian Draft horse do this perfectly, so a 12.2hh pony has no excuse!

They had a few attempts to wiggle their way through, but in all but one time the pony stepped over the pole with a hindleg. There were a couple of teaching points such as looking up, and not down at the turn. It’s important to use the outside aids to turn as when she forgot about her outside rein (outside leg worked well) and overused the inside rein the pony was more likely to step over a pole. We ended the exercise with a discussion about whether one direction was easier for the pony than the other. She correctly identified that turning left was harder for him.

We moved on to a trio of trotting poles on a curve. On each rein, they aimed to trot over the centre of each pole. We also tried making the trot shorter striding and trotting over the poles closer to the centre of the circle.

As anticipated, the clever pony trotted a straight line over the poles, so I positioned myself to help guide my rider’s eye, and encouraged her to keep riding positively around the turn. As soon as they managed to trot the poles on the curve she could feel the increased activity of the inside hindleg. Again, I asked her which rein was easier, and she again said the right.

Next up was the house exercise. We began by focusing on straightness through the middle of the trot poles and trotting over the apex of the triangle.

Initially my rider was turning too close to the poles so started off drifting over the first pole. She also felt the exaggerated step her pony did over apex, and she had to maintain the active trot she got over the poles before the apex which will hopefully help her generate and maintain a more energetic trot on the flat.

Next, we worked on trotting over the centre of the trotting poles and then riding a curve to the centre of either of the angled (purple in the picture) poles. It took a couple of tries to perfect each turn: getting straight for the poles, using her outside aids to turn and not losing momentum. And of course I had to position myself to help guide them. Perhaps I need to invest in some cones for when I do similar exercises with bigger horses!

At the end, I asked my rider two questions.

“Which way did your pony find hardest?”

And “which way did you find hardest?”

Correctly, she replied that her pony found going left hardest, but she found it harder to ride right.

I was really impressed with her summation, and it meant that I could begin to explain why. The pony is older, I think having had a busy working life or perhaps an old injury has caused some stiffness which has led to the pony favouring the right rein. There’s not a huge amount we can do about it except ensure we work him evenly on both reins and sympathetically to his weaker area.

For my rider though, we can definitely help. I’m always reminding her to keep her left thumb on top, and to imagine her left elbow being Velcro-ed to her side. She’s right hand dominant, so when she turns right her left rein, the outside one, doesn’t support her pony’s outside shoulder and so, despite it being his easier rein, he drifts through the left shoulder. We need to focus on her using her outside aids, and building an awareness for what her left hand is doing. Or not doing. But I know some exercises which will help, and now she understands the implications of her weak rein I believe she will be more focused on correcting and improving herself.

To finish the lesson, I wanted to give my rider a feel for an elevated trot and to get her feeling a perfect straight line, so I introduced her to the grid of poles.

Firstly, they trotted on the lower poles, with the raised poles acting as tramlines to help pony and rider stay straight throughout the poles – no drifting! My rider could feel both hindlegs pushing evenly over the poles and felt the straightness in his head, neck and shoulders.

Finally, they worked over the raised poles. The pony really picked his feet up, giving my rider a lovely feel of an elevated trot, which again will help her create more impulsion in her flat work as she’s had a feel for the extreme.

In all, a really good lesson which I felt taught my little rider a lot about both her and her pony, which will enable me to put together some exercises on both the flat and over jumps which will improve the pair of them, and more to the point, my rider will understand why we’re doing them.

Advertisements

Shallow Loops

To add variety to lessons I often throw in some shallow loops. Then the other week a kid asked me what was the point of them. Good question really, and it’s always good to know what you’re trying to achieve with an exercise.

Shallow loops are ridden on two tracks – they’re sometimes mistaken for leg yielding away from the track and then back to the track by riders who like to over complicate things – along the long side of the arena. Coming out the corner ride off the track towards the three quarter line, then after riding a couple of strides parallel to the track, riding back to the track in time for the corner.

