First Polo Lessons!

polo-lessonHello! If you’ve read my last blog post you’ll know that the 100th horse I rode was a polo pony. I told you that I had a lot of exciting stories to tell you, and one of them is that I’ve started learning polo!!!

So far I’ve only had a few lessons, but it’s amazing how fast everyone’s progressed! The other new riders and I are nothing compared to the riders who have been playing several years, but already we’re managing to play chukkas in walk – and score goals!!

Polo, in case you don’t already know, is a game played on horseback that has been described as a bit like hockey. Usually there are four players on each team, and they all have a wooden mallet with which they have to hit a small white ball. As with most ball games, the aim is to hit the ball into the opposing team’s goal. This is easier said than done!

I thought I’d share with you some of the thing I’ve learnt in my first few polo lessons, as it’s great fun and very different to ‘normal’ riding.

Forget What You’ve Learnt

Polo needs a different riding style to regular dressage/showjumping, and polo ponies are trained to understand different signals. It’s similar in many ways so it won’t take long to pick up the basics, but if you try steering with the reins in two hands (even just to get out the way of the mounting block when you’ve got on) your pony won’t understand! Apart from having the reins in one hand and neck-reining, you have to hold the reins in a completely different way. It’s very strange to start with, so you almost need to forget what you’ve already learnt.

There’s an Art to Holding a Mallet

This is another thing that’s very confusing, even after several lessons. You can’t just grip the mallet – you have to make sure it’s facing the right way, try to remember how to wrap the ribbon at the end round your hand, and then position your fingers in the right place. This is very important as your arm is going to get tired from hitting the ball and it’s easiest if you’re holding the mallet correctly.

It Makes ‘Normal’ Riding Feel Over-Complicated

Once you get over the strangeness of polo riding you begin to wonder why you ever rode any differently!! The lightest pressure on the reins (even with them just in one hand!) will steer a polo pony much more easily than all those arguments you use to have with nappy riding school ponies. Polo ponies are trained to be forward and sensitive, but it’s also a more natural riding style.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

The advice that’s probably equally applicable for all ball games is to keep your eye on the ball. Being on speedy polo ponies, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but stay focused on the ball. If you let yourself get distracted by what other people are doing, chances are you’re going to miss it.

Just Go For It

Polo is something best learnt by doing and learning by experience. Practise makes perfect after all!! Get out there. Hit the ball. Try a faster place. Don’t hold back. The worst that  can happen is that you’ll miss the ball, and at the end of the day polo is a competitive sport!

Get Over the Ball

When you’re about to hit the ball you’re suppose to get out the saddle into a sort of light seat. However, it’s different from your typical jumping light seat in that you need to be actually over the ball. To get a better polo position, it help to think about getting your head actually above the ball, as this will help you lean out the saddle properly to hit the ball

Your Pony Will Help You

Polo ponies are generally very well trained! They’ve learnt what you’re trying to do and will automatically follow the ball to some extent. Sometimes they kick the ball themselves, which may be helpful or unhelpful. Even if you miss, your pony may help you and kick it along! Also, it’s important to remember to trust your pony! Polo ponies know what to do and will help you if you ride properly!!

Polo Is a Team Sport

One of the main things that makes polo so much fun is that it is a team sport! It relies on both individual partnerships with your pony and a collective team spirit, the combination of which makes it unlike many other sports. Possibly one of, if not the most important thing, is to back each other up, support, and communicate. Different people have different skills and it is only by supporting each other that you can succeed – meaning polo is automatically more sociable than ‘normal’ riding can sometimes be!!

Keep Moving

Polo is a fast-moving sport (when you’re ready for the speed!) and requires you to keep moving forwards. Don’t stop on the ball, just keep moving, and when you’re ready to up the pace a bit, go for it!!

Polo requires a whole new skill set compared to regular riding, but it also feels very familiar. At the end of the day, it’s still horse riding and if you already ride you will feel surprisingly at home in the saddle. Polo isn’t as intimidating as you might expect!

If you get the opportunity to learn polo take it!!! It’s the most amazing fun, and there’s something very satisfying about the clunk of your mallet hitting the ball!

Keep loving horses,

Horse Daydreamer xxx

 

 

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Caprilli vs. Classical Riding!

caprilli

In the early 20th century, a revolution took place that would change the way we rode forever.

