Saturday, July 18, 2009

French and Saunders - Ponies

Friday, May 29, 2009

(13) Pony club camp (Lottie n Velvet)

Pony Club: Holistic Riding Instruction

I've received good questions recently about Pony Club instruction and how to bring it together with local instructors.

What Is Pony Club Instruction?

In the world of English riding, Pony Club is the holistic instruction. I like the American Heritage Dictionary's definition for holistic - "Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts." Pony Club instruction is concerned with each of the parts that makes the whole horseman. Only after the horseman develops a solid foundation in all basic skills, are Pony Clubbers encouraged to "specialize", but even then they continue training in the other areas of horsemanship.

Pony Club Instruction Encompasses 6 Major Areas of Horsemanship:
1. The Mechanics
The lower levels of Pony Club instruction are filled with mechanics. Children are taught how to to do many things from holding the reins, to cleaning the hoof. They learn the mechanics of controlling and directing the horse, while they are learning the mechanics of control of own their body. As they advance through the levels, they learn the mechanics that help a horse to jump well, such as how to set grids and trot poles. They learn how to use the tools that cause standard results in themselves and their horses.
Pony Clubbers learn the mechanics of safety through rules that are taught via the "Pony Club Way". Although the "Pony Club Way" seems enigmatic, it is logical a set of methods that were designed to keep children safe. Pony Club teaches a thorough system of safety at all levels of horsemanship.

2. Theory and Philosophy
Pony Club kids are taught the reasons for the things they learn and they are expected to be able to explain reasons to others. Pony Clubbers are encouraged to read the manuals, study the standards, watch the videos, attend clinics, and learn from their peers. Each ratings level has a recommended reading list that the members are encouraged to study.

During Pony Club ratings children are asked to analyze how their horse performed, or explain why they warmed up a certain way, how they could improve their performance, and whether they understand the principal behind their level of riding.

Pony Clubbers learn about the theory of caring for horses, from feeding to veterinary to the physiological and psychological aspects of horses. As Pony Clubbers advance through the levels, they can tell you why they feed a particular hay to their horse or why he wears a certain type of shoe or why a Dr. Bristol is more effective for their horse than a French Link.

3. Horse Management and Care
Learning to care for the horse is not just a theory in Pony Club instruction. Even Pony Clubbers who board their horses take care of them at Pony Club lessons, meetings and camps. Pony Club kids unload, groom, tack up and handle their own horses. And they keep record books, recording feed and worming, veterinary care, pulse and respiration, conditioning, expenses and more.
I'll write more about competition in a minute but when Pony Club kids rally, they take total charge of their horse and it's equipment for the duration of the rally.

4. Teamwork
Not only do Pony Club members learn to look out for and esteem their club members, Pony Club competition is in team form. The very nature of team competition reinforces the idea of Pony Club as holistic instruction. Teams work together to prepare for rallies. Teams work together at rally to put tack rooms together, organize preparation for formals and ride times. Team members rely on one another to make decisions and handle the work at rally.

5. Competition
Competition is not a requirement in Pony Club instruction but rarely do you find a child who will not compete as part of a team. Instruction in how to prepare for rallies, learning rules, and working as a team provides skills that spill over into many areas of riding and non-riding life. Instruction in competition continues at Pony Club rally through the Chief Horse Management Judge. At rallies Riding and stable management skills carry equal weight in determining the winning team at Pony Club rallies. Pony Club instruction includes learning to compete at the club, regional and National Levels.

All competition is a test of skills and no where is there a stronger test of skills than during Pony Club ratings. Pony Club members do not compete against one another at ratings. Examiners judge the members against the standard for the level they are testing. The member will either meet the standard or not. Ratings are where you will find members competing against themselves to perform their very best for the day.

6. Giving Back
Pony Club instruction includes teaching members how to give back to their clubs with service. As a member moves up the ratings scale they are encouraged to teach the things they have learned to the members who are following along behind them.

In Many Areas, Local Instructors Aren't Enthusiastic About Pony Club. Why?

