Skinny fences require accuracy, confidence and plenty of practice at home. Here we share some tips to help you crack your skinny jumping technique so that you can clear them with confidence every time.
Skinny fences are tricky for horses because having eyes are on the sides of their head means that at the moment of take-off they can’t see any of the fence. With this in mind it’s important to perfect your approach and technique to enable your horse to get it right.
Create a skinny at home
To practice jumping skinnies, you don’t need your own cross-country course – in fact, all you need is a small, narrow filler, a plastic barrel or a pole short enough to create a fence that’s narrow enough to simulate this particular type of fence.
If you don’t already have a short pole, find one you’d be happy to saw to a length of just 4ft. Once you’ve got your short pole, set it up between upright – not spread – wings or on buckets. This is because you want to be able to confidently jump skinnies that are bound both by upright wings and by nothing at all, i.e. on buckets or blocks, as they’re two different problems.
Develop straightness for skinnies
Straightness and focus also have a big part to play with this type of fence, so it’s important not to rely on extra wings or guide poles to keep you straight. You need to be working on how you develop your own riding to keep a horse straight from the word go.
One way to develop straightness at home is by using tramlines. Try this simple exercise:
Whether you have access to an arena, or prefer to school in your paddock, place two trot poles, spaced 1yd apart in an area where your horse can’t rely on a fence or a hedge to keep him straight.
On a left rein, go large in trot. You need to be ready to come off the track when you’re in line with the centre of your tramlines, so start looking where you need to go early, preferably in the corner before the turn.
Go at your own pace to begin with, working your way up to canter as you get more confident. Repeat the exercise on both reins equally.
Once you’re confident that you can hold your line, introduce your skinny fence. Keep it small to start with and you can even leave your tramlines in place (although a little wider than 1yd apart). It’s also wise to widen your tramline at the end furthest away from the jump. This creates a channel into the fence.
Jump through one or two times and be sure to look straight ahead, maintaining an equal and balanced position. It’s also important to apply equal pressure with your legs to ask your horse to go forwards but to stay straight.
As you grow in confidence ask a friend to widen your tramline poles gradually until they’re no longer needed.
If your horse is unsure of the skinny fence, approach in trot to begin with – this will give him more time to work out what he’s being asked to do.
Seeing nature while on your horse is one of the joys of hacking. Follow these tips from freelance nature writer Kate Blincoe and see what you can spot next time you're out.Read More
If you’re a bit of a ‘nervous Nelly’ in the saddle, chances are you rarely stray out of your comfort zone, but could this be making things worse?Read More
Hacking not only offers breath-taking views on horseback, it’s also a great way to up your horse’s fitness levels and the best bit is, it doesn't have to be complicated! Here we show you how to make your hacks work hard for you.
Stretch and warm up
First things first, give your horse time to warm up, allowing him to stretch in walk before asking for more strenuous work. Also consider you and your horse’s fitness when you’re hacking making sure you don’t work your horse too hard to avoid any unnecessary injuries. Hacking has some amazing benefits for you and your horse. It offers an alternative to schooling in the arena, and is great for building fitness.
Boost his fitness
Think of your hack as a form of interval training where you can ask for a period of harder work for three or four minutes, then let him rest for a few minutes before asking for a period of harder work again. Great for improving fitness and to make sure you make the most of your hacking time. Regular changes of pace will also help keep your horse’s attention.
Use the land
Make the most of any hills out on your hack; they’re great at helping to build your horse’s strength and power. Having a good trot up a hill or if it’s safe a canter on the verge will add expression and punch to his paces as he has to use himself more.
Remember to work into your hack a cool down period, walking the last mile home on a loose rein is a great way to end your hack as well as allowing your horse time to stretch, relax and cool off. When you’re back at the yard and untacked, treat your horse to a refreshing wash down. This will help cool him down and remove any sweaty areas that may cause him irritation if left. After this your horse can enjoy the rest of his day stretching his legs and eating grass out in his field with his other horsey friends.