Captain Federico Caprilli, an Italian cavalry officer, earned the hostility of the Italian army by challenging the conventions of classical riding and was transfered to a different regiment. It was this “rebellion” that initiated the invention of a new style of riding.

Whenever you use a jump position, light seat, or two-point position you have Caprilli to thank.

Classical riding was based around different aims to Caprilli, and had a very different seat. Classical riders told the horse what to do and how to do it; Caprilli believed the rider should just tell the horse what to do and then allow the horse’s way of doing it. Unlike classical riders, Caprilli thought horses were able to balance themselves with a rider rather than needing to told how to do it.

There is a natural difference between the horse’s and rider’s centres of gravity. The rider’s centre of gravity is further back than the horse’s, and this difference needed to be reduced to keep balance.

For most of history, classical riders had taught collection.They tried to narrow the gap between the horse’s and rider’s centres of gravity by moving the horse’s centre of gravity backwards. Collection engages the horse’s hindquarters, causing the horse’s centre of gravity to move backwards, and it was around this concept that classical riding was based.

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The old jumping seat – uncomfortable for horse and rider!

The problem was that as the horse’s pace increases, their centre of gravity moves forward. The classical riding seat wasn’t as effective riding at speed, across country, or when jumping. When jumping, instead of leaning forwards as we do now, classical riders leant backwards and stuck their lower leg forwards. This position came from the knights of ye olde days, and is not suited for jumping. Classical riders claimed that by leaning back they spared their horse’s forelegs, but Caprilli disagreed.

The old jumping seat was uncomfortable for the horse, and as classical riders tried to  make the horse land hindlegs first (thinking this would further spare the forelegs) went completely against the horse’s natural way of jumping. By leaning backwards, the rider got left behind the movement and unbalanced. They also pulled on the reins, which was painful for the horse. As a result, horses found jumping difficult and many disliked it.

After watching horses free jump without a rider or tack, Caprilli discovered something that was fundamentally wrong about the old jumping seat – horses always landed on their forelegs. He photographed their shape over jumps and began to develop what we now take for granted as our jump position.

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The forward seat meant Caprilli could (and did) jump anything!!

Caprilli’s theory was that the rider’s position over the fence should not interfere the horse’s natural jumping movement. He realised that the rider should shorten their stirrups and lean forwards to move their centre of gravity forwards to meet the horse’s. By taking their weight out the saddle they allowed the horse freedom to use their back, as well as helping the rider keep a secure position. Most importantly, the contact should be light and the rider should give with their hands.

Our modern jumping position was created.

As with all new ideas, not everyone was happy with Caprilli’s “forward seat”. It angered many people and caused him trouble in the army. However, it was so effective that the benefits could not be denied. Before long he was made chief instructor at the Italian army’s cavalry school, where all new students learned Caprilli’s technique. The Italian cavalry began to dominate international competition, and riders came from all over the world to learn from him.

Caprilli died in 1907, aged 39, during a riding accident. The year before he’d had this opportunity to demonstrate his technique to the world in the 1906 Olympic Games. Interest increased throughout the 20th century, and now Caprilli’s forward seat is widely accepted as the correct jump position.

Конкур

The forward seat revolutionised jumping, although shorter stirrups were already being used for racing.

Classical riding hasn’t been entirely replaced by Caprilli’s techniques. Horse riding as it is now taught uses the best of each method, while ignoring other aspects. A forward seat is used when jumping or galloping, but not when riding on the flat as Caprilli did. Collection is still used, and dressage in particular uses a classical riding position, but jumping has changed drastically.

Caprilli’s position has improved the level of show jumping. At the beginning of the 20th century international show jumps were about 4’6″. Now they are over 6′ and in much trickier courses. While a forward jumping position is still used, experienced riders no longer leave everything to the horse, instead altering the horse’s stride to meet these more difficult fences in the right place.

Caprilli’s legacy is simple but innovative. He’s responsible for radically improving jumping standards for both horses and riders.

Next time you jump, just remember it’s thanks to Caprilli!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

 

You may also be interested in:

What’s Prix Caprilli?

Top 10 Inspirational Horse People!!!

Snowy Horse Rides!!!

snowy rideHello!

Have you had any snow this winter?

