Thinking One Step Ahead

I`ve recently starting teaching this young girl who rides a big ex-racer. She manages him very well, even though they aren`t the ideal match in terms of size, but they seem to have clicked. However, they have a bit of an issue with jumping.

As an ex-hurdler this gelding is used to jumping at a hundred miles an hour, so in the first lesson we warmed up on the flat getting my rider to relax her arms so that she didn`t have the handbrake on constantly, and then her half halts and rein aids were a bit more effective. The horse soon relaxed into a good consistent rhythm, swinging over his back a little bit more. In the canter he charged off a bit, but when my rider remembered to give with her hand and then apply a half halt, as well as thinking about how she was positioned in the saddle, then the gelding did start to steady himself.

He`s a clever horse, so I talked to his rider about keeping his mind occupied, but doing lots of different movements when she warmed up so that he didn`t anticipate the next canter, or switch off trotting around the outside track. Then we moved on to some pole work.

This was interesting. The first time the horse trotted sweetly over the poles but the second time he rounded the corner and charged. So we needed to think ahead of him.

I explained that the gelding was anticipating the jump but needed to learn that his rider was in charge. Now, she`s not going to win a tug of war, but she can win the mind games. I told her to pick up trot, turn towards the poles and as soon as her horse quickened she needed to ride a circle. Not turning out of the jump, but riding a proper circle. She could stay on the circle until he stopped coming around the corner and racing off. When he was waiting for her she could move closer to the jump. If he decided to then try and tank off, she could ride another circle a bit closer to the jump until he settled and only when he was  waiting for her instruction should she go over the poles.

This approach seemed to work and after a few circles the horse pricked his ears towards the poles, but waited as he didn`t know if he was going towards them or around another circle. It did mean that each jump she did took a while, but it was worth it in the end as the horse stayed in a civilised trot or canter when we built the jump up to a cross and then a small upright. Every so often I got my rider to change the rein and do a bit of flatwork to keep her horse guessing. We also changed the exercise frequently, so she came off different reins or I moved the jump around the school, or adjusted the height. Because he anticipates things you want to keep him on his toes and as soon as you feel him growing confident and beginning to take charge then going off and doing something different helped his rider get the upper hand.

Their jumping was going well and a lot more controlled, so last time I decided to do a little grid, so that we could work on keeping him in a rhythm and not opening his stride too much. This was also an eye opener for all of us. Once they had gone through the grid as poles on the ground in trot a couple of times on each rein, using circles of course, I put the last jump as a cross. I told my rider to continue with the circles on the approach to the grid, but if he cantered over the first pole then she must bring him back to trot for the second pole, after the second pole she should go with him if he did canter. Having a pole there gave her a target and she managed really well to bring him back to a trot. It was also a good test of obedience, but by working with him after that pole meant that the jump wasn`t affected.

This all went well, and we built the grid into three crosses, which began to get a bit faster, but I reminded her to wait in between each fence – sit up, half halt, breathe out – so that her horse didn`t accelerate too much. This definitely helped, so I made an upright at the end, before turning the middle fence into an upright too.

They knocked it down. And then the horse became worried and began running out. So we rebuilt it slowly, with crosses and then a tiny upright at the end to finish on a positive note.

So why did he struggle so with uprights? They were only about two foot high. Looking at him jump he definitely has the technique of a hurdler, he didn`t pick up his legs. Which is the right technique for jumping brushes, and he gets away with it with cross poles because he jumps the height of the sides, which is obviously higher than the centre, so his legs are unhindered. With an upright he clonks the middle and scares himself. So we need to go back to basics and teach him a cleaner technique. An A-frame is the first thing that springs to mind, but first we need to get him confident over uprights, as it could overload him. In which case we`ll be working more on improving his flat work, getting him off the forehand and engaging his hindlegs a bit more, so that he has more push from behind. Trot poles and cavaletti will also be useful to get him thinking and flexing his front legs.

The good news is that the pair are getting on well, winning their dressage competition and mini showjumping competition at pony camp, so I`m looking forward to getting to grips with his jumping technique. If anyone has been in a similar situation I`d be interested in knowing what exercises you used.

2 thoughts on “Thinking One Step Ahead

  1. Heather Holt Aug 17, 2015 / 6:45 am

    Great recap of a great-sounding lesson! I love working with ex-racehorses, they are so athletic and clever!

    • therubbercurrycomb Aug 17, 2015 / 6:53 am

      Thanks 🙂 I think this is going to be a good couple to teach as they’ll make me think outside the box.

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