Just over a year ago I started teaching two siblings. The elder has the ideal first horse; steady but forward going, bombproof, sensible, jumps anything put in front of him, and goes reasonably well on the flat. We’ve worked to tidy up the pair, looking more at technicality and being more proactive – not just sitting and being a passenger. And the horse has improved in his straightness and technique over the jump, especially since he’s been on medication for his Cushings. She’s learning to be stricter with herself and up her standards, as well as riding more consistently both on the flat and jumping.
However, the one I feel has improved immensely is her brother. He’d only just got his 14.2hh Connemara and it was a fragile relationship when I met him. The pony is talented, but in typical pony fashion he takes a bit of persuading to tow the line. His rider used to be nervous, and sit in an almost foetal position, with long reins and an ineffective seat. As a result life was quite hard, the pony napped and then took charge when he got bored, and his rider couldn’t do a huge amount to control and correct things. When jumping the pony tended to lock onto the fence, and whilst his rider was secure in his position over the fence, he was definitely a passenger.
The winter has been spent hacking, building their confidence, and building their relationship but since the spring it has suddenly come together for them.
I think it’s helped that my rider has grown a few inches, but the last couple of times I’ve watched him ride I really noticed that he’s sitting up far more, which enables him to use his seat and leg better. The pony also respects him more in this confident position, napping less and not charging off in canter. In recent weeks we’ve tidied up the rein contact, and that’s made a huge difference in terms of being able to half halt, keep the pony straight and not falling in on circles. With a rein contact the canter is more controlled from the beginning, and we are progressing to balancing the canter so it is more three time and less on the forehand, which will help when riding a course of fences. They are also getting to grips with transitions within the trot. Tonight, they could have pulled off a dressage test, they looked so good on the flat.
We’ve still done a lot of jumping this past year because the pony loves it, and it’s a good motivator for both of them. A combination of grids and courses has really improved their ability to ride between fences as well as their technique over fences.
A couple of lessons really stick in my mind.
- The grid where they jumped a three foot oxer at the end.
- When I put a course up at two foot nine inches for his sister and then said “right off you go” and his response was “I thought you were going to put them down!” But he successfully negotiated the course.
Yes it’s been a journey of ups and downs; several falls, the pony voicing his opinion, frustration … But the highlight for me was receiving an email after my holiday to say that the pair had successfully jumped a 2’6″ course at a competition- a big step up from the 2′ classes they had previously been doing, and even more impressive that they remembered the course!
Moving forwards, I’m looking forwards to continuing to teach the more technical aspects of jumping a course; riding balanced corners and approaches, using more complicated exercises, as well as his ability to create and maintain the canter rhythm so they stay balanced whilst jumping a course. I also want to improve his knowledge and ability to ride on the flat too.
Watching the two progress over the last year has reminded me the importance of patience in building a relationship between horse and rider. There’s no point rushing out to competitions or moving up a level until both are ready, because waiting a while usually means they are more successful and the road is less bumpy. I’m really excited to see how the partnership continues to develop.