I taught a Pony Club rally the other day, which can be a challenge because there will be a variety of ages and abilities within each group, plus the fact that the instructor will inevitably have some unknown ponies and riders.
This club has the totally brilliant idea of having club coats with the child’s name on, so all I had to do was wait until they’d trotted past me to be reminded of their name! I always spend a couple of minutes asking the children how their riding is going – if they’ve managed to ride much through the winter, if they’re feeling confident, and how big they’ve been jumping. Even the ones that I saw last summer, I need to check how much progress they’ve made.
I find the best approach to pony club rallies is to find a lesson theme that can be layered according to what you see on the day, and each rider can hopefully take something away from the lesson.
I decided for this occasion, to work on the approach and getaway from jumps. Children and ponies are renowned for cutting corners so hopefully they would all have something to work on, and I could easily teach different levels within the same lesson.
I set up a short course of jumps, which formed a basic figure of eight. It was fairly tight as the arena wasn’t huge, but that played to my advantage.
I warmed up horses and riders as a ride in trot and cantered then individually before working on their jumping position over some poles.
Then I got the children to ride around the course as poles on the ground, focusing on demonstrating their jumping position and riding good lines to each jump.
As predicted, a few corners were cut and some jumps were done on the angle. So I explained, whilst walking the course, the path my riders should be taking. For the younger children, physical cues are important, and for the older children a physical object to go around helps increase their satisfaction in completing a task. It also proves that a rider and pony has ridden the correct line.
So I positioned some plastic jump blocks at pivotal turns on the course, and got the children to ride the course with their improved lines before putting the jumps up one by one. I put one block after the last jump, to send the riders into the corner as they all wanted to canter to the rear of the ride, but winged it round the corner so atrociously after such a beautifully ridden course, I had to do something about it!
Lead rein riders benefit from this exercise in that they learn the correct approach and getaway to fences whilst building confidence with little cross poles. By putting up the jumps slowly they won’t be fazed by a whole course of jumps.
Riders just off the lead rein benefit from having obstacles to steer round as it can make them more determined to try steering, and they learn to ride the correct lines whilst still being able to focus on the jumps.
For more competent riders, you can talk about the horse’s balance around the turns and when the ponies should be trotting or cantering, as well as canter leads.
To add in a further level of complication, I made one jump a skinny. This was a good test for the complacent riders who just aimed and fired, and for the confident ones who didn’t think they needed to get straight, realised the consequences when the jump became harder.
Overall, I had two good teaching sessions, with something for each child to work on, and hopefully practice at home.
I encouraged a young Pony Clubber to hold her mane at a rally a couple of weeks ago because she wasn’t folding forwards over the jumps for long enough so snatched her pony in the mouth when he put any effort into the jumps. Holding her mane kept her hands forward, and most importantly it improved her timing because she could feel the pony’s neck coming up after the jump, so pushing her back into an upright position, thus teaching her the timing for folding over jumps.
I just wish I saw more instructors encouraging young riders to hold the mane when learning to jump.
When I was little and learning to jump we were always told to “hold the mane halfway up your pony’s neck”. A phrase I would hear repeated with the next generations of children as I led th over jumps, occasionally with the addition of “look at the bunny rabbits waving to you in the field” to get them to look up.
When I started my apprenticeship I was amazed that none of the instructors used this analogy. When I started teaching myself I often got strange looks when I suggested holding the mane for security when learning to jump. After all, I cringe whenever I see a rider restricting their horse’s jump by not allowing with their hands.
Today, to my delight, I was reading one of my coaching books and it had a whole section on holding the mane while learning to jump.
This subject has come up a couple of times recently, and whilst it’s often joked about, I don’t think it’s taken seriously enough from a coaching perspective.
At some point in your riding career – whether it’s a weekly riding lesson or a competitive full time hobby – you will transfer from a child rider to an adult rider. From this, I mean your attitude towards your riding changes slightly.
