Around the world

Creating confidence in young riders is best achieved with easily gained challenges and lots of repetitions.

During the lesson, leaders and ponies often need to minute or two to recover after trotting and there are many exercises that the rider can practice in halt.  The most simple and widely known is Around the World.

At its simplest, the rider turns 360 degrees whilst sitting on the pony.  The rider begins by raising one leg – in this case the right – and takes it over the pony’s neck so that they are sitting facing sideways, both legs on the pony’s left side.  The left leg is then raised and taken over the pony’s quarters so that the rider is facing the tail.  The right leg is taken over the quarters to take the rider sideways, facing right.  Finally, the left leg passes over the neck so the rider is back to facing forward.  This is then repeated in the opposite direction.

If there is a group of riders, they can then do Around the World as a race, all riders setting off on ready, steady, go, and shouting out their pony’s name as they get back “home”.  Doing the exercise with their hands on their head makes it much for riders to find their balance.

Another option is to take the rider on a journey, Around their World.  They begin at home – this could be by saying that they at the riding school for very young riders, or they name of the town or country for slightly older children.  As they sit sideways, they say the name of another place.  Either a place they go (like the shops, home, school etc), or another city or country.  As they travel around, backwards and sideways again, they choose another place to go, arriving back at the riding school or the actual town as they arrive back facing forwards.  Repeat this going the other way around the pony, choosing new places to go.  This is a really good way of teaching children about their environment and the world that they live in.

I also ask the riders, how they are getting there?  What is the mode of transport?  For serious children, this maybe literal – if it is far it could be by plane.  If over water, maybe a boat.  If the next town, a car or bicycle.  Other children will come up with flying carpets, skiing behind a whale, floating on a cloud.  The sky is the limit!

Moving on to other exercises will help to get the rider supple and confident moving about on top of the pony.   Change of seat is little more difficult to do.  The rider begins the same as Around the World, lifting the right leg over the pony’s neck and so sitting facing to the left.  They take their left hand across their body to hold the pommel (front of the saddle).  Their right arm goes across their back and they hold the cantle (rear of the saddle).  Keeping their legs hanging down the left side of the pony, the rider rolls their body over, so facing the right side of the pony, their stomach on the saddle and their weight supported on their arms.  The rider then swings their right leg up, over the pony’s quarters and they sit up again, back in the saddle.  Repeat this in the opposite direction, beginning with the left leg over the pony’s neck.

Kick ups are another useful and fun exercise.  The rider holds the cantle of the saddle with both hands.  Leaning their upper body back, they use their core and thigh muscles to lift both legs, swinging them up so that their heels kick together above the pony’s neck.  Care must be taken that the pony will stand still and not fidget or take fright when the rider’s legs move up through their line of vision.  It should be stressed to the rider to lift their legs high enough not to kick their pony on the neck.  As the legs touch together, the rider then lets them come gently back to the pony’s sides without kicking him.  While first learning, it can help to have a person standing on each side of the pony.  They each hold one of the rider’s feet, and on counting 1, 2, 3, swing the foot up, helping the rider to kick their feet above the pony’s neck.  The rider is then encouraged to try it out on their own.

Once the rider can do this, they can move onto the kick up behind.  This is much more difficult.  The hands are placed on the front of the knee rolls.  The rider should again try to move in one fluid movement, and needs to have a reasonably strong upper body.  It often helps if they have the idea of doing a hand stand.  In one swing, the head and neck fold forward toward the pony’s shoulder and the rider raises their body up onto their hands, allowing the legs to swing up and out behind, so they can kick the entire length of their leg together, above the pony’s tail.  Once their legs have kicked together, they softly and smoothly come back down to sit upright in the saddle.

As the rider gets more able, they can do all of these unaided, but the pony should always be held – a runaway pony in the middle of the exercise would be disastrous.  Done carefully in a controlled environment, these all exercises with encourage confidence, balance and good use of the core.




Proprioception – it’s the buzz word at the moment, isn’t it?  So, what is it and why is it important to me and my horse?

You’re standing on a beach, barefoot in the sand – through the soles of your feet, you’re getting a whole heap of information – is the sand wet or dry?  Is it deep and heavy, or is it firm and easy to stay on top of?  Is it silky smooth or sharp with bits of shell?  Is the tide rolling in and out, and if it is, are your ankles having to make subtle shifts of tension and relaxation, holding on and letting go, to allow you to remain upright?

Standing on the beach
Standing on the beach

It’s the middle of the night and you wake up and need to turn the bedside lamp on – can you reach the correct arm out of your bed, to the right height of the bedside table and connect your fingers to the light switch without knocking over your water glass?

Those are two instances of proprioception.  It’s a (usually sub-conscious) knowledge of where you are in space – are you standing, sitting or lying down.  As you read this, you know where you are in the world.  And, its your body’s ability to remain upright while you walk, without you spending much time wondering if you are going to fall over.  A lot of this comes from something called a spindle, which is a receptor in each and every muscle that transmits its location and action to your brain.  Clever things, our bodies.

So, why do we think about this in the horse world?  If horses are born and brought up as “real” (in my world) horses, they learn where their feet are.  A foal grows up on a farm in the mountains.  He has to walk up and down hills, cross rough ground, smooth ground, stony ground.  He has to jump ditches and streams, and paddle through rivers.  He swims through dams and ducks under trees.  He’s a typical kid – he feels things through his soles; branches and sticks brush against his sides; low branches brush over his ears.  He smells plants and other animals, touches the ground and rocks, tastes different grasses and leaves.  He develops his knowledge of where his feet are at any one time, and knows instinctively that when walking on slippery ground downhill, he needs to throw his weight back and take extra care. 

