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Private Advertising costs Team Caldene rider Ellen Whitaker explains the importance of approaching a course of show jumps safely and correctly
Monday 18 May 2009

Riding A Show Jumping Course

Jumping a course of fences is all about putting into practice the hours spent schooling on the flat and pole work. They should all start to come into play now. The next step is to tackle a course of small fences.

Your confidence here is vital, if you are not fully in control and committed to jumping you will be sending mixed signals to your horse and he will not do what you are trying to ask him to do.

It is only when you are sure in your own mind and your horse is ready that it is time to tackle a course.

Jumping a few small courses at home is a must if you plan to take your horse to a competition, not only because you are getting him used to it but also that you are not surrounded by the public which could put you and your horse off.

Taking your horse round a course of fences at home also means that you will be able to go at your own pace, jumping what you want to jump rather than attempting a fence from a less than satisfactory approach.

Remember when jumping a small course that a horse usually jumps a fence in a manner largely influenced by what happened at the previous one, so it is likely that if he makes a bad job at one fence he will do the same at the next. To avoid him building up small habits one idea is to start the course again.

Always jump a couple of warm up fences from both directions before you go onto jumping round a course, make sure he is going nicely and is well-balanced with a good rhythm.

Approaching The Fence

The approach to a fence includes not only the line taken to it, but also the way in which the horse arrives at the fence for take-off.

The line must be straight, and should be at right angles to the fence and directed to the centre of the fence itself. Only when your horse has advanced will you come across courses which may demand a jump from a different angle.

I always think of it a bit like driving a car- always look ahead, not at the steering wheel. Look ahead of the fence, and where you want to go next. Don’t look down or you will lose forward movement and wander off the line.

If your horse is straight then his hind legs are following the track of his forelegs, his hips are lined up with his shoulders and his head and neck are in front of you in a straight line.

Keep the feel on both reins even at all times and make sure your horse is equally active in both legs so he sits in the canter and pushes up. This will give him the power to jump well without over-stressing him and his back.

Seeing The Stride

The ability to judge distance is vital in jumping. You need to get your horse to a suitable place before the fence to jump, and the first way to help find the right spot is by looking at the canter.

If the canter is good and you have forward rhythm then you will find the right spot without even trying.

If you over ride the approach you are more than likely rushing the horse causing you to become unbalanced affecting your stride and take off.

I always sit quite in my seat and drive with my leg making sure I am on hand to re assure the horse if he hesitates.

My main tip at this stage is to maintain your impulsion!

A Rusher or a Refuser?

While some horses take their fences too strongly, others may need moving forward into them. You need to try and get a happy medium between the two. Through flatwork your horse will earn to think forward but not to rush.

If you do have a horse that rushes, circle him a few times between jumps, so that he does not anticipate what is coming next, keeping him calm. You can also come down to a trot or walk then try again.

If your horse “backs off” into a fence drive him up into the bridle by using your legs stronger.

Competing your Horse

When you are ready to take your horse to his first competition beware that you are asking your horse to jump fences he is not used to, surrounded by spectators.

Before taking him to a show it may be wise to take him to a different yard with different jumps to do a dress rehearsal. If he performs well, keep patting him to keep him confident and encouraged.

If he goes well, good job, you have yourself the makings of a good showjumper- if not, think about where you as the rider might be going wrong before you blame your horse, and keep practicing and don’t be discouraged- there is always tomorrow!

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