Children in general tend to be unaware of the potential consequences of riding. Of course, if they fall off then they may have a confidence knock or an injury, but it’s usually short lived – once the bruise has faded or they’ve experienced the canter again successfully, they’re happy – out of sight, out of mind so to speak. There are some exceptions of course. Adults on the other hand, are much more aware of the consequences of something going wrong whilst riding, and are always conscious of the risks.
For example, if you break an arm and can’t drive how can you go to work; who’s going to pay the bills; and who’s going to look after the children and pets?
As a teenager or young adult you slowly become independent: moving out into your own house, getting a job, running your own car. It’s about now that you realise what risks you take with your riding. It doesn’t mean you’re going to stop, or loose your nerve, but it does mean that you double check the ground before having a gallop on a hack. You’ll build yourself up through the heights more steadily in a jumping lesson. You’re more likely to stop on a good note rather than try the next level and risk it going wrong. And if you haven’t done a particular exercise for a while you are more cautious when trying it. I’ve often been told by clients, who are by all means competent, that they are feeling nervous because they’ve not ridden for a week. So continuity is important for adult riders, and if they haven’t ridden for a little while the lesson should be more of a revision session, rather than the opportunity to teach something new.
I think this subject needs discussing when training coaches, especially the young, fresh faced ones who are yet to make this transition or have a confidence knock at all. After all, they need to understand that adult riders have a slightly different agenda to their young counterparts and lesson plans need to reflect the cautionary approach adult riders can have, and the fact their riding ambitions are as much about enjoying themselves and staying safe than going fast or jumping high. Preparation for competitions, and long term lesson goals should take the continuity factor into account and allow time to build things back up if there’s a riding break scheduled.
Adults joke that they don’t bounce anymore, and it’s true. Bruises last longer and stiffness lingers. So it’s understandable that you want to minimise injuries. There are also physical changes such as arthritis, past injuries, acquired weaknesses which can make adults feel more vulnerable when riding. I think it’s important that adult riders acknowledge the fact that their riding ambitions and confidences have changed compared to when they were younger, and to make adjustments to lessons and riding plans to take this into account. It’s worth checking that you are most comfortable with your tack and protective equipment. Perhaps you want to start hacking in a body protector, or having a neck strap. Either way, it’s important to do what you need to do to be happy.
I think as you get older, the relationship you have with your horse becomes paramount. As an owner, you may be less inclined to ride friends’ horses if yours is off work, and it takes longer to build a bond with a horse and develop that trust. It might be that the horse you bought as a teenager is no longer the horse you want to ride as an adult, in which case have an honest conversation with yourself. And if you’re buying a new horse, be truthful about what you would have liked – that palomino feisty horse all teenagers dream of – and what you need now.
I was asked last week if my riding had changed since motherhood. It’s an interesting question, and I don’t think mine is necessarily an easy answer. Yes, it has changed over the last couple of years – I’m preferring the training aspect and the dressage foundation work. But I think this has as much to do with losing Otis as my riding partner than becoming pregnant. I loved eventing Otis. But I think that’s because I had such a strong bond with him and trusted him with my life. After he went lame I didn’t have the desire to ride other horses to the same level. So my riding changed slightly then. It’s not to say I’d have never returned to what I was doing with him, it’s just that I wasn’t ready at that time or had the horsepower and then things happened.
Motherhood definitely changes your approach to riding; in the early days your body is still recovering from the beating it received during labour and you’re rebuilding your previous strength and fitness. Added to the fact that the little bundle of joy on the side of the arena is totally dependent on you, you are definitely less of a risk taker. Now, my riding ambitions and my reason for riding has changed. Firstly, I’m in less of a hurry to perfect things because I don’t need the pressure on top of learning to juggle family, baby and work. Secondly, I’m more interested in riding as a break from motherhood. That hour when I can forget about how many teeth are coming through, whether there’s a pair of dry, clean tights on the washing line for the morning, and if she’ll eat the courgette I’ve made for dinner. Thirdly, I’m building my relationship with Phoenix. And I want to get it right, so I’m crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. I think, had I still been riding Otis when I became pregnant I’d be back up to what we were doing, perhaps doing fewer competitions, focusing on dressage, or sticking to jumping 90s which were well within our comfort zone rather than feeling the need to push ourselves.
