Happy children and happy summer riding days. Full of friendship and partnership with both their ponies and other riders. How lucky these young riders are as long as they come under the wing of a good coach. A coach who fully understands that what children learn first tends to stay with them, just as with a young horse. So our young riders and young coaches need excellent coaches. They don’t need to be high-level coaches of elite performers, they just need to be excellent at starting students off with sound, safe basics and opening the door to the joy of participation… and as ever simplicity and simple progressions are a golden key to achieving this.
I try to concentrate on what is required rather than what is wrong, but on this occasion it may be useful to give a few examples of the nonsence I have heard recently being taught to young riders, still in the beginner and novice stages. They show no understanding of a simple and safe progression:
- Rising trot to control the trot speed
Riders who were only one step off the leading rein, and yet to established a consistent balance in rising trot, were asked to increase and decrease the speed of their ponies by rising for longer or shorter periods of time. This may be something that an advanced rider might use but it has no place in a beginner rider session.
- Driving with the seat
It was suggested to riders from beginner level to Pony Club ‘C’ test level that they should drive with the seat to make their horses use the back. I would be delighted to hear how this works, especially with these novice riders who in the main have yet to learn to use the legs normally or have consistent rein contacts. This is a hangover from the dark ages of dressage. There is nothing about this in the Pony Club manual and as the dressage legend Reiner Klimke himself clearly stated “The main forward driving aids are the leg aids not the use of the seat.”
- Sitting trot with a long leg in jumping saddle
It is obviously a priority to ride in such a way so that the ponies eventually come between the aids/through in the back. Endless sitting trot with a long leg in a jumping saddle with ponies/horses hollow in the back will never achieve this. It puts the lower leg too far back for the rider to be effective, as well as making it difficult for the pony/horse as the rider’s seat is further back than in a dressage saddle. With the rider bumping around it is counter productive in every way, so riding without stirrup irons in walk is all that is required for riders that tend to ride too short or are holding themselves away from their pony/horse.
The half-halt is not something that should be introduced to novice riders yet it was the major point of several of the flat work sessions for these novice riders, despite the fact that they has yet to learn to use normal small leg and rein aids. The rulebook says that a half-halt is ‘ an almost imperceptible coordinated use of the aids’, something simply not possible for any of these riders I watched. It is something for a Pony Club ‘A’ tester not ‘C’ tester and something that can only be introduced when the pony/horse is between the aids.
- Jumping with the wrong canter
From the beginning it is possible to get approximately the right canter to jump with. The importance of using standard three and four stride related distances (starting with just planks on the ground) to establish the right speed of canter for a show jumping round is hugely important. With the right Direction and the right Speed there is the basis of a good round….and then it is all so very simple.
Getting the right canter and speed goes in parallel with two other main areas, grid work to improve the rider’s position and the jump technique of their pony/horse, and fifth leg training to make sure the horse looks after the rider and themselves. The students need to become aware of this three pronged strategy and the reasons for doing this.
- Jumping with the wrong balance
Of course I should have started with the balance of the rider as it is what the coaches should be starting with. But this is the most depressing and worrying subject for me to write about so I have left it till last! I see so many young riders sitting on the back of the saddle as they approach the fence, often with their coach shouting “sit up”, and then firing their upper body forward on take off as they try to stay with their pony/horse. Jumping like this will lead to a dead end of poles on the ground and riders having unnecessary falls.
SENSE – WE OWE THIS TO OUR CHILDREN
A still load is a light load and a consistent balance is required for safe and effective jumping. It is not possible to be in easy harmony when actually jumping the fence to have the seat in the saddle and no rider does this naturally. Therefore the balance to be established and key skill for jumping is to be easily able to ride with a light seat. This is why the rising trot balance is also such a key skill. So it’s simple ….teach a balanced rising trot with the seat just kissing the saddle and then with a steady pony/horse safe jumping is immediately possible. And yes it is done initially without a rein contact, with the rider holding on to the mane.