Jumping Indoors Part 1

By Rebecca Gibson

Riding advice

17 October 2011 15:18

Indoor show jumping is not for the faint hearted – an echoey arena crammed full of brightly-coloured fillers can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced horse and rider combinations. But if you’re game enough to take it on, the challenging environment offers the perfect opportunity to hone your show jumping skills. Limited space will force you to think carefully when walking your course and reward well-ridden lines. It will require a good knowledge of your horse’s canter and a sharp, reactive partnership.

To help you make the most of the season ahead, show jumper and top trainer John Steels explains how you can maximise your chances of success when jumping indoors.


1. School for suppleness

John is keen to emphasise the importance of schooling on the flat as well as over jumps. “Most people underestimate the importance of flatwork. You don’t have to be working over fences to be practising for a jumping competition,” he explains.

“Of the 70 or so seconds your show jumping round takes, you’ll spend around 60 seconds on the ground. When you’re jumping indoors it’s particularly important that you have a supple horse beneath you.

“In a compact arena each fence comes up on you very quickly so it’s really important that your horse is able to use the corners to allow you time to set him up well for the next fence.”


2. Grade your canter

According to John, success when show jumping is always dependent on having a good quality canter. “You need to have a powerful canter with plenty of engine whether you’re jumping outdoors or indoors,” he says.

“The rider’s most important job is to present the horse to the fence in a balanced, active canter.

“To make sure you have the right canter, you need to know your horse’s pace inside out. I always tell my students to grade their canter on a scale of one to 10. I consider a more collected eight to be a good indoor jumping canter, whereas a slightly bigger striding nine would be more appropriate for jumping outdoors. When jumping indoors you want to have a slightly more collected canter to help you and the horse cope with the restricted space available,” John explains.


3. Make sure your horse is on the aids

When you’re jumping indoors your reactions have to be quick, and you need your horse to be on the aids and ready to respond to your commands immediately. John advises establishing a warm-up routine at home that you can use when out competing to ensure you always enter the arena with a responsive, forward-thinking horse.

“Think about incorporating lots of transitions and changes of pace into your warm-up routine,” he says. “This will help get your horselistening and anticipating your aids. “If your horse is behind the leg, start with some walk, canter, walk transitions to help get   him thinking forward. Then, once you have the basics in place, you can move on to riding some changes of tempo within the canter.

“Practise collecting your canter up for four or five strides and then pushing it on so your horse opens up a little. Your aim is for your horse to be adjustable and ready to respond to the smallest of aids.

All you should need to do to bring the canter back is move your upper body back.”


4. Book a training session

There’s no doubt that your horse will give you a slightly different ride when you’re jumping indoors compared with jumping outdoors.

With this in mind, John advises booking a training session if you’re planning to jump indoors for the first time, or haven’t jumped indoors for a while.

“It’s always best to hire an indoor school and do some training with an instructor to help you iron out any problems before you put yourself under any pressure,” he says.

“Indoor arenas tend to project a much bigger atmosphere – suddenly an audience of 10 or 15 people can seem much more intimidating to both the horse and rider. The walls will inevitably cause the horse to back off and he may take time to adjust to the unusual acoustics if he hits a pole and the sound reverberates.”

When you’re ready to enter your first indoor competition of the season, John suggests dropping down a class to give you and your horse an easy, confidence-building start.


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