BY ROBIN GREENWOOD
Follow this step-by-step guide to regulate and maintain your ring pace, whether you’re riding in a schooling show or in the Walnut Ring at Pony Finals.
1. Learn and then practice your horse or pony’s regular canter pace. Learn to maintain that pace all the way around the ring and practice doing so, at first on the flat.
2. You may have to increase pace as you pass the gate and head away from the gate, and decrease pace as you head toward the gate. Work on this until you can easily maintain one pace around the ring.
3. Be sure you follow the same track as you go around the ring, and that your horse or pony is straight as you go down the sides. Look straight ahead at a point like a tree or a post and be sure that you cannot see either of your horse or pony’s eyes. (This means his neck is straight.)
4. Now ask your horse or pony to lengthen his stride on the sides going toward the gate and away from the gate. Be sure that you sit still, sink in your heels, and squeeze with both legs. Reaction to the leg is learned, so use your stick behind your outside leg if he does not respond. Return to the regular canter on the other two sides. Practice this until your horse or pony readily goes forward and readily returns to his regular canter.
5. Now practice cantering a pole until you can calmly canter up to the pole and over it without your pony speeding up or slowing down or jumping the pole. Sit in the saddle over the pole. Again, be sure your horse or pony is straight and goes over the middle of the pole.
6. Add a second pole between 65 and 72 feet away from the first pole. The distances will be shorter on ponies. Canter over the center of both poles at a nice relaxed canter in six strides. After you do it a few times, you may have to adjust the distance between the poles to fit your horse or pony’s stride. As you continue the exercise, you should have to begin to smoothly slow down between the two poles. Remain siting at the canter and as you go over the poles.
7. Do this over two poles both going toward the gate and away from the gate. Practice until your horse or pony can go both directions and you are able to smoothly regulate his stride length so that he is the same in both directions.
8. Now do the same poles in your half seat and start with a little more pace. Canter the first pole smoothly without your pony taking a long jump. As you go over the first pole, squeeze with both legs so that he lengthens from your leg as you practiced in step four. Take one less stride between the poles. Don’t drive with your seat, or kick, or cluck. If your horse or pony does not lengthen, use your stick behind your leg and remind him of the signal. You stay still.
9. Continue to work over the poles, lengthening and shortening until you can do the quiet lines in six strides and the lengthening in five strides. Your pace should now be the same before, during and after the line.
10. Begin to practice the same exercise over low jumps. The distances will have to be slightly longer as you raise the jumps. Once you master this over low jumps, change the number of feet between jumps, both on straight lines and bending lines. Now you should be able to smoothly lengthen your horse or pony up the first line of a course and shorten his stride down the last line.
Greenwood is the owner and trainer of Grand Central Ponies in Southern Pines, NC. She has trained dozens of ponies and riders to wins and championships at the National Horse Show, Indoors, Pony Finals, and many other top shows.
*This story was originally published in the August 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!