You should now be quite capable of walking, trotting and cantering, and be ready to concentrate on refining your style. The aim is to make your pony listen and respond instantly to your aids, so that riding becomes a secret conversation between the two of you.
Relax and stay supple
Remember the first time you sat on a pony? You were probably tense from top to toe because you didn’t know how it would feel when the pony moved! Tension slows down a lazy pony and excites a lively one. Sitting rigidly is also tiring for you and a worn-out rider cannot give efficient aids.
The more at home you feel in the saddle, the more comfortable it is for the pony and the easier it is for you to give quiet, unnoticeable aids.
Keeping your hands and legs still while the pony is moving is the first step. This comes from being able to relax the muscles not in use so you sit ‘softly’ with your pony. There are two areas of your body you should now concentrate on loosening up (but not slumping) – your seat, and your neck and shoulders.
All the time a pony is moving, there is a natural swing to his back, most noticeable in walk, more bouncy in trot, and more rocking in canter. By softening the muscles in your seat, you will find these movements much simpler to follow.
Practise on the lunge
If possible, ask somebody to lunge you on a quiet pony. Rather than doing vigorous balancing exercises, just practise sitting still for a while. Start in walk. Imagine you have a book balanced on your head and sit up tall, holding your head and shoulders motionless. Now let the pony’s movement flow through your seat, hips and lower back, keeping your waist supple.
When you feel good at this stage, cross your stirrups over the front of the saddle, still with the same relaxed position in walk. Knot the reins and let go of them if you feel confident enough. Put your hands on your hips or stretch them out to the side. This makes sure you are not using the reins to balance.
Once you are quite relaxed, try some trotting. You may want to take back your stirrups to begin with. Leave your reins knotted, but hold on to the saddle if you are bouncing around. Then you are free to concentrate on softening your seat.
Accepting the bit
Above the bit means the pony’s nose is too high and poked forward.
On the bit means the pony is well balanced, responsive and easy to ride, and his face is on or slightly in front of the vertical.
Behind the bit describes a pony whose nose is tucked in toward his chest. Relax your hands and ride strongly forward.
Off the lunge
Remember to sit quietly on your pony whenever you ride, not just on the lunge. Once you feel that you are supple and relaxed, try asking your pony to slow down or speed up without changing pace. You may want to lengthen your stirrups a little at the start to help you sit deeper in the saddle.
‘On the bit’
Once you’ve concentrated on your own posture, it’s time to think about how the pony carries himself. Any pony works better and is easier to ride when he is ‘on the bit’. This means that you and the pony are in full communication: he feels light in your hands so that your rein contact can be gentle while he responds to your leg aids.
The pony should be attentive to you – and not thinking about how much longer he has to plod around the arena or about what is going on in the next field. He should be working actively in response to your legs, and moving with impulsion (energy).
Once you feel in harmony with your pony, you are beginning to learn the real art of riding.