The shallow loop can be made easier by not riding so far off the track, or harder by riding the shallow loop more steeply so that it reaches the centre line.

The shallow loop is very good at improving a horse’s suppleness because there is a series of changes of bend. For example, on the left rein, you have left bend around the corner and riding off the track. At the deepest part of the shallow loop you change to right bend. Upon returning to left bend for the corner. To execute a shallow loop well the horse needs to be balanced enough to switch seamlessly between bends.

I also find shallow loops very useful in checking that a rider is using their leg and not relying on their reins to steer. If they are cheating with their aids the horse will lose rhythm and balance, and swing through their neck as they drop onto the forehand. They will also get an exaggerated bend through the neck. A horse who relies on the fence for balance will wobble as they come away from the track and lose the quality of their gait.

Shallow loops are particularly useful in improving the quality of a horse’s canter because riding counter canter on the return to the track improves their suppleness and balance so the canter becomes straighter and the hindlegs more active.

In terms of jumping, riding shallow loops will improve your ability to ride dog leg turns smoothly and the horse will maintain a better quality canter so is more likely to jump cleanly.

From a teaching perspective, having these multiple changes of bend allows a coach to introduce the concept that outside aids are relative to the direction of bend as opposed to the direction of travel around the arena.

So add them into your warm up and it’s surprising the difference it makes to your horse’s way of going.

Treats

Everyone who has horses buys treats of some description. Be it to bribe them into a trailer, or to persuade them to leave their field mates. For me, I use treats for Phoenix’s various carrot stretches and to disguise Otis’s sweet itch tablets.

Anyway, this means that I ended up in the tack shop the other week looking at rows and rows of various treats. And honestly, it’s mind boggling.

And expensive.

Let’s take a look, and compare the prices.

Spillers horse treats – £6.29 per kilo.

Global herbs treats – £10.79 for a three kilo bag. That’s £3.60 per kilo. Half the price of the Spillers ones!

NAF treats – £7.29 per kilo. These are by far the most expensive on the market.

Equine America treats (these have coconut in and get a suspicious sniff when first offered) – £7.95 for four kilos. At £1.99 per kilo they are almost four times cheaper than the NAF ones.

This is where it gets interesting. A tub of Baileys Tasty Treats is £9.29 for five kilos. That’s a reasonable £1.86 per kilo. If you’re going to buy a tub of treats, this is probably the best value for money.

That is, until you realise that these treats are identical to the 20 kilo bags of Baileys Fibre Plus nuggets. Which can be purchased for £10.25.

That’s fifty pence per kilo!

Obviously we bought the twenty kilo bag and decanted them into several Quality Street tins so that they didn’t lose their freshness.

I was horrified at the daylight robbery in the tack shop. We equestrians really need to consider how much we spend on treats. Horses don’t care if their treats come in colourful packets or not. We’ll consider the sugar levels, obesity and negative effects on behaviour of various treats another day. A horse treat only needs to be bland and with a low calorific value. Really, the pure fibre approach of Baileys tasty treats is perfect and I’m yet to meet a horse who’s turned their nose up at them. But what is wrong, is the extortionate price difference between a “treat” and a “feed”. Also, consider the environmental impact of a paper bag (which can be used to store potatoes over winter) carrying twenty kilos of treats, compared to the equivalent twenty plastic bags of alternative treats. By being attracted to the pretty packaging and falling for the marketing ploys we’re all being taken for a ride.

Change of Perspective

More and more I find myself looking at horse riding and equestrianism from a parent’s perspective.

I think there will be a lot of pressure on Mallory to learn to ride. People will presume that she loves horses and is good at riding because I do it for a living. I’m determined not to push her into horse riding. Of course, she’s already having plenty of exposure to horses and already smiles in pleasure when one breathes gently over her. She strokes their noses and wraps her fingers around their manes. I sit her on them, but I fully intend to be led by her. If she wants to have a ride then I will arrange it, and happily teach and encourage her. If she is serious about learning to ride then that’s the road we’ll take.

