The Crest Flip

We discussed the crest flip at dressage camp, and last week the following video came up on my social media.

The Crest Flip Demonstration

Now, camp seems a long time ago, but I'll endeavour to remember what we discussed.

The horse I was riding finds it difficult to connect through his body, back to front, and where he "cheats" and just holds his neck, he had developed an enlarged muscle one third of the way down his neck – where the trapezius inserts. We worked on releasing this knot of muscle by getting him to flex his head and neck, so releasing the muscles in his jaw and neck.

From above, I could see that an inch section of his mane insisted on falling left, which was where the tension was held.

When I managed to release those muscles, I was rewarded with that inch of mane flipping over to the right, to join the rest of his mane.

I had never heard of the Crest Flip before, but I've been keeping my eyes peeled for it on other horses.

When is it Too Early?

When you learn to ride, and a lot of your time riding as a child, is focused on you. Are you sat correctly, are your reins short enough, are you balanced. But at what point should you start to be taught about the horse's way of going?

Last week my Pony Clubbers swapped rides for one lesson, and I asked them to describe the new pony they were riding. I didn't expect references to the Scales of Training or much technicality, but I was interested to see what their thoughts were:

  • "Faster walk"
  • "Bouncier trot"
  • "Longer steps"
  • "Slow" and, my personal favourite,
  • "She makes my bum wiggle round the saddle".

Just having an awareness that different ponies feel different to ride improves kids as riders because they'll be more sensitive if they ride new ponies, and think about how much leg they apply, or ride some walk-halt transitions to get a feel for the pony before heading off into trot. It will also make them appreciate aspects of their own pony, and unintentionally help them improve them. Perhaps if they ride a lazy pony and then experience a more forward thinking pony, then they will become more efficient, and more receptive to advice, with their aids on their pony so that it becomes more off the leg.

Sometimes with beginner riders you need to slow their physical progress a bit; to allow them to build up stamina, or muscle. Or to give them more experience in each gait. We all know people who try to run before they can walk. This is when I think it's really useful to introduce an awareness for the horse's way of going and to begin to improve it. I've just started teaching this teenage boy on his Mum's cob. He learnt as a child so our first lesson was all about finding the long lost muscles and reintroducing concepts like steering and trot diagonals.

However today, I didn't want to push him much more physically, by working without stirrups or cantering, because I felt he needed to improve his fitness or else he won't enjoy riding because of the associated fatigue.

Last lesson we worked on the correct aids for transitions, so today I asked him to think about how the mare felt in the transition, and where the power was coming from. He soon identified, although he didn't know the correct terminology, that she was on the forehand.

Just be tweaking the way he rode the upwards transitions, i.e. Having fractionally more positive rein contact to feel that he was containing the energy, he began to feel that she was pushing herself into trot from her hindquarters more.

Then we started to pay more attention on whether the trot felt horizontal, downhill or uphill. Were the shoulders level, lower or higher, than the hindquarters. Soon my rider was really aware of the balance of the mare in the trot, and as it changed on turns and circles. Once this awareness has developed you can use simple transitions and basic school movements to improve the horse's balance and the rider can begin to think for themselves about how the horse is moving and hopefully start to act upon their feelings.

We worked on some transitions within the trot to help improve my rider's feel for the trot. There wasn't much change, but it was enough for him to feel the mare fall into and out of balance, and by the end of the lesson she was working beautifully; staying nicely balanced, off her forehand, and seeking the contact forwards and down so her topline was engaged. Which just goes to show that with a quiet, balanced position and told the basics about how a horse should move, even a novice rider can improve a horse's way of going, which can only be of benefit to the horse. It's never too early to start thinking about the other member of the partnership.

Day One of Pony Club Camp

Today was the first day of Pony Club Camp, and I realised that in order to successfully teach and enjoy Pony Club you have to change your attitude.

When you teach clients on a weekly, permanent basis, you have long term goals and iron out any faults immediately as you try to mould your riders. You get to know both horse and rider very well and can plan lessons well in advance.

At Pony Club, you have a group of unknown children and ponies for a short term basis. The aim of the rallies or camp is to have fun, improve, and to stay safe. In that order! As instructors, we're told to give these kids the best week of their summer holiday.

