I can only assume you’re back for more humorous tales about me finding my way with my new speedy and interesting creature, Earthy, my new ex-racehorse. I am learning as much from training him, as he is learning from me. My first Ex -Racer and special in so many ways!
Earthy found poles very alien as was highlighted in the previous blog. Once he began to get the hang of being confident jumping simple fences he then began to get a bit too keen, so we used a simple grid to encourage him to stay better balanced between the fences and to take more weight onto his quarters and lighten his forehand.
*First Note: All distances are approximate and very much depend on your horse! If you are uncertain about the use of poles and grids, please don’t go it alone. Booking lessons with a British Horse Society Accredited Professional Coach, British Eventing Coach, British Show Jumping Coach or an equally skilled instructor will make the difference between confidence being massively built up or totally lost in the space of one session, so this stuff is important!
*Second note: The quality of the canter is key. Ask yourself a few questions before you start jumping. Can I stop? Is he in front of my leg? Can I turn both ways without losing rhythm, balance or line? Do I have gears? If this is all in place, then you are ready to make improvements in your jumping. If not, ask advice.
We started off with a simple, inviting upright at about 80cm with a trot place pole 9 feet, close, before the fence to encourage a steady approach. Before adding in the next part of the grid, I added some brightly coloured feed buckets or cones to give him more to look at so he paid attention and remained careful.
My advice is, that with a horse who rushes do not to repeat the grid more than twice before making a change. This means grid work is very difficult to do by yourself, but then I still subscribe to the idea that it’s never a bright idea to leave the ground without back up anyway. Then you can work in the next two elements gradually with 20- 24 feet between each. Use fillers as necessary to keep the horse’s attention and focus. When he has jumped well FINISH on a good note before he becomes over-familiar.
Now, let’s look at the problems that may occur while doing this exercise and how to correct them:
Rushing: Building “A-frames” on a fence or two and using canter poles between the elements can both encourage a horse to become measured in its canter. An ‘A-frame’ consists or two poles which are angled like an A against the top pole of your fence. Wider at the base and reaching a point or almost point at the top. I wouldn’t suggest you use this with horses that are lacking confidence or those who are not in front of the leg or are very spooky.
Lack of Straightness: Using poles or (even better), planks on the ground (start wide, making them narrower in front of your 1st fence before introducing between fences) as a channel on the floor is a very simple way to encourage the straightness as well as the connection between leg and hand.
Hollow or inverted jump with a high head carriage and possibly dangly front legs: TROT to the fence! An underused technique which makes the horse focus, try harder, work slower and be more careful. Sure, it may not always be a pretty or comfortable easy jump, but a horse that can trot a step or two to correct himself later in his career is a much safer option – so do practice it. Also, use canter poles (use 9 to 11 feet as a rough guide) between the elements and make the fences into low, wide oxers which will help by encouraging the horse to look down and stretch/bascule more.
Rushing afterwards: A canter pole or two on the landing side or a narrow gap of wings, blocks or poles will encourage the horse to pay attention and collect and look after himself. These poles are always set just a little further from the base of the fence than those on the take-off side. Again, ask your coach to walk you through what best suits your horse.
WALK in between exercises: Do not be tempted to keep going to “tire him out” as in my experience this never works. The adrenaline fired up by jumping is easier much to get rid of with a free walk on a long rein – this counts for both horse and rider. You can then both come back to the ‘questions’ with clearer minds and more relaxed bodies for a better quality canter.
So, back to Earthy! He had a tendency to rush and flatten initially through the grid, so we shortened the distances to 20 feet as we initially started with 21/22 feet. By shortening the distances and adding A-frames, Earthy was encouraged to make more height and less distance. This encouraged a more engaged uphill canter, far more suited to jumping well.
Earthy has gone from a hurried, flat, tense horse into a much more relaxed, rhythmical and confident animal. He has become more rideable between the fences and quieter in the contact. Of course, this has yet (due to the rain!) to be tested on an event track, but I remain hopeful I will have the ability to keep him on the aids as we are working on it every day!
Earthy’s many cross-country outings have really boosted his confidence and ability when it comes to jumping. Starting TINY and building up every time means he hasn’t been rushed and has really understood how to deal with the variety of fences, obstacles and terrain. Mind you; he is always mega spooky at the first fence though!
He is entered for his first event of the season at Keysoe where I really hope he has an educational constructive 90 Open run. Continuity will be at Keysoe in the OI a couple of days before Earthy goes so he can give Earthy some tips and reassurance and convince him that he is just as good as him!
Crack on and enjoy the season as best you can Guys!
Till next time!
This blog comes courtesy of tweed fashion brand Timothy Foxx www.timothyfoxx.co.uk