Once you are sitting correctly in the saddle, you’re ready to start walking. So you need to know how to tell the pony to move off and how to adjust your position to the pony’s movement.
Check your position
From the beginning, develop the habit of being able to check your own position. Hold the pommel with both hands and pull yourself down into the saddle. This helps you to sit really deeply. Then ask yourself a few questions.
Do you feel balanced, sitting evenly on both your seat bones and are your stirrups of equal and comfortable length? Is your upper body upright, but relaxed? If you sit up straight your shoulders will fall into the correct position.
Are you looking straight ahead between the pony’s ears or slightly above them? Never look down. Your head is surprisingly heavy. If it droops, or you move it in the wrong direction, your balance can be badly affected. Gazing at the ground is a common mistake, seen at all levels of riding, but if you never start you won’t have to learn to stop!
Are your calves still back and underneath you, with your knees slightly bent? If you glance down you should only just be able to see the tips of your toes peeping out from underneath your knees.
Think about lowering the heel and raising the toe, without straining your ankle. It takes a lot of practice before your muscles learn to work in this way.
Having a lesson on the lunge rein means you can concentrate on sitting correctly while someone else controls the pony using lunging whip. Long enough to reach the horse and so guide him round in a circle, it measures at least 165cm (66inches).
Leading rein and lunge rein
Depending on your riding school, your early lessons will probably take place either on the lunge rein, or on the leading rein.
On the lunge, the instructor controls the pony by a lunge line (a long rein) which is attached to a special noseband called the lunge cavesson. The pony moves in a large circle.
On the leading rein, an assistant leads the pony (either from the ground or from another horse) by holding a rope attached to the bridle.
Whichever method your riding school uses, the pony is under the control of the instructor or helper for these early lessons. You don’t have to think about controlling the pony, so you can concentrate on your position and your balance, and get used to the feel of the pony.
Forward to walk
As you prepare to move forward to walk put your hands on the pommel (the front of the saddle) or hold on to a neck strap (usually a stirrup leather buckled around the pony’s neck). Until you are more familiar with the technique for walking, don’t do more than gather the reins loosely.
Stay relaxed and keep breathing! It sounds silly, but it is amazing how everyone holds their breath when concentrating hard on something. Make sure that no part of your body is tense, or you will pass your anxiety on to the pony.
Try to keep your position and think of the straight line: Ear – Shoulder – Hip – Heel. It’s all too easy to tip forward or to be left behind. Do this before going from the halt to walk.
Any change of pace like this is called a transition, and whether it’s faster or slower, the rider should always think ‘forward’.
To walk on, squeeze the pony’s sides with your lower leg, pressing and releasing until he responds by stepping forward. Once the pony is walking, keep a slight pressure with the legs. Don’t clamp them to the pony’s sides or take them away completely.
Concentrate on maintaining a safe seat and stay relaxed. Enjoy yourself!