My ride this year are seven years old, most having done junior camp before. So they have some independence, but still need their parents for help tacking up etc. They all have their own ponies, and varying number of lessons through the year so they won't all follow the classic BHS plan of "when a rider can ride sitting trot without stirrups they can learn to canter" or any other recommended stepping stones. These kids will love jumping, be confident, but not necessarily have a good command over the basic position, which can lead to some hairy moments. But you have to learn to close one eye and let it go.

I have a bit of a proven method now for getting started with Pony Club now. My first session today was Handy Pony. This rarely fills the whole allocated session, so I took the opportunity to have a thorough assessment of them all.

As a guide, you want to order them biggest pony to smallest, which gives you a starting point. Staying in walk and with a couple of questions, you can soon assess whether your lead file is suitably qualified – they have to be able to maintain trot, steer reasonably, understand basic school movements. While they're walking I can usually tweak the order too. If one little pony strides out well, or one rider has the tendency to daydream and get too close, or if one can't keep their pony up with the rest of the ride.

Once I'm happy with my order, I'll organise the first trot. I send them in pairs, or possibly threes, making sure the fresh ponies or weaker riders have bottoms to follow. Then of course, I have to find the right place for them to have a trot – just in case a fresh pony or keen child gets carried away. And the ponies are always fresh in the first session on grass! I try and pick a short stretch, or a uphill slope, with a clear marker where they should be walking again.

So I sent my six riders off in pairs, fairly successfully. At least, I'd managed to put the more able riders at the front of each pair so it didn't matter that one rider set off with long reins, or one pony cantered two strides before trotting. This is another Pony Club technique – learn to quickly shout "shorten your reins" and to stay calm while the pony speeds off!

After a couple of pair trots we trotted all together, which is actually very stressful because there is invariable corners cut, ponies getting too close, ponies walking, and overtaking attempts. But I count it as a success when we have the whole ride trotting for a couple of minutes at a time. Little things! If I'm feeling brave, and can find a nice short space to canter, then I'll do that individually with them too.

This is also the time to wear the ponies out, keep them trotting so they won't be so fresh for the Handy Pony part. For the riders, I work out the one think that I need to improve; what will keep them having fun, improve them, and keep them safe? After all, I've only got a short space of time, and by the time we've learnt dressage tests, musical rides, hacked, jumped and done stable management there's not that much chance to work on basic improvements.

Often there are general position pointers for everyone; heels down, look up, shoulders back, shorter reins. But I always try to find a specific area for each child so that they take something away from camp. So for example, one of my riders this week needs her stirrups dropping a few holes and needs to learn to sit up tall. I've already dropped her stirrups a couple of holes and explained to her the importance of not leaning forward to help keep her in the saddle (especially when her pony lowers his head into canter!), so by the end of the week I want her to be more aware of when she leans forwards and to be riding with longer stirrups. Another rider is very gung-ho and her trot gets faster and faster, so I want her to learn to keep a better rhythm. Another rider is slightly behind the movement with her hands in her lap, so I'm going to get her more in sync with her pony. Another gets a beautiful extended trot from his pony instead of canter, so we're going to work on those transitions. One stands up in her stirrups in downward transitions.

By giving each rider a little goal, I feel that they will finish camp having improved their riding, whilst not taking away any of the enjoyment (because let's face it, I would love to drill them without stirrups for an hour a day) and these tweaks will keep them safe. For example, sitting up straighter with normal length stirrups will make her less likely to fall off over a jump; riding a downward transition correctly improves her level of control; getting a canter transition on cue means he'll negotiate the dressage test more successfully.

I also feel better with a specific aim for each rider, and it helps me plan my warm up. For example, my warm up for dressage included practising downward transitions so that one rider didn't feel picked on, but it improved her as well as giving the rest of the ride something to think about. Tomorrow, we will discuss and practice canter transitions to help the rider who struggles with that. Then we may do some sitting trot for the rider who leans forward. They will all benefit from the exercises, but some will take more away from each one than others.

I think my kids did very well today; we had some good attempts at the dressage test, a very successful Handy Pony session, and we managed to spend longer trotting as a ride by the afternoon, as well as lots of smiles and laughter. Tomorrow we've got showjumping, mounted games and musical ride practice.

Realignment

As much as I like seeing my clients go out competing and succeeding, I also love helping horses and riders overcome physical problems and improve their posture, or way of going, so that they get more pleasure from their work and have a longer active life.

