Grass Reins

What are everyone’s thoughts on grass reins? Or daisy reins, or any other pony restraints? Which are competition-legal, and how should they be fitted?

Recently I saw a blog post on the BHS APC group, discussing grass reins, which got me thinking.

A child’s safety and confidence is paramount when teaching, so within reason, ponies should have tack that prevents misbehaviour. However, the purpose of grass reins, or daisy reins, is to increase the child’s control over the pony, not to force it into an outline or hinder the pony when they are working well.

In the first session on the first day of Pony Club Camp, I’m sure it was within the first five minutes, I requested some form of grass reins for a pony. We were riding on grass, and he kept nosediving for the grass. His rider looked nervous and sat leaning forwards, so every time the pony’s head went down she was almost unseated. I felt that it was counter productive for her to be struggling to hold his head up all week, and that a gadget would be the best support for my rider. The next session, the pony was wearing a daisy rein, and didn’t even attempt to put his head down. It was almost as though the mere presence of the daisy rein was enough to deter him, and my rider gained confidence through the week.

I was surprised to see, on the equipment list of a different pony club, that grass reins were listed underneath bridle and saddle. Are they really that common, and are they seen as an essential piece of equipment?

I’m all for using grass reins or daisy reins (side reins are sometimes seen too, but I think they’re becoming less popular because they sit at ankle height for many small children so there’s a risk of them getting their foot caught in a fall) if necessary, but I do like to see them only used when necessary. Perhaps only at rallies, or in group lessons, or on grass, when the pony is more inclined to be cheeky. I also like them fitted so that they don’t interfere with the pony’s way of going when he’s behaving. For example, the grass reins are slack until the pony snatches his head, either to graze, to try to unseat the rider, or to evade the wobbly hands. I hate seeing ponies with their heads tied in, particularly show ponies, and I think that sometimes having gadgets too restrictive causes other behavioural problems, such as the pony not going forwards or shaking their head.

Can you use grass reins for jumping? This was the question posed by one instructor. It seemed the general consensus, which I agree with, is that if the reins are fitted correctly, i.e. not restricting the pony’s head then they can be used for jumping because the height that kids who require grass reins should be jumping is not much more than raised trotting poles and the ponies don’t jump as such, rather make an exaggerated stride over them. I will add, that if a child is ready to start jumping bigger then their position should be secure enough that their hands don’t cause the pony to snatch on the reins (like many do when their mouths are used for balancing on) and their upper body secure enough that it isn’t pulled forward when the pony snatches, or they are strong enough in their core to prevent a pony from putting his head down to graze. So if a child is jumping more than a few inches whilst still wearing grass reins, either the grass reins need removing or the basics revised with the rider on the flat.

Another instructor asked what form or daisy reins or grass reins were permitted in competitions. Affiliated, none except for Pony Club mounted games, where the are fitted from the D-ring, through the bit ring, over the poll, and through the bit ring to the D ring on the opposite side. I guess in unaffiliated competitions it is at the judges discretion. You won’t see any gadgets in the show ring (the warm up is a different matter!) and probably not the dressage arena, but I think if I was judging kids on grass I’d permit correctly fitted daisy reins purely for safety reasons. In the showjumping arena, again the judge may permit it in the lead rein or mini classes for the reason that the ponies aren’t really jumping, and if it keeps a child safer then it can only be a good thing. After all, you want to encourage the little riders.

When fitting grass reins, you can either fit them so that they connect each side of the bit via the poll, as in the mounted games rules, or under the chin. I think I prefer going under the chin because a pony is more likely to snatch their head downwards, and putting pressure on the poll with the grass reins will accentuate that. However, when used with a single jointed bit, the nutcracker action may become too severe for some ponies. Which is why it’s worth experimenting with different types of gadgets, because there are hundreds of variations from the classic daisy rein or webbing grass rein, and their fitting options, to make sure that they only come into effect when the pony’s behaviour is deviating from acceptable, and that the pony doesn’t react in an untoward way to their action, nor is the fitting of the rest of the tack hindered – for example, I once saw a rotund pony wearing a daisy rein and crupper. The daisy rein caused the saddle to pitch forwards, so the crupper was needed to counteract this!

Advertisements

Rising Prices

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the pay cap on public sector workers, particularly firefighters after the recent Grenfell tragedy. 

