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A miraculous moment

When Riley first came to me, he had spent most of his life as a field pony, backed but not ridden, so there was a long road ahead and much for him to learn. One of the many early challenges was asking him to stand quietly at a mounting block.

Looking back, I recall that we spent many hours over a period of a few weeks simply leading him up to a block and asking him to stand. Riley simply couldn’t do it. He’d avoid walking forward to the block, he’d edge sideways away from the block and if I managed miraculously to get him to the block he would continue walking forcibly past it. We even tried putting out jump wings to create a walk way barrier so that he couldn’t edge sideways to avoid the block. It was still very much a work in progress until one day, a helpful livery yard staff member suggested we try giving him a polo mint. It was an amazing discovery and solved the problem instantly. He stood calmly and chewed his polo mint. I’ll never forget how I felt in that miraculous moment and all because of a simple polo.

It has become our tradition

Nowadays Riley will stand at the mounting block until I ask him to move, and whilst he doesn’t need a polo, he still gets one.  It has become our tradition. As soon as I am onboard he looks round for his polo, and I always love that moment when I give it to him and he happily  munches away. It’s become such an important part of our routine that I would feel rather guilty if I forgot.

That polo had worked it’s magic again

Not only did the polo manoeuvre work like magic, it has also served to signal when Riley is unwell.  I remember a time when he refused his polo. Now Riley is a pony that never knowingly refuses food and so it was a very strange moment indeed.  We were due to have a lesson and after mounting with polo in hand, Riley didn’t seek it out and wouldn’t accept it.  Although he hadn’t signalled being unwell in any way that day, it did make me wonder if he wasn’t feeling right. When Emma (my coach) came to start the session, I asked her to see if Riley looked lame. He didn’t feel right to me, but I suspected something must be amiss and sure enough Emma noticed that he looked a bit stiff and so we aborted our lesson and gave him a few days off. That simple polo had worked it’s magic again in helping Riley communicate with me.

An immediate remedy

When it was time to back my new youngster Blackjack, I knew I wanted him to have the same polo experience.  Partly as it had been such an immediate remedy for Riley and partly because I love having the polo moment with Riley when I ride, that I wanted Blackjack and I to have that tradition too. The very first session of getting him to a mounting block included giving him a polo when next to the block. He loved it and stood still every single time we asked him to stand there. Blackjack adores his polo, and it has helped to keep him still whilst mounting although as he is young, Emma normally holds him and hands him the polo just as I am getting on.

The placebo effect

Prior to a lesson on Blackjack a few days ago, I took him to the block whilst Emma was busy putting a few poles away. I saw the opportunity to try and get onboard solo. I took Blackjack up to the mounting block a few times but he wasn’t standing still so I decided that I would give him the polo first and then mount. This wasn’t his normal routine and so could have backfired dismally, but seemed to work, and so, full of pride at this achievement,  I began walking him to warm up. After a few minutes of walking round the manege, Emma noticed that the polo was on the floor by the mounting block. Poor Blackjack hadn’t had it at all. Emma and I  joked about the placebo effect it had had on me, as I had been confident to get on by myself, thinking that he was happily munching his polo. Rather than letting Blackjack miss out on his treat, we gave him his polo at the end of the lesson. Solo mounting is still a work in progress but I do think with time and of course with polo mints, we will get there.  

If you enjoyed reading this, you can catch up on all of the earlier instalments of the life of Riley here  

Sharon Howe

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Hi! I am Sharon Howe

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Hello My name is Sharon Howe and I am horse mad. This site is my place to scribble away my…


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