Whilst spectating at a local show jumping event recently, I was dismayed by the number of horses picking up a careless four faults and thus scuppering any chance they might have had of progressing from the first round to the jump off. The errors were commonly; getting in too deep to fences, rushing the last stride before take-off and dangling the front legs. All these mistakes resulted in rolling a pole in-front. There is a simple and very effective exercise which goes a long way to correcting these faults when used regularly as part of the jumping horse's training regime.
The object of the exercise is to help the horse to keep a consistent stride and rhythm all the way to the fence which will enable the rider to "see" the correct stride. Place a pole about 12m (or three of your horse's strides) away from an upright fence. Set two poles up against the top rail of the fence in a wide, open ended "V" shape with the point at the centre of the jump. Leave a small gap of a couple of feet between the ends of the poles forming the "V".
Before approaching the fence, make sure that your horse is on the bridle, listening to you and nicely forward from your leg. Concentrate on keeping an even stride in the canter and ride for the placing pole. The pole will automatically put the horse on the correct stride into the fence. Just keep the same canter rhythm and length of stride all the way into the pole and your positioning for take-off will look after itself. If the horse begins to rush and increase his tempo when he sees the fence, circle away, re-establish the canter rhythm you want and begin again. Don't allow your horse to approach the fence until he remains in a steady, controlled rhythm.
Once you have reached the place pole, make sure you look up, focus on the "V" of poles against the fence and ride for the gap in the centre of the point. This tactic should help keep the horse straight and will also help him to make a good, round shape (bascule) over the obstacle. This exercise will encourage the horse to use his shoulders and front end as he jumps which will lift his front legs and make him less likely to knock a rail off in-front. Hold the horse really straight between your leg and hand. Your contact should be soft but not loose as you still need to be in control. When you reach the fence, ease your hands forward and follow the horse's movement allowing the obstacle to encourage the horse to bascule as he jumps. Don't restrict him in any way at this point.
A common fault occurs during the get away from the fence with horses tending to drift rather than staying straight. The rider needs to be looking for the next fence on the course and concentrating on balancing and preparing the horse for it, not correcting a wayward line. If the horse wanders off his line on landing the rhythm will be disrupted and the striding may be "off" too if the next fence is set at a related distance. To correct drift on landing, place ground poles on the landing side to act as guidelines. Make sure you pick up your contact again as soon as you land, get your legs on, sit up and ride your horse straight.
If you incorporate this strategy into your horse's regular training program, his straightness on approach and landing will improve, rushing will become a distant memory and those annoying in-front knock downs will become a thing of the past!
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