Accuracy and focus are key to jumping clear rounds. Eventer Sharon Hunt helps you fine-tune your skills to make jumping smooth and clear.

Keen to jump clear rounds? Who isn’t? For most combinations it’s not the fences that cause the issue; instead it all falls apart on the approach. If you ride accurate lines and turns you’re much more likely to arrive at each fence in the best spot for taking off.

Having the ability to ride accurately and consistently takes practice and doesn’t always involving jumping fences.

“I like to use exercises to help the rider understand and feel when their horse is straight and going well,” explains Sharon. “Armed with this understanding they can self-train. They don’t need a coach with them all the time.”

Recognising when you’ve ridden a good turn is key to your success and, as well as applying the correct aids at the right time, it’s also essential that you can maintain a correct position.

“The exercises I’ve chosen to show you will help you become a more accurate rider,” says Sharon. “The end result will be jumping more clear rounds, which is what we all want to achieve.”

Focus your warm up

Before you start riding over any poles or jumps, spend around 10 minutes warming your horse up on the flat. Focus on getting your horse on your aids and listening. Riding transitions from trot to canter and canter to trot, plus riding regular changes of rein, will ensure they’re fully warmed up.

Exercise 1: Trot poles on a square

Exercise 1 and 2

This first exercise uses four poles set out on a square, with two poles on two sides. It may seem relatively easy to ride, but it takes discipline and accuracy from the rider to ride it well. There are several benefits to riding this exercise, including helping to regulate the rhythm and teaching you to look up and ahead to where you’re going – essential skills you’ll need when you move on to riding a course of show jumps.

Repeat the exercise equally on both reins and note which direction your horse finds more difficult.

How to ride it

  1. In trot, start riding your square and trot over the poles.
  2. The key to riding this exercise well is to pick four points to look at on your square so you ride accurately.
  3. As you ride each corner, make sure you ask for a little inside bend from your horse.
  4. Back this up with your outside leg to help turn your horse.
  5. While you’re doing this, don’t forget to look ahead and turn your upper body in the direction you’re going to ride in.
  6. Maintain the rhythm of your trot throughout the movement.
  7. Remember to ride from your leg into a consistent contact.

Exercise 2: Canter poles on a square

The next stage is to repeat the exercise you’ve just done, but this time in canter. The aim of this exercise is to ride smooth and balanced turns, while maintaining an energetic canter.

Your focus for this exercise should be on maintaining the quality of the canter, and riding with a consistent contact. Let the poles just get in the way.

How to ride it

  1. Pick up canter and start riding your square.
  2. Remember your four focus points to help you ride an accurate shape.
  3. Focus on riding good turns and use your outside leg to help guide you. If you find yourself leaning in on your turns, ride in a light seat. This makes you more aware of what your upper body is doing as you turn.
  4. If you don’t ride an accurate turn you’ll find yourself drifting to the outside over the poles.
  5. Check your contact is remaining consistent at all times by keeping your fingers closed around your reins.
  6. Remember this exercise is all about the quality of your canter – not the distances.

Sharon’s top tip: Watch your horse’s ears – if they get low this can be an indicator that the quality of your canter isn’t quite good enough. Encourage their head and ears to come up a bit and ride your horse together more to re-establish a better canter.

Exercise 3: Figure of eight

Exercise 3

Moving on from poles on the ground, you’re now going to use what you’ve learned in the first two exercises and ride a figure of eight, which incorporates two jumps.

Again, to make this exercise easy it’s all about your preparation and how you ride your corners, as well as whether you can ride accurate lines.

How to set it up

Place two fences – either cross poles or uprights – at each end of the arena on no particular stride.

How to ride it

  1. Before you start riding this exercise make sure your canter is energetic and responsive.
  2. Have a focus point to look at as you ride the figure of eight.
  3. Make sure you stay straight and ride to the middle of each fence.
  4. Ride your horse around each turn, using your inside leg to create bend to the inside, and your outside leg to help bring their shoulder around.
  5. The rhythm should remain regular throughout the whole movement.
  6. As you land, look up in the direction you’re going.
  7. Ride this exercise several times on each rein, or until it feels easy for both of you.

Meet the expert: Sharon Hunt is a world class eventer who’s best known for taking part in the Olympics, World Equestrian Games, Burghley Horse Trials and Badminton, riding Tankers Town. As well as training and competing, Sharon loves teaching and running clinics. 

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