There has been rumours of snow in other parts of the country, but I’ve not had any yet. It certainly feels very wintery though – the mornings are frozen, with frosted fields and watercolour-painted skies. It’s beautiful but so very cold, cold, cold!!

Later in the mornings, the amber sun burns into a snow-coloured sky. Poetic, yes, but it really is that beautiful! I love the snow and am hoping there will be some soon. I think I’m probably being overly optimistic!!!

It’s one of my dreams to ride in the snow!! I thought I’d share some tips I’ve come across but, just to warn you, I’ve not had the opportunity to test them out. If you’ve ever ridden in the snow I’d be interested to know if they actually work!

1: It’s kind of common sense that you should only ride in the snow in a safe environment that you know well. Snow can be dangerous because it hides ruts, ditches, and ice. Never ride on roads.

2: Remember that, unless you live somewhere a lot colder than I do, snow is likely to be unfamiliar to most horses and they might be a bit spooky. Lead them out in it first, particularly if they don’t live out in fields, and progress gradually. It’s a good idea not to ride out alone. Take friends with you, either riding or on foot, and of course always tell someone where you are going and how long you will be.

3: Snow can be slippery so never forget this risk. You can do a slow trot and steady canter if conditions are right, but if uncertain stay to a walk. At least that’s what I’ve heard – I’m doubtful as to the safety of going any faster than a plod in the snow, but you’ll know best what’s safe for you.

4: Only ride out if the conditions are safe. Light powdery snow a few inches thick is good. Icy, mushy, and deep snow are all dangerous. Don’t ride if it’s snowing heavily, but you probably already know that!

5: Wear warm layers, including gloves, and give your horse a warm exercise blanket!! Actually, just do that even if there’s no snow!!! I don’t know about you, but in my last riding lesson I felt like I was turning to ice! Wear florescent reflective tabards like you would (should?!) for road riding, even if you’re not going on the roads. If the worst happens it’ll make it easier for an air ambulance to find you.

6: Cover the inside of your horse’s hooves with a thick layer of Vaseline, which should prevent snow from balling up in them and stop your horse from ending up walking on snow stilts! I’m really curious to know if this works!!

7: Riding through snow is harder work for your horse than normal riding. Give him breaks every now and then, but keep him moving so he doesn’t get cold.

If you’ve ever had the chance to ride in the snow please tell me about it! If not, you’ll just have to keep hoping for snow like me!!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!

See you soon!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Keeping a Riding Journal! (Part 2)

horse diaryHello again!

I said in part one that I’ve been keeping a riding journal for a year and have found it really helpful. This time I’m going to share some more extracts from my riding journal, and give some ideas about what you could write.

jumped grid of 3 fences, difficult on left rein mainly because the pony I was riding kept napping towards the other horses, need to fix outside elbow towards stomach & keep tummy muscles straight to be get stronger grip on rein to stop napping – worked but difficult

– extract from my riding journal, July 2015

 

practising jump off skills (even though I don’t compete much), 3 fences across the long diagonal, small because focusing on lines & straightness not the jump, the horse I was riding tanked off a bit, he use to hunt in Ireland & can be quite strong, repetitive exercises not best for the horse I was riding as he thinks he’s a know-it-all, jumped from other direction & he was better because he wasn’t expecting it

– extract from my riding journal, August 2015

 

first time ridden pony, challenging but in a good way, sensitive, fast, did Prix Caprilli but with ground poles instead of jumps, when I ride a pony/horse I know is sensitive I tend to give very light aids but my instructor told me I shouldn’t do that, need to keep under the thumb & constantly use lots of rein, rein contact will stop the pony from rushing off & remind him that I’m there

– extract from my riding journal, October 2015

 

best ride ever with the pony I was riding (the same pony as in the July 2015 extract above), in a good mood before lesson, single jump at B & then a long related distance down the other long side, in warm up quite forward going when I kept my leg on but I needed to keep him straight, not as nappy as usual though not perfect, serpentines working on standing up/ironing board/jump position,  had to circle after 1st fence as not straight enough after to jump related distance, need to work on straightness but kept pony forward going & stopped him from napping, my instructor said best jumping seen me do

– extract from my riding journal, December 2015

In each journal entry I always list which horse I was riding, where I rode, and what I did. Then I usually write a bit about what the horse is like, and try to analyse (at a basic level!) their way of going according to the scales of training. To finish I add what I learnt and/or achieved, but generally I try to keep each entry chronological so I might write this earlier if it fits.