The way I see it, if Mallory is into horses then we’ll have plenty of mother-daughter time. If she doesn’t, she can have father-daughter time while I have pony time on my own!

Let’s assume she does take up horse riding. What do I want her to achieve with this hobby?

It would be fantastic if she was the next Nicola Wilson, Charlotte Dujardin or Jessica Mendoza. And if so we’ll support her on her competitive journey. But if not, she’ll be just like the rest of us.

I want horses to teach her respect for others. To care for an animal and the responsibility which comes with it. I want her to benefit from the exercise involved in caring for horses and riding; to get the fresh air and keep fit. I want her to find a best friend in an equine, to help keep her sane during her crazy teenage years when she won’t want me so much. Horses will also allow Mallory to meet and socialise with people from all walks of life: and the ability to strike up a conversation with anybody is a very useful skill.

I don’t mind whether Mallory wants to jump bigger and wider than is good for my heart, or wants to piaffe down the centre line. She can choose to compete, to ride for pleasure, to hack, or to jump. But most importantly I want her to be confident and enjoy herself. And I think that’s my job as a parent: to nurture her (hopeful) love of horses and enable her to enjoy them in the same way I do. If she’s happy, confident, understanding and respectful to horses, and achieves her own aims – be they cantering across fields or competing under the GB flag – then I think I’ll have succeeded as a parent.

Kids and Grids

As we know, I love gridwork. I do find it’s not introduced to children early enough in their jumping education though. Obviously you can’t or don’t need to build a long, complicated, all singing and dancing grid for those learning to jump, but a simple grid can help develop a child’s feel for a good jump, build their confidence, and develop their feel for their jumping position.

I find that children have less understanding of and ability to ride the different types of canter, and creating and maintaining a quality canter on the approach to fences, so a grid in this situation has to be built bespoke to the pony and adjusted through the lesson.

I start with three canter poles, with one pony stride between. The pony I did this with last week has quite a short striding canter, and stays very steady over poles, so I laid the poles out five of my strides apart. That’s about fifteen foot. They cantered easily through the poles, with my little jockey focusing on keeping straight and keeping the canter going through the poles.

Then I made the first fence into a little cross, and rolled out the following two poles so they were sixteen foot apart because the act of popping over the little cross pole opens up the pony’s canter and he needed more space between the poles.

Once they were confident and consistent through this setup, I rolled the second pole out slightly more and then made it into another jump. Then I corrected the third pole so it was still sixteen foot away from the second fence. Each time the pair went through the grid I checked the pony’s take off and landing points to see if he needed the distances lengthening. I didn’t want my rider to have to try to adjust the canter, I wanted the pony to easily negotiate the grid and make a good shape over the jumps to improve my rider’s feel.

I put the third jump up so we had three crosses, about seventeen foot apart, and then spent some time working on my rider’s position. It took a couple of attempts for her to find the rhythm of folding and sitting up quick enough for the series of jumps, and then we checked she was giving with her hands and not restricting his neck over jumps. Even if the first jump was taken a bit long or short, my rider soon began to see their take off point and stayed much more balanced throughout. So the grid was helping improve her balance, eye for a stride, and confidence over the fences. Prior to riding this grid, she’d got left behind over bigger jumps and hadn’t always looked in sync with her pony.

One at a time I turned the second and third jump into uprights, and raised the cross slightly. As each fence got bigger, from 45cm to 60cm, I tweaked the distances so that the pony met every jump well out of his canter, and my rider didn’t have to change the canter.

This little rider worries with upright and spread fences, so I used the grid to introduce these fence shapes. With the third fence moved out slightly further, I made an inviting spread with a cross at the front and a back rail. The grid ensured she met the jump well, and I hoped that having a good experience over an oxer would increase her confidence.

