One of the lessons I’m expected to teach for my Intermediate Teach Test is a group gridwork lesson. I only have 35 minutes to assess and teach a group of four unknown horse and rider combinations. Even if I don’t complete the lesson, I should have a clear idea of the progression of the lesson and have made an improvement to the riders.

Obviously this is a bit daunting as I need to quickly assess horse and riders, as well as manage a group environment. On a weekly basis I see the same clients, who are lovely of course, but I know them inside out and adapt distances automatically. I decided to enlist the help of my fellow riding club members.

This weekend was my second gridwork clinic with the riding club. I was surprised how popular it was; five groups of three or four riders!

I was a bit more on the ball this time, feeling more confident (it helped that I had a couple of familiar faces) and being more efficient with the warm up, assessment, and adjusting poles.

I still need to remember to check tack. I always look at girths and stirrups but I need to make more of a point of checking tack fit … I also need to remember to remove all cups from wings, as I tend to sort the poles out, make a correction to a rider as they pass, and forget to remove the cup…

Anyway, I could talk for hours about all the riders – what I liked, how they improved, what I would like to work on long term… but I’ll try to keep it brief.

I decided that the grid I would do was a cross pole, one stride, upright, one stride, upright, two strides, oxer. For the first group, at 70cm high, I did four short human strides for a non-jumping canter stride, on the basis that I could adjust it once I’d seen the horses work. After all, the jumps weren’t very big and the horses were likely to be lacking in the canter. Then through the day I could  adjust the distances between poles as necessary.

Each lesson had the same format. Warm up in open order, trot and then canter over the poles on each rein. Jump the cross pole in both directions. Then staying on the left rein, add in the first upright after the cross pole. Then the third fence. Increasing the height of the fences as necessary. Once the riders had mastered this then I added in the oxer. This filled each hour easily.

The 70cm group was one of two halves; two confident and competent riders on green or rehabbed horses, and two nervous riders on absolute gentlemen of horses. It worked quite well as the more nervous ones had more turns over the poles and initial jump to perfect the basics and build their confidence whilst the other two felt it was unnecessary to repeatedly go through once their horses had mastered the poles. Yet when the grid was completed the more nervous ones were quite happy to just jump it once or twice, and then observe the other two doing it a couple more times to correct and establish their horses through the four jumps. For me, in this lesson one rider who stood out was very nervous to begin with, almost walking over the poles, and ended up jumping from an energetic canter, with a huge smile on her face.

The first of the 80cm groups was a mixed bag too. One horse liked to gallop through the grid, but we sorted this out by using circles before and the rider sitting up quicker and using her position to half halt instead of purely the reins. Another combination was a rider who isn’t hugely confident jumping on a horse she’d only ridden once previously. Here we just worked on her not backing off the fences, and using her legs between the fences. Another rider was on her gentleman of a mount who looked after her and let her focus on allowing with her hands over the fences. The other rider was on a four year old who wasn’t quite off the leg enough on the approach and had to stretch over the jumps. So lots to occupy me, but I really liked the fact that all the riders were very supportive of each other and full of compliments. Each leaving on a high.

In the next group I had a mare who panics over jumps, but can also suddenly stop. Again, lots of circles after to rebalance, the rider calmly riding positively to the fences so the mare didn’t feel frightened over them, yet knew she had to jump. The last time through the grid she was actually very steady and calm, which pleased both me and her rider. Another rider was on her daughters experienced horse, and just needed to learn the ropes as her jumping was a bit rusty. They were good fun though, and I think with a bit of practice they’ll make a good partnership. One lady was on her young mare who tends to hang in the air over fences. The mare has a good bascule, but I think that because she is a little on the forehand and lacks the strength in her hindquarters, because as soon as the canter improved the grid flowed much better. That’s just developing muscles and strength though, which they will hopefully do at home. The other rider just needed to use her seat and direct transitions to make the canter a bit more punchy so the grid flowed more easily, but again these riders were all very supportive of each other.

In the last 80cm group there was a talented, yet explosive mare, who jumped beautifully but needed to approach in trot in order to contain the energy. I think the series of jumps were very good for her as she had to use her brain, which steadied her. Another rider on her Arab had the usual speed problem, but remembering to “think pause” upon landing (the horse didn’t like much of a rein contact so thinking about pausing uses more body and less hand so is a softer aid) gave them more space between jumps so it flowed and they didn’t flatten over the fences. This lesson was also the first time my striding didn’t work out. I couldn’t make the distance any shorter because the two horses I’ve just described needed every inch of it, but the third horse struggled to do the grid in one stride. I suggested that the rider rode a bouncier, shorter striding canter to enable them to fit two even strides between fences rather than a normal stride and then a very small one. It looked better then, but it’s a different style of riding, especially if you like to take a flyer over fences, so it takes some getting used to.

My final group, was the 90cm group, and I wasted no time building the grid up to height, and replacing the cross with an upright. One rider was on her very lovely new horse, so it was all about getting to know him, learning the brakes but he jumped beautifully and made it look easy. She’ll have a lot of fun with him! Another rider was on her pony, and we found it tricky to find the balance between the big striding canter, power, and not flattening over the jumps. He tried his heart out, and jumped nicely but I think where he’s not as fit as he usually is it showed up his weaker areas, and working on his medium canter would help. My other rider needs to work on her canter on the flat too because her honest mare just lost the energy and power through the grid. But they all jumped well and hopefully know what to work on at home.

I felt it was a really productive day for me, as well as all the riders and hopefully we’ll do more in the new year.

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