And, of course, you can’t forget the date!!!

Hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to keep a riding journal! Let me know how you get on!!

Happy riding!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Keeping a Riding Journal! (Part 1)

diaryHiya!

I started keeping a journal of my riding lessons just over a year ago. I’ve found it really helpful in keeping track of my rides, progress, and achievements, so I thought I would share what I’ve learnt with you!!

I keep my riding journal in note form rather than full sentences because it’s quicker and I find it means I’m more likely to keep it up to date. Here are a few extracts from various entries over the past year!

jumping lesson with superstar little pony, jumped grid of about 2’6″, need to keep my hips further back in jump position (I have the bad habit of standing up rather than actually going into jump position), need to kick on just before the jump even if I know the pony I’m riding will jump it

– extract from my riding journal, January 2015

 

first time ridden pony, jumped like the Irish hunting pony he is: very fast & very big, he “jumps like a stag” as my instructor said, told to give with my hands more over the jumps than I normally would, grid built up to 3’ (usually I only jump about 2’6”), amazing lesson

– extract from my riding journal, February 2015

 

rode two horses as we swapped half way through the lesson so we could compare different horses’ way of going:

first pony forward going & fun but not very responsive breaks, very speedy & hard to slow down, took ages to get downward transition, he didn’t have any rhythm so needed to work on that, 20m circles in walk while encouraging him to stretch & relax, some improvement

second horse not very off the leg & hard work, slow walk but more active trot, felt had to rely on tugging reins to steer (which I don’t normally do), he was heavy on the bit & on the forehand, worked on trying to get off the forehand, told not to do lots of long trots as that would put him more on the forehand

– extract from my riding diary, May 2015

 

flat lesson, tried to collect & extend paces , difficult, didn’t really understand how, instructor explained differently how to collect & extend & it suddenly all made sense, I had to “bounce him” along the short sides of the arena to collect & “then let him go” down the long sides to extend, much better after that

– extract from my riding diary, June 2015

Some people like to keep a traditional paper diary in their tack box so they can write in it straight after their ride, others write it on the computer or their phones. It doesn’t really matter how you keep a riding journal, but I recommend that you do! It really helps you remember all the tips your riding instructor gives you, and you can look back to see how much you’ve improved your riding!!

If you have your own horse it can be useful for recording his/her training. If, like me, you go to a riding school you probably ride a lot of different horses, and keeping a riding journal is useful for remembering each horse’s character for the next time you ride them.

Do you keep a riding journal? What’s the best tip you’ve ever learnt for riding?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the extracts from my riding diary – part two will be coming soon!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Learning to Ride!

learning to rideHello!

Whether you’ve been in the saddle since you were born, or are just considering taking up horse riding, it’s a question most riders wonder at some point: how long does it take to learn to ride?

It’s a simple question but, of course, there’s no easy answer!!

It depends what you want to do. It depends where and how often you ride. It depends on your age, balance, strength, stamina, concentration, riding instructor, the pony you ride, and many other things,

At the end of the day, the answer really is forever! You never stop learning – there’s always something new to try, something else to learn, another horse to ride. The better you get, the the higher your expectations will be of yourself, and the more challenging horses you’ll be able to ride.

However truthful that answer may be, it’s not always helpful!! Everyone learns at different rates so it’s important not to compare yourself to others, but it can be interesting to know the average time scales.

To be able to walk, trot, and canter confidently off the lead rein, my riding school say – with a 45 minute private lesson every week – usually takes about 6-8 weeks. However, it’s important to note that “confident” doesn’t neccessarily mean competent. Multitasking is one of the most difficult things for new riders to master (or mistress – language is sexist)!

The time scales vary for everyone, especially according to age. Younger children take much longer to learn new skills. It took me weeks and weeks before I could trot. My sister, who started riding when she was a few years older than I had been, pretty much learnt rising trot in her first lesson.

I can’t remember how long it took me to become confident at the basics. I know I was jumping within 8 months of weekly group lessons, but my diary was a bit irregular back then and I think I’d been jumping months before. My sister started learning to jump before she’d even had 9 lessons, which suprised me a bit. I think her instructor was pushing her a bit more than usual because she wanted to join the teenage lessons rather than ride with the little children.

