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.
“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.
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”.