We want you to be safe as you get the most from your hacks so follow these three quick tips:
1. Be seen and protected
Remember your high-vis whether it’s sunny or not this is an essential piece of kit. Also, don’t forget to apply plenty of sun cream to avoid burning in the sun, and apply fly repellent to you and your horse to keep nasty flying bugs at bay if you're hacking in summer.
2. Make some final checks
Checking your tack should be part of your regular routine, but it’s always worth giving it a good look over before hacking out. Check all the stitching on your bridle, stirrup leathers and girth straps is in good order and that the leather isn’t cracked.
3. Stay safe
Always tell someone where you’re going and give an approximate time you’ll be back so people know where you are and when you’re due back. Try to stick to this and if you’re running late, let someone else know.
Use dressage trainer Vikki Hayton’s advice to combine three easy exercises and make a handy 30-minute lesson. The beauty of thisparticular lesson is that it will engage your horse and lift his forehand. Here we go...
Your horse naturally carries more weight on his shoulders, but having a rider on his back increases the pressure on his front, causing him to fall onto his forehand. Lifting from this requires your horse to re-establish the balance and move his weight onto his hindquarters. While this move would win you extra points in a dressage test, it can also improve your horse’s jump, as he’ll use more power from his rear legs to propel higher in the air.
Combine these three exercises to create a 30-minute workout that balances your horse and lifts his forehand.
Exercise 1: Half-halts
Riding a half-halt engages your horse and rebalances him. This exercise will help you to bring your horse to balance on his hindquarters, rather than his forehand.
How to ride it
Begin with an active walk, maintaining an equal and soft contact down the rein to ensure that your horse is straight and start to transition between walk and trot to get him moving. Once you feel happy that your transitions are fluid and balanced, you can focus on your half-halt.
Establish a good trot and then transition smoothly down into walk, applying pressure to the reins without pulling. Walk for four paces before trotting again. Repeat this until you achieve four clear paces of walk and then reduce the number of walking paces to three, two and then one.
The final part of the exercise needs you to imagine that your horse will take only a half step of walk from the trot. Prepare to transition down into walk, again without pulling on the reins. Maintain a light leg aid and as soon as you feel that your horse is about to walk, ride forward back up into trot. This is where you achieve your half-halt, with the horse’s hindquarters coming underneath him, lifting him off his forehand.
After perfecting this, you can up the pace and try the same in canter.
Exercise 2: Transitions
Direct transitions in your schooling will engage your horse and get him moving forward and uphill. Working on this exercise for 10 minutes is also a great way to begin working towards a flying change.
How to ride it
Start on a circle and ask your horse to halt. Keep your hands light, as too much pressure will make him fall onto the forehand. Halt for four seconds and then ask for an upward transition into trot. Repeat this several times until you feel happy with the response.
Next, try the same with walk to canter transitions. Walk for four paces on a 20m circle and then transition up into canter. Repeat this until you achieve four clear paces of walk and a smooth upward transition to canter. Mistakes can be made when the walk isn’t established, so ensure you keep a good rhythm. Counting is key to this exercise.
As you and your horse progress, try reducing the paces of walk down to three, two and then one. You can also try moving the exercise off the circle and onto a straight line.
Exercise 3: Rein back
A rein-back – a move where the horse steps backwards – will make your horse think and help him to lighten his canter, as he puts more weight onto his hindquarters and lifts off of his forehand. While it’s not recommended for youngsters, this exercise helps to engage established horses and get them going uphill.
How to ride it
Begin by using your leg contact to ask your horse to move, but maintain the pressure on the reins, squeezing gently on each rein alternately. This pressure will prevent the horse releasing energy forwards, and instead make him step back.
In the rein-back, you want the horse to step back in clear diagonal pairs. It’s important not to pull on your horse’s mouth as he’ll pull back and you’ll end up in a fight. Instead, maintain a clear aid that keeps energy on the reins, as this encourages your horse to step under and back.
Take three to four steps back, release the hand aids and transition upwards to trot.
When you feel comfortable with this, try the same in canter.
