International eventer, John-Paul Sheffield, reveals his top exercises to beat common jumping problems…
Rushing into fences and late and early take off are two jumping problems that can be addressed with the same exercises.
Why the problem?
You may have problems with early or late take-off because you have trouble seeing a stride. These exercises can help:
How to help…
Maintaining a regular canter rhythm will help prevent all of the jumping problems mentioned in this article. Whatever your problem, start with this exercise because it will help you achieve the basis of which everything else is linked.
JP describes this exercise as the trunk of a tree. All the other exercises in this article branch off this exercise, but the roots of them all, come back to this place.
Place three or more poles about three (of your) strides apart in the centre of your school or jumping field.
Work around the poles to warm up and concentrate on keeping your pace nice and regular. In canter, come down the poles, giving yourself ample time to get your line straight on approach.
You’re aiming for your horse’s canter stride to fall exactly in the middle of each pole. Keep your horse between hand and leg over the poles; don’t be temped to rush or chase him.
JP says: “Some people get into the habit of checking the horse to shorten him before the poles/fence, then pushing him on, to lengthen his stride as he gets two/three strides away. Try to ignore the poles in this exercise, and instead, focus on where your horse’s stride falls. It helps to think of this exercise as practising for a dressage test, and then you mentally take yourself away from the jumping, to concentrate on the flatwork. Be precise and keep practising.”
If you want a shorter or longer stride you can move the poles as appropriate.
From here, you can add a jump to the end of the poles, but stick with the poles until you feel confident; the last thing you want to do is end up crashing through the jump as this can ruin all the good work you’ve done so far.
Remember to ride this exercise on both reins.
A good walk is the foundation of any horse’s training, whatever discipline you’re doing. Dressage pro Hannah Biggs helps you achieve the perfect walk in four easy steps.
1. Walk like a panther
This exercise helps develop a good stretching extended walk, with your horse taking the maximum length of stride while maintaining a light consistent contact – it’s also a good way to start any schooling session. You horse will be stretching forwards into a contact and using his back - imagine he’s walking like a panther, stalking through the jungle.
To ride it:
Aim for big long strides, marching but not hurried, rather than short quick strides and avoid nagging with your legs every stride - your horse needs walk forwards himself, using every part of his body. Move your hands backwards and forwards, swinging from your shoulders, so that you follow your horse's head movement without restricting him. When you’ve got this powerful rhythm, imagine your reins are made of steel and they’re pushing your horse's nose forwards with every stride.
2. Baby steps
Asking your horse to take baby steps in walk will help improve his collection and improve engagement. Before you start your horse needs to be in front of your leg and balanced, otherwise he’ll simply stiffen his body against you.
To ride it:
To ask for baby steps you need to sit still in the saddle, so you’re almost against the movement of the walk with your seat (the opposite of the extended walk where you’re swinging with your hips to follow the bigger strides) and this ‘stilling’ of your seat shortens the walk steps. Watch your horse doesn’t tip onto his forehand, tighten his back, swing his quarters or grind to a halt. He needs to keep stepping forwards in a rhythmic walk without you constantly asking with your legs. Ask for just a few baby steps to begin with and then ask him to walk forwards normally again. Your contact should remain light and consistent and it should feel like your horse's shoulders are up in front of you, and that he’s picking his legs up quickly underneath him.
3. Think laterally
If you’re struggling to maintain the four-beat walk rhythm, lateral work can help. Riding shoulder-in down each long side of the arena is a good exercise to use, as it encourages a forward connection to the bridle, whilst encouraging your horse’s hind legs to step smartly under his body. Shoulder-in will also help with that all-important suppleness, as a stiff back is usually the cause of an irregular walk rhythm.
Forgotten the aids for shoulder-in? Don’t worry, just CLICK HERE for a re-cap.
4. Poles apart
If your horse is unwilling to stretch forwards in his walk, using poles on the ground can help. Pole work also helps your horse maintain a balanced, rhythmic walk with plenty of energy and encourages him to use his hindquarters. It also adds some variety to your horse’s training session and can help him concentrate, as it keeps him thinking.
To ride it:
Set out three poles in a straight line 2ft 6in apart as a starting point, then you can gradually widen the distance between the poles to help improve the length of stride or shorten the distance to collect the stride.
More about our expert
Hannah Biggs is one of Britain’s leading dressage riders, an international Grand Prix competitor and trainer of riders of all levels. In fact, Hannah’s happy to help any rider reach their dreams, however big or small. She trains at clinics around the country and from her base at Brook Farm in Dorset.
To find out more visit www.hannahbiggsdressage.co.uk