If you can’t ride a straight line, or your horse wavers off it, you’ll find jumping narrow fences tricky as the small dimensions mean less room for error. Olympic silver medallist Zara Tindall explains an exercise that works to improve straightness, as well as being good prep for skinnies.

Even if you’re not preparing for a cross-country competition, this exercise will help your technique. It’s also good for a horse who gets bored easily.

“When you sit on a horse, you get an idea of their capabilities and as you do more together, you can develop and grow that partnership,” says Zara.

To set up this exercise, line up two barrels with a single or double stride between them. Rest four poles on top of each barrel in an ‘X’ (eight poles altogether) with the other end of the poles resting on the ground.

If you like, you can start with one barrel and guide poles to build confidence. When you’re ready, add in the second barrel.

  1. Establish an active canter and look ahead for your line to the fence well before you turn. Aim right for the centre.
  2. Jump both barrels, one after the other.
  3. The poles act as guide lines, helping your horse look ahead to what’s in front of him and funnelling him to the jump.
  4. Using guide poles in this way is ideal for making certain your horse understands what’s being asked of him. Through that growing confidence, he will learn to trust and listen to you.
  5. Change the rein and jump it again. Make sure you reward your horse when he does something well.

As you and your horse gain confidence with the guide poles and barrels you can start to have a play around. Think of it like learning to ride a bike, and working up to taking off the stabilisers.

“During a cross-country round, you want to be on a horse who knows to jump between the flags and trusts your direction,” adds Zara.

You can make the guide poles narrower, rest them completely on the floor, or even remove them entirely.

Moving the poles around means that your horse can’t just rely on them to hold him all the way to the fence. Rather, he is introduced to the skinny in a friendlier, clearer way to give him the best chance of nailing the exercise error-free.

If you don’t have any barrels, a bale of straw or bag of woodchips is just as effective. Make sure whatever you choose is sturdy enough to carry the poles.

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