The pair finished with the grid below; the back rail of the oxer was 60cm. Easily the biggest she’s ever jumped, and she stayed balanced during the bigger bascule. They got a little close to the first jump, which meant they were a little close to the second too. I could have the distances slightly wider, but I didn’t want them to take a long one over the first fence and then either chip in for the second fence or take a very long jump. When we next do a grid I aim to get them jumping closer to 70cm, so the distances will be closer to the textbook 21 feet. However, I will let the pony dictate the distances as my little rider is less able to adjust the canter if things don’t go to plan.

Grids for beginners, even if they’re barely more than poles on the floor, are understated. So long as the instructor adapts the distances so the horse or pony can jump them out of their comfortable canter, it’s a great opportunity for a rider to develop their jumping position, balance and feel.

Keeping Fences Low

With Pony Club Camp last week and the ground being incredibly hard this summer, there was a lot of talk amongst the instructors (which didn’t necessarily relate to me and my six year old riders) about how to keep the fences low in the jumping sessions. After all, there is a huge trend towards people (and not just the children) judging how good a rider someone is based on how high they can jump. I would much rather see a horse and rider jump a lower height safely, stylishly and confidently than “keeping up with the Joneses” and have an accident, lose confidence, and have an ugly round. Besides, none of us question Charlotte Dujardin’s riding ability and she rarely jumps.

Anyway, one exercise I did a few weeks ago was a relevant option for keeping the fences low yet still still testing the rider’s ability.

The exercise started with a cross pole at X which I had my rider jump on a steep angle from both reins. This tested that they could ride their line and the pony wasn’t trying to run out through the open side.

Then I set up a skinny fence, one canter stride away from the cross, on the line they’d been jumping. The skinny was an upright, with a plain pole, so had very little visual clues to help the rider stay on their line.

This particular pony always runs to the left so the double was first set up to be ridden from the right rein. My rider carried his whip in the right rein so if his pony drifted to the right he could use it on the shoulder to help stay on their line.

It was a tricky exercise because although the cross was a nice, encouraging fence, having only one stride to the skinny meant that the pair had to prepare properly, and set themselves up accurately to the combination as there was no time to do any repair work between jumps. In all honesty, I was surprised when they succeeded the first time and jumped the skinny very accurately and stylishly.

After riding the line a couple of times I rearranged the exercise so that they jumped it off the left rein. This would be their harder rein, because the rider has a weaker left leg and the pony tends to drift through his left shoulder which, combined with the fact the pony is encouraged to veer left through the double, means it is more problematic.

The first time they drifted left, then my rider really applied his left leg and the whip on the pony’s left shoulder. Which unfortunately meant that the pony overcompensated and ran out to the right.

So I used some poles to help guide the rider and pony. The tramlines were leant against the jump wings so that they ran diagonally down to the ground. This meant they clarified the question to the pony and helped funnel him towards the skinny. After a couple of times where they jumped the guide pole rather than the skinny they successfully rode the double. As soon as they cracked the line and stayed straight as an arrow, the double was a perfect canter stride and the pony made it look effortless. When they wobbled off their line, however fractionally, the distance between the fences became longer so the pony squeezed in an extra stride to the skinny.

This exercise really tested both horse and rider without being very high, because the rider had to have a good eye and be able to ride their line, and the pony had to be on the aids. In Pony Club jumping sessions, a course could be set up with lots of tricky lines and combinations which encourage accurate riding rather than jumping big and fast. After all, lots of jumping on hard ground will damage the horse’s legs.

Dressage with Kids

Even the easiest of dressage tests can be overly complicated for kids, which I found out this week.

Just before their dressage competition this afternoon I snuck over to the judge’s car and stuck a sign on the front with an arrow pointing left. This is because my riders don’t know their left from their right and I wanted the girls to have a successful experience to hopefully encourage them to further their dressage education.

However, I did think that you’d enjoy my adjusted commanding for the test so that the little kids could ride their best.

