Learning to Ride Courses

I’m rubbish at designing courses of jumps within the confines of an arena, but for a client this week I wanted to put together a course so we could build on the grids and exercises that we’ve done over recent weeks. 

Luckily for me some jumps were already set up in the arena, and they were enough to give me an idea. I wanted a course that was simple yet technical, but also versatile so I could use it over the next few days.

The cross pole was placed on the centre line, between D and X. I used this to warm my horse and rider up, checking her position and the quality of the canter approach. We worked off both reins until I was satisfied that they were consistent and ready to move forwards.

Then we started jumping the upright to the left, which was on a diagonal line across the school. What I liked about this upright is you can adjust the angle to make it trickier. I kept in line with the long diagonal for the moment so the turn was quite gentle.

After perfecting the left turn approach over this upright we linked the two jumps together. This meant that my rider had to think on her feet and correct the canter lead whilst planning and riding a balanced turn so that she met the upright straight and with a positive canter. I always think it’s important to spend time practising the in-between bits of courses until they become automatic and then the course will flow smoothly.

At this point I should probably mention that this particular horse has a long, loping greyhound-like canter. It means that he has quite a wide turning circle and the jumps creep up on you very quickly! For this reason I’ve focused my lessons on improving the quality of the canter – without shortening the strides beyond his ability we can still encourage the front end to come up slightly and for the hind legs to be the powerhouse so that the canter is more collected. Even adjusting his and his rider’s weight so it is further back makes a tremendous difference to the canter. Time also needs to be spent on ensuring that they ride balanced turns and leave any turns or circles straight, not falling through the outside shoulder. Once the approach is established and correct then the jumps look after themselves.

The final element of my little course was a two stride double, off an acute turn and heading diagonally across the school. In the arena I was teaching in this question was made harder by the lack of fence on that side. Had my rider been in a 20x40m arena the fence would have helped her outside leg and turned the horse off for her. But I’m mean, and I made her work.

After her first attempt we had a look at the line she should be riding. With a pony I would expect them to get right into the corner and have half a dozen straight canter strides to the jump because they have a smaller stride and turning circle. However, with a big striding horse you have to compromise. Make the turn more of a half ten metre circle and have a shorter distance to ride straight to the jump yet maintain the canter through the turn, as opposed to riding in too deep, losing the canter and paddling to regain it before the fence. 

It took us a few times to crack this line because any wobbling before the first fence became exaggerated in the middle of the double, and thus affecting the final element of the course.

Of course, now it was time to put the course together. The first two fences were straight forward, the only sticking point was being quick enough to correct the canter lead. Then the line from the second fence to the double needed to use every inch of available space, and again we had a couple of dodgy lines.

Their final attempt looked fab; the cross was no problem, the canter lead corrected in plenty of time before the upright and they had a good line to that, meeting it on the perfect stride. The next line took a little longer to rebalance the canter, so the turn was a little wide and they jumped to the left of the double. However, what I did like was that they came out of the turn straight and maintained that straightness through the double, it just wasn’t central. But close enough for me!

It’s definitely a course I’ll be using for my ITT training as there are so many different aspects to work on and each fence can be jumped in both directions, as well as there being the potential to add in a dog leg between the cross and first element of the double. 

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