Rider confidence: Putting obstacles in the way

This month, Rachel explains how a couple of jump wings have helped her to stop worrying quite so much! 

Well one of us has had a nice chilled out month. Of course it wasn’t me, but my delightful four-legged friend! 

Over the past few weeks, Ruby has somehow managed to become a semi-retired lawnmower/chief hay guzzler.

We'd already planned a week off work due to my very welcome holiday to Ibiza (something we were both looking forward to).

However, a couple of weeks beforehand, she decided that a complete fortnight of work would be far too strenuous and that, as a role model for horses across the country, she should try out the three shoe look, because four shoes are soooo last season.

Cue an extra four days off work before Cinderella was reunited with her metal slipper. 

By the way, she actually did start a trend. A couple of days later her ‘twin’ Hope (and by ‘twin’ I mean they’re the same colour, but that’s where the similarities to the leggy equine supermodel end) decided that she too would try out the ‘three is the new four’ look.

Except poor Hope managed to do this on the day the farrier was replacing Ruby’s shoe so she was rewarded for her efforts by spending a rainy Saturday cross-country schooling, much to my pony’s amusement. 

Anyway, back to Ruby. After the success of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, we began to get a little more adventurous (in the indoor school - obviously) and started placing obstacles in the arena.

Inspired by my amazing gymkhana skills (ahem), I thought about how I could incorporate these into schooling sessions, starting with jump wings. 

Ruby can become a little excited when she sees things that are in a different place to usual so I made a point of setting up the obstacles after we had entered the arena on foot.

First of all, I placed three jump wings down the centre line, set out as though you'd have to ride around them to create a three-loop serpentine.

I then went large around the arena before using the wings as markers for circles and serpentines, eventually trotting in and out of them, mounted games style.

Although a little apprehensive at first, I found that far from making me more nervous, the obstacles were strangely helping me to become more confident. 

It was only after we left the arena (with me smiling and Ruby feeling very proud of herself, having played with the big pony toys) that I realised why I’d had a slight confidence boost.

It was because the obstacles were distracting me from everything I could hear and see and were giving me something else to focus on.

Instead of worrying about what Ruby was going to do next, I was worrying about not crashing into the jump wings! 

We had a few sessions using the jump wings before I felt that it was time to move on to my nemesis - the trotting pole.

A few weeks after buying Ruby, I fell off her when she stumbled over a pole.

It wasn’t a serious fall at all and would have been very entertaining for anyone watching, but since then, it has been lodged in the back of my mind.

But the other day I thought it was time to face my fear. 

I took Ruby in the indoor school and let her watch me get a pole down and place it on the centreline between E and B.

Once I got on, Ruby suddenly sprang to life, having found a pole on the ground to be the most exciting thing since the invention of pony nuts, as she thought we were going jumping.

I’ve jumped her a couple of times over teeny tiny cross poles but not for a while, as a certain coblet who hates any form of exercise can clear a fence by three feet if she's in the right mood and my nerves aren’t quite ready to take us to that level yet! 

I started by walking around the pole and let her realise that she wouldn't be jumping it, nor would it take her to the floor and devour her.

Once she relaxed a little, I walked her down the centreline, clung for dear life to my neck strap as we casually strolled over the pole in walk.

I was still on board, Ruby was still upright and neither of us had scared ourselves. Result!

I repeated this a few times, with my confidence growing each time as I began to trust her. 

Although we didn’t trot over the pole, I still felt that we'd accomplished something, thanks to a comment that someone had posted about one of my earlier blog posts, popping into my head: ‘It’s all about baby steps’.

With this in mind, I’m going to try to take the next step soon and attempt to get over the pole in trot and finally put those niggly pole nerves to bed! 

That is of course, as long as a bit of work doesn’t get in the way of Ruby’s glittering career as an equine trendsetter!