I’m not going to get involved with it as politics isn’t my strong point, but with the cost of basic living always rising it makes sense that wages have to follow the trend.

Which brings me onto equine businesses and changing prices. Business rates recently rocketed, hitting livery yards hardest. But unfortunately for them, you cannot raise livery prices in line with this because the rest of the country’s economy hasn’t changed in a similar fashion.

I always think that in order to raise your prices, be it livery, forage, lessons, facility hire, you need to be able to justify it. Take me, for example, now I have a higher teaching qualification I think I can justifiably increase lesson prices. If you are investing in new facilities or updating current ones then there is also room to increase fees. 

Unfortunately there are a lot of hidden costs in the equine industry, which is why things are generally expensive. For me, hidden costs include petrol, insurance, PPE, website costs, professional development. For yards, hidden costs can include ongoing maintenance, insurance, business rates, staff wages, machinery maintenance. So when there’s a sharp increase in one of the hidden costs it can make clients feel that price hikes are unfair. But you can be honest, and without going into specifics, tell them that the reason you are having to put up your fees is, for example, because of the increase in your insurance premium. Or whatever the reason is. I think that when people know why they are being charged more they are more accepting of the situation. Which ultimately leads to happier clients and a more respected business.

I also think that if a price rise is imminent then it’s also worth checking that your standards haven’t slipped. You can’t justifiably increase your fees if you continue to be late to lessons, or if the standard of service is deteriorating. That’s when people will get unhappy and start grumbling. People need to feel that they get value for money, and if they feel that they currently get good value for money then they will be more accepting of increased fees.

I’ve been giving my prices a lot of thought recently, particularly with my ITT exam. They haven’t changed since I set up my business three years ago. Well, last year I increased my clipping fees to stay in line with others, and because I had a new pair of clippers. Which means I can do a better job. 

But how do you go about changing price lists without disrupting your business? I always think client loyalty should be rewarded, and you have to balance out whether you are better keeping your prices the same and having a client have weekly lessons, or by putting your prices up and meaning that they then have fortnightly lessons. So long as you can fill that space then financially you haven’t lost out. But it’s a risk you take. Halving the number of lessons someone has is also detrimental to their education which may be catastrophic if they’re a nervous rider or on a green horse. So out of loyalty and respect for your clients it’s worth bearing that in mind. If you are a livery yard and put up prices then you risk owners doing favours for each other rather than using your services, which could affect your income.

There is also a question of how much to raise prices by. I always think there should be notice given to price changes of at least a month to allow families to budget. I also don’t think you should raise prices drastically, for example more than 10%. It’s a far softer blow to have two incremental price rises over three years than a large jump, which will upset the apple cart and risk the stability of your business. Plus, you don’t want to look greedy!

Equestrianism is already seen as elitist, so making yourself unavoidable to the amateur rider only does a disservice to the sport.

I think it’s also worth considering just changing the prices of one area of the business. So if facilities have changed, or equipment improved then you could justifiably increase prices for that area. Going back to my ITT exam; a higher teaching qualification could mean I’m better off just increasing lesson prices, and leaving schooling fees as they are. Which would only affect a portion of my business, meaning it’s probably more affordable for clients and less of a business risk to me. As a livery yard, if you have invested in new jumps or a cross country field then you could justifiably increase hire fees.

There’s lots of different elements to consider, and various ways to make the pill easier to swallow. I’ve altered my price list on my website for new clients, but am not changing current client prices at the moment. I do think all businesses should think carefully about the ways and means of changing fees. Which have to change as inflation, wages and living costs rise, but it should be done sensitively so that the business carries on running smoothly and clients continue to be satisfied with the quality of service they receive.

Shock Absorbers

I used this exercise a couple of times last week with various clients. It’s a bit of a brain teaser, but helps to improve the arm position.

We all know that there should be a straight line from the horse’s bit, through the wrist, to the elbow, which hangs below the shoulder. Easier said than done and many people ride with too straight an elbow.

The first client I introduced this concept to has very tense arms, and her go-to position is to lock her arms when she’s nervous. So we’ve done a lot of work on keeping the wrists soft and not braced, working on the lunge without reins, building her confidence so that she’s not as inclined to “hold on” with her hands.

So the overall picture is getting better, but because this rider has a tendency to lock and stiffen her arms, the elbows don’t act as shock absorbers and subsequently her rein contact and hand position isn’t very consistent.

