Riding Camp

In recent years horse-loving adults have been taking a leaf out of their kid’s books, and started going camping. It’s like Pony Club camp, with as much fun, and more alcohol.

My riding club runs a summer camp as well as dressage and showjumping mini camps during the year, but this year was the first that I managed to go. I wasn’t sure about going until after Easter, when I’d got on top of Phoenix’s tension issues, but I decided it would benefit both of us.

Camp started for us on the Friday morning, with a jump lesson. We were with the green horses, and Phoenix was one of the most experienced horses, but this suited us both as I was definitely uptight and unsure of how she’d behave at a busy venue. I wanted a quiet, calm lesson to settle us both. The lesson focused on quietly approaching small fences in a steady rhythm, and calmly riding away. Phoenix was great, and it did the job of setting us up for the weekend.

I spent a lot of time in the run up to camp worrying about how Phoenix would cope with being stabled and ensuring she ate sufficient forage. I was really pleased that she seemed to settle immediately into the stable, and started munching on her haylage. I planned to hand graze her as much as possible, but the fact that Phoenix was so chilled definitely helped me relax.

Our second lesson, on Friday afternoon, was flatwork. We worked on shoulder fore in trot and canter, and I felt that Phoenix had an epiphany on the right rein: riding right shoulder fore really helped her uncurl her body and improved her balance on right turns. She had previously been resisting my attempts at creating right bend and scooting forwards in panic as she lost her balance, but she seemed to thrive off the challenge of shoulder fore, even managing it in canter to my surprise.

I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning so had the pleasure of waking up the horses. It was cross country day, and I was thrilled with how Phoenix took on each challenge. Considering that she’s only been cross country schooling twice and seen some rustic fences on sponsored rides. We had a few stops, but it was as though she needed to study the question as when I re-presented she locked on and flew it confidently. We focused on Phoenix not rushing or panicking over the jumps to build her confidence. I wanted her to have a positive experience, and then I can develop her confidence over steps and through water over the summer. Phoenix was the bravest of our group too, getting up close and personal with the life size model elephant!

I spent most of Saturday afternoon hand grazing Phoenix and chatting to friends. The part of camp that I was most enjoying was the uninterrupted time I had with Phoenix. I wasn’t against the clock, or distracted by my little helper. I felt it really helped us bond. She’s still very aloof, which made the little nicker she gave every time I came into sight much more rewarding.

Our camp also had the weighbridge come, which I found useful for getting an accurate weight for Phoenix for worming and travelling. She weighs 495kgs, which I’m happy with. There were also off-horse Pilates sessions we could join in. Under the impression that it would be a light workout to take into consideration how much riding we were doing over the weekend, I signed up for two sessions. A minute into the plank I was regretting this decision …

On Sunday morning we could choose our lesson format. I opted for another showjumping lesson as I felt that was most beneficial to us. After all, I have regular flat lessons and have a progression plan in that area, and with a showjumping competition on the horizon, my choice was obvious really. Phoenix jumped the course confidently and boldly over all the fillers. It was the biggest course I’d jumped her over without building it up gradually in height and “scare-factor” so I felt it was a good test for her, and a positive note to end camp on.

It’s easy to see why adult camps are growing in popularity; I felt I came away from camp feeling like I had a better relationship with my horse, with a few new exercises to work on, and some new training goals. It was great being surrounded by friends, getting support, encouraging others, and putting the world to rights over our banquets (that’s the only way to describe the quality of the catering!).

I’d better start negotiating childcare for next year’s camp!

Riding One-Handed

I`ve started teaching a Mum on her daughter`s pony. She used to ride years ago, so is a bit rusty and we`ve started from scratch really, but last week we had a really productive lesson.

Now it`s common knowledge amongst equestrians that ponies are harder to ride than horses; they tend to know all the tricks in the books, are naughty, strong-willed, and cheeky. However, some think that because a pony is smaller they are easier to ride. Yes, to a certain extent, if you yourself are small. But to ride a pony that is too small for you (say a tall teenager on a 13.2hh) actually requires a lot of balance because there is less support underneath you and a shorter, bouncier movement; and the ratio of your weight to the pony is greater so an unbalance of yourself will have a greater impact on the pony`s sense of balance and subsequent way of going.

This is the problem I am encountering with this client. In the perfect world she would be riding a 15.2hh horse; but as the world is not perfect, we have to make do with a 14.2hh. However, it does mean that if my rider falters in her trot, such as her shoulders tipping forwards, then the pony`s rhythm changes as she overloads his shoulders.

There is a combination of building up my rider`s fitness; muscle and balance, which takes time. But there is also the fact that my rider needs to learn how to control her body, and make smaller, slower adjustments and more subtle aids so that she does not upset the balance of her horse, because he is a bit on the small side.

At the moment, the biggest area that needs work on are the aids for turning. There are a couple of bad habits to iron out, such as dropping the inside shoulder and using too much inside rein, which cause the pony to fall onto his inside shoulder and into walk. Even after revising the correct leg and seat aids, we were still losing balance on turns across the school. Which I felt was because of my rider using too big a movements (such as turning to look around the turn too much, or too quickly).

So I decided to take the reins away. As much as I could, at least. My rider put both reins into her outside hand and just hung her inside by her side. We did some trotting working on my rider being less reliant on her hands and arms to help rise – she holds tension in her wrist too, so as soon as she starts to panic or feel insecure her wrist fixes and the arm gets stiff. When she wasn`t holding her reins the arm stuck out towards me in the centre of the arena, highlighting the tension. This alone was useful as she became aware of it and her could focus on the correct muscles working.

Anyway, this soon became easier so I introduced turns. I wanted my rider to turn across the arena, from one long side to the other. Roughly aiming to ride E to B, but it didn`t matter if it wasn’t precise at the moment. In walk it wasn`t too difficult, and the pony moved off the track after a couple of strides, and the rider instantly felt how much smoother the turn back onto the track was. Then we trotted. The first time, she dropped her inside shoulder and the pony slowed to a walk, but not as suddenly as when she`d had her reins. The second time she imagined being a carousel; her vertical spine rotated so that the outside of her body moved forwards and the inside of the body moved back, instead of leaning in like a motorcyclist. This was much better. The pony stayed in trot and made a good curve off and onto the track. My rider could feel her seat, legs and the rest of her body working correctly, as well as how they both stayed in balance.

Once we practiced this a few times I allowed her to take her reins back to ride some more turns. They were much better – more fluent, more subtle, and much more balanced. Of course we then had to repeat the exercise on the other rein.

We finished the lesson by riding figures of eight using the diagonal lines; aiming to stay in trot, not turn too sharply, and ride balanced turns. Compared to our initial changes of rein at the beginning of the lesson, my rider was in better control of her body and had more subtle aids which meant that she didn`t upset the balance of her pony and they maintained trot.

I want to do more one-handed riding with clients as I feel it really focuses them on their seat and leg aids and makes them less reliant on their hands (inside hand especially) for controlling their horse.