1. At A walk towards C … straight! … C’s over here! Halt at X … now! Salute (try not to laugh at the flamboyant salute).

2. C turn left … other left! At H walk to F … trot now!

3. At A 20 metre circle … bigger … bigger …

4. Just after K walk. Not yet, keep going … now walk.

5. C halt and count to three SLOWLY! Now walk on. Don’t let them go back to their friends!

6. At M walk towards K … trot now!

7. At A 20 metre circle …. bigger than your last one! Stay in the arena …

8. Just after F … keep trotting … now walk.

9. At H change the rein across the diagonal to F with long reins … keep walking … no, don’t trot, just walk. Short reins at F.

10. Between A and K … wait for it … yep ok, trot! Quick, trot!! At E rainbow across to B.

11. Walk in the corner … keep going, keep going. Now walk. Don’t leave the arena!

12. A turn down the centre line … keep walking … keep walking … straight … stop …. right there. And salute!

All seven of my riders managed their test, albeit with some assistance, and I was pleased with their marks and the huge improvement in their riding over the week. But commanding those tests wasn’t easy!

“Put Can’t in Your Pocket…”

This week at Pony Club camp I’ve dragged up an old adage my childhood riding instructor used to say:

“Put can’t in your pocket and pull out try”

She used to say that to any child who said they couldn’t do an exercise before they’d even tried it.

Now why have I brought this up? Because for some reason my group of little girls lack confidence and the desire to try new things.

In some areas they’re very confident, but as soon as I mentioned the concept of jumping, I had a couple of them say “I can’t do that… I’ll just go around the jump/I’ll only walk over the jump. I can’t do it.” The same with cantering and their dressage test.

So I had a good talk with all of them about giving things a go. Walking on the edge. Widening their horizons. Thinking positively.

I have to admit that today they were a bit more positive about their own abilities and with some gentle coercion they agreed to try the exercise. For example, one girl agreed to try to trotting over a cross pole instead of walking. And another tried jumping without a leader. Another agreed to try cantering on her own.

So I think my main aim for this week is to create a group of riders who have a positive attitude towards trying new things, and have more self belief in their own abilities. After all, they’re more than capable and have lovely, willing ponies who look after them.

Hacking To Shows

Yesterday I took Phoenix to her first competition (blog to follow) but I hacked there. It would’ve been rude not to; the venue was a ten minute walk away from our yard.

Anyway, it brought back memories so I sent a request to Mum to dig through the archives to find some photos from when we used to hack to shows.

It was strange getting changed at the yard, tacking up and feeling very posh hacking along the road. It did save on the warm up though, and it was a lovely way to cool Phoenix down afterwards. Not that either of us cooled down much in this heatwave!

I met my groom/photographer/chauffeur/babysitter there with water (or milk) for all of us before cracking on with the competition.

Years ago very few of us had trailers so we would either hack to shows or club together and hire a lorry. Our first show we took 9 ponies in a huge livestock lorry. They travelled in threes with a partition separating the trios – it’s a good job they all got on well! It was great fun everyone going together because you always had a group of supporters and there were plenty of Mums to do up gaiters at the last minute or older teenagers to give you ringside advice.

I remember at one show I was taking a friend’s pony and I wanted to do the 2’9″ jumping class. But Mum wouldn’t let me as it was “too big” (even though my jumping had improved massively since riding this mare) so my friend, who was a bit older, just slipped into the secretary’s tent and entered me for it!

Mum usually took on the role of Yard Mum, filling the car up with haynets, tweed jackets, grooming kits, water butts and buckets, headcollars, and rugs if rain threatened. She would meet us at the venue and we’d find somewhere to tie up (Mum would’ve brought baling twine too) for the day. We would be there for the first classes and then stay as long as we could, usually hacking home in smaller groups as our classes finished. We usually did the Mountain and Moorland, a working hunter class, and at least one showjumping class. Sometimes we did five classes! There was usually a clash which would involve one of us dashing between arenas to inform the judge that someone would be late.

It was a long day, but always a lot of fun!

