Today I did what looked like a simple two strided double in a lesson today. However, it wasn`t so.
To begin with, I put the double on the diagonal, and secondly the first fence was a skinny.
There were two aims for the lesson. The first one was straightness through the double. As my two riders came around the corner they lost energy. For one it meant that he chipped in a stride, and for the other it meant an uncomfortable launch over the fence. One of the reasons both horses lost their impulsion was that they lost their balance around the corner and fell out through the outside shoulder.
Initially we started the exercise with pole on the ground for the skinny and the second fence as a cross, focusing on the riders setting up their left canter nice and early, riding deep into the corner and turning using the outside aids – not resorting to the inside rein! Once the corner was right and they came out straight, aiming for the centre of the grid, the canters were far more punchy and the horses jumped the cross easily.
Next I put the skinny up as a low upright. It had a useful yellow band in the centre for my clients to aim for, so that they were central and straight. The middle of the cross helped them aim for the centre for the whole duration of the grid. My clients started to realise the importance of creating a good approach. If they rode a balanced corner and kept the forwards canter then the distance through the grid was a perfect two strides, their take off points were correct, and they were in the centre of the fences with no thoughts of running out.
We put the cross up to an upright, using the centre band as the focus through the grid. Having an upright is a bit harder because the centre is not so obvious and the horse won`t be drawn to the middle. Again, it took a couple of attempts to stop drifting. Both horses drifted to the left of that band the first time.
I made an A-frame over that upright next, to just help improve the horse`s technique as they were getting a bit complacent. I didn’t want to make the fences high particularly, because the ground was a bit slippery and I didn`t want the riders to lose focus on their accuracy. The A-frame was quite close at the top, and it took a couple of goes for one of the horses to stop drifting over the A-frame. As they rode over the skinny fence they needed to use their opposite hand and leg to keep their horses straight, and keep using the opposite limbs to prevent any drifting between the fences.
Both riders were riding a much better approach now, and really focusing on their lines to the fences. I did put a cone out to prevent them cutting the first corner and help them visualise their line. The canter was more powerful so should the fences have been bigger they would have had no problem jumping couple of strides off the corner. The horses were jumping better now they were aligned, finding the fences easier.
However, I noticed that both riders were drifting right upon landing. Time to focus upon the getaway part of jumping. After all, if the getaway is smooth then the approach to the next fence is already good, so is more likely to be successful.
On the landing side to the A-frame I placed a pair of poles to make a tramline. The clients thought it was very narrow, but as I reminded them, only their horses` legs have to fit between the poles, not their bellies! The first rider rode a good line to the fence, and landed central, but within two strides had drifted onto the right pole. I explained that as she`s landing after the fence she needs to keep the weight in her left hand and her right leg to keep her horse straight in the next few strides. The next client lost his horse around the corner, so came into the grid veering slightly right. It wasn`t much and the scopey horse wasn’t affected by the distance but by the end of the line you could see how much they had drifted. We revisited riding the corner, and as soon as the horse improved his approach his rider found that only a little bit of pressure from the leg or rein was enough to prevent any deviation from his line and they stormed between the poles.
In all, both clients realised the importance of a good approach and how it made combinations flow, and then they also learnt that the jump isn`t over until after the getaway. The five stages of jumping are coming together for them – approach, take off, jump, landing, getaway – and over the next few weeks we`ll develop this so that they are riding courses perfectly!