I’ve had similar conversations with several clients recently: some say they’ve lost their nerve, some say they just don’t want to jump that big anymore, others find excuses not to ride out of their comfort zone. And it’s fine. It’s no biggie. No one is telling you you have to jump that big, or gallop that fast. And if they are, they aren’t your friend! Focus on what you, the adult, wants to get out of riding – take away the pressure – and chat to your friends and instructor to work out the best strategy to keep you in the saddle and smiling.
Two poles is all you need for this exercise to improve your horse’s straightness.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, a lot of horses carry themselves in a crooked way. For example, with their hindquarters always to the right. When I start working with a horse who is crooked in their way of going I check the rider’s position, symmetry and if they have any history of injuries which could cause them to have a weaker side. Then I cover topics such as saddle fit, chiropractic and physiotherapy treatments, dental history to make sure we rule out any of those causes.
If a horse is allowed to work in a crooked way then muscles develop asymmetrically, which can compound the problem.
I find that using poles as tramlines can be really beneficial in teaching both horse and rider what straight feels like. The physical presence of the poles can be more effective than asking the rider to do too much correcting and straightening of the horse as the effort involved in applying these aids can twist the rider’s seat, which doesn’t help the horse go straight.
In a session where I’m planning to use tramlines, I warm horse and rider up focusing on feel and straightness. I don’t necessarily want my rider to start adjusting their horse, but I want them to gain an awareness: is the horse holding their head to one side, or their hindquarters to one side? Is it always held to the same side? I tweak my rider’s position and aids so that they are minimising the crookedness, and are as symmetrical as possible.
Then I get them to trot between the two poles a few times, so that the horse is comfortable with the poles, then I roll them slightly closer so they are fractionally wider than the horse. Now, when they pass through, the horse will have to straighten their body so that the left hind follows the track of the left fore, and the same with the right legs. The rider should then feel the change in the horse’s way of going, which will help them recreate the straightness elsewhere in the arena. We repeat this until there is less of a change in the horse’s body before, during and after the poles, because they are working in a less crooked manner.
Next, I add in transitions. Horses who are crooked tend to wobble through transitions, so riding a transition between the poles encourages the horse to stay straight. Horse and rider begins in trot, and once the hindquarters have entered the poles, ride a transition to walk. Usually the first couple of times there’s a clunk on the pole, proving the horse has lost straightness. As they exit the poles, you sometimes see an exaggerated drift because the horse is so reliant on the poles to keep them straight and almost lose their balance when their support is removed. It’s a very good exercise for teaching the rider a feel for a straight transition and straight horse.
Once the downwards transition is feeling straighter and more balanced, I repeat the same exercise with upwards transitions, from walk to trot. Riding the transition between the poles usually encourages the horse to utilise their hindquarters and push up into a springy, active trot because when they are straight they hindlegs work more efficiently as their stepping towards the horse’s centre of gravity. The rider learns the feel for a more active transition, and a straighter way of going. Again, you might get the wriggle after exiting the poles, but as the horse improves their balance whilst being straight, they will be less dependent on the tramlines.
Soon, the rider should be able to ride their horse on two tracks and in a straighter frame without the help of the tramlines, and when they do travel between poles there is no change to the rhythm or balance of their gait.
I really like using the tramlines for canter, which is notoriously a crooked gait. I place the tramlines so they are ridden across the school, from E to B, and then get my horse and rider to ride straight across the school in canter. Having to ride a straight line across the school encourages the rider to use their outside aids and not their inside rein to end up riding a half circle across the arena. Once the canter has become straighter, the rider should feel the increased stride length of the inside hindleg, and the canter will become more balanced and three time in rhythm.
