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Timid Riders

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  • Timid Riders

    My friend recently sold her kid-packer pony to a 13-year-old at the barn who is a sweet kid, but is really timid. She's small for her age and has a big desire to learn, but is very weak about correcting the pony and he takes advantage of her as much as he can. He knows what he can do to scare her and he's starting to get worse.

    Do you have any suggestions to help her become more aggressive? It's hard for me to try and help her because when I was a kid, I was a very gung-ho, make the horse do it no matter what kind of rider. I'm still pretty much that way.

    I don't want her to get too scared or discouraged, but she needs some help. Her lessons go really well and the two of them seem to click when they're in front of her trainer, but when she's riding on her own, it's not always a pretty sight.

  • #2
    Since the kid already has a trainer, why not discuss it with him/her? Maybe having regular tune-ups with a pony jock would help keep pony in line? Those grazing reins are a big help if he's the type that is always tugging the reins out of the kid's hands to get a bite of grass. I knew one pony that used to pull little kids right out of the tack that way.


    • Original Poster

      He's more of a scooter - it's interesting because the pony was never this spooky before the girl got him. He was looky but never this bad. And the worst part is you can almost see him smiling when he does it.

      We've had other people hop on and school him and he's a perfect angel. Put the kid back on there are gremlins everywhere.

      The trainer comes in once a week to give lessons. I'll try to mention it to her that the problem is getting worse and see what she thinks.

      I suggested she lunge him before she rides and she tried that, but he tries to run her over when she lunges him. Then I end up helping her and showing her how to lunge properly, then I step out to let her do it and he runs her over again.

      How do you tell a kid that they have to be more assertive or this pony is going to kill her?


      • #4
        Not sure you should take on somebody else's 13 year old kid with her own horse unless asked?

        Poor kid is different then what you were at the same age and there is a distinct possiblity you would put pressure on her to be something she is not if you speak to her. She may be nervous with you watching with anything but a smile on your face anyway. Body language and facial expression can convey as much as words can.

        I would restrict any comments to "hey, good job" when you can or "don't worry, you'll get it eventually" or share some experience on your past where you were no superstar and had to really work to get something.

        Careful if you "help" her without a formal agreement-you could get her hurt and that could bite you in the wallet.

        Otherwise speak to the trainer or her parents, don't pick on the kid for her nerves or expect her to know things she does not and get frustrated when she does not pick up your hints.
        When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

        The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


        • #5
          The biggest thing I found with timid kids was that they have to get past thinking that they are going to ruin a pony's mouth or hurt/ruin it some how by getting after it. I taught a very similar girl for a couple of years. He pony was a stinker (that perfect mix, in my book, of ass and saint), and had her number up one side and down the other. Her older sister watched him run off with me early on and me KICK him, and she quickly learned how to be assertive with him. He rarely screwed with the older one, but the younger one was quite timid and also had been taught, at some point, bad hunter riding and that ANY contact on a pony's mouth was HORRIBLE.

          I had to teach her that wasn't the case, for one thing, and also that if her pony tanks off with her or hauls her out the gate, she has the RIGHT to rip him a new set of molars. It took awhile, but she did get it...one day, in the middle of a great lesson, after weeks of him being good, he went to bolt- just to test the waters- and she got MAD. It was glorious! She halted his little pony butt, correctly got him back on the aids, then went back to doing what she'd been doing, like nothing ever happened. I was so proud!

          I think the big thing was getting her off the rail and having her DO things. Circles, figure eights, transitions, etc. She learned that she could control him easily, especially when she kept him wicked pony brain thinking about what she was asking instead of letting his mind wander (because she never got off the rail), and start think devious pony thoughts.


          • Original Poster

            Oh, I'm not picking on the kid. She asks me for help because she's nervous. I wouldn't go barging up to someone and say "Hey, you suck at this, I'm going to teach you a thing or two!"

            I'm the old woman barn rat and anytime the kids have questions they usually ask me.

            So since they ask, I'm trying to think of ways to help if I can. I love the kid to death and it makes me sad that she's having a rough time.


            • #7
              I'm wondering if this pony might not be the best "fit" for this kid? Timid riders need to gain confidence in their riding skills on saintly packers first...then move on to the ponies that can challenge them. Maybe the best thing would be for the kid to take some extra lessons with the trainer?


              • #8
                Just throwing this out there.

                I have a horse in my barn that was purchased as a re-school project for a rather confident adult re-rider to bring back along. When she bought him, he was a kick ride, cool as a cucumber, nothin' rattles him kind of ride.

                She did well for a while, working on flat work first and showing little beginner ring greenie courses (18") without any training rides, only lessons for guidance. She eventually ended up in long stirrup 2'3" hunters with good success.

                Now this young lady suffers from pretty bad anxiety, and her meds started not being as effective. I noticed a change in the horse, though it was small and gradual. He was less confident, became spooky, and the canter got a lot more like his track days. He also became a major cranky butt, and although he liked the work, he disliked the human contact.

                I stepped in and started riding him twice a week. As his balance and confidence improved, so did hers. And although far from perfect, she was getting some of the best quality I've ever seen them produce. The spookiness lessened somewhat as they focused and connected better, and he was happier.

                Then she decided she couldn't afford to remain in my program after college graduation, and coupled with some other life changes affected her anxiety, she thought it better to sell him then "do it alone". She no longer rides him, and I do him 3-4 times a week while we sell him.

