Last week I gave a first jumping lesson to a client and her pony. They’ve been having flat lessons since the summer and come on in leaps and bounds, but I hadn’t seen them jump. They did a bit and a few little showjumping competitions over the summer, but I suggested a jump lesson to provide a bit of variety for them both.
As I adjusted the grid from a previous lesson with a long striding ex-racer, I asked about their jumping experience and what she thought were areas to work on. As I expected from the flat work and the horse, this rider described the jumping as haphazard, and erratic.
So a grid should work perfectly for them. It will show the horse what a good jump feels like, build the correct muscles, and give the rider the right feeling to aim for.
Coming off the corner, we had a placing pole to a cross pole, then one canter stride to an upright, and then two more canter strides to another upright. Obviously we built up the grid slowly.
Initially, the horse chipped in an extra stride before the second fence, but he regained himself by the last one and jumped that consistently each time. The first jump was probably the most inconsistent – either getting too close, or being too far away – and then the middle fence was a large cat leap, and the final fence spot on.
I focused on my rider applying the leg on the approach to the grid, and then continuing to apply the leg through out the grid as her horse tended to slow down and needed encouragement to open his canter. On the flat we’ve done a lot of work on counter canter, transitions, and generally improving his canter.
By the end of the lesson the jumping was getting more consistent and both horse and rider could feel the difference between the good jumps and the bad ones. I really like the attitude of this horse; whatever stride he’s on, he’ll always try his hardest to scramble over the fence.
So this week, my rider gave me some feedback about her jumping during the week. They were struggling to get the first fence right, which meant the second jump was uncomfortable and discombobulated. I think I knew the problem.
During the warm up I focused both horse and rider on the speed and quality of the canter, and more importantly, the reaction of the horse. This means that when the rider asks the horse to open his stride, he does so immediately, and not three strides later. In the upwards transition my rider needed to think bigger, and better. Soon they were getting a bigger striding, three beat canter with more energy.
This time I built a two stride double on the three quarter line with a placing pole. When they’d jumped without me they’d forgotten to put a placing pole out, which I think would’ve helped them find their stride.
We looked at maintaining the energy in the canter around the corners and turns, and then riding out of the turn positively, to ensure the same amount of energy was in the canter after the turn than before the turn. Then both horse and rider just needed to maintain this energetic canter through the poles.
Then we built up the double, one element at a time. They rode the fences much more consistently this lesson. Even without the placing pole, they met the first jump well each time because the canter was more punchy.
However, I then raised the second element. It was interesting to see the difference in the approach. My rider backed off the jumps and stopped applying the leg. You can see in the video below how the canter dropped off in the middle, meaning that the last fence was a struggle.
Homework for my rider is to continue working on the canter; ensuring her horse is reactive to the leg and confident in his bigger, more correct canter. When he’s established this we can begin to collect the canter a bit, but we need to create the energy first. When they jump it’s all about the canter, and then the jumps happen easily. The placing poles are really useful to get both their eyes in, and we’ll continue to use lots of grids to get fences flowing in a rhythm.