Learn­ing to ride

Learn­ing to ride on ponies may be the norm for Bri­tish chil­dren, but not so across the globe. How does rid­ing horses in­stead of ponies af­fect chil­dren in the long term? Stephanie Bate­man in­ves­ti­gates

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - H&H

Horses vs ponies: who is the great­est teacher for chil­dren?

‘As soon as we could do the ba­sics, we were put onto horses — I re­mem­ber there be­ing a good few twists in the stir­rup leathers’


IT’S hard to imag­ine chil­dren in the UK learn­ing to ride on any­thing other than a Thel­well looka­like, but for many rid­ers who learnt to ride abroad, horses were the only op­tion.

“As soon as you were deemed com­pe­tent enough, you were straight onto horses,” says Chi­nese even­ter Alex Hua Tian, who started rid­ing, aged nine, in Hong Kong. “We did have some great lit­tle ponies, but they were rare and used for the real be­gin­ners. Once we could do the ba­sics, we were put onto horses. I was pretty small un­til I was 15, and I re­mem­ber there be­ing a good few twists in the stir­rup leathers.”

Look­ing back now, Alex be­lieves rid­ing horses from a young age put him in good stead for his event­ing ca­reer.

“Clay­ton and Lucinda Fred­er­icks used to come to Hong Kong and teach clin­ics,” he says. “When I was 10, my mother sent me to their place for two weeks and they put me on their horses be­cause I was used to rid­ing horses in Hong Kong.”

Por­tuguese dres­sage rider Luis Principe had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence as a child.

“I grew up in Por­tu­gal and never set eyes on a pony as a kid be­cause there just weren’t many,” he says. “I learnt to ride when I was

12 at my lo­cal rid­ing school near Lis­bon, and the horses were a mix­ture of well-schooled part-bred Lusi­tanos and warm­bloods. We still fol­lowed the tra­di­tional walk, trot and can­ter around the school one af­ter the other, but we never had is­sues with naughty ponies go­ing one way and the kids go­ing the other.”

Size wasn’t too much of an is­sue for Luis, who was tall for his age.

“Lusi­tanos aren’t par­tic­u­larly tall — the big­gest were around 16.2hh — so we didn’t feel to­tally over­horsed,” he says. “You got used to it, and we pre­ferred to ride the big­ger ones any­way — it was more ma­cho.”

H&H polo re­porter Au­rora East­wood started rid­ing in Eng­land on ponies, but it wasn’t a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing bolted with on a pony called Juno on Sal­is­bury Plain,” she says. “It was to­tally ter­ri­fy­ing and I fell off a lot.”

Au­rora’s fam­ily then moved to Por­tu­gal when she was 10.

“I rode Lusi­tanos — they didn’t geld them back then so they were all stal­lions, but they were so man­nerly and well schooled, and I never got carted.

“It was eas­ier to sit to their paces, and they gave me con­fi­dence and im­proved my rid­ing — I knew that they wouldn’t tank off or drop a shoul­der.”

DE­SPITE hav­ing ac­cess to ponies, Ara­bian stud yard man­ager and ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion tech­ni­cian Lyn­dall Kramer be­gan rid­ing on horses.

“I learnt to ride at my lo­cal rid­ing school in Lon­don on a 16.1hh coloured mare,” she says. “I was re­ally short and couldn’t get on from the ground, which made my B test tricky.

“All the other kids rode ponies and I was jeal­ous when I couldn’t vault on dur­ing gymkhana games, but at Pony Club camp one year, I won a brav­ery award be­cause I was the small­est kid on the big­gest horse.”

Lyn­dall be­lieves that rid­ing horses as a child has given her a good seat.

“I’m glad I learnt to ride on horses,” she says. “Heights of jumps weren’t as dra­matic and you de­velop a stronger core rid­ing big-strid­ing horses. You can bet­ter feel what’s go­ing on un­der­neath you.”

Event rider Claire Deuten learnt to ride in Dubai when she was eight. In those days, rid­ing schools there were mostly made up of ex-race­horses and polo ponies.

“They weren’t very well be­haved and I of­ten asked my­self: ‘Why do I want to ride horses?’” she re­mem­bers. “The are­nas were al­ways round, which I reckon was to stop the horses from get­ting up enough speed and bolt­ing. There were also tall white rail­ings around the out­side, prob­a­bly to stop them from jump­ing out.

