I did the keyhole jumping exercise with a client a couple of weeks ago, and we discovered that she and her pony found riding left dog legs significantly harder than riding right dog legs.The pony is a left banana, and will drift through his right shoulder at every opportunity, but we’ve been addressing both of their straightness and it’s improving all the time. However, jumping and turning left highlights the fact there’s still a weakness here.So this week I decided to tackle left dog legs. I warmed them up with the focus on riding squares, my rider using her outside aids to turn, and keeping the inside rein open without going back towards her, and the pony turning from the outside aids. I see this a lot and for whatever reason, a rider may apply the correct aids to turn, but the horse doesn’t obey immediately, and then in a panic that they aren’t going to make the turn, the rider resorts to pulling them round with the inside rein. They know they’re doing it, but you can’t help it if you’re going to miss the turn! This then creates a cycle that the horse doesn’t turn until the inside rein is utilised, which causes the outside aids to fall by the wayside.My rider has identified in previous lessons that she sometimes forgets to use her right leg to push her pony to the left, so a lot of our flatwork looks at switching that leg on. Furthermore, as she reverts to her left rein, her right hand disappears up her pony’s neck, thus allowing him to drift out of that shoulder. Now I’m not saying she’s to blame – it’s a chicken and egg scenario. But she’s the bigger person, the one I can explain things to, so we have to address her aids first. This is where the flatwork is so helpful; riding the squares and leg yielding, to identify her asymmetry in her aids, and to ensure her pony is responding to the right leg before we add in jumps.Once warmed up, I had them canter a three stride, left dog leg of poles, of which I’d laid dressage boards on the outside of the curve. The visual aid will encourage the pony to turn left, which breaks the cycle of her resorting to the inside rein. She could focus on applying the correct aids and get the correct response from him which would help his understanding.They cantered through the exercise a few times until the canter stayed forwards and the turn was balanced with the correct aids. Interestingly, when the pony was asked to turn left correctly, his evasion technique was to slow down, so my rider had to keep her foot on the accelerator whilst turning and ensure her hands were positive aids.The aids she was giving, or was aiming to give, was a bit of weight into the left stirrup to keep left canter, opening the left rein wide (but not backwards), using the right leg to turn him, whilst keeping her right hand near the base of his neck to provide a wall to support his right shoulder. The trick is for the outside rein to be reactive: not pulling back and causing him to slow, and not slipping forward as he starts to drift, but rather being “there” until he starts to lean on the right shoulder, and then firming the contact to prevent the drift. She’s reacting to his body rather than blocking him with an immobile rein.Next, I built the fences up to crosses. This was to guide both of them to the centre, and to ensure they were totally accurate. This was when the pony started putting in four strides. They were getting the line, but he was becoming sticky in the canter. A check that the reins weren’t restricting him, and then she could apply more leg to keep the power.Once they’d mastered the line, the aids, and planning the turn, I removed the white boards. This made it a bit trickier, as we realised how much the visual line was helping them. So I popped one board in the middle to help them, and once they’d negotiated it successfully then I removed it, and they managed to ride the dog leg line. There was an element of my rider needing to start riding her turn earlier in the exercise; because the pony found it harder that turning right, he needed more setting up and more time to find his line.We ended the session with two steep crosses, getting the dog leg line perfectly and maintaining the canter rhythm to get three strides between the jumps. Hopefully we can build on this in the next few weeks with different exercises.
To make life a little more interesting with some of the kids I teach I’ve recently been testing their ability to ride lines towards fences with offset doubles.
With one client I put three fences on a diagonal line, one canter stride apart. With another I had two fences two canter strides apart.
Firstly, we trotted through the line, making sure the rider knew what they were aiming for, and feeling that the pony was staying straight between the poles, so they trotted over the poles at an angle. Next, we cantered through the line until both horse and rider were confident with the exercise.
Next up we began building the fences one at a time. I used cross poles, fairly low, to help centre the rider’s eye.
Approaching jumps at an angle means horses are more inclined to run out, so we discussed keeping the whip in the hand of the open side, so it could be used on the shoulder to help keep the horse straight if necessary. That leg also needed to be prepared to prevent a run out, and a contact needed to be held in the opposite rein to help keep the horse on the diagonal line. My riders needed to stay committed to their line of jumps, and ride until the take-off point, not presuming that their pony would take over a few strides away.
Being clever ponies, both of them tried to correct themselves so that they jumped the fences perpendicular, but this caused a wiggle between the fences. After a few tries, and being a little bolder over each fence, they managed it.
When a horse locks onto the diagonal line, the exercise feels effortless, and you can feel the horse’s straightness. It’s very hard to describe, but the art of jumping on an angle makes you acutely aware of any drifting over fences.
Building the fences to uprights makes it trickier to find a line, and the exercise can be made to simulate cross country fences by turning them into oxers.
The client who was jumping the two stride double let slip that she hated jumping skinnies. So I set her a challenge!
Riding a skinny fence requires commitment, and riding a line.
I didn’t have a short jump pole to hand, so I slid the jump blocks in, making the jumpable section of the pole two thirds of the width. They managed it fine!
We progressed to jumping the skinny at 18″ wide, with neither pony nor rider faltering.
Testing your ability to ride to a fence on an angle, and learning how committed your horse is to jumping on angles, can help get you out of sticky situations cross country, or shave off vital seconds in a jump off.