Still looking hands are the ideal, but the only way to create the illusion of having still hands is to have them so that they follow every movement of the horse. In order to do this, the elbows need to absorb any movement. After all, holding something rigidly still gives the impression of a stream flowing around a large rock.

As we all know, jumping and landing with our knees straight causes a jarring feeling through our body, and the only way to avoid jarring yourself is to land with your knees bent slightly. Knees are hinge joints, the same as elbows, so in order for the elbows to be shock absorbers they must also have a bend to them.

For riders who struggle with carrying tension in their arms, it is important to introduce some movement to the arms. But obviously it needs to be controlled movement and to go with the movement of the horse and rider.

Take rising trot, beginning with the arms in the classically correct position. As you stand up out your stirrups, push your hands down; as you sit down, raise them up. It’s a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head but once you get it it’s fairly straightforward.

Initially the movement wants to be quite exaggerated, especially as it feels quite alien to the rider. But after riding it for a few circuits you will find that when the rider thinks of another exercise or movement they will stop actively opening and closing the elbow, but because the arm is relaxed and movement has been introduced the elbow will open and close slightly, thus acting as a shock absorber and giving the illusion that the hands are perfectly still. Then because the hands and arms are moving perfectly with the horse, the contact will remain consistent.

My client with tense arms understood the concept well and it was good to see the elbows starting to work properly after moving them as she rose, but we need more practice in getting her to move her arms so that she doesn’t rapidly adopt the locked arm look. 

I find this exercise is also useful for anyone who struggles to hold a consistent contact as it improves their feel and awareness of their hands and arms; and it’s also very good at relaxing riders who maybe need their brains focused on something rather than their environment. 

My ITT Exam

I had a blog topic all lined up for you tonight, but as I had the very exciting news in the post today that I passed my BHS Intermediate Teaching Test, which together with my Stage IV that I got a few years ago, I’m now a BHS Intermediate Instructor! Yay!! So instead tonight I’m going to bore you with the details of my exam, and my other story will just have to wait – apologies in advance!


I had a very early start to get to my exam in order to avoid the M25 at rush hour, but when I got there with plenty of time I buddied up with another girl, who seemed confident and knew what we were supposed to be doing! Off we went to the indoor schools; to walk the simulated cross country and showjumping courses. We would be teaching one of those lessons, but would only be told in the briefing at 8.15am. The cross country course looked fairly straightforward and walked well. However the showjumping had slightly dodgy striding, which would mean we’d need to adjust it during the lesson. 

Our five examiners all seemed very nice – approachable and friendly. If not slight batty. But I think that happens to everyone in the horse world at some point! They put us at ease anyway, and once all the paperwork and everything was filled out we started the exam.

First up, I had presentations and equitation theory. I think I was quite glad to get the presentations out the way because it was definitely an area that worried me. In the ITT exam you prepare nine presentations on coaching topics, and present a random one. I was given “non-rider injury prevention”. Not my favourite, but also by no means the hardest one! I had to present it to the two other ladies in my group, who got nicely involved. I think the main point of the presentations is that the examiner can see that you engage with your audience and have a discussion more than a lecture.

The equitation theory covered training horses up to elementary standard, describing how to ride various dressage movements, and how you would develop both horse and rider over fences. As well as preparing them for their first competition. All of my friends’ quizzing the week before paid off as I felt quite happy answering questions. I was cut off a couple of times, which always worries you, but I think that was because the examiner was happy with my answer and wanted another candidate to give their thoughts. Overall, I left that section feeling nicely focused and confident, which I think made me feel better for the flat private lesson, which was next!

Two candidates took this unit of the exam simultaneously, so there were two horses ready for us. One, I recognised from my training day as being the quirky one who changed canter lead behind every half dozen strides. To my relief, I had the slightly daunting Spanish horse complete in double bridle … there’s a post somewhere already about that. Here it is!

Anyway, I felt I got a good rapport with the rider and made some tweaks to both horse and rider. I managed to answer the examiner’s questions after and she seemed happy enough so I felt that went alright. I also felt quite confident that this rider would give positive and fair feedback to the examiner.

