At the end of a lesson today my client, who is twelve years old, asked me if she could do “half scissors”. Once she remembered how to do it, I was surprised how unconfident she was about it, needing me hovering at the side to catch her. I’ll be honest, she’s quite tall so there probably wouldn’t have been much catching at my end! I’d have just broken her fall.

Anyway, after I asked her if she could do “full scissors”. She looked at me blankly, so I had to hop on to her 14.2, complete with shorts and trainers, to demonstrate. Thankfully, I could still pull it off. She was pretty impressed, so I gave her the homework of practising the exercise.

When I was on the way home I thought about the exercises we used to do as kids. They make you incredibly balanced, as well as improving your suppleness, but due to health and safety there is a decline and reluctance to teach these exercises in riding schools.

I’ve compiled a list of useful and fun exercises for kids (and adults).

Round the World
Swing your leg over the front of the saddle so you’re sat sideways, swing the other leg over the cantle so you’re sat facing the tail, and then turn to face the other side before swinging your leg over and facing the front again. I always get kids to go both ways around the world, and when they’ve mastered it I get them to do it with one hand on their head, then both hands on their heads and finally whilst walking. I can remember doing it bareback and in trot as a teenager! I think that was pretty bouncy! One of the ponies at the riding school I teach at has a very shiny leather saddle, so invariably the speedy kids go round the world and slide straight off the side! It soon slows the cocky ones down.

Half Scissors
“Sit sideways, turn towards the front, twist onto your hands so you’re tummy is facing the saddle, then leg over the back.” This can sometimes confuse kids and they turn to the back, or their arms aren’t strong enough to support their body, or they get their legs confused and sit on backwards. So long as you make light of their mistakes they still enjoy it. I often have to help guide them as they twist to the front so that they don’t tangle their legs, then prod the correct leg to swing over the back. The only problem with this exercise is that it’s quite difficult to make harder. I do it in walk with the confident children though. I have one little client who makes me chuckle because she is very methodical about doing half scissors. She sits sideways, crosses her legs, turns to the front and then twists her body in a very droll way.

Full Scissors
This is the tricky one to explain and do, as you need to be confident and coordinated. With a good swing of your legs, lean forwards and swing your legs to the horse’s croup, cross your legs and turn the same way with your body so you sit up facing backwards. People usually go wrong because they cross their legs and twist the opposite way. When you’re facing backwards you can then repeat the exercise leaning forwards onto the cantle, but I’ve never found this way particularly easy! This exercise seems to be for the creme de la creme and most supple of jockeys.

These are the main exercises to teach children, but I usually include various arm exercises, touching ponies ears and tail, the windmill and helicopter, heads shoulders knees and toes, which can be done in halt with beginners to get them used to balancing, and then in walk and trot with more advanced children. I usually find they help stop children relying on the reins, and they engage their tummy muscles.

Overall, these exercises are great fun for the children and can break up a lesson as they stop in the middle and catch their breath whilst still learning. They improve there balance and confidence in moving around in the saddle which means they are less phased by having a wobble whilst trotting round and are less likely to sock their pony in the mouth with “dancing hands”.

5 thoughts on “Exercises

  1. aspireequestrian Aug 6, 2014 / 8:21 pm

    I’ve been doing those on the simulator – got a funny video of my teenage client doing round the world in canter 😀
    Think these exercises are great for overall confidence and balance, shame they are in decline.

    • Becky Aug 7, 2014 / 12:02 am

      around the world in canter on the simulator sounds hilarious. I’ve seen some instructors try to do it with kids who ride in Western saddles with varying results.

  2. Becky Aug 7, 2014 / 12:02 am

    I had no idea what you meant by half scissors at first – we grew up calling that thread the needle. I do around the world with all of my beginners, but the big exercise I build up to doing (which we partly do to show off to the parents at the end of the session) is trotting without reins. We did this differently when I learned to ride, but because my kids are so new and we rush them too much through certain things, we have to do it this way: instructors take the reins over the horse’s head and lead them at the trot. Kids do rising trot doing whatever they want with their arms (we start off by suggesting that they put them out to the side, on their hips or on their head to help them balance, but as they get more confident we find them doing dance moves! Those who need help with ideas we encourage to wave to anyone who’s watching at first, and they soon inspire each other). My boss was terrified when we first did it last summer, but the kids call it flying trot and love it: we pointed out that the kids are the accelerator and the instructor is the brakes and steering, plus we’re always doing it on quite docile horses anyway.

  3. firnhyde Aug 7, 2014 / 7:59 am

    Since I ride alone and I don’t trust all of my horses quite that much, I usually do these exercises when I go for lunging lessons. Apparently, the lunging instructors have absolutely no problem making these exercises harder, but possibly because they have a bit of a sadistic streak. Windmill arms while rising to the trot with no stirrups, staying up for two beats and sitting down for one, anyone?
    At my last lesson the instructor also had me doing full scissors, to both sides. I managed it perfectly the first time and fell off the second time. Kinda awkward to be toppling off a Prix St George dressage horse, standing dead still and with someone holding it. The Lipizzaner stallion didn’t blink an eye.

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