I've been working with a new client and her horse, who has a series of back and hock problems. The first couple of lessons were about rebalancing the trot, slowing it down and creating a consistent rhythm. We've started a little bit of suppling work, and established a quiet, still hand. The mare has shown glimpses of starting to work over her back, which is great because it's not manufactured in any way.

However, the mare is crooked through her body which I think will prevent us from improving her suppleness and getting her to release over her back. So a couple of weeks ago I gave my client some homework; to think about and try to develop an awareness of where the hindquarters were in relation to the rest of her body.

The next time I saw my client she had watched her horse under saddle, and clocked the fact her hindquarters were always slightly to the right. When she rode though, it felt normal and it took a while for her to identify the crookedness. Which is understandable; when you only ride one horse you get used to them as being normal, whether it be a crookedness, an unbalanced saddle, or one sided contact. My job is to reeducate both of them so that straight becomes the new normal.

On the left rein, where the quarters sit to the outside, we spent a bit of time feeling how her body moved on straight lines and around corners. On a straight line the hindquarters were slightly to the right, and the head and neck were also turned so they were looking out too – in a classic banana shape.

Dividing the body into two halves, we focused on straightening the hindquarters first. My rider brought her outside leg back behind the girth, keeping her inside leg on the girth, she tried pushing the mare's hindquarters in, so the they followed the tracks of the forelegs. Initially I wanted the reins to support the shoulders and neck, stopping them from wiggling out of their natural position. If the mare tried to fall in, the inside leg prevented this. The mare was very obliging, and soon the majority of the long sides were ridden with her body straight. You could see if was difficult for her, hence why we kept it in walk. Now my rider could feel this straightness, which all helps to improve the mare because she will be able to more quickly correct and straighten her.

Once the straightness on straight lines was achieved, we had a look at how the corners felt. With the mare in right banana, her hindquarters tend to swing out around corners and she doesn't look around the corner with her forehand. Now ideally, we'd get her bent around the left, inside, leg. But Rome wasn't built in a day and because of her previous medical history I want to take it slowly with her. So I just asked my rider to exaggerate her outside leg behind the girth around the corners to hopefully prevent the hindquarters swinging out. We did this a few times and it started to fall into place, so we changed the rein.

On the right rein, the mare has her quarters in, and they almost lead around the corners, so we started off having the inside leg slightly further back on straight lines to align her spine. I was really pleased to see that the straightness work on the other rein was already having an effect because my rider didn't have to correct the hindquarters as much. Just by having the horse straight before a corner, improved her balance around the turn, but now it was time to look at the straightness of the forehand.

We were on the rein that the mare naturally bends to, but where she is a little bit tight through her rib cage her outside shoulder was pointing slightly towards the fence. This is hard to explain. The hindquarters were towards the middle, but the barrel straight, causing the outside shoulder to point towards the fence and then the neck to turn in, towards the direction of movement. The easiest way to improve the suppleness of the barrel, after all the neck is already bending the correct way, is to focus on riding the outside shoulder around the turns. The outside rein works against the neck, and prevents the neck flexing too much, and the outside leg is closer to the girth to influence the shoulder more than the haunches. The inside leg is ready to support the hindquarters if they fall in, and the inside rein indicates the direction of turn, but is a very positive aid to discourage too much flexion in the neck.

After a couple of turns like this, the mare was managing to be better balanced and stayed much straighter on the long sides. My rider could also feel the improvements through her body.

We returned to the left rein, the stiffer one, and this time monitored the effect that straightening the hindquarters had on the forehand. Due to the stiffness through the barrel, as the haunches went straight the left shoulder drifted in. So we forgot about the hindquarters for a moment, and flexed the mare's neck so that she was no longer looking to the outside, and was straighter through her shoulders and neck. Once my rider had learnt to feel and correct this, we started correcting the hindquarters again. For a few minutes we had to straighten the hindquarters, and then correct the forehand as it tried to compensate. Then check the straightness behind the saddle, and then in front again. And so on, until the mare found it easier to work with her spine, from poll to dock, straight.

All of this work was done in walk, and it's something that my client needs to be aware of and quietly correct when hacking and working in the school. Then the trot will start to automatically improve.