So long as the horse and rider can strike off into canter on the long side, on a specific canter lead, you can begin to ride trot to canter transitions between the tramlines, which most horses find quite tricky as they usually drift through the outside shoulder. As with the walk and trot transitions, the canter transitions will improve the rider’s feel for straightness, their awareness of the importance of maintaining the outside aids, and improve the quality of the transition.
The mare I used this exercise with over the weekend likes to hold her hindquarters to the right and her head to the left, so after warming her and her rider up focusing on minimising the crookedness in walk and trot before we started using the tramlines. It took a few trots through for the mare to begin to maintain the straightness without the poles – she drifted as she came out from between the poles initially. Once we started to ride transitions between the poles I noticed that the mare stayed softer in her neck and started to engage her hindquarters. This mare is very good at learning an exercise, so we only needed to do it a handful of times before moving on, and continuing to practice keeping her straight elsewhere in the school. With all this focus on straightness, my rider’s hands became more even, which helped the mare stay straight. For this pair, cantering between the poles had the most effect. The mare finds it difficult to stay together in the canter, tending to run and wiggle along; the tramlines encouraged her to be straighter, and subsequently her rider could begin to balance her more easily and then the canter looked stronger and more correct. We’ll be doing more work using tramlines as part of more elaborate polework exercises to further improve the mare’s straightness and quality of her gaits so that both horse and rider can work straight and efficiently, with less risk of overstressing and straining one area of her body.
Today is March 1st, St David’s day. Or Dydd Dewi Sant in Welsh. I’ve seen lots of social media posts wanting pictures of Welshies. I could spam you with that, so I thought I’d do a post on something a little different.
I grew up in Wales, granted it wasn’t a particularly Welsh part of Wales, being only a stones throw from England. As my primary school teacher used to say, I “could put one foot in England and one foot in Wales” I lived so close to the border. We did the curriculum minimum Welsh lessons, mainly because it had only just become compulsory and our teachers had to learn Welsh in order to teach us!
All I remember from twelve years of Welsh lessons are random phrases such as “mae’n heulog” (it’s sunny), “Pam?” (Why?), “ble rwy t’in blew?” (Where do you live?), “ga i ffindiau ty bach is gwelech yn fawr?” (please may I go to the toilet?), “diolch yn fawr” (thank you very much), “merlota” (horse riding), “cefyl” (horse), and “sbwriel” (rubbish. As in, it’s rubbish). Then there are of course, the words which are so similar to English you can’t fail to understand them – tacsi, bws, snwcr. It’s still compulsory to learn Welsh until the age of 16 in Wales, and I think the fact that teachers now have a basic grasp of the language means the level of teaching compulsory Welsh has improved. I have to say, that I think I have retained more Welsh phrases than Spanish ones, which I studied for a couple of years in secondary school.
In primary school we all did embrace our country and culture in March. On St David’s Day, or the nearest school day to it, we always held an Eisteddfod competition. This is a festival of Welsh music, literature, and performance. Each year group entered a number of competitions – recitation, handwriting, art, cookery (making Welsh cakes of course), music … there were others I just can’t remember them. I do remember one year in infants having to make a daffodil for the art competition. Dad and I stayed up late one evening crafting a giant free standing daffodil out of empty Stihl chainsaw boxes. It was almost as big as me! I coloured or painted it the appropriate colours and cut it out with Dad’s help. I remember the whole school’s artwork being on display on the stage (there were only eighty something pupils. Only 5 in my year) and the oldest juniors commenting on how good my daffodil was.
The best part about the Eisteddfod was the long assembly, listening to music and recitations, and waiting with baited breath for the results. Anything entered beforehand (such as the giant daffodil) was entered under a pseudonym so the result was always a surprise to everyone. We had certificates, and earnt house points which were put towards the end of term “scores on the doors” (a favourite quote from one of the infant teachers). There you go, another Welsh phrase – “ty coch” or Red House, which was the house I was in. In fact, I can probably remember the welsh version of “I can see a rainbow”.
