Pony Mom 101 – Equitation Basics Explained

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


Pony kids aren’t expected to know everything, but learn in the form of weekly lessons, summer camp, and time at the barn. New pony moms and dads get to pay the bills—and that’s about it.

It is so easy for me to take for granted the knowledge I brought with me, from a lifetime of riding myself, to the ringside as my kiddo entered the ranks of pony kid. Being PonyMomAmmy definitely has it’s advantages. Over the years as I sit with other moms during lessons and field their questions about why their kid is being told this, and what that means, I realize the advantage of being a rider myself.

To be clear, being completely clueless about all things horsey has its advantages as well. From the kiddo’s perspective, they spend all their days being told what to do, why to do it, how to do it, and when to do it. Being the horsey kid, in a non-horsey family, makes them the expert. That’s a pretty rare and empowering feeling for them, and I encourage pony parents to ask their kid to explain diagonals or the purpose of garter straps. They might just find their opportunity to teach you something!

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

What is equitation anyway?

Equitation is known as a good, secure position, and it’s the single most important thing your child will learn. The goal of 90% of all riding instruction your child will receive will be in relation to his/her body position. 

This is for two very important reasons: 

  1. If everything is where it should be, it makes it very difficult to fall off. Your kids heels should be down because it keeps her leg on and acts as an anchor, keeping her securely in the saddle and not in a heap on the ground! 
  2. It is the best way to allow the horse to function at his/her best, in the most comfortable way possible. 

There is a purpose for everything in riding, and while some things seem silly to worry about, it is all about setting the child and the horse up for success down the road.  Know this—no matter how tired you get of the trainer telling your child to keep her eyes up, and her heels down, it is all coming from a place of keeping your child safe.

What is that fancy bouncing at the trot?

One of the first things your child will learn is how to post the trot. In its simplest terms, it just means standing up slightly and sitting back down to the two beat gait of the trot. This is necessary to keep you from bouncing all over the horse’s back. It also allows the horse to take larger and more sweeping steps, by freeing up his back when in the “up” position of the post. As your rider progresses in her riding, posting properly will help them transfer rhythm and cadence to a young or green horse they might bring along. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Why is everyone so concerned with diagonals?

Diagonal refers to the “up” position of the posting trot, and is arguably the hardest thing to learn when starting riding lessons. To be on the correct diagonal, you should be up when the horses outside front leg is forward, and sitting when that outside front leg is back. 

If you watch a couple videos of a horse trotting, you’ll see the outside leg is the closest to the outside of the ring. By watching just that outside leg, you’ll begin to be able to count the up down, up down rhythm of the trot. 

If you are on the incorrect diagonal, the opposite is true. You are up when that outside leg is back, and down when it is forward. To change to the correct diagonal, riders sit one extra beat (so up, down, up, down, down, up) and continue on. It can be difficult to learn how to see if your diagonal is correct or incorrect from the saddle, as you cannot see the entire leg. The more advanced your rider gets, they will be able to feel if they are correct or not. When the trainer tells the child to “check her diagonal,” she is telling the child to look down and see if she is on the correct diagonal, and if not, to fix it by sitting an extra beat. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

What is the two point and did we skip one point?

Two point allows the rider’s upper body to move and give independent of their legs. Think of it this way: when you are sitting in the saddle, you have three points of contact—the leg, seat, and hands. Those three places of contact are telling the horse where to go, and how fast to get there (even if you’re intending to say one thing but actually saying another!). 

In two point, we remove the seat as one of the points of contact, leaving the points of contact as the hands and the leg, hence “two point.” The rider lifts and holds their bum out of the saddle and leans their upper body forward. This frees up the horse’s back and allows them to move more freely and forward at the canter. It allows the rider to balance and still match the horse’s forward momentum over jumps without interfering. If the rider’s heels are down and anchoring her leg in place and her upper body is slightly forward, she is making the horse’s job of jumping clear and clean that much easier. You are simply changing your balance point to match the more forward balance of your jumping horse.

Hopefully this helps provide some clarity to the new pony moms and dads on what their kiddos are working on. As your child keeps riding, the list of things to learn will only grow, but with a great trainer, fellow parents and your kid to guide you—you’ll be an expert pony parent in no time.

About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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