We finished the lesson with some trot work. I explained to my rider that I just wanted her to think about and feel the straightness, or lack of, in the trot and that we wouldn't do too much correcting today. However, I think because of this new awareness, my rider automatically corrected, or at least used her aids in a more straightening way, and we ended up trotting some balanced, round circles with the mare bending through her whole body. The straight lines and corners were much improved, and my rider could feel that when she changed the rein there was very little change to her mare's balance. Because she was more symmetrical, she didn't make big changes to her body to go from a left turn to a right turn. We even had a couple of strides where the mare suddenly felt a release of energy and surged forwards with a longer stride and more impulsion, and she also softened and rounded her neck and back for a couple of strides.

I was really pleased with their progress in just half an hour, and although we will need to keep building their muscle memory and strength to work in this straight way, I'm looking forwards to developing their circles and suppleness, as well as seeing the mare learn how easy it is to propel herself forwards when the hindquarters are straight and so the legs can push the body forwards effortlessly. Then I think she will work in self carriage nicely and they'll be able to achieve their aim of going to a local dressage competition.

Dressage Camp Part 1

Last weekend I took a client’s horse to a two day dressage camp. I felt I needed inspiring, could do with the motivation, and this particular horse has some issues (that isn’t really the right phrase) that I could do with some helpful suggestions to improve and I also knew I’d be able to apply my learnings to other horses that I ride. 

The weekend’s learning was split however I preferred, so I opted for a forty-five minute private lesson on each day. It was really interesting in the first session because this trainer picked up on exactly what I wanted to work on. Sometimes I think I’d be difficult to teach because I have quite specific aims for a lesson, but other times I think I’m probably quite easy because I’m focused.

Anyway, the main focus for the weekend was straightness and creating a true connection over the back. Whilst not particularly crooked, this horse often falls through his outside shoulder and avoids stepping under with his inside hind, and carries his quarters fractionally to the right.

The trainer immediately asked if the horse hollows in downward transitions, to which my answer was a resounding yes. He raises his head and blocks his back so doesn’t step under with his hindlegs. 

There are three phases of the hindleg movement in the transitions, I was told; the time it is in the air, moving forwards; the time it is underneath the horse’s body; and the time it is out behind the body. This horse tends to spend more time with his leg out behind the body, which means he isn’t carrying himself on his quarters and won’t be able to collect, but he also is unable to push into the transitions easily. 

So the aim of the game over the weekend was to alter the balance of this horse so that he spent more time with his hind leg underneath him, in a springier, bouncier trot.

One exercise we did to help improve the activity of the hind legs is shown in the video below. In walk I spiralled down onto a ten metre circle, and then asked the shoulders to come in slightly and the hindquarters to go out, so riding leg yield on the circle. The trainer assisted from the ground as this horse found it tricky initially and blocked his inside hind. We did this exercise predominantly on the right rein as it is this way that his hindquarters sit to the inside and he escapes to the left shoulder. So the exercise worked on his suppleness through the rib cage, straightening his neck, and teaching him to bring his inside hind under his body more. The difference in his trot when I straightened and rode out of the circle was incredible. His hind legs were like pistons firing the energy up and forwards so the trot was very balanced, effortless, and straight – there was a leg at each corner and I didn’t have to worry about him wobbling out. Once he was carrying himself like this it was easier to work on the bend and engagement of his topline, but that’s another post! 


All About Control

I did this pole exercise earlier this week to get my clients thinking about their level of control.

When I laid out the exercise I could see a level of complacency in the simplicity of the exercise. However, looks can be deceiving!

The exercise started with two poles as tram lines, to focus on straightness. A couple of strides away, there were three trotting poles. A couple of strides after that was another set of tramlines. After another couple of strides, were three canter poles.


The aim of the exercise was to make a good, accurate turn to the tramlines (this highlights any cheaters who drift around corners) and create a balanced, elevated trot over the poles before riding a canter transition in the next tramlines. This ensures the horse doesn’t drift through the transition and illustrates any preference over canter leads. The transition needs to be immediate and active so that the canter is of good enough quality for the poles. The aim is to improve the quality of the canter transition, the accuracy of the rider’s preparation and execution, and for the rider to very quickly be able to change it if it isn’t good enough for the poles. 

