People learn in different ways; almost like the two approaches you can take when doing a jigsaw. Either you fit all the edge pieces and get a general outline before filling in the middle to complete the picture. Or you find all the sky pieces and put them together, before putting all the grass pieces together; thus you focus on the smaller parts whilst completing the big picture.
For the former learners, it’s best to give them a fairly complex exercise and then evaluate it and focus on little bits to improve on the next time. For the latter, you want to use a series of simple exercises that each focus on one element, and after successfully negotiating them the rider will be successful in the complex exercise.
I’ve been using this second teaching technique with a young client over the holidays. We’ve done jumps on a circle exercises to practice steering over jumps: mini grids to help improve their position: a keyhole exercise to improve her reactions and recovery after jumps.
However, when we progressed to riding a course of jumps and the pony got quicker and keener, my little rider got worried. So I devised an exercise that would make my rider believe in herself and her ability to control her pony throughout a course of jumps.
While she warmed up, I laid a train track of poles going across the arena at L, and frequently asked her to turn across the school, trotting through the poles. Then she had to ride forwards to walk as her pony’s front feet went between the poles. Then a trot transition as they exited the poles. Then she rode a halt transition between the poles.
The physical presence of the poles gave my rider something to aim for, and made her try that little bit harder get that transition between the poles. This also made her believe in herself and her ability to control her pony.
Next we progressed to a pair of poles before a jump. The jump pole was on the floor to begin with, and I gradually built it up. My rider had to trot the exercise, but walk between the pairs of poles. We worked in both directions so that the poles were either before or after the jump. This meant that my rider learnt that she could dictate the speed of the approach to the jump, and subsequently learn to correct their speed after the jump.
Once they were negotiating this exercise I introduced a pair of poles on the other side of the jump. This really tested her: she had to concentrate on riding a transition before and after a jump. Which actually took her focus off the jump so she enjoyed the jumping itself more. Even when her pony resisted the transition, my rider learnt to be a bit firmer and more insistent so that she got a response from her pony. It was nice to see her getting more and more confident, and riding more positively.
The following lesson, I laid out a course and we worked through the principles of the last few lessons – riding turns, steering and planning routes. As the jumps got bigger, and we repeated the exercise, the pony began to anticipate and get a bit quicker. So we pretended that there was a pair of poles before and after each jump to walk between. This focused my rider on controlling the speed, and showed her that she was in control at all times. Which meant she was far happier jumping and could then ride the course in a rhythm, ride the lines and turns that she wanted to and grow in confidence each time. Hopefully by reminding her pretend there are tramlines when her pony starts taking his own initiative, she will be proactive and effective in correcting him.