On St David’s Day we were allowed to dress up in either the traditional Welsh lady dress, or in Welsh rugby shirts. With English unsporty parents I did no more than wear a daffodil on my school jumper. At the time, I felt a bit left out. But when the old photos appear on Facebook twenty years later, I’m secretly very relieved!
So I had the be content with wearing a daffodil. Not a leek, they weren’t as pretty. Talking of daffodils, let’s move away from primary school humiliation.
The five miles between my village (or more precisely, hamlet, as there were fewer than thirty houses or something) and the next village, was lined with daffodils. I’m sure I remember a story that a lady left money in her will for bulbs to be planted along that stretch of road. It is always beautiful to see each spring, and is definitely one of my favourite sights along the road. But did you know that daffs are poisonous? To both humans and horses. And probably dogs. So yes, don’t eat daffodils and don’t let your horse graze near them! I’ll just continue to enjoy them in the garden and along verges.
A riding school I worked at an ex-polo horse called Daffodil. As old as the hills, and with an interesting gait to say the least, she was the sweetest chestnut mare you could ever meet. You could lead the smallest child from her all day long, and she was perfect to hack so was a very popular hack escort amongst the instructors. We used to call her Daffy and I remember being very sad when she moved on, because despite the fact she wasn’t much of a looker, with lumps and bumps, and three unique gaits, she was such a gentle soul who had a niche job.
Back to the subject of all things Welsh! Shall we move on to the equine side of things? I learnt to ride on Welsh ponies, and will always have a soft spot for them. But I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I always think the cob part in the Welsh C and Ds name lets them down because many equestrians assume they are novice rides, plodding, and suitable for beginners. They aren’t. They’re very sensitive animals, who have a big personality so need a confident handler to keep them in line and to keep them confident. Unfortunately I see too many inexperienced owners and riders with Welshies who are out of their depth until they get some help to understand the highly strung, sensitive nature of a Welsh Cob. Then of course, there’s no stopping them because they begin to harness the full potential of their Welshie and have great fun.
Welsh ponies, on the other hand, are best suited to confident children and best kept with plenty of turn out and lots of varied work so that they don’t become too cheeky and energetic. They can be great fun all round pony club ponies, but they do need to be kept busy!
A throwback to one of the most useful correcting jumping exercises that I like doing. It tests straightness before and after jumps, encourages a horse to slow down and focus on the question in hand, and the take off and landing poles improve their technique in the air.
One of the mares I ride has a tendency to drift right as she jumps, so I developed a tricky little exercise for her. We always do a lot of work in counter canter, straightening her and making sure each rein is as good as the other.
She can rush thoughtlessly towards fences so after working over some canter poles I slowly built up to a placing pole to and upright and then a landing pole. This prevented her rushing and made her think about the jump, her positioning, and her getaway. I made sure to use wooden poles here because she can be careless and send light poles flying across the arena. Once she had mastered this set up, I added tramlines before the placing pole and after the landing pole.
The first time, the mare backed off the exercise, unsure of how to tackle it. But we clambered…
I’ve done a few lessons recently where I’ve been focusing on how my riders finish their school movements and ride away from a fence. The way you ride out of a circle sets you up for the next movement in your dressage test, and how you ride away from a jump affects your approach to the next fence.
With one rider, I worked on her landing, how she rode away from each fence and the speed in which she recovered: rebalancing the canter, checking she’s on the necessary canter lead and riding the turn after the jump. The quicker she can recover from a jump, the more time she’ll have to set up for the next fence. In jump of scenarios, a quicker recovery could mean that you can ride a tighter turn and shave precious seconds of your time. I used a very twisty course with lots of short approaches and getaways from fences to help my rider become more aware of the knock on effect of not preparing her getaway, or waiting until she’s landed and cantered a stride before thinking about her next jump.
On the dressage side of things, it is important to think about how you ride out of a school movement as finishing in a rushed, tense mess means that you will start your next movement in a rushed, tense mess, so you cannot execute that movement to the best of your ability.
