Maintaining a Rhythm

“Showjumping is dressage with speed bumps” is a phrase I have on the back of one of my hoodies, and it’s very true. Get a good rhythm and the jumps just happen smoothly.

However, things don’t usually go to plan. Recently I taught a girl and her pony, working on jumping a course with some scary fillers, so that we could focus on riding good lines and linking the fences together smoothly. We had a number of issues to overcome though.

The pony is a bit backwards thinking so can be slow to react to her rider’s legs, which means the canter loses its impulsion quite easily. So they do a lot of opening up the trot and lengthening and shortening strides in the warm up, and when her Mum rides, and try to be consistent and quick to back the leg up with a sharp tap with the stick so that the pony begins the session by listening to her rider. If you let her ignore the leg and dawdle around in the first five minutes she’s a nightmare to refocus and work with. This delayed reaction has caused problems recently because the pony sometimes backs off the fence, but then doesn’t respond to the rider saying “go” which results in a steep, uncomfortable bascule for both horse and rider. 

So whilst we want to set up the canter we want to jump out of at the beginning, maintaining it to the fence can be hard work, but the pony is gradually listening to the aids a bit quicker. At least once in this lesson I saw her back off but then go forwards again when told, which resulted in a slightly dodgy jump, but not a refusal and not a really steep bascule. The next time round she was better.

Another issue we had to overcome was the fact that the “spooky” end of the school was busier than normal, which the pony used to her advantage. She slowed right down towards that end of the arena and then fell in from the fence and galloped back to the safe end of the school. I explained to my rider that the pony needs to maintain her focus on the rider, so keep her busy with lots of movements or transitions, and remember to ignore the monsters herself so the pony had less of an excuse. After a few circles on both reins the pony relaxed a bit, and didn’t shoot off. When she did shoot off I suggested the rider called her bluff. Up until then the pony cantered across the school before stopping abruptly. Then my rider tried slowing the canter down a bit, but maintaining it so the pony found the spook harder work than anticipated so didn’t bother spooking next time round. Also, with a backwards thinking pony you want to utilise any forwards impulsion, so half halting to balance the gait but keeping the momentum can be more beneficial than stopping and trying to start again.

The trouble with having a spookier end of the arena was that any jumps towards that end the pony backed off and my rider had to work hard, yet any fences away from the spooky end my rider had to balance her pony and wait for the fences.

This meant that it was actually really difficult to maintain a consistent rhythm around the whole course because the pony alternated so dramatically between full speed and dead slow. A couple of times she caught my rider by surprise by shooting off away from the spooky end towards the jumps, so the jumps were rushed and she got too deep. Of course whilst this made it interesting, my rider had to be quick to gauge the pony’s speed and correct her. Ultimately my rider will become better for it as she cannot be a passenger.

Even with all these distractions, which are actually very similar to what could happen in a show, the pair rode each fence nicely a few times and the pony got less reactive to her surroundings and kept the rhythm a bit better.

I think when both of them get into the mindset of riding a course they will perform better as they are inside their little bubble of focus so won’t become distracted. In the meantime my rider just needs to keep a metronome on her and quickly react to all her pony throws at her and then their canter rhythm will become consistent and the courses will flow.

One thought on “Maintaining a Rhythm

  1. therubbercurrycomb Aug 21, 2015 / 8:37 pm

    Reblogged this on The Rubber Curry Comb and commented:

    We finally had the follow up to this lesson this week and we made great progress!
    I’ve been saving up a new exercise for this pony so that she goes off the aids, not five minutes later.
    We began with a double on the ground with a leaving pole. They trotted through it keeping a forwards rhythm and then my rider had to ask for canter over the placing pole. She could then gauge the pony’s reaction and the pony learnt that going when told made the exercise a lot easier for her as the poles flowed in canter.
    It took a few repeats for the pony to pick up canter accurately but you could see her beginning to focus more on the rider.
    Then I out the first fence up to a small cross. Height wasn’t important, it was just to make the pony think a little bit more about her legs and canter when told to. Again, the first couple of times they tripped over the cross half trotting as the pony ignored her rider’s canter aids. So I suggested my rider became stricter. There’s no time for second chance in a jumping course. When the rider says “let’s go” the pony needed to say “okay!” So that they cleared the fence. The next time around, my rider asked for canter with the whip backing her leg up. The pony went! And cantered through the double nicely.
    After riding the canter transitions a bit more forcefully my rider could then back off and ask with just the leg and got a response.
    We build the double up to two crosses and two canter poles before the first jump. I’d built the double as a short one stride double but the pony kept creeping in an extra short stride, even though she was in the correct take-off zone. I think this was because her canter was much more balanced, rhythmical, a slightly more engaged behind so the little mare couldn’t make the distance comfortably as her hindquarters weren’t strong enough.
    I didn’t want to chase the mare and rush her through the double as I felt it would jeopardise the good approach we were getting.
    I changed the exercise slightly so that it was three canter poles to a single cross pole, which forced a rhythm from the pony, worked her hindquarters more than traipsing along, got her off the forehand, yet is easier than bounces which the mare finds difficult.
    Again, it took a few attempts to get canter when requested, but the canter was much improved! The bascule was also more correct, with less pull from the shoulders, which helped my rider stay secure in the saddle.
    Once this exercise became established and I’d built it up to an upright I took the poles away and we worked on keeping the much improved canter on the approach and after the fence.
    The first time the canter lacked power, despite a brilliant rhythm, so there was a refusal. So I reminded my rider to use her leg a couple of strides out so the pony focused on the fence and wound up the canter slightly.
    We finished with a beautiful jump out of a really balanced canter, with the pony ready and waiting for her rider’s aids, which she’s been a bit ignorant to previously. Next time I want to revisit combinations and linking fences with the same balanced canter.

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