This is a useful exercise for lifting off the forehand, but it’s important to include halts in your schooling without reining-back, otherwise he’ll get into the habit of travelling backwards.
The key to feeling safe and in control, whatever your pace or discipline, lies in your core strength. Improve this and you’ll become a better, more effective rider in an instant. Want to know what sports or exercise will help you to improve your core for riding? Read on....
Straightforward Pilates offers a great way to work on your strength and flexibility, but Lindsay Wilcox-Reid has developed her own version, entirely dedicated to riders. Through Equipilates Lindsay teaches riders to control their core in order to find the best possible position. She also gives one-on-one tuition to help riders apply what they’ve learnt to their riding, in the saddle.
Here she suggests some easy-to-do-at-home exercises*.
“The core stability muscles (transversus abdominis, obliques and mid/lower trapezius) are all used to keep the body in correct alignment once established. These are particularly necessary when your horse (or you) is likely to lose balance, such as during transitions or changes of rein,” says Lindsay. “If you’re correctly aligned and balanced you’re easier for your horse to carry. So by working on the following exercises you can strengthen your core and become more aware of what your body is doing when you ride.”
First, find your neutral spine
Neutral spine, or more specifically in relation to the upcoming exercises ‘neutral pelvis’ describes the correct alignment of your body and should be the basis for every exercise you do. To achieve neutral pelvis, your pubic bone and hip bones must be on the same horizontal plane:
- Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat to the ground (this is your start position).
- Place the heels of your hands on your hips bones while extending your index fingers to your pubic bone and flattening your thumbs to your stomach to create a triangle shape.
- Imagine that a bowl of water rests on the triangle and by tilting your pelvis back (so your spine flattens to the floor) the water would spill onto your stomach. The water will spill onto your legs when you tilt your pelvis forwards.
- Try to tilt the imaginary bowl in each direction a few times until your hip bones and pubic bone are on the same horizontal plane. In this position no water would spill form the bowl and you’re in neutral.
Ex 1. The pelvic tilt
This exercise will help to strengthen your core in a way that will improve your ability to control the position and alignment of your pelvis in the saddle.
· Adopt your start position and find your neutral pelvis.
- Take a breath, then as you exhale tilt your pelvis back (spilling the water from the bowl onto your stomach).
- Breathe in once more and as you exhale return your pelvis to neutral.
Tip: Keep your tummy very hollow – if you find that it bulges out you’re using the wrong muscles.
Ex 2. Leg float
This exercise will challenge your abdominal (transversus abdominis) and pelvic floor muscles.
- Adopt your start position and find your neutral pelvis.
- Breathe in, then as you breathe out, gently bring your left leg up into the air, with your knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Stop when your lower leg is parallel to the ground.
- Breathe in then slowly bring your foot slowly back down to the floor as you breathe out.
- Change legs and repeat.
*To increase the difficulty, lift both legs simultaneously while in a pelvic tilt.
Tip: There should be no movement of the pelvis whatsoever so to feel for any unwanted movement keep your fingers on your hips throughout.
Ex 3. Arm float
The arm float strengthens you upper abdominal muscles helping to straighten out a hollow back.
- Adopt your start position and find your neutral pelvis.
- Breathe in, then as you breathe out, gently bring your arms up into the air.
- Breathe in again then slowly bring your arms back down to the floor as you breathe out.
*To increase the difficulty, lift both arms simultaneously then lift your head up and forward.
Ex 4. Spine twist
To be able to effectively ride your horse on circles, in the correct position, you need to be able to rotate your upper body independently from your pelvis. The ‘spine twist’ can be used to strengthen and stretch your oblique muscles making this easier to do.
- Establish your start position and neutral pelvis.
- Bring your palms together as if you’re about to pray and your thumbs towards your body, pressing them to your sternum.
- Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together at the back to open your chest.
- Keeping your eyes forward and your nose in line with your thumbs, turn your upper body, as far as it will go, to the left then to the right without moving the ball.
*As seen in Your Horse magazine.
Give belly dancing a go!
