…of life and this is where riding schools come into their own. Anyone who has ridden our ponies and horses know that they are all individuals. They are all unique and require different skills to achieve any riding objectives.
It’s easy to think that some are slow and others are fast but it’s not really as straightforward as this. Horse are above all else prey animals. In the wild they are far roaming herbivores that animals higher up the food chain eat. This means that they need to be ready to run away from attacking predators at any time. And this need to flee explains a lot of horse behaviour.
This need to flee explains why horses graze for large parts of the day so they have a trickle of food going into and out of their stomach. If you have ever tried running to catch a bus after a very filling meal you will know that when your stomach is heavy then it’s uncomfortable and hard work to run. Just imagine that as well as having to catch a bus your running away from a lion!
Obviously horse don’t run for buses, but if they did have to run away from lions having a stomach with not a lot of food in it would be an advantage. And that’s why they have evolved trickle feeding.
But this need to evade predators also explains why they can seem slow or lazy. Horses need to conserve their energy so that when a predator attacks they have plenty of energy to escape and not get eaten.
But what has this to do with riding school ponies, well they will go just as slowly as you, the rider, let them. Some are more responsive to the aids than others, but when ridden well all of them can and do canter at speed. The difference, we find, isn’t how fast they are but rather how forgiving they are. If you tap with both your legs and say trot on but aren’t too balanced and lean back on the reins a little, is our pony going to forgive the pull on the reins and trot on anyway or is it going to listen to your hands pulling on the brakes and stay in walk.
So we can use different horses and ponies to focus your learning on different skills you need to develop.
Now having your own horse or even always riding the same horse may be great because you learn to ride that specific pony and you will build up a great confidence in that horse or pony but we often find riders adapt themselves to the horse which can cause problems when you need to ride a different horse. If your horse is “off the leg” and will ride through a strong contact caused by an unbalanced seat then you won’t need to perfect you balanced seat and your hands might not become fully independent and you might not develop strong leg aids. This won’t stop you enjoying your pony at all. But if you have to ride another pony, say when on holiday and going for a holiday hack, you might find that the horse you are riding doesn’t appear as quick as your own horse.
This might not be a problem, after all, if you are out for a nice holiday hack, you might not want to go fast, but rather prefer to go slow and take in the beautiful views, sounds and smells of your holiday location. But whatever happens, don’t assume you have been put on a “plod” that can’t go faster than stroll. Look to the way you are sitting and your rein contact and the strength of your leg.
And whether, you have your own horse or not, riding lessons will enable you to get the most from your riding. Whether you have to pass riding qualifications, want to improve your competition results, want to improve your riding until you feel confident to own your own horse, or want to be the best rider you can be, a riding school is a good place to start. Riding a variety of different horses is the key to improving your riding, as is constantly evaluating your own riding and when things don’t go quite the way you want them to, look at what you are doing and not jump to blaming the horse.
And to help you out, here’s Mollie riding a variety of horses…