“I re­mem­ber I didn’t know my left from my right and when­ever I used to drop my reins to try to work it out, the horse would bolt.”

Claire spent sum­mers rid­ing in the UK un­til she re­lo­cated here, aged 16.

“I’ve al­ways been quite tall and didn’t know any dif­fer­ent when it came to rid­ing the taller horses, so it’s hard to say if there were any ad­van­tages,” she says. “As an event rider, I get jeal­ous of peo­ple who came through the UK pony event­ing sys­tem, be­cause they were a step ahead of me and I feel it put me at a dis­ad­van­tage when launch­ing my event­ing ca­reer.”

Se­lene Scarsi, a dres­sage re­porter for

H&H, grew up in Italy and be­gan rid­ing in the early 1990s.

“My rid­ing school, like all the oth­ers in the area, only of­fered lessons on horses, even for tiny be­gin­ners like me — at the time, ponies could only be found in the posher, larger yards near ma­jor cities,” Se­lene says. “My very first lessons were on a gen­tle gi­ant called Lollo, a school­mas­ter in his late teens, who was more than 17hh and never put a foot wrong. I never found him in­tim­i­dat­ing — he was the kind­est, most for­giv­ing horse, and I still re­mem­ber my first can­ter and jump on him.

“I don’t feel my eques­trian ed­u­ca­tion suf­fered be­cause of it — for sure I missed out on the more play­ful as­pect of the sport, such as fun pony games, which I would have loved, but I don’t re­gret learn­ing to ride on horses.”

PONIES are plen­ti­ful in Bri­tain for chil­dren to learn on, but what do those who’ve had a taste of both sce­nar­ios make of our lean­ing to­wards them as the ideal teach­ers?

“It to­tally de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual whether they are bet­ter off on ponies or horses,” says Alex. “Some taller kids are far bet­ter on a small horse than a big pony.”

Au­rora adds: “If I had a choice, I’d give a child a well-schooled horse over a naughty pony any day. Not ev­ery­one learns from a naughty pony, and they can be to­tal con­fi­dence-killers. I don’t sub­scribe to the ide­ol­ogy that be­ing re­peat­edly bucked off or hav­ing a pony con­stantly refuse fences will make you a bet­ter rider in later life. There’s

plenty of time to ride dif­fi­cult horses when you are grown-up — why put a child through that and risk put­ting them off?”

Be­ing able to learn to ride on ponies is less im­por­tant than be­ing able to learn to ride, says Se­lene.

“In an ideal world, chil­dren should learn to ride on ponies, but ideal sce­nar­ios don’t hap­pen so of­ten and if the al­ter­na­tive is not rid­ing at all, then thank God for horses — no mat­ter how big,” she says.

“Bri­tain is such a horsey coun­try that the big­gest ad­van­tage Bri­tish chil­dren have is not so much the avail­abil­ity of ponies, but the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of rid­ing, both fi­nan­cially and ge­o­graph­i­cally. There are so many yards all over the coun­try and eques­trian equip­ment (es­pe­cially for some­one start­ing out) tends to be sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than else­where in Europe. Rid­ing here is far less elit­ist than in other Euro­pean coun­tries, which is a huge ad­van­tage.”

Olympic showjumper Gra­ham Fletcher fully en­dorses chil­dren rid­ing ponies and be­lieves it’s a great way to teach them how to be good com­peti­tors.

“My kids learnt to ride on ponies and good ones do a great job teach­ing them how to ride,” he says. “Rid­ing stylishly is one thing, but to be re­ally good, kids need to learn to be good com­peti­tors and they only get that from rid­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced, com­pet­i­tive pony.

“Learn­ing to kick a bit and win — it’s that de­vel­op­ment of the ath­lete that makes fu­ture win­ners and it’s very im­por­tant, says Gra­ham.”

‘i was jeal­ous of peo­ple who came through the Uk pony event­ing sys­tem be­cause they were a step ahead of me,’ says Claire deuten, who learnt to ride in dubai

lyn­dall kramer is glad she learnt to ride on a 16.1hh horse: ‘heights of jumps weren’t as dra­matic and you de­velop a stronger core rid­ing big-strid­ing horses’

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