“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.