Ok, I’ll admit, I have borrowed this idea from Harry Meade. I read about it in a magazine and have used it with lots of success since so thought I’d spread the word.
Start with six poles at bounce width apart … that’s four human strides/four yards/twelve feet. Put a pair of wings and a spare pole by the first and last pole, and then wings on alternate sides of the other four poles.
Warm up over the poles on both reins, working on adjusting the length of the canter to accommodate the poles, because they are further apart than normal canter poles. The canter should still feel balanced, and the hindquarters pushing well. The stride is longer, not faster.
Next, make the first jump a cross pole. Harry Meade had them quite high cross poles, which makes the V steeper, so encourages the horse to jump the centre of the fence. I didn’t put it up as high for any of the horses or clients I worked with it, but using shorter poles would mean you have steeper sides with a smaller fence.
The horse should stay in a steady rhythm over the cross and poles on the ground. The rider wants to be aware of any tendency to drift left or right, and focus on staying central.
The next stage is to build the last fence into a cross pole of a similar height and work through the grid off both reins. The poles on the floor are still structuring the canter rhythm, and also making the horse pick his feet up and concentrate between the fences.
When this is flowing it’s time to raise the canter poles. Raise the second pole so it is on a diagonal. Again, Harry Meade had quite steep poles, but this requires a very athletic horse who is strong and quick with his feet. I kept the highest side of the poles at a maximum of 70cm, depending on the ability and agility of the horse in question. With only one pole raised the horse is likely to drift to the lower end of the pole, so I only did this stage once nicely before putting up the third pole.
The second and third pole make the horse stay central because if he opts for the lower side over the first he gets his comeuppance over the next one as he’s at the high end.
The raised poles give a bounce, so encouraging the horse to use their hindquarters, flex their hocks, lift their shoulders, and tuck their front legs up quickly. Whilst staying straight!
The final stage of the exercise is to raise the first and fourth poles, thus making it more physically demanding because there’s not reprieve in the middle. This is where you should feel a difference in the straightness of your horse, as well as the fact they are having to think hard about where they put their legs, thus slowing down one who rushes.
The video above demonstrates the exercise: unfortunately I couldn’t fit in the final jump but you get the idea. I didn’t have a cameraman to hand, so had to balance the phone on a jump cup and hope it was aiming roughly in the right direction! This mare tends to rush and doesn’t have the smartest technique over fences, but you can see how she’s really using her bum muscles and thinking about the job carefully.
It’s a very useful variation on a bounce grid, where horses can drift to give themselves more space between fences, so this makes them really work hard!