My next stop was the private jump lesson, and I was in the showjumping arena. My rider was an ex-eventer but had never ridden this riding school horse before. I announced to the examiner that as they were an unknown combination I’d treat it as an assessment lesson so they could develop a relationship. So I lowered the fences a bit below standard. They warmed up and the horse was very honest and straightforward. Just crooked, and drifted left all the time. It was also stuffy so I shortened all the distances to build it’s confidence, and we put together the course in stages. There was a dog leg to the right, and we had a couple of problems with the horse drifting to the left and around the style. So I explained to my rider how to adjust her line so that she had as many straight strides as possible before the style. Then they flew it and the rest of the course no problem. When I spoke to the examiner afterwards I said I wouldn’t take them much over 80cm until the straightness and suppleness issues were sorted, which the examiner said she agreed wholeheartedly with. I felt this lesson went well generally, but I was slightly worried that I hadn’t jumped big enough. But then I’d provided a reason so that was the best I could do really.

After a really long lunch break because of the timetabling, I had business management. Again, I felt that went reasonably well and I answered all the questions; including the bonus one that DEFRA can randomly inspect yards to see if all horses have passports and if they haven’t you can be fined up to £1000 per horse – ouch! Some of these questions were a bit of common sense and some purely educated guesses so fingers crossed!

Then I had to teach a group of riders on the flat – thank god I didn’t need to test my grid distances because these riding school horses would struggle with competition distances and it would have upset my frame of mind. I had three riders and two stuffy horses, and one which didn’t bend. After watching them warm up I introduced a four loop serpentine (the arena was 70m long!) which would benefit all the horse’s suppleness and then I put in transitions to help those that were behind the leg. Then we did trot-canter-trot transitions to help improve the quality of the canter. Everyone seemed to improve and the riders gave me good feedback, which I hoped they’d reiterate to the examiner.

Finally, I had to do a lunge lesson. I felt fairly well prepared for this, but when I arrived I saw a rather dour looking woman. And I was reminded of the conversation over lunch … “I had X to teach. She wasn’t very helpful. She didn’t listen to anything I said.” 

I knew it was the same lady, so felt a bit put off. And I was also feeling a little tired by then, so I made a couple of mistakes – forgetting to undo the reins until the last minute as she was mounting, and not encouraging her to hold on to the saddle in her very bouncy trot without stirrups. So I came away slightly frustrated, but at least I thought I had raised a smile and she had complied with my instructions so hopefully she would give the examiner fair feedback. 

Thankfully I missed the rush hour back to get home in time for Pilates, and since then I’ve been reflecting and dissecting the whole day until today’s post! 

Along with my certificates I had feedback from the lessons, which is really great. The examiners all said I managed the lessons safely, improved the riders, developed a rapport, had good structure to my lessons, used open questions to engage my riders, and gave relevant technical knowledge – I’m so pleased!

So now I’ve bored you all to tears about my ITT exam, I’ll finish my glass of wine and make a start on the very large box of chocolates my long suffering husband bought home with some flowers. 

A Daunting Task

I taught a very daunting lesson earlier this week with a guinea pig rider.

She entered the arena with a rather snazzy looking Spanish horse, bedecked in a double bridle. 

The rider was very confident, as she was legged up onto the jogging mare. I made the necessary enquiries to tick the box:

  • What’s the rider’s name, riding experience, qualifications, medical history.
  • What’s the horse’s name, experience, history and medical history.
  • What was the horse and rider relationship.

This girl was a Stage IV rider and this was her new horse, recently come over from Spain. It could do all the lateral movements but didn’t have a competition record.

Gulp.

What on earth should I teach them?!

I admit, I felt slightly out of my depth. I take a while to get into my groove, especially with confident riders because I get a bit intimidated. The horse was also a far higher calibre than I’ve taught before.

I started the session by watching them warm up. It gave me time to think. The trot was choppy and short striding; the canter was bouncy and tense and this rider said that whilst the horse didn’t feel like she was going to bolt, she was strong. The mare tried to evade the contact by tucking her nose to her chest. The rider had a good balanced position, and secure lower leg. If I’m going to be really picky, she was a bit collapsed in her upper body, and had a tendency to fix her hands.

I had a plan. Despite the horse’s high level of training, there were some basic elements that we could improve. Equally though, the mare was hot and quick thinking, so needed to be kept mentally stimulated. 