The levels of dressage test takes recovery and preparation for each movement into account: at prelim level each movement is separated by some simple travelling around the arena. These filler movements allow you to rebalance yourself and your horse after a botched circle or transition so that you can do your best on the next movement. At elementary level, transitions, circles and school movements come up much quicker, meaning the rider has to plan how they finish a movement so that they are quickly set up for the next movement.
A very useful exercise for highlighting the importance of riding out of a movement is one of my favourite sequences to ride and teach with at the moment.
On the left rein, ride leg yield left from the letter F towards the centre line. After the EB line, halt and ride a turn on the forehand in a clockwise direction. Proceed in walk, leg yielding left back to the track. It seems pretty straightforward, but it’s important to break down the sequence even more. After the first leg yield, you need to ride a few strides in a straight line before halting. This is so that the horse halts in a balanced way, with their weight evenly distributed so that they can easily execute the turn on the forehand and don’t lurch sideways falling through their shoulder. It’s also important to halt, and have that moment of immobility, before asking your horse to turn on the forehand. Otherwise they will begin to fuss in a normal halt, anticipating a turn. This causes no end of problems down the centre line in your dressage tests!
After the turn on the forehand, pause. Again to let your horse process what they’ve just done and to rebalance themselves into a halt. Now, you should get a balanced, active transition to walk, and after a couple of straight strides, you can begin leg yielding back to the track. The straight strides ensure your horse is most able to moves sideways by using the inside hindleg to push across, rather than pulling across with the outside shoulder. On reaching the track, you right straight again, with their weight evenly over each side of their body. Then you can move up into trot or canter, and really feel the benefit of the lateral sequence you’ve just done.
Can you see how important those little breaks between each movement are? Each horse, depending on their level of training will need different lengths of time between each movement. An established schoolmaster will be able to go from leg yield to halt with only a stride of straight. A green horse, may need four strides to rebalance themselves after the leg yield. In training, it is better to give an extra stride, or second in the halt, before asking for the next movement so that your horse is more likely to do it correctly and to the best of their ability.
Next time you ride, have a think about how you’re coming out of a jump, or school movement, and see if it can be improved so that the trot you exited the circle with us as rhythmical and balanced as the trot you entered it. Then you can begin to think about how quickly you are ready to do another school movement. Could you do something at the next dressage letter, for example? When jumping, think about could you have ridden that turn between two fences if there was one less canter stride until the second – so a relates distance of four strides instead of five?
One of the most important, and intuitive, characteristics of a teacher of any sort, is the ability to know how to to push their pupil out of their comfort zone so that they progress and develop their skills and confidence smoothly. This is particularly important with the more timid types of people as a knock to their confidence can halt their learning for a while and can make them reluctant to try new or harder lessons.
I’ve been working with one horse and rider over the last few months who have made me think outside the box. She came to me wanting help with her share horse; wanting to build up his muscles and to encourage him to work more correctly from behind, as well as build her confidence riding him.
I know this rider from when she was a teenager, and whilst perfectly competent she was never the most confident or gung-ho rider. But, with a good level of understanding and the knowledge of the importance of establishing the basics and tweaking the small details. I don’t mind this approach to riding, in fact I possibly prefer it to overconfidence, because I know the horse’s welfare is priority, and the rider never minds revising an exercise to help or reinforce a new lesson.
We began with addressing the horse’s crookedness, and as he’s become straighter he’s become more forward going, and his length of stride has increased. Once his engine is engaged he drops his nose, taking the contact forwards into an outline nicely. We’re getting this result quicker each session, and with more consistency, which is great.
However, with the horse’s medical injury and his age and conformation, I felt that the canter work would really help loosen him over the back and improve their trot work because some days he can just be very stuffy. Unfortunately, this is where I hit a block and had to get my thinking cap on.