Is Your Club a Threat?
One of the problems that many Pony Clubs face is that they can not get local riding instructors to support their students becoming members of Pony Club. I believe in many cases this is because the local instructor doesn't understand that Pony Club does not want to replace their instruction. Pony Club instruction is intended to supplement the regular riding lesson program. Local instructors can be concerned that Pony Clubs will alienate their students and they will lose business. They don't realize that Pony Club wants their members to take regular lessons.

Who Knows?
Frequently, local instructors are not familiar with what actually goes on at Pony Club or they have a poor opinion of Pony Club. And not all local instructors are interested in all the facets of horsemanship that Pony Club offers.

The "Poor Boy"
And then there is the image of Pony Club. For many years, local Pony Clubs have put on the "poor boy" face, wanting to pay as little as possible for instructors and clinicians. In some areas of the country this has caused professionals, even past Pony Club members, to dislike teaching for Pony Clubs. But I believe that United States Pony Clubs, particularly with the launching of the specialty ratings, believes that quality instruction comes at a cost. Local clubs need to be willing to pay for quality instruction for their members. As members of the United States Pony Clubs 501c3, local clubs have the unique opportunity to raise money for their instruction programs. There are still many instructors who will "give back" to the Pony Club community, but clubs need to realize that professionals need to earn money.

What Will Bring Pony Club and Local Instructors Together?
Be inviting and respectful.
Ask the local instructor if they would be willing to come to a Standards and Ratings Clinic to see some of the requirements that are important for ratings. If the instructor shows an interest, have your club raise the money to pay their way.

Invite the local instructor to a Pony Club "Meet the Kids Pizza Party" and ask if they would watch USPC's Standards DVDs with the kids.

Ask if the local instructor would like to borrow the Pony Club manuals to see the Pony Club curriculum.

Most instructors will be happy to take a look if it's presented properly. And many instructors would like to add, "I teach Pony Club" to their list of credentials.

Be On Their Side
Let the instructor know that your club is in favor of members taking regular riding lessons from them.

And offer a fair fee for the hours you want them to spend teaching your members.

Who Is Pony Club For?

I believe if club leaders put forward a non confrontational, inclusive face, even incorporating some of my suggestions, you will find that local instructors are more receptive to your requests for periodic club instruction. But if your efforts fail to gain the trust and respect of the local instructors, don't lose heart. Pony Club has many avenues to follow to gain good instruction.

And remember the very true statement: "Pony Club is not for everyone". This statement includes youth and adults, students and instructors.

If you have any questions about teaching riding, or comments about my blog, I'd love to hear from you. You can post to my blog in comments or email me at .

Barbara Fox, Pony Club Lover and Local Instructor
Please visit my US Horsemanship web site at
and my US Horsemanship Blog at

Friday, May 8, 2009

Metropolitan Mounted Police at Olympia

The Value Of Group Lessons

Group lessons used to be the most common form of riding lessons. I don't know percentages but it appears that private lessons, or semi private lessons (2 in a class) are more common these days, particularly with adults.

I love to teach group lessons and I believe they have tremendous value, causing beginner and intermediate riders, in particular to advance more quickly. I like my group lessons to be more than 4 riders but not more than 8, although I have taught twice that many riders at once.

Length of Lesson
Group lesson can be longer because there are periods when the instructor's focus is not pin pointed on the rider's every move. This gives a little bit of down time. The more time students spend on horse back, the more quickly they can progress. Teaching group lessons is a good use of time for students, parents and the instructor.

Group Lesson Students Can Carpool
Let's face it. Travel time and cost are a big deal to everyone these days. It's a bonus anytime moms can take turns bringing kids any place is a bonus, and riding lessons are no exception.

Group Lessons Cost the Student Less But Make You More Money
Do the math. The going rate in my area for private lessons is between $50 and $65 per lesson. But you can charge $35 for a group lesson and five students will bring in $175 for the same time period. And the bonus is that at $35 per lesson your student has a better chance of taking more than one lesson each week.

