Everyone says you should jump in a rhythm. And it`s true. A course of jumps feels so much better in a steady rhythm.
But it can be hard for a rider to get the feel for the jumping canter and for both horse and rider to learn to meet the jump on the right stride. I don`t think the rider should interfere too much with adjusting the horses canter and positioning to the jump, but both horse and rider should learn the feel of a good take off and bascule, reaping the benefits of a good approach.
One popular way to learn about jumping in a rhythm is through a grid, and I like using this as a gymnastic exercise for both horse and rider. I always use a placing pole at the first fence so that the pair have the best chance possible of riding smoothly through the grid. However, riders usually need some help transferring this skill or feeling into riding a course of fences.
With one pony that I teach in mind, I came across this very useful exercise, and their next jumping lesson used it.
It`s a long exercise, so I set it up across the diagonal of the arena. The added corner on the approach made the exercise slightly harder. We started with one pole on the ground and three canter strides later another pole, before another three canter strides and another pole.
Once the rider and pony had cantered over the poles successfully, curbing the pony’s excitement, I put the first fence up as an upright. About two foot high it is more of a cavaletti fence.
After popping through the line once I put the middle element up as a reasonably sized upright. The idea of the exercise is that the first fence is so small it doesn’t really matter if they meet the fence slightly off. However, upon landing the pony is set up for three canter strides before meeting the upright on a perfect stride. This gives the rider time to get the feeling for the canter, which can be difficult in grid work.
Finally we put in the third element, another cavaletti height upright. This is to ensure the getaway is as rhythmical as the approach, and ensures the horse and rider sit up after the fence. It can also help if the horse tends to run onto his forehand after a jump.
After, I made the middle fence slightly higher, and then into a square oxer. This rider tends to freeze when jumps get higher, and as her pony can rush into fences it can worry her. So an important learning curve for the rider was to keep the canter between the first and second fence, and not let either pony or rider back off the bigger fence. Whilst she doesn’t want to kick and hurry her pony through the exercise, a squeeze with the leg assures the pony that her rider is committed to the approaching jump.
I hope that meeting the bigger fence nicely and having a good feeling over the jump will give the rider confidence over courses of bigger jumps, and they will be able to channel the good quality canter that will enable them to meet fences on a good stride.