                Since I have been the only rider, he has COMPLETELY changed. Spook, what spook? Quiet, balanced canters. And he is actually enjoyable to be around. I don't have to walk ten feet around his face to avoid the snarls and bared teeth; I can pet and *gasp* kiss his face from time to time (not 'cause that's my thing, but might be for a new owner )

                My point being is that this horse absolutely believes the picture you create for him. Tell him he is a dead.head.QH. and he believes it. Tell him he is a silly nervous TB, and he believes it. Tell him he is kind and happy-winning. Tell him he is a cranky butt....not such a great horse to be around. Mindset is the most important factor when riding or handling him.

                Perhaps your little rider needs to work on her mental riding while she isn't in the saddle. Have her watch videos and pretend she is the rider. Have her do mental exercises that when she "get's in trouble" she goes to thinking what to do to fix things, instead of what she is afraid will happen (and practice "self-fulfilling prophecies".)

                Good luck! These types of riders are learning life skills much greater than riding!!
                Hunters, Jumpers, & Welsh Ponies
                All I pay my psychiatrist is the cost of feed and hay, and he'll listen to me any day. ~Author Unknown


                • #9
                  Change the Context

                  There are a couple of things you can do or have her do that may help.

                  One of the biggest things is to provide a new framework for looking at the pony's behavior. It sounds like you've got a pretty friendly relationship with the 13 year old so talk to her about what's best for the pony, using the example of some rules that her parents have that she doesn't like to follow. Walk through the parallel examples so she starts to think about correcting the pony as doing what's best for him.

                  The other thing I would recommend is finding some battles that she can win. A few little victories will make her more confident and the pony a bit less certain that he'll always get away with things.

                  Here's an exercise I did with my husband & green mare that helped them a lot. A confident handler or trainer should do with pony 1st. We taught my mare to essentially heel like a dog- keeping her eye at her handler's shoulder regardless of a change in pace. With a halter/lead and a dressage whip in your left hand, start walking in a straight line. Stop walking (I try to stomp my feet a little bit to provide an obvious cue),
                  If pony doesn't stop immediately, smack the ground right in front of his feet with the dressage whip and ask him to back until his eye is at your shoulder. You don't even need to touch pony with the dressage whip, just banging it on the ground in front of his feet will make him want to move away from it. As soon as he's in the correct position, tell him good boy and walk on. Once pony get the idea with the halt, go from walking to backing up a few steps making him understand that he's to stay with his eye at your shoulder without you having to touch him.

                  Once he gets that, let the 13 year old try. Making your pony heel like a dog, is a funny concept which helps alleviate some fear. It will give her a chance to practice her stern voice, using a whip as an aid and get them both thinking that maybe pony should pay attention to what she wants.

                  Good luck


                  • #10
                    I used to be a lot like this rider-the pony might be a good boy, but when I got on, I'd wind him up and he'd jig around the ring. Finally, one day my instructor basically just told me to breath. Focus on breathing, not, "oh my god this pony wants to kill me." Realizing that yes, I was super nervous and making pony nervous was a big help for me to learn to fake confidence around pony. Once pony realized that I wasn't acting scared, he relaxed. So try talking to the rider about ways to relax when riding/interacting with the horse-even if it seems like the pony is spooking just to be annoying, a relaxed rider can seem more authoritative because if they are relaxed, that means they are not afraid of the pony or surroundings...

                    Not sure if any of that made sense, I had about 4 hours of sleep last night and a 8+ hour drive today so I'm a little loopy.
                    I like mares. They remind me of myself: stubborn know-it-alls who only acknowledge you if you have food.
                    Titania: 50% horse, 50% hippo
                    Unforgetable: torn between jumping and nap time, bad speller


                    • #11
                      I'm 22 now, but I have always been a timid rider. The only thing that got me more confident and less that way? Just riding. Lots and lots of riding. I stuck with it. I refused to give up. Now, you can't not make someone give up. But if the kid doesn't want to give up, they should gradually become less timid. I'll admit, when I get on a new horse, I am still pretty freaking timid! But once a timid person gets more comfortable, they are more likely to take control and get done what needs to be done. I never thought I could do well in the jumper ring because I was so passive, but once I did it a few times, I have finally gotten to the point where I can be aggressive (good aggressive) and yet have fun and be soft when needed. It just takes a long time


                      • #12
                        I'm a timid rider on a capable and game but not very confident yet green horse.

                        What helps me is a clear understanding of the difference between providing confidence and direction for my horse and not. Every time I experience the results of being confident versus not confident I get better.


                        • #13
                          If the pony's behaviour is really dangerous, and the girl is really getting discouraged, talk to the trainer about whether or not the pony really is a good fit for the girl (Although, if the girl comes to you for advice/help and not her trainer, I'm wondering if the trainer will really be any help). Lol, at my barn, there are no ponies allowed, and shetlands are universally referred to as shitlands. If the rider is small, they get a small horse. A pony would not be my first choice for a timid rider.

                          The case that makes me wonder whether the girl would be happy with a different mount: A woman I know has a horse. Horse was very good when she bought it, everyone thought it would be great for her, a timid beginner rider. Horse's behaviour gradually worsened after she bought it, until woman doesn't want anything to do with her horse, leases another horse, and wants to sell hers. I have been working with the horse, and after 3 weeks of really getting after this horse for every. single. step. out of line, he's tolerable for me, I still need to be warry and correct him consistantly, but he is definately a polite horse. He just needs a confident, experienced, owner/rider/handler. The same may be true for this pony.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by circus peanuts View Post
                            How do you tell a kid that they have to be more assertive or this pony is going to kill her?
                            If you frame it that she needs to be a leader so the pony doesn't end up in a bad place, it may help-that's what helped me.

                            Also, have her try singing-it's hard to be tensed up when you are trotting to, say, "Mary Had a Little Lamb", one circle per verse etc.