Social Horse Lovers
One of the reasons soccer is so popular among kids is because it involves so many other kids. Just drive past a soccer field with a 7 year old kid in your car. You'll notice that their eyes don't leave the hoard of kids who are having a great time on the soccer field. Kids are social creatures. They want to be with other kids. Adults may not be as exuberant but they are not that different either. Adults look for a group to fit in to, just like they did when they were kids. Let's face it. Riding is a social experience. People that take lessons and ride want to connect with other people that take lessons and ride. Group lessons are one way to feed the social need of the horse lover. Even adults look forward to riding together.

The Element of Fun
Games are an excellent way for riders to put their skills to practical use. There is an endless number of games that an instructor can use; from dropping rocks in a pail to relays over fences. These games can all be used in private lessons as exercises but they are so much more fun when you can form teams.

Less Intense
Group lessons are less intense but they can deliver the same quality of instruction as a private lesson. Group lessons are less intense because the instructor's focus moves from student to student. This gives each student some minutes that the lesson pressure is a little bit less. It also gives the student a small sense of independence in a very controlled situation. For instance, they can adjust their own position before they are told to correct it, giving that little window to develop thinking skills on horseback. A smart instructor will allow varying lengths for these times and will use it for observation. And group lessons take the pressure off. In a group lessons everyone will have times that they shine and no one will have to shine all the time.

The Visual Learning Tool
For some people, riding snaps into place much faster when they can see what they are trying to achieve. Group lessons provide the instructors with demo riders. Take teaching diagonals as an example. Instead of exhausting the "rise and fall with the one on the wall" ditty and instead of having your students struggle looking at their horse's shoulder to try to coordinate it with their posting, you can let them watch each other. The first part of learning diagonals is seeing the relationship between the horse's shoulders and the rider's posting. I'll have one rider watch the group and I say, "Tell me which shoulder comes back as this rider sits into the saddle." It works every time because it's that old "a picture is worth a thousand words" theory. The visual tool works at all levels, over and over again. The bonus is that when they see that one of their peers can achieve something, they know they can too. So I guess I have to add that group lessons give students confidence.

The Challenge
In the same sense the at group lessons give students confidence, group lessons also add the challenge factor. When peers ride together and they see one another achieve, that nudge to do it better seems to find its way in.

The Drills
School commands are not used so much today because most instructors are not taught with them.

One of the most delightful lessons I have ever witnessed was with Molly Sivewright. Mrs. Sivewright is the author of both "Thinking Riding " books, as well as a book on lunging. She is the founder of Talland School of Equitation in England and is a Fellow of the British Horse Society. I met Mrs. Sivewright at a dressage clinic in Kansas. In a matter of minutes, through the use of school commands, Mrs. Sivewright had 8 dressage riders divided into two circles, going the opposite direction and changing circles smoothly on command. Believe me when I say, that this didn't start out pretty! These horses and riders were used to riding alone. But after a few minutes, this group could have rivaled any drill team. (Except may the Metropolitan Mounted Police at Olympia) I'll bet those riders will never forget Ms. Sivewright's lesson.

Working in a line and trying to keep the correct distance from the horse in front of you is challenging for students. Adding changes of rein, circles,and transitions on command gives students a new way to work on their skills. I call this "learning through necessity"!

One year for Pony Club camp, I hired a man who'd ridden with an exhibition drill ride of Andalusians. I had my doubts that the older, higher rated members would be comfortable using their hot thoroughbreds for drill riding. I was wrong. This instructor's classes were the thrill of camp for all levels that year.

Keep Your Students Coming Back
Group lessons are an important part of an instruction program. It takes work to become proficient at teaching group lessons and requires the ability to "multi task" as well as "eyes in the back of your head", but it's worth it. Group lessons have benefits that range from progress, to social, to use of time, to finances, to fun. In the long run its the progress and fun that will keep your students coming back for more.

Barbara Fox
US Horsemanship Web
US Horsemanship Blog

Friday, April 24, 2009

We're a Little Bit Upside Down

I'm neither for nor against riding instructor certification because after all these many years of limited certification in the U.S., I'm convinced that certification has little to do with becoming a first class riding instructor. But there are certain benefits to certification.

