Today’s Gridwork

This morning I taught another riding club clinic. Last time, I found that a few of the horses lengthened and flattened their canter when there was more than one stride between fences in the grid. As there were some riders and horses there today who were also on my last clinic, I thought I’d address this issue.

In the first group I had an experienced gelding and quite a nervous rider. Previously we’ve worked on getting my rider to relax when jumping and not hinder her horse’s jump by fixing her hands. This horse was quite on his toes today, and tried to tank into the jumps. The other rider was on an ex-racer, and we’ve been striving to find the balance between the mare taking her rider into the fence, yet not being too quick that her rider can’t ride her to the fence which sometimes results in a dirty stop. Today, this mare was a bit lethargic, with a long, flat canter.

The grid consisted of a jump, one canter stride, second fence, three canter strides, third fence, one canter stride, fourth fence. After warming up in both directions over the poles and then building up the grid to four crosses, we could see the change in the canter. The ex-racer came off a short, half circle approach so that the circle did the work of bringing the hindquarters underneath her and my rider didn’t start putting on the brakes. However, the canter got very flat between the second and third fence so the mare jumped very flat and didn’t tuck up her front legs very neatly over the last two fences.

The gelding was now approaching in trot and picking up canter a few strides before the first fence. He was fairly steady over the first two but then locked onto the third fence and was unruly to the end of the grid. This made my rider a bit nervous.

For the ex-racer we had to rebalance the canter for the second half of the fence. For the gelding, we had to stop him locking onto the line of jumps and regain control.

The next part of the exercise would solve these problems. From the left rein, I got my riders to jump the first two fences and then ride a 15m left circle before re-entering the grid to do the final two jumps.

The horses reactions were really interesting. The gelding was quite perturbed that he couldn’t fire straight down the line of jumps and jumped the third and fourth fence very nicely because he was steady and listening to his rider. The ex-racer was much easier to bring off her line, and using the circle to stop her getting long and flat in the canter meant that she picked up over the last two jumps much more neatly.

We continued the session in this theme, alternating the direction they came off until the ex-racer was staying in a more rhythmical canter and could jump the four fences in a line without changing her way of going, and still making an improved bascule over each fence. The gelding stopped rushing quite so much, but his rider also started recovering quicker from each fence so she prevented him accelerating onto the circle which meant she kept the canter more consistent and then he popped the third and fourth jumps sedately and his rider felt much more confident jumping him.

My second group was quite a mixed group. We worked through the same lesson plan, but ended up with four uprights and also alternating between riding straight through the grid and putting in the circle to keep the horses on their toes.

One mare was quite similar to the ex-racer from the first group so we go a very similar result, and much cleaner bascules over the fences by the end.

One coloured cob, who was a new face to me, needed plenty of work to improve his canter so he was less on the forehand and could pick up over the fence more easily. With him we worked on creating a quality canter then putting in some impulsion so he managed to make the distances between the fences, and the circle was an opportunity to rebalance the canter. They did really well, and he’s such an honest trier of a horse. If his rider puts in the work on the canter on the flat she’ll start to notice the improvement over jumps.

The next horse was an experienced eventer with his sharer. Going through a grid, his rider can maintain the rhythm but when we put in the circle she tried to change the canter too much which resulted in her meeting the third fence on a poor stride. I tweaked her position to help her horse keep his canter energetic but not fast and then we used the counting technique to stop her altering the canter on the circle so it all flowed a lot better by the end. On courses, she tends to find fences off a turn tricky and doesn’t get the best approach, so hopefully the circle will help her in this area.

The last horse was another eventer, but this one tends to lock into fences and rush through. She also drifts slightly through grids. The circle stopped the rushing because she was waiting for her rider, but this rider had the added challenge of keeping the straightness whilst coming off a circle. Obviously the circle encourages the horse to drift through the outside shoulder, so plenty of outside aids were needed to guide the mare straight.

I think everyone found their horses more rideable by the end of the sessions, and I felt there was definitely big improvements to be seen from everyone.

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