Mark Phillips explains the importance of your horse 'understanding the question'


Understanding that horse’s see differently from us and considering how your horse’s eyes being on either side of his head affects his jumping ability is imperative, says Captain Mark Phillips.

“A horse can see through 340 degrees, but not 10 degrees directly in front, or 10 degrees directly behind,” he explains.

“This means that as he gets to within 10-12ft of the fence, he can’t see the part of the fence he’s jumping and so he draws more information from the sides.

“If the fence is a skinny, for example, it makes it harder still for your horse to read because, at best, he only sees it out of one eye and can see just a wide open space with the other.

“Skinnies are used regularly on cross-country courses at all levels, so in the pursuit of safety and success, it’s best to practice over fences that are adjustable and easily knocked down.

“Being aware of how horses see will make competing easier as the rider can help their horse understand the question. Course designers use trees and other decorations to help the horse understand both the question and the location of the fence’s leading edge.”

A useful fence to practice for tricky fences such as skinnies is setting up a corner. These are also commonly found on cross-country courses, so you’re practicing two fence types in one.

“Corners are a good way to teach horses about jumping a skinny,” says Mark. “From your horse’s perspective, the jump is the width of the poles, but the actual area where you want him to jump is quite small.

“The key with corners is to start with the ‘V’ sufficiently narrow that you can jump the fence dead centre. As your horse becomes more confident, you can start to widen the V and begin to jump closer to the apex.

“Using something resembling a flag stick on the apex will act as a guide for your horse.”

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