YOUNG RIDERS TODAY - Oli (11 Years old) & his horse Jess’s experience their first dressage

Supporting, developing and encouraging young riders to have fun and enjoy their riding experience

Oli & Jess’s first dressage experience. 

Oli’s Mum Joy and her new horse Merrie, had a place on a dressage clinic at Brackenhurst and took the opportunity to include Oli and his horse Jess. On arrival they were able to make use of the out door school for Oli to have a flat lesson at the same time Joy was warming up. They felt this would be great way to give Oli a taste of dressage and introduce him to the environment of being at a show, without actually having to ride a test. 

Ella head and shoulders  ELLA LOGO YLI
Ella YLI Equestrian continues:

I always start a lesson by assessing where the rider is emotionally and physically on the day. Oli had just returned from a sleep over and was clearly still tired, but still very keen to ride. Instinctively I knew that giving Oli a lot of new information balanced with the fact that we were at a new venue amongst lots of adults and some pretty fresh dressage horses working in, just might overwhelm him.

Step 1 

We found ourselves a small quiet corner of the vast arena and began working on a 20 metre circle. I started by asking Oli to simply warm up in walk. We used a simple “altering the walk” exercise- bringing it down the gears into a small “fairy step” walk and then moving it right up to our “huge” big stepping walk. I described it to Oli as a volume dial on a radio… Making the smallest walk a number 1(Quiet) and the biggest walk a number 10 (Loud). This helped Oli to understand the difference between the different levels of walk we were aiming for and gave them time to relax and focus.

I encouraged Oli to use his seat to influence the changes and not rely on just a kick or pull on the rein. Throughout I asked Oli to describe what he was feeling when trying to identify with each walk he was asking for and to confirm if he thought Jess was giving it to him. It was important that Oli understood that he thinks and feels each walk for him self, rather than just rely on me telling him what it should be. 

Oli young riders bracken hurst
‘I strongly believe that the earlier we can coach these youngsters to use their seats the better and more effective their riding will be. There’s nothing worse than watching a child ride round kicking like crazy and yanking the pony around, simply because they have been taught to believe this is what is expected of them and know no difference’.  

Step 2

It wasn’t long before I moved the exercising up to the trot pace and experimented with Oli changing his rising speed and position of his body. He soon found that the quicker he rose in the trot the bigger Jess’ trot became, the smaller he made his rises, the smaller and slower the trot was. This exercise also encouraged Oli to coordinate his lower leg to squeeze and keep the trot going, but just in a smaller gear. By just slowing his rising, the mare thought he wanted a walk. 

Step 3

Once we had completed this exercise we started experimenting with the canter- lengthening and collecting the stride. This was something that Oli was keen to cover; when riding his distances between show jumps he has found that depending on the type of canter Jess approached in would effect how many strides she would use between fences. 

Oli’s awareness always impresses me, for a young rider he is very intuitive. He commented that the better control he had over Jess’s canter on the flat the better his track would be show jumping. It’s refreshing for a youngster to understand the importance of good flat work in relation to jumping. The role of a good coach is to highlight this importance right from day one; making the flat work sessions fun and interesting is key! After all, any numpty can jump a fence on a straight line!   


Oli young riders Jumping
The following day we had a jumping session in the arena at home and were able to put into practise the theme - changing the canter and number of strides. Oli was able to collect and bounce Jess’s canter to get 5 strides between two fences and also lengthen and make the same distance to make 4 strides. This was a real achievement for the pair and it was super to see such a direct effect from the previous days training. 

Oli’s feedback from the two lessons:

“It was really exciting going to Brackenhurst with Jess for the first time.  The next day was great to use the different speeds in the canter to improve my jumping and I could feel the difference, the jumps felt smoother.”

Next time – Why it’s so important for young riders to set their goals and how a coach guides, motivates and works with them to achieve.
Introducucing Ella and YLI equestrian