An essential part of learning to ride is knowing how to ask your pony to stop. You should also know how to dismount safely.
‘Talking’ to your pony
Your hands control the pony’s forehand (the front of the body) and slow him down, and your legs control his hindquarters and speed him up.
Your hands send messages to the pony through his mouth. They tell him to change direction, and they also slacken his pace. Your reins are like telegraph wires and should only be used to communicate – never to keep your balance.
In other sports such as dancing and gymnastics you use your hands and arms to balance the rest of your body, In riding this is not possible. If your hands and arms move to help you keep your balance it will certainly be confusing and possibly painful for your pony. Also, if you hang on to the reins to keep your balance, it hurts the pony’s mouth.
Preparing to stop
Always remember that asking your pony to stop is not just a matter of pulling on the reins. Before the pony stops you have to prepare and coordinate the natural aids – your hands and legs. And to do that you need a secure and well-balanced seat.
As your pony walks along, make sure that you are sitting correctly before giving the aids to halt. Sit down into the deepest part of the saddle, and remember to keep your back straight. Sitting alert and upright brings the pony to attention, and lets him know that further instructions are coming.
Check that you have a contact with the pony’s mouth. This means that you are able to feel his head movements without restricting them. If your elbows stick out behind your body before you feel any contact, your reins are too long. And if you’re having to lean forward, your reins are too short.
Coming to a halt
Once you are happy that your position is correct at the walk, and you are ready to halt, relax your buttocks so they feel heavier in the saddle. Close both legs against the pony’s sides and gently apply pressure on the reins. Saying ‘whoa’ in a soothing voice also helps.
Don’t just tug on the reins. Resist with your hands by easing gently on and off the reins until the pony stops. Imagine that your hands are squeezing a sponge. If you pull in a jerky way, the pony is more likely to lean on your hand and pull against you. Be careful, too, not to pull back. The pony is stronger than the rider and will just resist if you try to force him to obey.
The moment you feel the pony step, relax your hands and allow him to stand still for a short while. If you don’t relax your hands you may confuse the pony into reversing. Your legs resting (not squeezing) against his sides help to say ‘not backward’. Don’t be cross with the pony if he doesn’t understand your signals – it’s probably your fault!
Where to stand:
Try not to stand directly behind a horse – stand sideways on and place a hand on his hindquarters so he knows where you are.
Getting off the pony
There is a proper way to get off a pony. It’s the safest way to dismount and is the most comfortable for both you and the pony.
It is usual to dismount from the near (left) side of your pony, but practise dismounting from both sides. This also stands you in good stead when speed is important in, say, a relay competition at a gymkhana or in an emergency. To dismount from the off (right) side the normal procedure is reversed. You must still halt and take both feet out of the stirrups. Put your reins into your right hand, place your left hand on the pommel and swing your left leg behind you.
Leading the pony
When leading in a bridle, pass the reigns over the pony’s head and hold them with your right hand a short distance from the bit. Take the spare end of the rein (or rope, if the pony is in a head collar) in your left hand. Don’t pull, but walk by his shoulder and say ‘walk on’ in a firm, encouraging tone.
Handling the pony
Part of the fun of riding is learning how to handle a pony, There are general rules that you should follow on What to do for safety and efficiency.
Treat all ponies with respect, but be particularly careful with ones you don’t know. It’s the unexpected that worries them so, whenever you’re near a pony, let him know you are there. Try to approach him at the shoulder so he can see you clearly, speak to him and pat and reassure him.
It’s best to stand close to the pony; if you stand a few feet away and he kicks, you receive the full force! If you need to get down low, crouch rather than kneel.