“If you must buy a pony… then you should buy this one.”
That’s what my coach, Wylie, said to me the day she came with me to try Stella. See, Wylie wasn’t totally sold on me buying a pony. And, yes, I get all of the reasons for that. My dream is to be a dressage rider, and ponies aren’t what most people think of when they conjure up images of beautiful, big-strided warmbloods tempi-changing their way across the diagonal.
Nonetheless, as you all know, I bought the pony. And this week it was time for her first lesson with Wylie. I was nervous. It was to be her first ride in a real indoor arena, and the first time Wylie had seen her go since we tried her out way back in June. It was also the first time since I bought her that I’d ridden her anywhere besides a round pen. I took a deep breath, put my foot in the stirrup, and put all of my faith in my pony.
Now, Stella is pretty green. She’s been very nicely (but lightly) started, and is pretty much a clean slate. No bad habits, no scary experiences, ready to take it all in. She loves to learn new things and she’s always up for a challenge. These are all traits that I saw in her from the very first time rode her, and I was happy to see that nothing had changed.
As with all greenies, steering is often one of the first issues needing to be addressed, so we worked our way around the arena in a rhythmic, forward, marching walk (gosh, this pony has a nice walk!), alternating between big circles and straight lines. Stella is hollow to the left, so we did a nifty little exercise on the right rein where we turned off the track, straightened, then, using a big opening outside rein and an on-off inside leg aid, I encouraged her to move forward and sideways (think little baby leg yields) to get her off my inside leg. When we changed rein to go left (her hollow side), we switched up the exercise but used basically the same aids, turning our circles into squares, using an open inside rein to help lead her around the turn, but keeping a steady feel on the outside rein and introducing a supporting outside leg to help her maintain a little bend without falling out through the turn.
At the trot, we focused on rhythm and relaxation. We trotted our way around the ring, moving from one twenty-meter-circle to the next, keeping a soft contact and helping Stella stay balanced and forward in a nice, relaxed frame. And it was during the trot work that I remembered why pony riders have great abs. If you tip forward or back even a smidge, you can totally throw a pony off balance. If you’re going to keep that tempo steady like a metronome, you’ve got to stay straight and tall, and the only way to make sure that happens is to engage those core muscles. So, win/win – I can improve my riding and get ready for bikini season all in one shot!
We ended on a good note and called it a day. Stella was starting to get tired, and she had done everything we’d asked of her. She was relaxed, focused and honest in her work. She didn’t play any of the silly games some horses play (like spooking at the back door of the arena, or thinking they can’t trot and poop at the same time). She was a good pony.