Some of the skills used in pilates such as muscle rotation, flexibility and use of all the different abdominal and back muscles are also used in belly dance. So, if you’re looking for a fun alternative to pilates or the gym, find a class in your local area and give it a go.
Find out more about Lindsay Wilcox-Reid
If you lack confidence hacking your horse out on the roads and bridleways, follow our 12 tips below to give you that extra boost.Read More
Ensure that you’re ready for to get this season off to a flying start with our specially designed fitness programme for event horses.
If you compete in eventing your horse will need to be fit enough to do the job. With this in mind, he’ll need plenty of road work at the start of the season. This might state with road work, for example, horses might be ridden in walk on the roads for one hour a day, for a total of four weeks. Walking is really good for your horse’s heart, lungs and for hardening his tendons and it doesn’t have to be dull. While you’re in this roadwork only stage, use the time you spend on board to ride suppling exercises such as shoulder-in. You can also work on riding transitions from medium walk to free walk on a long rein and back to medium walk.
If bad weather makes it hard for you to get out on the roads, you can work in an arena. Do lots of stretch work, ride lots of big circles and plenty of changes of rein. Use this time to get your horse soft and swinging through his back.
With four weeks of roadwork under your belt, gradually introduce hill work and light schooling once or twice a week. Alternate the days spent hacking, schooling or doing hill work with sessions on the lunge – you might like to lunge your horse, perhaps even in a pessoa or bungee. It’s important to work your horse without any weight on his back – this also gives you a good opportunity to see how they’re working from the ground.
Interval training is a great way to build up your horse’s heart rate. Use ‘Set 1’, below, for one or two weeks in the earlier stages of your fitness plan before your horse is ready for some more intense work. Then move on to SET 2.
Ride in a brisk trot, on good ground in three intervals of six minutes with a walk break in-between. As your horse’s fitness and consequent recovery rate improves, up your intervals to four minutes. Make sure your horse is working in a good, forward rhythm and that he’s straight. Change the diagonal every so often too.
When your horse is ready to work that little bit harder, try using this second set, maintaining a good rhythm in each pace:
- 20 minutes: Walk
- 10 minutes: Brisk trot
- 5 minutes: Walk
- 2 sets of 3 minutes (3 minutes of walk in-between): Forward canter
Some horses respond better to sprint work that opens their pipes rather than long intervals of strong and steady canter. On these horses, ride short bursts of fast canter instead.
When you begin your canter work you can introduce some grid work. Start with a placing pole followed by a cross pole and build up your grid with bounces and doubles. Concentrate on jumping straight and in a good rhythm to improve your horse’s balance. When your horse reaches the desired fitness level, maintain it with canter work (interval training/sprint work) every four days, regular roadwork (and time spent on a walker if you have access to one), grid work and regular schooling.
Feeding for fitness
Expert advice to keep your horse fit from the inside out:
- Pick the right feed for your horse’s job
- Only feed for the work your horse does – don’t increase feed unnecessarily
- Always introduce new feeds gradually
- Consider supplements, such as electrolytes, when your horse’s is working hard and competing
- Speak to an equine nutritionist if you’re in doubt about your horse’s diet
We have some truly awesome bridleways for horse riders to explore, here we’ve picked just five of the best bridleways in the UK for you to saddle up and explore.
If you have a recommendation for a ride, we'd love to hear it! Simply add your tips in the comment section at the bottom of the page.
Gallow Hill, Stranraer, Scotland
Take one look at this picture and you simply won't be able to deny that this is one incredible place to hack - just look at those views! Leave your worries behind as you enjoy a canter up to the top of Gallow Hill and then take a moment with your horse to take in the stunning views. This recommendation came from Your Horse reader Steffanie Singleton. Here's what she had to say:
"This is my favourite ride of all time! There’s a pretty steep climb to conquer from my yard to the top of Gallow hill which is great for building stamina and if the fields have been cut for hay they offer the perfect opportunity for a good blast up to the top. The views from the top of the hill are breath taking, you can see for miles out to sea, I often let my Mare, Chuienne, stand and graze while I admire the views and feel the stresses of the day drain away. It’s a great ride, a little bracing in the winter time but during the months of nice weather there’s no better place to be. It’s usually very quiet too and you can make it as long or as short as you wish. If you want a longer ride then there’s a track which leads you through some woods and back around to the fields for another good gallop. It’s such a relaxing ride and I’m so lucky to have it right on my doorstep."
