A Lesson with Chris Lawrie

Chris riding 2009 National Large
Champion Hack, Black Tie.
Kate Kyros and her pony, Sienna Journeey, winning
2014 National Medium Show Hunter Pony Champion

How do you win at the Nationals after one year of riding? The short answer is go to Chris Lawrie for lessons and the long answer is go to Chris Lawrie for lessons. Ten year old Kate Kyros from Adelaide did just that and at the beginning of December claimed the National Medium Show Hunter Pony Championship with her Sienna Journeey. Of course what you get from the Lawrie camp is not just a riding lesson, you get access to expert horsemanship, many years of outstanding success in the show ring and advice on horse selection. But you have to want to learn and Kate is like a sponge absorbing what Chris has to say in the lesson. “Kate has a real talent for riding,” explains Chris, “and she is smart; she can absorb what I tell her and put it into action. It is easier teaching riders from the beginning, because if they know nothing, you can slowly mould them, creating good habits right from the start, rather than trying to fix bad habits that have been established in their riding. The first day Kate arrived, she couldn’t really trot and it is important to teach them the correct technique early. I did not know a lot of what I know now until I met my wife, Vicky, and it was really hard changing aspects of the way I rode as an adult. If children can learn the correct basics at Kate’s age, it is much easier for them when they get older and have to educate horses themselves. The horse helps a great deal and the more schooled and educated it is, the more you can improve your riding.” Kate has a wonderful pony in Sienna Journeey that was bred by Alandi Durling and seen in the show ring before Kate, in the capable hands of Jessica Dertell. Jessica had much success with “Beans” and he arrived at Kate’s as a pony ridden by a child. We were told that Jessica was allowed to vet the new owners and is very pleased that he has gone to Kate. “If your horse is going well, you can sit better and quieter,” continues Chris. “Beans is a great pony, but Kate has to ride him to make him go. You create riders to create horses. You have to get kids to understand and feel how to get their ponies and horses to go forward in a correct frame. It is all about creating a harmonious picture, be it in the show ring or the dressage arena. It is very important and beneficial to their future riding careers to understand and master the basics as children, as when they get older they will be able to deal with a variety of horses successfully.”

The Lesson
We sat in on the lesson and if we closed our eyes we would not have thought a ten year old was being taught on a 12.2hh pony. The lesson only went for half an hour, but it was packed with information, FORWARD being the most used word. “You have to get going with him quickly and get him going forward. If he doesn’t go from your leg, give him a tap with your whip”. There was a lot in the lesson for someone twice Kate’s age. “Leg yield, then go forward, use your inside leg to your outside rein; keep your hands up and your elbows bent; sitting trot; ride into the corners; look up and ahead; try not to kick; keep your leg still and tap him with your whip; sit still; keep him straight and in front of you.” And so it went; a very active session which included counter canter, simple changes, trot/canter, canter/trot transitions and always correcting position; “don’t look down, keep the stirrups on the ball of your foot and your heels down; keep your hands up and keep him straight and go forward.” It sounds like torture, but Chris Lawrie is not capable of torture and knows how much he can push in a lesson and there were plenty of rewarding, “good girls” during the session.

“The quicker you can get children successful, the greater the chance you have of keeping them in the sport”

“For children and even adults,” explains Chris, “if you ride around for an hour and are told to keep your heels down and your hands together and don’t do much else, it’s a long hour. They come to me for a lesson and I try to give them as much information as I can. They go home, sift through it, think about it and come back again and keep going. If we have to go over something, we do. I think you have to give kids (and adults) something to aim for and I think you have to push them. It helps if they have a competitive spirit and winning will keep them in the sport. If they lose week after week after week, they will just drop out. It is human nature that if you are good at something, you will stay at it. The quicker you can get children successful, the greater the chance you have of keeping them in the sport. There is a tendency in society today where everyone is great, everyone is terrific and we are all on one level, but there are still winners and losers. You have to be supportive and encouraging, but you cannot tell them how good they are when they are not. You have to say to them we have got to get better. There is nothing at all wrong with riding for pleasure and going to the local show every year and going for a trail ride, but the better you ride the more pleasure you will have. However, if you are aiming higher, you have to go up the rungs of the learning step ladder. I think if you find children with ability, you have to push them a bit. Kate is very keen and there is still a lot she has to learn and she wants to learn and wants to work.”

Reward for effort has come quickly for Kate and is proof that if children are given the correct basics right from the start it will make their riding, whatever direction they want to take it, safer, more successful and more fun.

At the beginning of the lesson, Kate was urged to “look up and go forward; get him going”. As can be seen from this photo, Kate’s position does not suggest forward.
“Ride him into the corners and bend him around your inside leg.”
“Too much bend Kate, keep him straight with the outside rein.”
“Kate, your heels should be down and the stirrup on the ball of your foot.”
“Sit up and sit still and ride him into the corners, carry your hands and keep them up.”
As Kate canters a small circle around Chris he urges her to “look where you are going around the circle and he will go with you; don’t look straight ahead when you are circling.”
At the canter circling Chris, he asks Kate to raise her hands and lengthen the reins and soften the contact, but keep Beans cantering in soft self carriage; and he did.
Kate is pictured using the corner well. She has ridden into it, Beans has a nice bend to the left and is nicely bent around Kate’s left leg and they are in a good balance together.
Kate and Beans are asked to do counter canter loops down the long side of the arena. “Keep him straight with the outside rein.”
“Keep him straight, sit up and go forward; keep him in front of you.”
Chris was really trying to get Kate to get the feel of controlling Beans with the use of leg yielding. If you can control your pony from front to back and side to side, you are going to be more confident and your workouts are going to be much better.
A nice relaxed, forward canter. Kate is in a good position, her upper body slightly forward going with the movement.
“If you push the right buttons, he will do it,” says Chris of Beans. Even though Beans is over bent in this photo, Kate is learning about the variety of buttons and how Beans responds to them.
At the end of the lesson Kate was asked to “lift your hands and let the reins go longer so he can stretch his neck down (high hand/low head) and relax.”