Put some gymnastic work into your jump schooling to improve your horse’s balance, impulsion and stamina over a course – and your scores! Take a look at our exercises...
Put simply, gymnastic exercises for horses comprise grids or ground poles and jumps — often one or two strides apart — and can be set up countless different ways. Your horse’s average canter stride is 12ft, and you need to allow 6ft for landing and 6ft for take off, so it’s important to make the jumps a comfortable distance for him.
Trainer Sue Harries recommends you have an experienced person helping you from the ground. Before trying anything more complicated, trot over
a low single cross-pole, with placing poles to help your timing and create
a good jump. A comfortable distance for the approach pole is 7-8ft from the cross-pole and the landing pole works well for most horses 9-10ft away.
Approach the cross-pole at a working trot, ensuring you have a good rhythm, your legs are squeezing with every step and you have a light contact. Keep in a straight line and look ahead, past the cross-pole. As your horse crosses the first placing pole, keep your heel well down and maintain contact with his mouth, while sinking your weight closer to the saddle. Maintain your leg and follow his mouth as he leaves the ground at the cross-pole. Once you feel your horse land and gather himself for the next placing pole, think about your own recovery.
As he steps over the landing pole, ride four or five canter steps before making a downward transition and halting to end the exercise. Only when you can complete this in an organised and balanced manner, are you ready to move on.
The idea of gymnastic jumping is to teach your horse to maintain balance and impulsion as he negotiates each element. However, only experienced horse and rider combinations should use gymnastic exercises to work on a specific problem.
Gymnastic exercises have several elements to cope with, so they teach riders to focus on every part of their horse’s jump and stay in balance. The act of constantly making a new effort through each element will strengthen your overall position.
Helping your horse
Young horses may be intimidated by multiple jumping efforts, so keep everything very small. Start with the trot pole and a cross-pole and on the landing side add a set of wide “railroad tracks”. These are poles set on the ground perpendicular to the jump tocreate a lane and help the young horse keep straight. If your horse starts to get crooked, roll your “railroad tracks” in a little bit to define the track. Once he’s comfortable and is staying straight, add a second placing pole.
If your horse is forward going and gets quicker round a course of jumps, try using a series of four or five poles on the ground around 3ft 6in apart, with a cross-pole fence 7ft away from the final placing pole. These should give your horse something to focus on and act as speed bumps to encourage him to slow down and look at every element. Introduce things gradually and give your horse lots of walking between exercises to let him relax.
If you have a lazy horse, you probably think it takes all the strength you possess to make one jumping effort, let alone several. First, check your own fitness level and effectiveness. Assuming you have a solid riding position, examine the reasons why your horse is like this. Rule out physical problems and check your feed regime.
Finally, remember that this type of exercise is similar to taking your horse to the gym – build up slowly and repeat the work often enough so he gains stamina and can cope.