I explained to my rider that I felt we should work on relaxing the mare, and getting her to take the contact forwards, instead of tucking behind the bridle. As the mare was a busy type, I suggested we used leg yield to get the mare stepping under with her inside hind leg and taking the contact forwards. Our focus being on the neck staying long and the mare relaxing.

We started in walk, and immediately it was obvious that the mare is very talented with an extravagant crossover. She easily leg yielded from the three-quarter line to the track. However, as with any big mover, she had the tendency to escape from her rider – in the leg yield the rider tends to lose her outside shoulder. 

Once we moved into the trot the loss of the outside shoulder was more noticeable, so I brought my riders   attention to her outside rein contact, making sure it prevented too much inside flexion and supported the outside shoulder. Then I highlighted how she was pinning her inside rein by the wither, so encouraging the mare to turn to the inside and fall through the outside shoulder. As soon as that hand was carried forwards the leg yield improved because they were straight. Then we turned our attention to keeping the trot rhythm consistent through the movement.

After working on both reins I felt there was a slight improvement; the rider was more in tune with the horse, who was starting to lengthen her neck and was moving laterally in a more relaxed manner.

I didn’t want to work on the canter – no need to over complicate matters – so we moved on to zig zag leg yielding. This was to ensure the mare wasn’t anticipating going from the three-quarter line to the track, and was responsive to the riders outside leg. The rider also had to make more subtle aids and change her position slowly as she changed direction so as to help maintain their balance. We talked about which direction was easier: the left leg yield was more extravagant but felt less controlled, than the right which had less crossing but was straighter and with no rushing. 

By the end of the session I felt the mare was much improved, with a longer trot stride, and more relaxed and consistent in her frame. I did mention to her rider about trying her in just a snaffle bridle to establish a consistent contact, and to get the horse seeking it more, but I think as it’s early days in their relationship it might be an exercise for the future. This rider gave me positive feedback, and seemed to understand the lesson concept and reasoning behind it, so hopefully I’ve helped her. 

Now that I’ve been thrown in the deep end, and managed to survive I actually reflect on that lesson in a positive light, and would quite like to teach this pair in the future.

Neckstraps

I read an article a couple of weeks ago about William Fox-Pitt and neckstraps. He was advocating their use, and never goes cross country without them.


Unfortunately neckstraps are seen as a weakness, and for beginners. One of my friends had a mother who used one when riding, calling it her “chicken strap” as she grabbed it whenever she felt nervous. It became a bit of a joke, but it definitely helped her.

There are a number of “chicken straps” designed to be safety nets when riders get butterflies. There are grab straps, which are short straps that attach to the D-rings in front of the saddle, those Rs-tor handles which hang at the front of the saddle to name just a couple.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Rs-tors, can anyone who uses them tell me why or how they work? I can only see that holding onto a handle gives the rider a psychological boost of confidence but I’ve only seen riders holding the handle with the webbing strap slack. It might be that it was in neutral and redundant at that moment in time, but I’d like to know the appeal of them.

Moving onto grab straps. They’re commonly seen in riding schools, and I like them for little kids and beginners because they’re small enough to wrap little fingers around. Additionally, having the hand just in front of the saddle keeps the rider in a more upright position. Again, these straps are good for psychologically boosting a rider’s confidence, but I do think they can help them stay on if the horse or pony spooks. My problem is that because I wasn’t brought up with one it’s not my natural instinct to grab it in an emergency. 

The alternative to a grab strap is just holding onto the pommel. This is how we had our first lessons. We learnt to rise by pushing up with our hands on the pommel, which gave our weak legs some help until they’d strengthened. Then we held onto the front of the saddle for our first canters. The restriction here is that there is no give between the movement of the horse’s back, and the rider so it can be a bit jarring and not allow you to absorb the movement of the horse. 

Let’s get back to neckstraps. In riding schools, and indeed my friend’s mum, they’re often old stirrup leathers. These are too thick for children to grasp with reins, and the excess strap can be cumbersome. I also find that old stirrup leathers can sit quite high up the neck. So beginners reach forwards for the neck strap, come out the saddle, tip their weight forwards and can end up in a much more fragile position. For this reason I prefer grab straps for beginner riders.

The best type of neck strap I’ve seen, and it’s what William F-P uses, is the neck strap of a martingale. As it’s not attached it can move up the neck, but is thin enough to comfortably hold alongside the reins and whip. They also seem to sit better on the neck, closer to the base and the rider. I think William Fox-Pitt has his made from plain leather reins – perhaps there’s a market for these?

