I am honored to have won the Creative Teaching Tip Award for 2023. Thank you Centered Riding!
Read the winning teaching tip on this page or download the pdf from the link below:
Level III Centered Riding Clinician
2023 Centered Riding® Creative Teaching Tip
Riding with “Pool Rings”
In 2018, I developed the exercises that underpin this Teaching Tip, which I call “Riding with "Pool Rings."
This exercise if suitable for riders of all levels. Using a pool ring is a fun way to:
• help riders improve arm/hand alignment,
• correct and/or avoid bad habits, and
• increase awareness.
The various exercises may help the rider to better understand the interaction between their body alignment and use of the center to more accurately ride the horse. Before you add the rings to a lesson for beginner riders, you should ensure they have already developed a basic understanding of how to properly hold the reins.
Many riders notice that the ring provides kinesthetic feedback that helps correct unconscious patterns and enhance “feel.” The pool ring may also enable riders to more easily ride the horse from back-to-front. They can achieve this by imagining that the energy from the horse’s hind-end passes through their center, out through the pool ring, and toward their destination.
The ring can also help the rider to more accurately position not only their hands, but their entire body, thereby helping both rider and horse improve straightness.
What equipment do you need?
First, you’ll need plastic “pool rings,” one per rider. These inexpensive rings are traditionally used in swimming pools or in children’s ring-toss games. They may be purchased through online and through other retail locations. The rings come in various sizes, so check the sizes before you buy them. It’s important to choose rings whose width is about the same as the normal distance between the rider’s hands when they hold reins.
The rings are light-weight. During the lesson, riders may drop them at any time, and generally, they are very safe to use in a riding setting.
What you must do before using the rings
Before using the rings, ensure the rider’s position is correct – that is, the rider should be reasonably aligned, with a balanced pelvis, sitting in a correctly fitted saddle, with stirrups at the proper length. If you try to use the rings before addressing the rider’s balance or alignment issues, you will not achieve the intended, positive results.
Pool ring exercises
You can use the pool rings in many different exercises of varying difficulty, depending on the rider’s ability. Below, I have shared a few examples. Feel free to mix and match exercises, or come up with your own ways to use them. Remember to begin at the walk before adding work at other gaits. Slower work can allow for more insight.
Exercise 1 – Introducing the Rings
1. If the rider normally rides with a crop or a whip, ask them to temporarily ride without it until they are comfortable holding the ring and the reins. They can easily add the crop or whip whenever necessary.
2. At the halt, ask the rider to hold a pool ring along with the reins. The ring can/should be tilted a bit forward at the top of the ring until the rider’s wrist is in a neutral alignment with their forearm. Holding the ring with level hands on either side of the ring will allow the rider’s forearms to align naturally, with the radius on top and the ulna below. This will also help position the thumbs on top and the palms facing each other, rather than facing downward. The wrists should not be overly bent in any direction (in, out, up or down). The rider should still be able to maintain a straight line from elbow to bit. Please see the photo of Sue Valla holding a pool ring along with the reins on her horse “Festin.”
3. Once the rider is comfortable, direct them to ride at the walk with the ring. When they are ready to turn, notice what happens. If their normal tendency is to “pull” on one rein to turn, they may find that the ring provides instant kinesthetic feedback and helps to prevent this. Check in with the rider. Are rider’s hands level? Is one hand higher (or lower) than the other hand? Is one hand always carried more forward (or behind) the other hand, regardless of direction of travel? If they dropped their hands too low, did they feel the ring rest on the horse or saddle? Is the rider leaning, twisting, or collapsing? What about the horse? Is the horse’s head tilted? Is the horse crooked through the body? The feedback from the pool ring can help bring awareness and facilitate improvement in the rider. Improvement in the rider can automatically begin to help the horse.
Exercise 2: Riding and Turning from the Center
There are so many ways to teach riding and turning from the Center. Below is just one example. You can easily adapt this exercise using other images and methods.
1. While the rider is walking with the pool ring, remind them about Soft Eyes, Breathing and riding from their Center. Ask the rider to imagine that their Center is sending a big beam of light (or energy) through the pool ring toward their desired destination. Their Soft Eyes should look ahead, planning their ride as they go. They can identify a direction and/or visual target, such as a dressage letter, corner of the arena, a tree, etc. At the same time, the rider directs the beam of light emanating from their Center toward the same visual target. The rider should Breathe while doing this, which allows their body to remain mobile and avoid “hard eyes.”
2. When turning from the Center, the rider’s body should exhibit a subtle spiral through their body (without leaning or collapsing) in the direction of the turn. Imagine that the Center is spinning in the direction of the turn. This should automatically help the rider align the pool ring so that the “light” coming from the Center can travel outward through the pool ring in the direction of the turn.
3. Was the rider able to maintain level hands to allow the pool ring to float in front of their center, no matter the direction? When ready, focus on bending, circles, lateral work, and work in other gaits.
Exercise 3: Riding from Back-to-Front
When you first introduce the pool rings, you may find that the rider initially focuses too much on their hands. This is normal and should be temporary. Once the rider becomes comfortable using the pool ring as they ride, you can remind them about the importance of riding the horse from “back-to-front.” The pool ring can act as a temporary prop to
facilitate riding from back-to-front.
The rider’s thoughts can have an impact
on whether they ride the horse from front-to-back or from back-to-front. You don’t have to be actively pulling on the reins to be incorrectly riding from front-to-back. If you are merely thinking about your hands, not looking ahead, or focused on how your horse’s head is positioned, you will be riding from front-to-back. It may be subtle, but it’s there. So instead, think about the energy coming from the horse’s hind end—then direct it through your Center (and the pool ring!) to your forward destination. This slight change of thought can make a huge difference!
1. Have the rider hold the pool ring as described in the previous exercises. As they ride at the walk, trot or canter, ask them to look ahead, planning their ride, and think about the energy coming from the horse’s hind-end. Imagine focusing that energy through their own Center and sending it out through the pool ring in the direction of travel.
2. Remind the rider to incorporate all of the Centered Riding Basics as they ride, especially Soft Eyes and Breathing.
3. Add the thought of a little forward elastic “push” on the pool ring. Not enough to lose contact, but so that you are always sending the horse forward into your hand, rather than hanging onto the reins or pulling back. To illustrate the difference, ask the rider to shift back and forth in their primary focus while riding. First, they can think about the energy coming from the horse’s hind end, sending it out through the pool ring to where their Soft Eyes are looking. Then, for comparison, go back to thinking about their hands or the horse’s head while riding. They don’t need to change their riding, just their thoughts.
Repeat both ways as necessary and have them tell you what they notice.
There a lot of moving parts in these suggestions. So before adding more complex exercises, be sure that the rider takes all the time they need to practice at each stage. Remember to always include the Centered Riding Basics while exploring these exercises.
In addition to the exercises mentioned in this article, the pool ring may also be helpful in:
Ongoing improvement in rider alignment, which can benefit the horse’s straightness and way of going.
Helping the rider to correctly follow the motion of the horse at the walk and canter, with their seat, arms and hands.
Shifting the emphasis from the rider’s biceps to the triceps, allowing for lighter hands, heavier elbows, and better feel.
Developing more sophisticated lateral work.
Providing kinesthetic awareness for the proper use of the inside and outside reins.
Teaching half-halts, by using the pool ring along with the Center to rebalance, rather than pulling on the reins.
The rest is up to you and your student riders! How would you use the pool ring in your lessons?
Kathy Culler, Level III Centered Riding Clinician
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