1. Certification tells others that you have studied a prescribed plan of curriculum
2. Certification tells people that you have probably done some work in safety
3. Certification identifies which part of the industry you are connected with
4. Certification shows that you were serious enough to make a commitment to you career path

I will always encourage the young riding instructor candidate to "go" for certifications in as many areas as they can. The time is coming that in order to be competitive in the teaching business, instructors will need to be certified...unless they have been around, proving themselves, as long as the mighty some of us.

But I believe we're a little bit upside down with our certifications. Why? Well because it's relatively easy to become certified at the lower level and significantly more difficult to become certified to teach the upper levels. This is the complete reverse of the way our school teachers are educated. Without a degree in education, I could teach at the college level because I'm an expert in my field. But should I want to work in the elementary grades at a public or private school- I would be relegated to being a class mother or perhaps a teacher's helper. Why?

This is because our educational system, with all it's bumps and warts, realizes that the proper development of youngsters in elementary school has a direct bearing on how they will absorb education at the higher levels. The elementary school teacher is responsible for starting the child in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Without solid basics in these three areas a student will have difficulty going far in their education. The elementary school teacher is also responsible for teaching skills in socialization and teamwork. She helps to lay the foundation for our future "good citizens". Consequently the education required to become an elementary school teacher is more stringent than to become a college instructor.

We should view teaching the basics to our beginning horsemen and women just as seriously as the educational system views teaching the basics to the elementary school students. By not giving our riders the correct, strong foundation in their horsemanship skills, instructors seriously limit the potential students have to become great horsemen and women. The instructor of beginners paves the way, making it possible for the lofty instructors of the higher levels to do their jobs. The upper level instructors would be lost without the work of the instructors of beginners. The instructors who teach beginners lay the foundations for Olympians. Even more important than that....the instructor who lays the solid foundation for the beginner, opens doors and makes it more likely that that person will succeed at and enjoy riding for a prolonged amount of time.

If you are an instructor of beginning horsemen and women, no matter what their age, take a moment to understand that you hold one of the most important positions in riding instruction. Even when your student has moved on to ride with advanced or specialty instructors, they will still be building on the foundation that the you helped to lay.

Personally I believe that terrific beginner instructors are undervalued, and rarely acknowledged but they hold the most important position in our industry.

Keep up the good work!
Barbara Fox
U.S. Horsemanship Web Site
U.S. Horsemanship Blog

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Riding for a Lifetime

Riding is different than most other sports. If a person is taught to ride correctly they can continue this sport for a lifetime. I've known many people who continue to ride in their 60s, 70s, and 80s and a few who have continued to ride in their 90s. That's something that you're not apt to see happen with soccer or tennis or even golf. Riding is not limited to the young.

With the development of indoor riding arenas, all weather footing, water proof tack and insulated riding clothes, riding, unlike so many of its counterparts, is not a seasonal activity.

Contrary to the opinion of some instructors, riding is not only for the physically gifted, the thin, or the athletic person either. It is a sport that has the ability to add quality of life to every body type, lifestyle and age group. Our sport provides opportunity for exercise, fresh air, individual activity, team activity, companionship, competition, humility, grace and accomplishment to all who participate. Riding is a universal sport.

If more of our youth learned to care for a horse and to ride it correctly, we'd see fewer kids hanging out at the malls. If more adults rode with the confidence that results from good basic instruction, stress levels would drop and health would improve. Winston Churchill wisely coined, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."

A good riding instructor has a thorough understanding of the basics of horsemanship. She pays attention to detail and has a strong desire to see his or her student improve. The good instructor has the patience to explain the same principal over again, perhaps in a new way. She helps her student reach their goals.

Developing excellent basic skills doesn't require that a student compete, although many people like to try a horse trials or schooling show. Competition must always be a test of the rider's progress and should never be the end goal. If competition becomes the end goal and winning becomes our only desire, then we resort to short cuts, gimmicks, and tricks. In the end we're riding for a prize and not the love of the sport; we rob ourselves of the pleasure of riding for riding's sake, and of enjoying riding for a lifetime.

Barbara Fox, riding for a lifetime