Text: Kevin Wessels

The key to a good showjumping round is seldom the jump itself but rather the correct ride between the fences. Every aspiring showjumper should work towards a rhythmic and even canter between jumps. However, not everything always goes according to plan, and for that reason showjumping horses need to be adjustable.

This exercise mainly focuses on the rider’s position and ability to maintain a rhythm while approaching a fence and not to interfere too much with the horse.

Set it up

You will need to set up three separate lines. For the first line, place a pole on the ground, walk 20m and place another pole. For the second line, place a pole on the ground then walk 20m and build a vertical. For the third line, place a pole on the ground, walk 20m and build an oxer. This works out to six or seven strides between the pole and the obstacle. The jumps must be a maximum of 80cm in height.

Level 1

Start with the middle part of the exercise, the two poles on the ground. Pick up a nice and relaxed canter and canter the two poles on a straight line in six strides. You don’t have to stand up high out of your saddle over the poles on the ground, but rather wait for your horse to slightly lift you out of your saddle over the poles. Make sure your horse is connected on both reins around your turn approaching the poles, and not drifting or falling in when you ride away from the poles.

When approaching the first pole on the ground, your horse should be between your hand and leg. Canter six even strides to your next pole, which should come fairly easily. When your horse has managed six even strides between the two poles, ask your horse to canter seven even strides between the poles. Start off by cantering a bit slower around your turn with your horse between your hand and leg. By keeping the same slow canter around your turn over the pole you should get seven even strides between the two poles.

Problem: You can’t get the same amount of strides between the poles.

Solution: Don’t aim to complete this exercise today. Your horse is not ready for the next levels. Work on keeping your horse relaxed and balanced in his canter, as this will help you get the same amount of strides every time. Ask someone on the ground to check that you are not leaning forward and allowing the horse to canter on his nose.

Level 2

Canter the pole on the ground in six even strides to the vertical. The same concept applies here when cantering to the vertical. If you have completed level one successfully, don’t change anything when cantering to the second part of the exercise. It’s only a vertical so try not to start panicking because there is a jump. Stay relaxed and make sure you are in the correct position, and that your horse is in a balanced canter so that you can literally just ‘sit there’.

Once you can ride the line in six strides, try it in seven. Keep your legs on your horse, only as support, while you stretch up with your body, push your heels down and close your fingers, asking your horse to slow his canter down enough to make the seven even strides.

Problem: Your horse goes back to trot when you ask him to slow his canter.

Solution: Your horse might not understand collection yet and this should be schooled separately. Concentrate on keeping your legs against his side, but only as support, and keep your heels down.

Move on to the third part of the exercise. Repeat the exercise exactly the same as before, starting with six strides and then asking for seven. In this part, focus on yourself as a rider. Concentrate on your position between the pole and the oxer. Consider what you might be doing with your body. Are you leaning forward or are you leaning back? What are you doing with your hands? Are they pulling? Is there no contact?

Problem: Leaning forward on your approach to the fence.

Solution: Lift your chin up and look at the jump with your eyes, not your whole head.

Level 3

Combine all three parts of the exercise. On a right rein, canter the first part in six even strides. Turn right after the last pole and go all the way around to the second part and canter that in six strides. After the vertical, canter all the way around to the first part of the exercise. Canter it again in six even strides, and after the second pole, turn left. Canter all the way around to the third part of the exercise and canter it in six strides. At this level, it is critical for you to keep the same canter all the way around and not interfere too much. Concentrate on your horse being between your hand and leg at all times.

If completed successfully, repeat the exercise but instead of doing six strides, ask your horse for seven. It might be difficult for young horses to keep a collected canter for a long time. Remember to support your horse with your leg in this collected canter so that he does not break back into trot.

Problem: Your horse keeps on breaking back into trot.

Solution: Your horse is telling you he is tired or not ready for this level. Give him a break, and try again a bit later, or put him away for the day and try again tomorrow.