As a general guide, I reckon it takes about 12 lessons (if you ride for an hour every week with a qualified instructor and well-behaved pony) to be  confident and competent enough to begin learning to jump! The real answer though, as I said before, is that learning to ride takes a lifetime!! Enjoy the experience!!!

Do you think this time scale sounds realistic? How long did it take you to be confident in walk, trot, and canter? Or are you just starting to learn? Let me know what you think!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Improve Every Horse You Ride!

Hi everyone!scales of training

I hope you’re enjoying reading my blog as much as I’m loving writing it. Today I thought I’d share a training method that my riding instructor is always going on about!!

To succeed in anything you need a plan! The problem is that horses are all so different from each other that it can be difficult to find something that works!! Luckily there’s an approach that works with all horses and is equally applicable to dressage, show jumping, eventing, or just enjoying your time in the saddle to the best of your ability.

This approach is called the scales of training!!!

The scales of training provide logical steps to get any horse to go better. This systematic approach is often shown in a pyramid diagram (like the picture above!) and can help you understand where to start with improving your horse’s way of going. Though each scale is a prerequisite for the next, it’s not a rigid format of training but flexible instead. Advanced horses and riders should continue to work on improving the lower scales, alongside developing the top ones.

There are six scales of training but forwardness is needed before these can be worked on.

Forwardness means your horse is taking you willingly and freely. He/she must be listening to your aids and understand what you want him/her to do.

The scales are rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and collection!

Rhythm is the regularity and evenness of the horse’s hoof-falls in all three paces.

Suppleness is the horse’s flexibility and how easy he/she finds it to bend in any given direction. For this the horse must be both physically and mentally relaxed.

Contact is the horse’s acceptance of the bit. The horse should carry him/herself and not lean on the bit or be heavy in the rider’s hands. It is necessary that the reins are neither too long nor too short if contact is to be achieved.

Impulsion is the energy the horse moves forwards with, NOT the speed!

Straightness is how straight the horse’s body is, with the hind hooves following the track of the fore hooves. A horse can be considered straight on a turn or circle if there is a uniform bend throughout his/her body.

Collection is the ultimate goal of all classical training! It is when the horse steps under with his/her hindquarters and carries his/her weight on the hindquarters rather than the forehand. The horse’s forehand is lightened and hindquarters engaged, making for a pretty amazing ride!!!

The scales of training can be thought of as a plan to build a house! Without the foundation of rhythm to support the walls, the chimney of collection can’t be added. We have the Germans to credit for the development of this training method that really does work!!

Good luck trying out the scales of training!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

What’s Prix Caprilli?!

Hi everyone!prix caprilli

Have you ever heard of Prix Caprilli? I never had… until my instructor announced that was what we were going to do in my last riding lesson.

It turns out that Prix Caprilli is basically dressage – but with jumps! I know, ingenious right?! Why then has practically no one even heard of it, let alone competed in it?

After my lesson I did a bit of research.

Prix Caprilli is named after the Italian cavalry instructor Federico Caprilli, who invented the modern forward seat used when jumping. This now almost unheard of discipline was very popular during the 1960s and 70s, when many riding clubs competed in it. With the rise of modern dressage Prix Caprilli fell out of popularity, but is now making a comeback!

If you ask me, it was due a comeback years ago!! Prix Caprilli is great fun and also helps improve your riding skills!

In many ways it’s a lot like a dressage test. You’re judged on balance, impulsion, accuracy, position – all the things you’d usually expect in dressage! The idea is that horse and rider should be so in harmony that the jumps shouldn’t affect their way of going.

Prix Caprilli is an interdisciplinary challenge, requiring lots of concentration!

The main emphasis is on dressage. Prix Caprilli tests include walk, trot, canter, and circles. The only thing they don’t have is the more advanced dressage movements.

Instead there are jumps!! Typically there are about two, both quite small. If you’re practising at home you can replace them with poles on the ground to start with.

Just one of the reasons Prix Caprilli is so great is that it encourages both horse and rider to think forwards. It also focuses on accuracy rather than the height of the jumps, boosting confidence as well as improving your riding.

Prix Caprilli may be considered a bit old-fashioned, but it really is the best way to combine different aspects of your training. To borrow a cliché, Prix Caprilli has the best of both worlds!

Horse Daydreamer xxx