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.