Whilst my rider wanted to start the canter work, and is perfectly capable of cantering, she seemed to have developed a mental block with cantering her share horse. She gave all the correct aids to canter, but was only 80% committed to the transition, and so her horse did not oblige. Which led to the cycle of my rider asking, horse going to canter, then not quite cantering, unbalancing the rider with a big trot, and the rider losing faith in her ability. In the next transition attempt the horse is more hesitant to canter, so making my rider work harder.
I had a couple of sessions of warming my rider up so she had a lovely forwards trot and felt confident, and then broaching the subject of canter. With lots of verbal encouragement we managed a couple of strides of canter a few times, but I didn’t feel this was the most effective way for this duo to progress because too many times we ended up in the cycle mentioned above.
My rider hadn’t done much cantering for a while due to rehabbing her share horse, which combined with the fact he has quite a big, bouncy canter, and has been known to buck, was putting her at a disadvantage because she was out of practice and not confident in his behaviour or sitting to his stride. I sent her off to borrow a friend’s horse to practice cantering so that she’d find her canter seat.
Which she did, and felt perfectly happy cantering her friend’s horse, but when back on her share horse we still didn’t get canter. There was a mind block here, and I needed to work out how to break it down.
With a pony, you can lead them in canter, but there’s no way I can keep up with a 16hh thoroughbred cross! I asked my rider if she thought watching her horse canter would put her mind at ease. By watching him go into canter, with no bucks, and seeing the activity in his hindquarters, could help her realise that the big transition is just the way her horse moves, and he’s not being naughty. If you’re used to a short striding, minimalistic canter, then an active strike off can unbalance you and put you off.
My rider lunges this horse regularly and was happy with his transitions from the ground, so I narrowed the problem down to a saddle based issue.
Really, my rider just needed to canter, so she had got the first one under her belt, as there was no physical reason why she couldn’t. This is when it’s important to understand how your rider learns and what type of personality they have because different techniques at this stage can have a detrimental effect. For example, a confident rider might benefit from a bit of a push, lots of encouragement but thrown into the deep end so that they swim. But a timid rider might freeze if put in that position. Sometimes I’ve dared a young client to do something. This works for the competitive but slightly hesitant kids. For example, when asking them to let go with one hand when trotting, they may not want to but when faced with a challenge, they’ll often have a go. But this approach doesn’t work for the timid riders.
I suggested that I lunged her horse at the beginning of the next lesson. My thoughts were that I could assess her horse on the lunge as I could lunge her in canter. Alternatively, being warmed up on the lunge may help her horse become more supple so my rider could get used to a more active gait and be less unseated by the canter transition, and he may be more willing to canter from her aids.
The horse was much more active on the lunge and very well behaved in the canter, so with his rider mounted, I started lunging them in the trot. Initially, it was about getting her to relax and go with his bigger trot stride. Then we just talked about cantering; whether she’d rather be a passenger and I’d get her horse cantering, or whether she’d rather ride the transition. She opted for the latter, which was fine, I think being on the lunge distracted her from the canter transition. Or possibly she felt safer as she was connected to me.
The result was a few short canters on each rein, with me reinforcing her canter aids the first couple of times to make sure she got into canter. The canters were short, but each time my rider seemed happier about the process. She wasn’t tipping forwards so much, was breathing throughout the canter, and was giving with her hands.
By the end of the session, she was much more confident about the whole canter subject, so we’ve decided that every lesson for a few weeks will start on the lunge, doing a few canters, until both horse and rider are comfortable with the transitions and can maintain the canter for longer. I’m looking for my rider to be able to be able to sit a bit deeper in her saddle during the transition, and then to relax in her knee so that she doesn’t tip forwards when in canter, which will allow her to ride her horse forwards in the canter. But this comes with confidence, and for this rider I think this is the best approach to helping her on her equestrian journey. Hopefully she’ll either have a go at cantering one day whilst schooling, or she’ll ask me to remove the lunge line one lesson. Then in a couple of months struggling to canter will be a distant memory!