The Cotswold Hills
Think of the Cotswolds and images of honey-coloured stone cottages and rolling grassy hills spring to mind. The choice of routes to hack or drive is endless with miles of quiet lanes and bridleways to explore, not to mention The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.In this area you’ll plenty it’s one of those picture-postcard villages you see in all the guide books! Not to mention pretty village pubs (perfect for a quick stop!).
We’ve been recommended a lovely hack starting in the village of Stanton. Here’s what our seasoned hacker Richard Marshall (pictured right) had to say about the area:
“Once out of the village, the climb up the Cotswold escarpment uses ancient paths and bridleways through grassy fields. Depending on your mood, it’s either a walk or a pipe-opening gallop! Eventually, you’ll emerge onto the gently rolling upland and follow a circular route that has plenty of variety. There’s some road work along quiet country lanes – ideal for a bit of impromptu schooling. There’s also a long uphill canter on sheep-mown grass that’s great for building stamina. There are ancient trackways to conjure up images of a bygone age. Part of the route follows the Cotswold Way National Trail back along the escarpment beside beech woods. On a clear day there are distant views of the Brecon Beacons and in the summer the sound of skylarks fills the air.”
Find out more
The Pennine Bridleway National Trail
The Pennine Bridleway in Northern England runs roughly parallel with the Pennine Way. It can be used riders, cyclists and walkers and offers lots of scenic routes through beautiful part of the Yorkshire Dales.
The complete route of The Pennine Bridleway National Trail runs from from Middleton Top in Derbyshire to The Street in Cumbria. It passes through the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, using tracks, quiet roads and the new bridleway itself.
For useful information on planning your route CLICK HERE to visit the National Trails website.
Great Windsor Park
Not an easy access bridleway but one that is possible to explore with a permit, and who wouldn't want to enjoy a hack with a royal twist?! The recommendation for this ride came form Your Horse reader Helen Taylor. Here's what she had to say:
"Not many people are lucky enough to spot a royal on their weekend hack but it’s a possibility when hacking in the grounds of Windsor Great Park. I have got a glimpse of Zara and even the Queen herself in the past. You really feel like you’re somewhere special hacking here, there’s so much to see. There are also coffee shops to stop at for a drink which is nice when you’re out for hours. The park covers about 4,800 acres so you’re ride can be anything from thirty minutes to three hours long. In the summer when it’s dry you’re free to roam on the grass but during the wetter months, you have to stick to the roads and tracks which isn’t a problem as there are so many. The sand tracks are great for cantering on; Rupert loves it and does get a little quick! There are a few different permits you can get, some allowing you access to the forest which is well worthwhile."
To find out about the different permit options, visit The Royal Landscape website (www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en/activities/horse-riding). The park does not issue day permits for horse riding within Windsor Great Park - you'll need an annual Permit. All Permit holders will be able to access Windsor Great Park via forest tracks and will also be able to ride in Swinley Forest.
Join a group ride
Tally Ho Stables in Winkfield, Windsor specialises in taking riding groups of all abilities for gentle rides and exciting hacks through the beautiful Windsor Great Park. To find out more visitwww.tallyhostables.co.uk/riding-and-hacking
Nature reserves, ancient monuments, wonderful views and historic landscapes - there's plenty to enjoy when riding around Totternhoe in South Bedfordshire. What's more, a brilliant network of bridleways, starting at Stanbridge Ford, means you can saddle up and get lost for hours.
