Using All Senses

One of my young clients has dyspraxia. I won’t say suffers from, because it doesn’t hold him back. It just means I peep through my fingers as he canters around in a very loose position.

But because he finds it difficult to balance I try to do lots of little exercises each week to keep working on improving his proprioception and balance because he needs more time to develop the coordination and strength in his little body.

From very early on we’ve done bits without stirrups and are currently doing sitting trot without stirrups for five minutes each lesson (those of you who had 40 minutes without stirrups this week will be cursing me as you read this. But you’re old enough and ugly enough to survive!).

I’ve done quite a lot of no rein work, as has his Mum with him on the lunge, developing core stability and balance. Hands out to the side like an aeroplane now comes easily in rising trot, and you can see a steady improvement because his arms do not wobble around as much as they did.

I want to push boundaries though, and help him reach his current limits in the relative safety of a lesson, so that he’s in a better position to recover from anything his whizzy pony throws at him.

To improve his balance further, a few weeks ago I had him trotting around the indoor school in rising trot. With his eyes closed. Taking away a sense heightens other senses, so I hoped to improve his feel and balance with his pony by temporarily blinding him. Of course if he needed to, he could open his eyes immediately to help stay in the saddle. But he didn’t need to.

I also used this time with his eyes closed to draw his attention to the 1-2 rhythm of the trot because, somehow he has random days when he’s rising at a different tempo to his pony. So I’m trying to improve his awareness of and feel for rhythm and tempo, despite his young age. With his eyes closed he can also listen more carefully to the footfalls of his pony, which will help teach him rhythm too.

A couple of lessons ago I introduced cantering with one arm out to the side. His seat is very nearly established in canter, but considering how bouncy his pony’s strides are he does very well. We did do one canter with both arms out like an aeroplane. But it was a bit faster than I liked and my heart could only take one viewing.

Last lesson, I had a request to do no arms in canter and trotting with no eyes.

We duly did this. Trotting without stirrups for a bit, then taking the stirrups back and doing rising trot with his eyes closed. He was more secure in his pony’s tempo today and it was interesting that when his eyes were closed his core muscles kicked in because his elbows stayed closer to his sides and his rising trot was less “loose”.

We moved onto cantering, and after making a couple of positional corrections, I tied a knot in his reins. We skipped stage one of just one hand out, and held both arms out to the side, confidently. The next canter I called, “one arm out, then the other… Eyes closed!”

I was impressed. He stayed in a good balance and the pony fell into trot after the long side. Then I realised I had to tell him to open his eyes again!

We spent a while doing this exercise, with my rider starting to sit into the saddle for longer between bounces. He spent the entire time grinning and laughing loudly.

He’s not ready for no stirrups whilst cantering, but my plan over the next couple of lessons is to do some trotting on the lunge without reins or stirrups, and possibly with his eyes closed. I’d also like to try bareback riding with him to improve his feel and balance, which I think will really improve his coordination and muscle strength as his stronger side won’t be able to compensate for his weaker, less coordinated side, which will then become stronger and he’ll be more balanced and have greater stability in the saddle.

Sitting to the Trot

I taught this young girl today who usually rides with her mum, but they had decided she would benefit from a one to one lesson. I completely agreed as this rider is not the most confident and has some issues that need addressing.

I began by finding out a bit more about what she wanted to do in the lesson (I knew exactly what I wanted to do) so she felt more confident and more in control. She stated that sitting trot was her big concern. She gets upright about it and then clamps on and tugs back with the reins, confusing the life out go her poor pony.

She started in riding trot to loosen both herself and her pony up. I asked her to use her core muscles a little more and to think of controlling the up and the down part of the rise so it made her more balanced and stopped her relying on her hands as much. Then we worked on the finer points of control: making the rises smaller and smaller and then bigger again,
On a twenty metre circle I had her decrease the size of the rises until her bum barely left the saddle. At that point I told her to go into sitting, but keep thinking of the tiny rises inside her tummy. My hope here was that by encouraging her to keep a bit of movement she wouldn’t tense and resist the movement of the trot. After a couple of strides sitting she went rising again before repeating the exercise. By the second attempt she was much more balanced and relaxed, which was great. We stayed on the circle and increased the sitting trot duration until she was sitting for almost an entire lap. The emphasis was on he fact that she was in control. Reduce the rises slowly before sitting, and then maintain the sitting trot for as long as she felt secure. There’s no point her wobbling and clamping and going back to square one. After similar work on the other rein the transition to sitting trot was much less noticeable and her pony didn’t react.
Next my rider rode a serpentine, sitting round the loops but riding across the school. This really helped her balance and coordination, as she got stronger in her seat her aids became more refined and the ride more fluent.

After a quick rest and surmise of her sitting trot I looked at her canter work. She gets quite worried in canter. Again, clamping at her knees, tilting forwards and her heels coming into contact with her pony.
She was very much in control of her canter transitions. We broke it down into baby steps and I emphasised that if her trot wasn’t balanced and she coordinated, she should wait for another corner and not rush the transition.
After half a dozen transitions on each rein it was becoming more controlled and calculated, with a relaxed canter. She has the odd wobble where she gripped and her centre if gravity rose but we regained it.

I was pleased with her progress and could see she was much more confident so I began to address the other issue I want to work on. It’s related to her core strength and position, linking in really well to the sitting trot. Part of me wondered why I didn’t start at this point, but it’s more food for thought for her in preparation for next time, and I needed her to be feeling confident and relaxed.
With me holding her pony and walking round I asked her to stand up and sit down with and without stirrups, to really focus on what muscles she was using. It turns out her rise was coming from her knees. Which obviously explains the clamping. Still walking, I got her to imagine her feet were flat on the floor and she was standing up in her stirrups. It was quite tricky, but she progressed to doing it without her hands to help. It’s not technically the best description but I needed her to turn her focus on the lower leg.
Once established she went out in trot, really rising from the foot not the knee, after a circuit her lower leg was more relaxed, with the heel naturally lower than the toe (usually it’s ballerina style). The knee and thigh were open and her trot work more consistent. Even the sitting seemed to improve and she was more confident in taking control and riding the movements as opposed to navigating.

Hopefully this stands her in good stead for her next lesson with her mum.