Beginners start by learning to sit quietly, whether the pony is walking or standing, keeping their backs straight and their heads up, their hands and legs still. The next stage is to ask the pony to turn either from a halt or at a walk.
Off the lunge
To practise turns, your pony will probably come off the lunge rein. This means you are in control of the pony – although your instructor should be on hand to help if you get in a muddle. Allow yourself ‘thinking’ time; don’t rush into anything, and you’ll be fine.
To ask your pony to turn, use your legs, hands and seat. These are called the ‘natural aids’.
Your legs make the pony go forward. If you squeeze on the pony’s sides with the lower part of your leg, he should move off in a straight line. Squeeze with your legs, relax, then squeeze again, until the pony responds. Then let your legs rest close to his sides. Remember to keep your toes pointing forward.
If the pony doesn’t walk on when you ask, it may be that you are accidentally pulling on the reins at the same time as squeezing with your legs. If you are tense, it is all too easy to give the pony confused signals. This is why you should think before you act and tell yourself to relax first.
Check you are holding the reins correctly your hands held sideways so that your thumbs are uppermost, and the reins running through each hand with your middle three fingers closed round them. They should be just tight enough to feel the pony’s mouth and head movements Without restricting him. Make sure your hands are in the right place, about 10cm (4in) above the withers, and the same distance apart.
Sit down when you use your legs and hands. In this way, your seat encourages the pony to go forward. All you need to do at this stage is sit firmly in the saddle and not perch as though you were on a drawing pin!
The voice is also a natural aid: talking to the pony is quite acceptable, and your instructor may do this a lot at first. The voice, however, doesn’t make a pony move to the left or right which is Why you use hands, legs, and seat.
How to turn
To turn left or right, you use a basic combination of one hand and one leg. For a left turn, use the left rein and left leg and for a right turn, the right rein and right leg.
The rein turns the pony’s head to look Where he is going. The leg (used by the girth as in a ‘walk forward’ signal) encourages him to keep moving and helps him to bend around your leg on the curve. The outside leg stops the horse’s hindquarters moving out of line and propels him in the right direction.
Turning in an arena
Having a lesson in an enclosed space means you can practise turns continually – either by moving in a circle, or by making sharper changes of direction in a square or rectangle.
When you tighten your hold slightly on one rein only, your pony turns his head Without moving his feet. Gently try the other rein the same thing happens.
Don’t turn him too far or he has to move his feet to balance. Now straighten up and use both legs to move forward. As you come to a corner, turn your shoulders in line with the pony’s. Keep your left leg by the girth and then ‘feel’ the left rein, as you did at a halt. You can turn corners!
Halfway round the turn stop telling the pony to go left. Look up and ride straight forward or you turn too much and go round in circles.
Shifting your weight is also a signal to turn. Very simply, if you sit to the left of the saddle, the pony wants to move to the left. Thinking about using hands and legs is enough at the moment. But, if you always remember to look through the pony’s ears in the direction you want to go and turn your shoulders in that direction, you automatically start to use your weight correctly.
Whether you are stopping or starting, turning left or turning right, you still have two arms and two legs which should be doing something all the time.
Your ‘spare’ arm and leg are ‘supporting’ aids. They prevent the pony from over-reacting to your commands and they help to finish each change of direction or pace smoothly.
For instance, in a left turn, your outside hand keeps the rein from hanging in a loop and stops the pony turning too sharply. Your outside leg is placed further back than the inside one to stop the hindquarters swinging to the outside. Don’t move your left leg back – keep it forward near the girth. When you ask your pony to go forward, maintain a light feel on both reins to control the speed. This way, it is easy to make a series of smooth turns.
Adapt to the pony
No two ponies are alike. They all have minds of their own and may not want to do as they are told.
Sometimes you need stronger legs or clearer rein aids.
The art of riding well is being able to adapt to these changes and to tune in to each new pony and his various moods. This is what makes ponies so much more rewarding than machines.
One of the things that makes a rider look good is being able to ride without appearing to give instructions. This should be every rider’s aim and comes mainly from having good hands.
Your hands are the link between you and the pony’s mouth. If you hold the reins too stiffly or use them roughly, then at best it is hard for the pony to go smoothly and at worst you hurt him. Good hands are gentle and still so, from the start, try to make your signals a secret between you and your pony; other people don’t need to see them.