By turning into the exercise from both reins you can see which way is weaker. One horse I did this with tends to drift around corners on the left rein, so his shoulders didn’t turn enough to meet the tramlines and thus he struggled to start the exercise straight. When his shoulders were turned sufficiently, he compensated by swinging his haunches out. Of which is going to be worked on next week!

The trotting poles looked after themselves, so the next question was the canter transition. With straightness enforced, horses can initially run through the transition to make it easier but once horse and rider get the feel of it the hindquarters should be more active through the transition and the shoulders lift. As the canter poles are almost immediately after, the rider has to be quick to balance the canter so the horse either has enough energy for the poles, or hasn’t flattened the canter so they won’t make the poles.

Once my riders had mastered this exercise, and the ponies improving their canter, we turned it around. They had to approach in canter, canter over the poles and between the tramlines, make a trot transition ready for the trot poles. This was the tricky part!

The canter poles were fine, and the first tramlines helped create a very straight canter. However, the ponies got a bit onward and it took my riders by surprise that they couldn’t bring them back to trot in time. First of all, I got them to prepare for the transition earlier. Even whilst going over the poles they needed to be preparing. This helps create impulsion because they had to find the balance between maintaining enough energy for the poles, without generating too much speed. 

Next up, my riders needed to think about how they ride the transition. They were jamming on the handbrake, so the ponies just beared down on the rein. They needed a series of half halts, to keep their core engaged and upper body tall, with heels dropped in order to be more effective in the downwards transition. And be committed to achieving that transition – just because they love their pony doesn’t mean that their pony is allowed to ignore their aids.

Of course, once they have achieved the downwards transition, and quietly asserted their authority their pony will be far more obliging next time. 

This means that our on the cross country course they are more able to bring their ponies back to a more collected canter in preparation for a skinny, ditch, corner, or any other tricky fence, without losing the energy and the pony’s desire to jump.

All in all, an exercise of multiple levels, which improves accuracy and control, as well as improving straightness and quality of the gaits – particularly if the poles are then raised. 

My Introduction To Parelli

Some people advocate Parelli, others resent it. It’s had good press, it’s had bad press. Whatever. Each to their own. I’m not going to go into depth here – do some reading and develop your own opinion.

Anyway, I’ve never really had anything to do with Parelli, nor have I had a need to try it with my horses.  But when I went to do a practice lunge lesson with a riding club member last week I was horrified, embarrassed, whatever you want to say, that I couldn’t get the horse to lunge when I warmed her up.

“Oh, she’s Parelli trained” announced her owner as an explanation. That still didn’t help me, so she gave me a quick lesson on lunging the Parelli way.

Firstly, she explained that my belly button should be pointing in the direction I want the horse to go. So to send a horse forwards, turn to look (and point your belly button) in that direction. When you face the horse, they think you are wanting them to reverse. Which was the problem I was having. 

You can also fling your rein arm in the direction you want them to go, thus giving a clearer instruction. Once I’d got the hang of this then it did make a bit of sense and the mare responded well.

To slow a horse the Parelli way, you either put the whip out in front of their body, or waggle the lunge line. I found this part trickier, until I accidentally said the word “Good” at which point the mare stopped dead! Apparently that’s a cue word for the end of the session and tit bit time.

Parelli people also don’t use many words, as this lady told me. They expect to say go, and then say nothing until they want the horse to do something different. Which when we’re riding is something we should aim for so our aids remain subtle and clear, but most of us use a dialogue when lunging to either settle the horse, or to regulate their gait. 

The whip is also often used instead of the voice to get a horse to move off. Smack it on the ground behind the horse twice, and they should move forwards until told otherwise. This is more to do with the obedience aspect of Parelli, so apart from being told about it I didn’t use this technique.

Regardless of my views on Parelli, it was actually an interesting learning experience because it means I have another trick up my sleeve if I ever come across a horse who “won’t” lunge – I may just be talking the wrong language to them. 

Turn On The Forehand

Recently I`ve done quite a bit of turn on the forehand, and on the haunches, with different clients and horses, so thought it was a useful time to blog about it.

Turn on the forehand is usually one of the first lateral movements people teach their horses. For some, however, they wouldn`t dream of touching turn on the forehand as it encourages the horse to put their weight onto the forehand.

