Improve your horse’s way of going, and have fun too with showjumper Jay Halim’s favourite exercises that focus on rhythm and contact.
Riding over canter poles on a circle is one of Jay’s go-to exercises – it’s an all-round gymnastic workout for you and your horse. Whatever level your partnership is at, you’ll both benefit from using this exercise.
“Horses naturally have a weaker side,” explains Jay. “When you’re working on a straight line, no matter what you do with your horse, he’ll always push off the same leg. I want my horses to be as symmetrical as possible and by doing gymnastic exercises, like this one on a curve, you’re making your horse work both sides.”
This exercise has two parts to it and it works the horse quite hard, so build up gradually. Don’t move onto the second part until your horse is happy and confident going over the poles on the ground.
When you practise this exercise, focus on riding an accurate circle and maintaining the canter rhythm. Watch that you don’t over-ride – stay relaxed in your upper body and arms so that you can follow your horse’s movement. Keep your eyes looking forward and following the line of your circle.
Set out four poles, three yards apart middle to middle, on the curve of a 20m circle. Pick up canter on the circle and ride over the poles. Remember to look up where you’re going and concentrate on riding an accurate circle.
It’s important that you don’t pull your horse around the circle with your inside rein. Channel your horse’s body by using your legs – this will help you to stay in the centre of each pole.
Let your horse figure out what you’re asking him to do, but don’t expect him to get it right first time. Ride over the poles four or five times before changing the rein and riding through them again.
It’s important that your horse stays in an even canter rhythm and that you ride to the middle of each pole.
Jay suggests riding through the poles in a light seat so that your horse can stay soft through his back.
Up the challenge
To move this exercise on, you can raise alternate poles. Always have a take-off and landing pole to give your horse a bit of time to think and use himself.
Keep the raised poles small and easy to encourage your horse to use his muscles evenly.
It’s important not to alter the way you ride this exercise now that the poles are raised; just keep the rhythm and don’t do too much with your position.
Stay tall and in balance, focusing on riding a well-shaped circle. Remember not to overdo it. When your horse has managed this exercise well, call it a day and let him stretch and cool off.
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