Learning to gallop is what most new riders dream about. It’s a very exciting stage to reach fast and fun and relatively easy.
How the gallop feels
The gallop feels quite steady because the pony’s back hardly moves. Instead, he stretches forward with his head and neck to allow for the longer strides and greater reach of the front legs. If the trot is an up-and-down movement, and the canter a rocking action, then the gallop feels horizontal.
Before you gallop
Before attempting to gallop, you should be sure of yourself in canter. You must feel confident – able to sit reasonably still without holding on and capable of riding turns and transitions in and out of canter.
If your balance is a bit shaky when the pony canters faster or makes a turn unexpectedly, then you aren’t ready! However impatient you are to tackle the gallop, wait until you are in control while cantering before increasing the speed.
When you are learning to gallop, you must wear a skull cap this item is an essential safety precaution once you begin to ride the faster paces.
Another point to remember before you start is that galloping is demanding for the pony. It puts a strain on his muscles, limbs, heart and lungs. He must be fit enough to move at speed and, even then, galloping should be limited.
Position in the saddle
For the gallop you need to ride in a ‘forward’ position. So reach down and shorten your stirrups one or two holes, lean forward and take your weight out of the saddle.
It helps to grip slightly with your knees and push down on to your heels and big toe joint rather than the outside edge of your foot. With your heels down, press your knees into the knee rolls (the pads at the front of the saddle flaps which are designed to give the rider extra security).
Keep your back straight and look ahead. Your hands should be further forward and up on the pony’s neck. This Prevents you from shooting straight over the tap and on to the ground if the pony stops suddenly. Grasp a handful of mane if you want.
Check your position
Try this position first in halt until you feel comfortable and balanced, then in walk, trot and finally canter. It is quite a tiring posture for your leg muscles but should not affect you otherwise. If your back aches, think about your position as it probably needs altering.
Transition to gallop
So far, you have learnt to sit with a straight line running down through your shoulder, hip and heel.
In gallop you have to think about another straight line, one that goes through your shoulder, knee and ankle. Ride into gallop from a balanced canter. All you need to do is push on, squeezing with both legs.
Gradually increase the speed, allowing your hands to go forward as the length of stride increases. You hardly notice the transition. Galloping feels very smooth as the gait becomes more level and powerful. You can feel the pony’s neck muscles harden as he uses more energy.
Just like the canter, slowing down is a little more difficult than speeding up, simply because you are going so fast and you don’t have so much time.
A lively pony who is enjoying the gallop might try to ignore your instructions at first, but if you give the aids for stopping correctly, he has to slow down! A pony needs a fairly straight line to keep galloping, so if you need to you can make him slow down by bringing him gradually into a turn.
Making the transition
Check the speed with your outside rein. Begin to sit back by moving your seat closer to the saddle and putting your shoulders up. Always keep as much weight as possible in your knees and heels and keep your knees tucked into the knee rolls. On the turn, place more weight on your inside leg than the outside log. Remember to look up!
Without jerking, check and ease, gradually slowing down all the time. You need to allow plenty of room to stop so that the transition is smooth. Don’t pull hard on both reins together without frequently easing the contact. If you just haul steadily, the pony could lean on your hands and carry on galloping.
You may have to turn the pony to slow down. Simply make your circle smaller and smaller until you are back in canter and then in trot. If you feel him bunch up, ready to go again, turn his head and he won’t be able to gallop.
If you do feel unsafe, shorten the inside rein and brace your hand against the pony’s neck. This leaves your outside hand free to check the pony. It also means that if he stops abruptly you cannot fall forward.
Once you have settled him down again, try to ride with a light contact. A pull on the reins creates a ‘tug of war’ which is tiring and usually won by the superior strength of the pony.
Where to gallop
You can learn to gallop in a large arena, but if you go further afield, take care to find a site that is suitable.
1.Never gallop anywhere near traffic.
2. Check the area carefully first by riding around in walk, to make sure the ground is not too hard.
3. Look out for anything that could cause stumbling ruts, potholes, boggy areas or large stones.
4. Avoid galloping downhill -level ground or gently rising ground is best.
5. Never gallop toward a ditch or fence that is not clearly visible from a distance.
6. Make sure you have room to turn.
7. Ride with at least one experienced person. Set off together, with the more experienced rider just ahead of you. Ponies galloping side by side tend to race so that stopping can be quite difficult. If one is slightly in front, when the first pony’ slows down, the other wants to slacken the pace too. This means you stay in full control.
8. Vary the places where you gallop and don’t gallop too often. Frequently riding at full speed makes your pony ’hot up’ (fuss and pull at the bit).
9. It must always be your decision, and not the pony’s, as to whether you gallop or not. It is a good idea to walk the route after you have galloped it. This gives the pony a chance to cool down and relax, as well as teaching him good habits.
10. Give your pony a thank-you hug after a good gallop!