Would your horse cope with walking over a sheet of plastic? Photo credits to Stathis Katsarelias of The Friends of the Skyrian Horse
Would your horse cope with walking over a sheet of plastic? Photo credits to Stathis Katsarelias of The Friends of the Skyrian Horse

Another foal is born on a small property.  He spends much of his time in a stable, and when he comes outside, he walks along a flat, paved path into a square paddock of manicured grass.  There are no slopes to climb, no banks or ditches to clamber through, no rivers or streams to paddle, no stones to avoid.  After a few hours, he is led back along the safe path, following his dam, and put in a square stable with no sharp objects, four square edges and a thick bed.  Later, he learns to work in a rolled and raked, flat, smooth sand arena, or if a race horse, to gallop along a flat mowed grass track. 

Which of these foals, and later, young horses, is going to be more intuitive about his balance, his feet on the ground, organising himself when faced with climbing down a hill?  Which horse would you rather ride out on? 

Horses used to be very sure footed and aware about their position in the world, but sadly as their space gets smaller and smaller, and many are bred as “hot house flowers” that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars / pounds, they are treated more and more as fragile glass ornaments.    They lose a lot of their natural proprioceptive skills and possibly even more damaging, they’re unaware of their bodies and more prone to injury.  So, what do we do about it?

putting poles in a circle, raised at one end and one the ground at the other creates a spiderweb. We can walk our horses over any poles as we choose – maybe an entire circle at the outer edge of the sider web, maybe coming in and stepping over the raised section for three or four poles before moving out again. Photo credits to Stathis Katsarelias of The Friends of the Skyrian Horse
putting poles in a circle, raised at one end and one the ground at the other creates a spiderweb. We can walk our horses over any poles as we choose – maybe an entire circle at the outer edge of the sider web, maybe coming in and stepping over the raised section for three or four poles before moving out again. Photo credits to Stathis Katsarelias of The Friends of the Skyrian Horse

We give them awareness challenges.  We ask them to do odd things – walk over poles.  Walk over flat poles on the ground, raised poles, a high pole and then a low pole.  We ask them to walk over plastic, to stand on things, go under things, go through things.  To walk backwards, to walk sideways.  We ask them to be more aware. 

(For those of you who read the monthly newsletter, Sherri Bull-Rimmer, a faradic therapist who comments each month, wrote an article about this a couple of months ago.)

For members, there will be an upcoming lesson on Proprioception and exercises that can be used to help you and your horse.  (If you’re not a member come and join us NOW:

Even dogs like to get involved!
Even dogs like to get involved!

So, how good are your horse’s proprioceptive skills?


Is Work Abusive?

Isn’t it interesting – different people’s responses to the same thing.  I took this photograph in Greece recently, and thought it was very sweet.  On showing it to a friend, she was horrified.

Donkey in Greece
Donkey in Greece

“How can you, of all people condone such blatant animal abuse?” she asked.

I asked her, what she was seeing.  A poor abused animal, tied in the sun, and made to work.  Its abuse, she repeated.  So, I looked at the photo again, remembering my thoughts when I had taken it in the first place. 

So, what was it that I saw?

I saw a donkey in very nice condition, not too overweight and at risk of developing laminitis, but nicely covered, with a good layer of fat on his rib cage.  A clean, well brushed coat that was free from any harness rubs or injury.  Well-trimmed, tidy hooves that weren’t cracked or chipped.  A harness that fitted well and was oiled and clean so as to avoid rubbing him.  An animal that was, yes, working for his living, but an animal that someone was taking care of, an animal that was well enough respected that he was clean, healthy, sound and well socialised.  An animal who was not rotting in a paddock somewhere, but who had a purpose and seemed happy enough with his lot.    What would I change?  Water would have been nice, but we have no way of knowing how long he was going to be standing there – he could have walked 10 minutes from his paddock to get there and be going again in 10 minutes time.  Shade?  Well, these donkeys living in Greece are used to extreme temperatures, and as this was early in the morning and quite cool, it was actually rather nice standing in the weak morning sun.  Space from the motor bikes?  Well, does he look worried?  Working animals, particularly pack animals, are generally trained to stand still in tight places while being loaded.  This little guy gave the impression of happily soaking up the sun’s rays, like a contented cat.

In developing, or poor countries, animals still have their place as beasts of burden.  What do they say, about most countries having their history on the back of a horse?  Are all of these animals abused?  Of course not.  Many, sadly, are.  But all?  No.  Are guide dogs, sheep dogs, police dogs abused?  How about riding school ponies or rats who hunt for land mines?  I always remember the story of a dog who was housed in a rescue centre in the UK.  He was un-adoptable – he kept going out on trial only to be returned – he destroyed furniture, jumped on the kids, was quite uncontrollable.  Eventually, the police adopted him, and he became one of their best drug sniffing dogs, over joyed at having a job to do.  He was just bored and frustrated when asked to sit at home all day.  Working animals don’t automatically bear the label of abused animals.  But equally, many animals who stand alone in a paddock, day after day, never brushed, never seeing a farrier or their owner are miserable, and yes, suffer from a different type of abuse. 

My answer, take each case as a separate case.  Use your eyes, use your common sense…  If the animal looks content and relaxed, chances are, he’s doing ok…