The Keyhole Exercise

I like to scale down jumping exercises for the kids, after all the principles behind the exercises are the same, whether the pole is on the floor or three foot high.

A couple of weeks ago a built a grid of three jumps for one of my little riders. It’s hard to measure distances accurately for little ponies in trot and over such tiny crosses. Anyway, there were about three trot strides between each cross. We built it up from poles on the floor to third hole from the bottom crosses, the purpose of the exercise was to improve my rider’s flexibility, and get her switching between her upright position and her jumping position quickly. I find that a lot of children have slow recovery times after fences, and find it difficult to use their tummy muscles to sit up again after fences.

We managed to improve my little rider’s position and repeatedly going into her jumping position highlighted to her any weaknesses. For example, if your toes tend to point down over a fence then by the time you’ve got to a second fence on a course your foot position has been corrected. But if you have to sit up and almost immediately fold forwards again, the second time feels less secure because your foot wasn’t in the correct place to start with.

So with her recovery time improving, I wanted this week to highlight the importance of recovering quickly after a jump. After all, we are going showjumping this weekend!

I built the Keyhole Exercise, which is one jump (I sometimes make this a double to ensure more advanced riders stay straight) then there were four pony trot strides to one of three fences after – one fence to the left, one to the right, and one straight after the first fence.

After warming up over the poles on the floor, practising steering between the jumps. Then I made the first fence a tiny cross. Just enough to get the pony picking his feet up and my rider doing her jumping position. After riding a set route, we built up the other fences to similar size crosses.

This was where it started to get more fun. The pony got a bit more excited about the jumps and picked up speed, obviously giving my rider less time between fences to steer. Her pony, whilst very good, has that typical mind of his own, and if you don’t tell him to go left he will make the decision himself and go in the direction of his choice.

This meant that if my rider wasn’t quick enough to direct her pony, or committed enough with her aids, he tended to go from the first jump straight to the second.

Our focus was on preparing the turns, for example not waiting until after the first jump to start steering. Then it was also important to sit up quickly and use the reins and legs to turn her pony, and to keep turning until she got to the fence – this made my rider more determined with her aids and she became a bit more insistent.

After she’d managed to ride the set turns, we played a game where by I told her which jump to do as she was going over the first one by shouting out the colour of the corresponding poles. We had a few misdirections, when she was a little slow and not determined enough to direct her pony and he took the initiative, but it was really interesting to see my rider suddenly get a little bit more competitive, and start to ride more positively and determinedly between the fences. Which resulted in them getting it right every time!

At this point, I’d like to add in a bit of friendly competition in the form of group lessons with friends which I think will up my little rider’s game, because she will try that little bit harder to ride her lines and be that little bit bossier with her pony so that he doesn’t let her down. It’s a trait that all kids with ponies develop at some point; the sheer will and grit determination to ask for a move and be confident enough to keep asking until their pony obliges. After all, they have to make up for what they’re lacking in physical size and strength with the desire to succeed!

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