So before we embark on pivoting in little circles, let`s discuss why we would use turn on the forehand. The first, and most obvious reason, is whilst out hacking. Gates are far easier to negotiate if your horse can turn on the forehand because you can keep hold of the gate whilst manoeuvring your way through. No more swinging gates, or pushing against the unfriendly gusts of wind. In the arena, learning turn on the forehand teaches a young horse the basic concept of moving away from the leg aid. I find it is useful for increasing the rider`s awareness of what the hindquarters are doing, and it is a good way of suppling the hind legs because they are adducting and abducting with each step.

What exactly is turn on the forehand?

Put simply, it is when the horse pivots on their front feet. Put in a slightly more technical way, the horse turns a small circle with their front feet, whilst the hindlegs scribe a larger circle around them. A turn on the forehand can be a quarter turn, a half turn, or a full circle. Obviously a quarter circle is the easiest as there are fewer steps.

Initially you want to establish that the horse and rider can ride balanced transitions into fairly square halts. These could be direct from trot, or progressive through walk. If a horse stops in a balanced way then they are in a better position to perform turn on the forehand.

Once the halt transitions are established, ride medium walk on the inside track, making sure you have enough room between you and the fence for the length of the horse. Ride forwards to halt (remembering that square part). Maintain the rein contact, and flex the horse slightly to the inside. Remember here that inside is towards the direction of movement. Shift your weight to the inside seat bone and place the inside leg slightly behind the girth. Use this leg to push the horse to step around the forehand. The outside leg, behind the girth, prevents the hindquarters from rushing and supports the horse, whilst the outside rein supports the outside shoulder, keeping the neck straight at the base of the neck and prevents the horse falling out through the outside shoulder. If the horse does not understand the driving aid of the inside leg then a whip can be carried to back up the leg aid if necessary.

Initially, you want two or three steps, which takes you on a quarter circle. Ride forwards away from the movement as you praise the horse. It`s important to move forwards away from the movement so that the horse doesn’t associated turning on the forehand with losing energy or momentum.

It`s really important not to over ride turn on the forehand, after all, it will be difficult initially for a horse, but you also do not want them to anticipate turning when you ride to halt, otherwise you sacrifice your final centre line in any dressage tests! Once I`ve ridden turn on the forehand a few times in both directions, and the horse is beginning to understand the concept, I tend to work on another area of their schooling before doing a couple of reminder turns towards the end of the session. Then, to keep revising the movement, you can use it as a change of rein, during a walk break in the schooling session, or as part of a trickier exercise.

Some horses cheat in turn on the forehand and swivel their front feet. This is incorrect, and you want them to step up and down in the walk rhythm, without taking any forward steps.

Other faults to watch out for are;

  • the horse bending their neck and falling out of the outside shoulder, taking forwards steps as they go. This can be caused by the rider using too much inside rein. To correct it, maintain a more secure outside rein contact, and monitor the different aids as independently as possible.
  • the inside hind leg not coming up and crossing in front of the outside hind leg.
  • the rider`s inside leg shifting too far behind the girth, which displaces their weight to the outside.
  • the horse rushing through the movement, hollowing their back and coming above the bit. This can be caused by the rider shifting their position – lifting the seat, leaning forward, raising the heels and using too much of a rein aid. Taking the stirrups away can stop the position being lost, but ultimately the rider needs to improve their seat.
  • Horse doesn`t understand and becomes “stuck”; doesn’t move around the turn, or backs up. If they back up then the rider may have too heavy a hand, but also if the horse has moved one step then become “stuck”, the rider should trot forwards, to regenerate the energy before trying again. If the horse still doesn`t understand the concept, then it can be practiced from the ground, with or without a rider, using a schooling whip to mimic the inside leg aid.

Hopefully you understand my description of turning on the forehand; I`ve found it to be very useful for horses who aren`t very active or supple in their hindquarters, and a real learning curve for riders as they learn to use all their aids independently and control the two halves of the horses body simultaneously. After riding it, the horse usually settles into a steadier contact, are easier to correct on circles and turns, and have a more active, balanced stride in the trot.

Let me know how you get on!

The Weekends Teaching

Saturday was St David`s Day, and the first real sign of spring. Seemingly overnight the daffodils had popped up along the drive, and the horse`s were verging on being hot under their rugs. Some even had a cheeky little spring in their step.