As I said at the beginning, he uses a neckstrap to go cross country. If there’s a big jump, an awkward fence, or he feels left behind; he wraps his fingers around the strap to stop him pulling his horse in the mouth. We can all learn something here. Firstly, that even the best occasionally sock their horse in the mouth. Secondly, don’t be afraid to use a neckstrap to stabilise your hands because in the long run it’s better to do that then to have a horse who starts refusing fences.

When we learnt to jump we held onto a fistful of mane “halfway up the pony’s neck” which I have sometimes said to children who don’t have any straps to grab and don’t give with their hands when jumping. Holding the mane can be risky if said pony has low head carriage, and it can encourage riders to throw themselves too far up the pony’s neck. 

I’ve also suggested that people wrap fingers around their martingale strap to help stabilise their hands, but over larger fences they can end up restricting the neck of the horse because the martingale or breastplate is immovable. Which leads us back to neckstraps, so the rider learns to give the hands is a forwards motion and for them to stop snatching back with the arms (a natural reaction if you’re worried).

I think I prefer grab straps when teaching beginners or nervous riders as their position is less compromised, but when learning to jump (or indeed forever jumping) a thin neckstrap is the best option. 


To read the original article, Click here

An Old Tale

I love hearing stories of days gone by. Gasping in horror, cringing at the political incorrectness, wishing I was born before the era of Health and Safety.

 Dad used to regale tales of him and his brother causing mayhem – crashing their canal boat into a “modern” cruiser to reveal the owner sitting on the toilet; or the toddler (I forget which brother it was) cycling on his tricycle through the Armistice Parade on his way to his grandparents while his parents hid their faces; or the more recent ones which include my Mum. And the hammer and her dislocated finger.

One day, I’ll become famous for writing these stories down and causing people to cry with laughter.

One lady at my yard has just as many stories as my Dad. Most of them include escapades out hunting (in reference to yesterday’s blog, perhaps that’s why I’m not so keen on going hunting) and she often tells us about her riding school in the 80s.

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about our plans for the day and I said, “my task for today is to wear the Duracell Bunny out”. 

We moved on to talking about energy levels and how best to take it out of them. N.B. I found that medium trot for ten minutes in the school with Matt last week stopped him spooking at ghosts.

She then told me the following story. 

There was a livery on my yard who had an Irish horse. Little horse, but bags of energy. He never seemed to tire. 

Then one day she came to me and asked if I’d take him on working livery. Her job had changed, or she had less time. Whatever the reason was. 

Now I didn’t really want him in my school. Who could ride him? So I said “okay, I’ll have him on a weeks trial”.

That Saturday this horse escorted a hack at 9am with one of my grooms, a girl like you. Competent. Then at 10am another groom took him on the next hack. Then at 11am he did a lesson.

We had half an hour break for lunch at 12, and he did another three lessons after lunch. He was knackered! 

But I tell you what, I never had a problem with him in all the years he was in the riding school.

I gulped. That was a pretty intensive workout for anyone, and I was very glad the Duracell Bunny I had to ride wasn’t as fully charged as that one! 

Counting Strides to a Jump

When learning to jump it can be difficult to meet jumps on the correct stride and to learn the feel of a good jump, so instructors use placing poles to assist the horse in finding the correct take-off point, thus enabling the rider to focus on their position and the feel. However, sometimes the riders and horses can over focus on the pole and it doesn`t help improve the jumping technique.

I`m a big believer in the rider getting the correct canter on the approach and then allowing the horse to adjust themselves to find the right stride. Additionally, I find that novice jumpers have enough to worry about without trying to “see a stride” and position the horse themselves. One of the exercises we used to do as children was counting down to a jump. I could never get my head around it. I could always see the stride but I struggled to count “3,2,1,jump” on the last four strides before a fence. Perhaps my instincts worked quicker than my brain?

Moving on. Counting canter strides is important, but instead of counting down the strides, counting in threes or fours, will help stabilise the canter rhythm and the rider is thinking positively because they are counting upwards.

Even on the flat counting canter strides can help improve the canter rhythm. I`ve done it so many times that it has become autonomic. I often find myself mid-canter saying “twenty one, twenty two, twenty three … What am I doing?” because I`ve subconsciously been counting canter strides and reached a ridiculous figure.