This recommendation came from Your Horse reader Alison Grant. Here's what she had to say:
"This ride never gets boring. I moved away for a short while during that time and I really missed it. One very quiet road leads us here from the yard and then it’s off-road all the way. It has absolutely everything – it’s a very relaxing ride. I always say it’s a perfect Friday ride to blow away all the cobwebs and free your mind from the stresses of the week. There’s a real variety on this ride – you can do a quick short loop or extend it and potentially be riding around for hours. It’s been a real confidence builder for me and Bally and I just love it. There’s plenty of opportunity for a blast or just to take it steady if you prefer. The ride takes you down a long stretch of disused railway track, which is surrounded by trees and wildlife. Then there’s a very open part of the ride – with a huge quarry on one side of you and endless fields on the other. The beautiful chalky hills are great for a good gallop and building stamina, and the views from the top are spectacular.
It’s utter bliss!"
Got a tip for a great place to hack?
Share your tips in the comments section below...
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To help you train for a major dressage competition, Lee Pearson MBE. OBE. CBE and multiple Paralympic gold medallist answers a few questions put to him by Equisafety owner, Nicky Fletcher.
How do you warm up?
Do you start ‘long and low’ or do you walk for 5 minutes stretching and starting to make the horse do exercises such as ‘shoulder in’?
LEE SAYS: I do lots of walk and then break this up with little bits of trot. I don't insist on ‘long and low’, I’m just more focused on if the horse is accepting the bit on the leg. But, when warmed up, the horse gets regular opportunities to stretch long and low in between being in a competition outline.
How long before you start really working your horse?
My horse, Oscar, takes a good 20 minutes before I get proper work out of him. Is that because he is not fit enough, or is that about the right time for a large 17hh to warm up?
LEE SAYS: I treat every horse as an individual. For example by the time Zion has done walk exercises, little bits of trot, and underpowered stretching canter it normally is about 25 minutes before he is ready to be totally engaged and permanently in a competition outline ready for any movement asked of him.
Does the size of the horse determine the time needed for warming up
No, not really. I think age, fitness, any stiffness and any schooling issues can influence the warm up more than size.
LEE SAYS: What bit do you use when you are schooling and what type of nose band do you use? I use a loose ring snaffle with lozenge and flash nose band.
How long should your session be?
Once the horse is working correctly, how long do you keep up the high level for?
Would it be around 20 to 30minutes?
LEE SAYS: Yes between 20 and 30 minutes is about right.
What is your routine for “cooling” the horse off?
LEE SAYS: Stretching in Trot and Canter and then lots of walk with different neck positions.
How fit is fit enough?
How many months before a major competition such as Rio, do you start thinking about increasing your horse’s fitness.
LEE SAYS: To be perfectly honest I don't increase fitness. However, what I do is more schooling within a weekly programme, which includes lunging and hacking and days off.
Q8: Do you ride longer to increase fitness, or more times in a day with more intensity?
I don’t school more often in a day to increase fitness, I just school on more days.
What does your horse fed on?
Is this altered at all nearer a major competition such as Rio? For example will his feed increase? Is he on hay / haylage or anything else?
LEE SAYS: The horse has no change of food before any competition. I feed Dodson and Horrell ERS pellets, Alpha A oil plus and Dodson and Horrell Haylege.
Is he turned out in the field and if yes, for how long?
LEE SAYS: Yes - all day and sometimes night.
Is your horse regularly hacked out?
...to increase stamina, to chill out or both?
LEE SAYS: Yes I regularly hack out (and yes, I wear my Equisafety hi-vis!). The change of scenery is beneficial for me as well and the horse.
How do you stop your horse getting bored?
Is he ever jumped, or does he do something different in the area?
LEE SAYS: Lots of hacking out keeps him, and me, from getting ‘dressage bored’ to be honest. He’s never jumped – he’s rubbish at it!!
Do you lunge your horse regularly?
...and if yes, how long and what is the routine?
LEE SAYS: Yes, he’s lunged at least once a week and he’s worked like he would be if he was being ridden.
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Extended trot is when the horse is at the full length of his stride, covering as much ground as possible. While maintaining cadence, the horse’s frame will lengthen with his weight being taken back onto the quarters while his forehand lifts. It should feel like a surge of power, but with the horse remaining light in your hand.Read More