My first lesson was three little girls; once their minds had gotten out of bed we had some good trot work and circles and serpentines; before going on to some bouncy trotting poles and fairly steady jumping positions. Finally, once my runner had arrived, the canter. All the girls are really starting to sit into the canter. One goes on her own while another who took a tumble a couple of lessons ago is led. She was a bit worried because she hadn`t cantered this pony before. I`m building her back up so she can ride her favourite (who has quite a quick canter) again. The last girl, who tends to curl up like a hedgehog, even sat back for a few strides! It was a great, positive start to my day, and all three girls went away tired but happy.

My next little client is coming back into riding after the winter off and rode a new pony. This pony is quite cheeky, but since last week the helpers have been taking him down a peg or two, and reminding him of the correct behaviour in the school. It seems to have worked, as he behaved immaculately and my client really worked on her sitting trot to get her back into cantering. At the end of the lesson she managed a couple of canters on the lead rein. Not bad for the second time in the saddle in six months. Hopefully another couple of private lessons and we`ll get her into a group of a similar ability.

Mid morning and my next clients were two teenagers; it was great to be able to think on a new level; and talk adults. And of course, no running in canter! One girl has recently started riding a more advanced horse and is getting to know him, whilst the other is less confident and rode her favourite mare. I had them warming up thinking about the horse`s rhythm, suppleness, and responsiveness to the aids. I helped them work individually to warm the horses up. The warm up finished with a little bit of sitting trot and leg yield, and I could then explain how lateral work stretches a different set of muscles than the forwards gear. Back to some circles and the girls were starting to feel the improvement and any imbalances in the horses. It was quite interesting because the more advanced horse has recently had his back treated for a dropped right hip, so I used him as an example as to why leg yielding may be easier moving to the right, and how circles on the right rein are harder because that right hind leg needs to take more weight as it steps under. After a quick canter we moved onto the main focus of the lesson. Trotting poles and cavaletti. The girls both jump so know the reasons for polework, but were a bit unsure as to how it is useful in dressage. They soon learnt terms, like cadence, and how the horse`s leg joints have to flex more in order to be able to ride the cavaletti so it`s a useful strengthening and fittening tool. Gradually we built the five poles up into small cavaletti. The gelding took the mickey a bit and tried to run out of the poles. I gave him a chance, after all the last time he saw poles it probably hurt his back. His rider was sympathetic but didn`t really ride him towards the poles so he quickly discovered it was easier to run past. I explained to his rider that she needs to make the step from passively riding her horses (this is not the first horse we`ve had problems with) to being the boss in the relationship. Yes, it may have hurt him last time, but he needs to trot over the poles to discover it doesn`t hurt any more. When he did he really lifted his legs! Both girls could feel the hind legs engaging and pushing through the cavaletti, which will lead me on to getting them to warm up being more aware of the hind legs next week. They also found the trot after was much improved. It was quite an intense lesson, with a lot to think about, but both girls seemed to enjoy it.

To finish off my morning I taught my youngest client (who is getting that pony for her birthday and doesn`t know it yet – https://therubbercurrycomb.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/shush-its-a-secret/comment-page-1/ ) We did lots of trotting without stirrups and no reins, then both rising and sitting trot with circles and changes of rein. Although she`s off the lead rein her legs are titchy and barely come past the saddle so I have to be within arms reach of her pony to keep him trotting – a great work out for my legs! Then we did some jumping position and two poles (roughly a double) to get her used to going into jumping position and then sitting back up quickly. I put the poles as little crosses, resting on the stand of the jump wing because the first hole is a bit too high for me to jump. At least, that`s what I tell her! A few times through the double and her legs are looking stronger. She even manages to keep her foot horizontal whilst in her jumping position. I`m almost worn out, but she cajoles me into a couple of canters. Thankfully her pony has a tiny stride and I don`t have to run too fast. My clients grandmother was impressed with her skills, and we went back to the yard with one very happy little girl, already head over heels in love with the little grey pony.

