Once we get our own horse it’s very easy to get complacent, and only ride our horse. We get to know them inside out and get comfortable with what we know.
I’m going to set you a challenge. Ride another horse. It could be a friend’s, a riding school horse, a prospective purchase, anything. If this thought terrifies you then book a lesson on said different horse. So long as you’re honest with your instructor they will set the pace of the lesson to suit you and how quickly you are adapting to this new horse.
Of course, we’re all going to be slightly anxious trying the unknown, it takes bravery to leave your comfort zone, but you don’t have to go round Badminton! The whole point of having a go on another horse is to educate yourself. It might be that your horse forgives your bad habits, or you don’t know what a proper leg yield feels like, or this horse has a more active stride which will make you ride your own horse so that they become more active. I always think that even if you hated every second of riding the unknown horse, you will learn something. Even if it is that you don’t like horses that are behind the leg, or you feel more comfortable on the narrow Thoroughbred frame.
Next time you can’t ride your horse, for whatever reason, see if you can borrow a horse. It will help you keep riding fit, probably help out your friend, and teach you something new.
Last week one of my young clients had a lame pony. So hesitantly, his Mum and I suggested that he had a lesson on his sister’s competition pony. To make it clear, we were asking him to go from a sweet, steady, honest, rotund native 13hh pony to a fine, sharp, strong, extravagant competition 13.2hh pony jumping 1.10m and competing at Advanced Medium.
Quite an ask really.
I’m not sure who was more nervous; his sister, his mum, himself or me. But he met me in the arena and we started off in walk, discussing the differences between his pony and today’s mount.
He actually described the differences very well so we moved onto the theory of trotting. I didn’t want to bore him, but it’s important to know how to stop before we set off! We talked about the fact this pony had a stronger bit and was more sensitive in the mouth than his, so he needed to make sure his hands were very still and to use them as little as possible. We talked about using circles to help slow down, and the fact that very little leg was needed. And they were off!
It took a couple of laps, but soon they were working together, and the pony looked quite relaxed. My rider was also calm, keeping his hands very still, and using his body more to direct the pony. I thought we were making a good start, so we kept trotting, changing the rein, so my rider could acclimatise to all these new feelings.
Once the trot was looking more established I introduced transitions between walk and trot. This was so that my rider felt confident that he could control this pony, and learnt the amount of aids he needed – it’s like going from a Fiesta to a Jaguar car! We had a couple of transitions that were a bit heavy handed. He would have gotten away with it on his pony, but having a stronger bit, more sensitive mouth and more dramatic pony, every error was exaggerated. The pony let us know when there was too much hand by throwing his head around, so we aimed to minimise this. We practised though and took away from the lesson the feeling of a carried, more independent hand.
The next step is, of course, canter. It’s the part of any lesson I dread with a whizzy pony, so peering between my fingers I directed my rider into canter on the corner preceding the short side. They did it! A nice steady canter, my rider trying to sit this bigger stride. Thankfully this boy is very chilled out, and level headed because when the pony tried to go faster, he listened to my instructions and didn’t panic. I think if he’d tensed up the pony would have become quite stressed and accelerated rapidly.
We did some trot canter transitions with the pair now looking much more together, and then I suggested trying a jump.
This was met with some apprehension, but again we talked through the theory of jumping. Keep in trot, keep your shoulders back, maintain the rein contact, expect a bigger jump than usual, give with your hands, sit up and quietly ask him to slow down after.
The cross pole was teeny tiny to begin with, and we worked over the one fence talking about the technical details – correcting my rider’s position and helping him adjust the pony before and after the fence. The final jump they did was an upright, of about 60cm, and my rider stayed totally in sync with the pony and managed to pull up after with very soft hands.
I was super pleased with my rider for managing to adapt so well to this completely different pony. Whilst he probably won’t ride the pony very often, it’s a really good opportunity for him to open his eyes to how other horses ride and to build his experience and confidence because unfortunately he will soon have to look for a bigger pony for himself. The pony handled a more novice rider very well too, and was an excellent testament to his young owner and the amount of training she has put into him. All in all, a really useful exercise for everyone involved, and now I challenge you guys at home to try riding another horse, outside your comfort zone – good luck!