Here are two photos from 2003 when three of us hacked five miles to a show. I think it was the first show that I hacked to. We left the yard at 7am, show shirts and jodhs under our jeans and jumpers; headcollars over our bridles like trekking ponies. Our Mothers drove behind. We arrived at the venue just after 8am, only to find that we were the first to arrive and the farmer hadn’t even taken the sheep out of the field! So after phoning the secretary and waiting for the sheep to be removed we tied up on a fence line and let the ponies graze until the show began. I’m on the grey, Partner, who I had on loan. I lovesd that pony! Initially I couldn’t jump him as he’d just run out but after two of the older girls shouting at me in the cross country field I manned up and got bossy! The smaller bay is Billy, who was my favourite riding school pony. Last I knew he was still going strong in the riding school. The bigger bay is Dan, who I loved to ride a couple of years later. He was considered unrideable and the older girls spent a whole summer breaking him in. He had an almighty buck in him though – I came off him several times that way.

These photos were taken in 2004, when eight of us hacked to a show. I think the most that ever went was twelve, which certainly filled the lanes! Although, when we hacked into town for the Boxing Day Meet there was closer to twenty of us!

Squiggle, the large grey, and his best friend Bisto, the large dark bay, led the group. I never liked riding Squiggle, who lived up to his name and was very wiggly to ride. I rode him a lot when I was backing Matt. Now, I’d like to see what tune I could get out of him with more experience but he’s in the field in the sky. I loved riding Bisto, who was a horse as opposed to a pony and you had to ride like a grown up! She did make my triceps ache though, I remember.

I’m behind on the chestnut mare, Llynos, who was a friend’s pony and a lovely jumper. She really built my confidence up while I was backing Matt. Next to me is Aries, who was slightly crazy but I loved to jump him when I was about fifteen/sixteen. He used to trot or canter sideways very slowly towards a fence and then you’d straighten up and he’d gallop over the jump, before you had to collect him and go sideways to the next fence. He was the first pony I jumped 3′ on. When his owner was at university I used to ride him weekly and got a lot of enjoyment out of getting him straight when jumping or doing trotting poles!

Behind us is a black pony, Jack, who was very sensitive. The first time I rode him was when Partner was lame and the yard was on lockdown with strangles. I didn’t want to ride boring old Gypsy in my lesson so jumped at the chance when my friend offered me Jack. Last I knew, he was enjoying his retirement in the field behind her house, in his early thirties. He is Dan’s half brother.

Next to Jack is Geraint, the chestnut. He is Llynos’ half brother and was such a thug! He was best friends with Matt and used to follow me down the field when I caught, before barging past me at the gate. To ride, he was very bargy and just used to run through the hand. Again, now I’d like to see how I got on with him. He could go nicely on the flat and when he coordinated his legs he could jump pretty well too.

You can see Dan behind Geraint, and to his left just the black nose of Bubbles is showing. She was Jack’s Mum and quite crazy to ride. In a similar way to Aries, she’d gallop over jumps. She could jump the moon though, and had a dead mouth. We were forever trying out different (strong) bits in an attempt to slow her down. When excited, she used to jog on the spot and she had the most uncomfortable saddle! Like sitting on a brick – you can only imagine the moans when she was jig jogging along! I first rode her when the yard had strangles too. This was before Partner went lame – Mum had offered him for school use so lessons could continue and in return I got to ride Bubbles. Partner’s rider booted him into canter and promptly fell off if I remember correctly.

The other side of Dan is a dun, Sandeman. I didn’t ride him until I was fifteen or sixteen. Again, he was a horse not a pony. Very forwards, and frequently bounced one stride doubles. At one show, he jumped out the ring! Mum always remembers when I hacked him with her and I refused to let him gallop up the canter track. She says he looked like a charger. I won that battle! He’s another horse I’d like to try again now I’ve got more experience.

Finally, was little Jet, who still looks great in his twenties. Mum and I loaned him when I was eight and he was very tolerant, especially as he was only young at the time. I don’t think my feet passed his saddle flaps! Mum’s friend loaned and eventually bought him – he’s a real all rounder and tried his best at everything!