A couple of weeks ago I introduced a client to the idea of counting her strides towards a jump. Her horse has quite a big, scopey stride so can do a mini-leap over poles which tends to complicate jumping as she gets left behind or he gets too close to the fence. To try to prevent my rider having too many dodgy jumps, and to instil the correct feeling and hopefully teach my rider to see where her horse will take off over fences so she can go stay in sync with him over jumps. This will make courses flow more smoothly.

Before she started counting her strides a few yards before the jump the horse either backed off slightly or lengthened his stride too much. Then my rider tried to correct the canter, but it was too late. When she was counting her canter strides, “1,2,3,1,2,3” she noticed instantly when the canter changed and could apply her leg, a half halt, or adjust her upper body position to regain the canter. I felt that she was then attacking the fence a bit more – I don`t mean chasing her horse towards the jump, but closing the leg and riding positively towards the fence instead of having the hand brake on. From then on, every jump was met on a good stride.

Now that the canter is becoming autonomic and consistent, I want to build up to riding lines between fences, around corners, and through combinations so that courses become flowing and smooth.

 

13620141_530807197121065_2141590050244549618_n

 

It`s Pony Club Camp

Today is the first day of Pony Club Camp – how exciting!

The forecast for the week looks warm (not as hot as last week thankfully) but overcast so hopefully it will all go smoothly and there won`t be too much running for cover.

This will be the third year that I`ve taught at this camp, and I have to say it is extremely well organised. A couple of weeks ago all the instructors met up for supper and were given our folders, which list all the different rides, some information on the levels of the individual riders, the individual tack and turnout, and report sheets. And most importantly, the timetable for the week. That’s right. At this camp I know what I am doing on the last day before I even get there! Normally camps are organising their instructors as the kids mount the ponies! We have a meeting every morning over breakfast to discuss the day, make changes if necessary, and generally gossip.

However, this camp does have a huge advantage over many other clubs, in that their camp is held on an idyllic private estate. That means that there is no sharing of facilities with liveries or riding school lessons, and the riding arenas are set up the week before, and stay up for the week (just think of how much time you save not moving fences every lesson!) Additionally, they have space. Acres of it. In the riding field there are usually three dressage arenas, a junior showjumping course, a senior showjumping course, a gridwork arena, an arena cross country arena, the senior musical ride arena (juniors do theirs in the menage) and half the cross country course! I will be walking miles – better charge my fitbit!

I`m sure this week will be totally exhausting, given that my riders are six years old; filled with laughter, that happens when you mix kids and ponies anyway; a few eyeball rolling moments (well, I do have four boys to contend with); and hopefully a bit of learning thrown in too. Everyone particularly looks forwards to the last day, when there are dressage, showjumping, handy pony (for the little ones anyway) competitions and the highly anticipated fancy dress musical ride.

I’m sure it will be a blast, and will provide plenty of anecdotes for The Rubber Curry Comb.

Wish me luck!

 

Who`s To Blame?

This is more of a debate really, and down to you guys for your input.

When things go wrong with your horse, be it at a competition, in a schooling session, or just on the ground, who do you blame?

Do you blame yourself?

Do you blame your horse?

Do you blame external factors, such as the venue, the weather, the rest of the competition?

Or is it a mixture depending on what the problem is?

One thing I`ve learnt about myself recently is that I blame myself. Unless there`s a blatently obvious reason, such a hailstorm during my dressage test, I come away from a competition being very hard on myself. Even if it`s not achieving an aim in a lesson with Otis, or even a client not completely understanding a concept during a lesson, I go away and beat myself up about it, feeling like a failure.

What does that tell me about myself as a rider? That I`m a perfectionist? That I’m a workaholic? That I have low self-esteem? That I over-analyse things?

Who knows, I sure don`t. Except that I then have to make a firm plan to sort myself out!

But anyway, back to you guys. Who do you tend to blame when everything goes pear-shaped? And what do you think that tells you about yourself as a rider or horse owner? And how do you then plan to overcome this blip? More lessons, change of equipment, refuse to ever do that type of competition again, or refuse to visit a venue ever again?

Comment below with your thoughts.

On a lighter note, here is a headcam video of Otis flying today – click here