Kids And Ponies

I have this funniest little boy to teach at the moment, but I thought I’d share some of the anecdotes from our lessons. He’s enjoying himself, and does make me smile as he rides.

This boy has been recently diagnosed as autistic. Which is partly why he’s starting riding; to give him a focus and help him learn to empathise with others. The fact that he’s autistic doesn’t affect what I will teach him, (in fact, I haven’t noticed any difference in his behaviour from other five year olds) but it can affect the explanations I will use, or the way I plan the lesson, so it’s useful to know. It doesn’t strike me as a disability in any way, but it’s important for me to know so that I can tailor my approach to get the best out of my little rider so that he enjoys his lessons.

Before our first lesson, I was introduced to his share pony who was “so lovely she has a heart on her bottom” as he hugged her clipped haunches. The pony is an angel, a quiet school mistress who is ideal to learn the ropes with.

I started in walk, putting him at ease, and then started gauging how confident my rider was. He struck me as being very cautious – holding on tightly and being worried about falling off. So I made a game out of it.

“Can you put one hand on your head while I count to ten?” He readily tried this, and I hoped the numerical aspect would appeal to him. We’ve progressed to both hands on his head, and picking a number to count to – hopefully a bigger number each time. Today, he told me the number ten. So I counted to nine, and then eleven and after I reached thirty I said “ten”. To which my rider sighed with relief and took his hands off his head, pleased that he had won the game. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll fall for that trick though!

With my little rider more secure in the saddle we moved on to steering. Which has been very amusing to bystanders.

Keeping it simple, he had to say “walk on” to his pony and give a little kick with both legs. Which he managed, using a very clear voice.

Then to halt, he had to say “stand” and bring both hands back to his tummy gently. We practiced these two, and he was getting quite confident about doing the two transitions and giving the correct aids.

So I moved on to turning left and right. I explained that to turn right he had to look right and bring his right hand back to his tummy whilst giving a little kick. And vice versa to go left. I kept it simple so that he could understand it as we can build on the aids once he’s got the basics.

However, my instructions have now turned into “turn right!” Cried loudly to his pony accompanied by a steering wheel style turn with the hands. Each time we turned left or right there was a loud instruction, much to the amusement of any liveries sharing the school and an excellent impression of a rally driver going through a chicane.

At the moment I’m still working on my rider differentiating between the different aids for left, right, start and stop because he gets a bit muddled when we mix up the transitions and turns. But we’ll keep plugging away at it, practising each one individually until he’s sussed the aids and then hopefully I can start to make things more interesting.

In between our steering practice, we’ve also been trotting on the lunge. I led him for a couple of weeks until I was sure he wasn’t going to wobble, and then I popped the pony on the lunge. Sitting trot whilst holding on to the saddle is pretty much established, and this week I was pleased to see him getting his rising trot for a couple of strides at a time. We’ll carry on building this up until the rising is established, and then we can start letting go with the hands.

This week we had a superman moment. One of those moments when you aren’t quite sure what happened or how you got there. We’d trotted on the lunge, and were now walking. I started approaching the pony, gathering up the lead, who stood still. Suddenly, my little rider was lying forwards up his pony’s neck with his legs up over her back with a very surprised expression on his face! I helped him back into the saddle, and he was still confused how he had flipped forward into a superman pose. Me too – I guess it was a loss of concentration and muscle use. But I’ll need to keep an eye on him in future lessons and be ready to catch!

There are mirrors on one side of the school, and I quite often catch him admiring himself and his pony in the mirrors, so perhaps he was looking at the mirror when he mimicked superman.

My plan for future lessons is all about improving balance, getting him removing and replacing his feet in his stirrups, standing up out of his stirrups, holding his hands out to the side, touching his pony’s ears and tail, Round the World, and as many other exercises that I can think of. Trotting on the lunge for longer periods, building up the rising, and carrying on with practising the steering until he gets his little head around the different aids for left and right.

He’s definitely a character to teach, who will test my ability to explain the various aspects of riding, but I’m sure we will have plenty of laughs along the way!

3 thoughts on “Kids And Ponies

  1. Niamh Dec 16, 2017 / 5:44 am

    Heads, shoulders, knees and toes generally works very well with the autistic children I teach. Music does too: misconception on for walk and when it stops, they have to ask the pony to halt. Also, using the letters in the arena. Hands on your head from B to A, hands out to the side from K to E….etc. Also a visible reward, e.g. if they love to trot, each success such as steering the pony between two cones earns them a peg, which I pin to the pony’s mane. Each peg is worth four strides of trot, so if they win four pegs, they win a nice long trot. Visual cues are also great – holding up a red card for a halt command and a green card for walk on. Removing the stimulus of the voice can really help with focus. Good luck!

    • therubbercurrycomb Dec 16, 2017 / 7:30 am

      I use heads shoulders knees and toes a lot with all the kids. At the moment just putting his hands on his head pushes him enough but we’ll evolve onto it.
      He’s apparently very good at music so I think I’ll try that. He’s only just getting the hang of his letters at school so although I use them he doesn’t really seem to appreciate the different letters. He could do with pictures of animals on them or something so he rides from the monkey to the kangaroo.
      The other thing I want to do is steer in and out of cones. The yard doesn’t have anything in their arena so I’ll have to get organised. But as soon as he consistently does the correct left aids to ride consecutive left turns then same with the right we’ll move on to that, but at the moment switching between left and right overwhelms him and he just ends up in a tangle 🙈

      • Niamh Dec 17, 2017 / 2:13 am

        Cones are fantastic but be careful of your choice of language “ride inside the cone” can really confuse a child with ASD: they may think you want them to ride the pony inside the actual cone!

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