Somehow I’ve digressed from the main point of this blog, but memory lane has been very therapeutic!

Hacking to competitions is rarely done now – definitely a sign of the “good old days” but I have many happy memories of hacking excitedly at dawn to shows, cheering each other on all day then wearily traipsing back. Usually too tired for talk, but reliving each moment before turning our attentions to our sore bums and the bath we would have when we got home.

Learning the Seat Aids

When kids learn to ride it’s very much about the reins steering and stopping while the leg kicks to say go. I understand why kids are taught this way: cognitively they can’t comprehend multiple aids simultaneously or the concept of the seat, and they often aren’t strong enough to apply the aids and to get a response from their pony given that most of the time the ratio between child and pony is greater than between adult and horse. I think there is also an element that in the riding school environment many kids take up riding for a year before moving onto the next fad, and you’re more likely to retain their business by them seeing results. Don’t let me go off on a tangent about cutting corners to accomplish said results …

This means that at some point, a child has to learn to ride like an adult, and learn about the finesse of the seat and leg aids. Their equitation world is turned on it’s head as they come to terms with this. Unfortunately though, the majority of ponies only respond to the childish aids of stop, start, steer.

Picking the right time to introduce this whole new world to a young rider can be difficult. They have to be at an age that they’ll understand these concepts, and they have to be able to apply the aids and get a response – this depends on the pony being responsive and the child being strong enough to engage their leg and seat.

Recently, one of my young clients has progressed onto another of my client’s old ponies. This gem of a pony was schooled very well by a little girl who loved dressage, so he is fully aware of the correct aids, even if he hasn’t had to use them recently. And my young rider is a great thinker, and has a good natural feel, so I feel will be able to understand the adult aids. Once she’d ridden him a few times and got used to his bigger strides and more eager walk, I decided it was time.

After they’d warmed up in trot with some circles and changes of rein I asked my rider how her turns felt. Where she was predominantly asking with her inside rein, her pony fell in and she said the turns felt sharp and sudden. Which I thought was a good analogy.

I explained that we were going to start riding more like adults and start using aids that no one else could see. She liked the idea of this, so in walk I first asked her to put a little bit of weight into her inside seat bone at the corners as she turned her body in the direction she was moving. I told her I didn’t want to see her leaning, it was just a little bit of weight.

After riding a few corners like this I asked her to do less with her inside rein. She felt her turns were less sudden.

Next, I added a second stage. Putting the outside leg on to push her pony around the turns. She did this so effectively that her pony almost pirouetted! So we added the inside leg.

At each corner I gave her the direction “inside seatbone, outside leg, inside leg” so she applied each aid consecutively. Which she did and their turns got smoother. Still in walk, we started circling. Her inside hand was barely moving now, just coming into effect if her pony was drifting out on the circle. Their circles got rounder and bigger, as before they tended to be ten metre circles rather than fifteen metres and more of a semi circle shape.

After a change of rein and practicing the turning aids on the other rein, we progressed to trotting circles and changes of rein focusing on the “inside seatbone, outside leg, inside leg” aids.

I think my rider really benefited from seeing an immediate result from applying these new aids, and could feel how much more balanced her pony was around the turns when she wasn’t using her inside rein to turn.

The big question, at the end of the lesson, was for her to ride a smooth serpentine, which requires coordination to change her inside and outside. Apart from the loops not being that even in size, I was pleased with how fluid the movement was.

For me, the biggest proof was the following lesson after we’d revised the new aids and were doing some balance exercises with her hands. Holding onto her reins with her outside hand, she was circling her inside arm whilst trotting large. However, because the arena is so long we’d only been using half. As she reached E, she turned her body (still circling), applied the inside seatbone, outside leg, inside leg, and made a beautiful turn across the school. This really brought home to her how she doesn’t need to use her reins to steer, and hopefully consolidated what we’d learnt.