After lunch I taught an adult rider who predominantly hacks, and wanted to attack his bad habits. It was a good chance for me to be picky; He`d almost forgotten what sitting trot was, but he managed a little bit. His main problem, however, was that he tended to lean on his hands. They were fixed on his horse`s withers, and very tense. To begin with I got him to hold his whip horizontally in his hands, tucked under his thumb. And think about his elbows being bendy with nice, light hands. It seemed to work and he used his seat increasingly to control the speed of his horse. Once the hands were stabilised we moved on to canter; big problem. He snatched his hands back, effectively putting the handbrake on and ending up with a fast and unbalanced trot. We really worked on the transitions and using the neck strap to stabilise his hands before finishing off with some reasonable canter and trot work. He has a lot to think about whilst hacking in the next few weeks.

Finally, to finish off my busy, but pretty successful day, I taught my teenage client who is very stiff. Recently she`s made loads of progress and really developed her feel and riding intelligently. I taught her leg yield today, which she had heard of before but not fully understood. With a bit of arm waving and leg crossing from me to demonstrate, she went off without her stirrups to ride the leg yield in walk and trot on both reins. I was pleased to see that she was starting to feel the horse`s legs crossing underneath her. The canter afterwards was improving too and she was a bit more effective in maintaining the canter. I decided to finish off with a bit of jumping. It was a single fence, and I had my rider riding the trot, as she had on the flat, active with a good rhythm. A straight approach to the jump and she had to maintain the trot. First of all the trot got a little rushed, and after the mare slowed right down on landing, so her rider found it hard to rebalance herself out of her jumping position. After a couple of tries the approach improved, and subsequently the jump did too. It took a few more attempts to get my rider riding away from the jump and rebalancing herself quicker. We finished on a 2`3″ upright with my client riding effectively and adjusting the mare before and after the jump.

Overall Saturday was a successful day with the teaching and all my clients enjoyed themselves and you could see the improvement in all of them. Best of all, it was sunny!

How Old?

This week has made me think back to the following article I read a couple of weeks ago – http://kickingon.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/just-a-number/

I taught a seven year old girl on her pony at the beginning of the week; she was to be assessed for the walk, trot, canter group lesson on Saturdays but the first thing her Mum told me was “she`s not cantering yet”.

We trundled down to the arena and I set horse and rider walking round the outside. Immediately I could see that the pony had the upper hand; cutting corners and drifting wherever he wanted. We started the lesson by her walking and halting round the track before walking a change of rein. Then we moved into trot. That pony is sharp! He jiggled and quickened in his trot, so I soon taught his rider how important it was to keep her pony at her speed by using her body language. Once she`d mastered a steady trot we did some change of reins, 20m circles, and then had a five minutes rest whereby we walked a serpentine. I spent a lot of time working on her steering; that it shouldn`t be an inside rein quick pull, handbrake turn, but more of a curve so her pony didn`t slow down or speed up. By this time the poor pony had started snatching at the bit, despite his side reins. To begin with his rider snatched back, then carried on rising, waving her hands round and tugging at the bit. I explained why she should keep her hands still and then we practiced sitting trot. Which was a revelation. She`d never heard of it and could barely do two strides. Never mind the pony thinking it was canter time … By the end of the lesson I thought she`d worked very hard and achieved quite a lot. Rising trot was a bit tidier, her hands were stiller and she managed to ride some good changes of rein and circles. Still some work to do with the left and rights, and the sitting trot periods were getting longer but I thought we`d laid the foundations for the next few lessons.

Anyway, I found out the next day that her Mum felt my lesson was too technical and she wanted her daughter to be doing “fun” things like trotting poles and bending to work on her balance. Personally, I thought the pony was the quick type who might well speed up approaching poles. Before trying it I`d like his rider to be confident and well balanced in their seat. Apparently my lesson content went over her child`s head.

She has another lesson with another instructor, who does all the birthday parties so her Mum is hoping that it will be much more fun and child orientated.

This brings be back to the article linked to above; when should you teach and child and what should you teach them. People have commented on the original article that children often learn riding skills which are inappropriate to later riding (such as inside rein pulls) which I would tend to agree with; certainly in this case. I always try to instil to my child clients the correct aids, even if the inside rein is a bit more dominant due to their physique, and that they should think of pushing their pony round the school, not pulling. Then I make them consider their pony; what he thinks of the exercise, why he doesn`t like wobbly hands, and why he might not want to leave his friends, so that they are sympathetic riders.

What are everyone`s thoughts about what to teach children, how to teach it, and when children should learn to ride?