I always find it very satisfying when I work out how a horse and rider ticks, and which coaching methods will best help them achieve their goals.
Otis is still enjoying his life of leisure, but I thought my blog has been devoid of pictures of him recently, and you deserve an update.
He spent all summer in an extremely large field with half a dozen geldings of a similar size, very happy and very fat. Then in the winter they moved to a slightly smaller field, had ad lib hay, and he remained unrugged and very hairy until the snow came.
However, the last few months I’ve been in a bit of a pickle and quite stressed about him.
During the summer it was fine; I could drive across the expansive field to find him, give him some cuddles and grooming whilst Mallory stayed in the car. I just had to be aware of the aptly named Rhino trying to scratch his bum on my car. It was a special trip to go and visit him as I wasn’t working, but I could manage it three times a week.
But when I started working I was finding it harder to juggle things. One day a week I was working in the area, so could easily swing by and visit. But I had to find time to make a special trip over to see him on the other days. This coincided with them moving to winter grazing, which meant I had to walk through a field to get to his field. Add in a less patient baby, and I was finding that I was rushing across to Otis, briefly patting his nose before racing back; feeling guilty I wasn’t spending enough time with him and feeling guilty I’d left Mallory in the car, invariably getting upset by the time I returned.
Otis was in a field with older geldings, of a less hardy nature, so they’ve been fed very good quality hay all winter and I’ve been watching his waistline expand rather than him shedding the excess fat he needs to before the spring grass arrives.
So I’ve been surprisingly stressed out about everything. I considered moving him to Phoenix’s yard, but as they have to live in at night over winter I didn’t think it was that fair on Otis. Plus it’s more work for me, which could prove difficult to balance on a daily basis. I was relying heavily on two very good friends to keep an eye on Otis when they checked their horse, which I also felt guilty about and knew it wasn’t sustainable as he is mine and my responsibility.
I spoke to a couple of friends at Phoenix’s yard to see if they had any suggestions, and last week I was put in touch with a family who have a couple of ponies and were looking for a companion to help keep the grass down.
I went and had a look at the field, a couple of minutes down the road from Phoenix, and very quickly realised it solved all my problems.
Living with ponies will help Otis’s waistline because they won’t be fed such high quality hay, or ad lib. One of the ponies likes to play so there will be more physical activity for Otis. They get a bucket feed every morning, only chaff, which is a nice routine for them to have and stops them getting too feral. The field is next to a lane so there is plenty to see – school kids stroking them on their way home, for example. For a sociable horse like Otis, I think he’ll enjoy the stimulation. There’s a couple of old stables so I can separate him easily for grooming, vet, dentist and farrier. I can also park the car just inside the field, which is much easier for me to juggle horses and baby, and having smaller equines in the field means I can carry Mallory to say hello to Otis, who seems to have a soft spot for her and lets her stroke his nose and giggle as his breath whoofs her face.
In terms of the chores arrangement, there are three owners (me included) who take it in turns to feed Otis and the four ponies, and to poo pick the field. Which suits me perfectly. I can manage this two or three times a week. Even if I don’t groom him, I’m involved in his care, get to have cuddles with him, and being so close to Phoenix I can easily pop over if I get a free half hour. Like I did today, when I gave him a thorough groom and cut six inches off the bottom of his tail!
After just a week I feel Otis has lost a bit of weight, so I’m hopeful for spring as laminitis was a real concern for me. I can also feel our bond coming back, so I’m looking forwards to being able to spend more time with him. He’s still limpy, but hopefully the fact he’s carrying less weight will help him not be quite so limpy. His hooves have really changed shape by being barefoot, with a much wider heel. This was what the vet wanted me to improve via shoeing to reduce the pressure in the sidebone area, so I hope that whilst he may not become sound, he is more comfortable in his feet. I’ll have to do another blog about that once I’ve worked out how to increase my media allowance on WordPress…
So yes, all change for Otis, but hopefully for the best. I know I feel like a weight has been lifted from my mind.