Jumping gymnastic

This month we look at an exercise that appeals to all types of horses and all levels of riders. It helps improve both horse and rider and, like most good exercises, allows the coach to concentrate equally on horse and rider during the training session. Focal areas include:
  • Straightness
  • Rhythm
  • Technique
  • Confidence
  • Rider position

Set it up


Before you try this exercise

If the horse tends to want to go right or left during the exercise, put ground rails on either side of the jump from the vertical to the first oxer, and between the two oxers. This helps the rider and encourages the horse to maintain his straightness through the exercise, allowing him to then push equally from his hind legs.

Ground poles in front of each fence give the horse a good reference point for take-off, are an excellent way to help improve technique, and build confidence in younger horses for each fence. As the exercise increases in height, ground rails should be moved out slightly in relation to the jump. This will help keep a consistent reference point for the horse’s take-off from the beginning of the exercise until the end.

Ride it


Focus on keeping your horse straight through the exercise and keeping your upper body steady

Before you start the exercise, go over some trotting poles. This is a vital part of the exercise as it controls your rhythm into the exercise. The management of rhythm is important for young horses as well as more experienced horses. You will often see riders trotting young horses into a small fence because it is easier to keep a solid rhythm and allows time for the young horse to see the jump or exercise. Trotting poles help tense horses to keep calm and attentive. Lay out a separate set of trotting poles and trot your horse over them from each direction. Once you feel that the horse understands the concept of the trotting poles, you can then move on to the exercise. Walk a tense or spooky horse back and forth through the exercise until calm and more confident. Show the spooky horse that there is no reason to be tense or scared.

The way in which you land from a fence is equally important in the training of any horse. I always try to imagine I have another fence ahead of me and try to keep my horse directly underneath me while following my line in a controlled manner. With younger horses this proves to be difficult as they can duck left or right once they’ve landed the final element in the gymnastic. In the beginning stages, gently bring the horse to a halt at the end of the line to help him understand control and discipline. As your horse becomes more comfortable with this, you will start to feel him understanding this concept more and more.

Tips for rider position


When going over the jump, keep your upper body steady and go with your horse’s movement

Position is of vital importance. You need to be able to use the correct aids at the correct times. Your leg position and lower leg will control balance. Your take-off position should be the same as your schooling position. When going over the jump, keep your upper body steady and go with your horse’s movement. Avoid getting behind or in front of him. On your landing, don’t put on any leg pressure. Your horse should come back to you and your upper body must then control the speed. Keep your hands slightly up because lower hands weaken your control of your upper body. Short stirrups are more supportive for upper body strength.

The full article appears in the April issue of HQ.

Text: Chatan Hendriks