Training in between competitions consists first and foremost of a well-deserved rest for horse and rider. The next step is maintaining fitness and working on skills needed to better prepare for the next horse show. This exercise includes many variations of a skill set that are required in hunters, equitation, jumpers and three-day eventing.
Have a Plan: To sustain your horse’s fitness while improving and maintaining their skills, the Yearly Training Plan recommends that in between competitions riders decrease the workload by 20–30 % until halfway before the next competition, and then rebuild the workload. Loss of fitness can be prevented by reducing length of training and frequency of jumping provided intensity and specific skills are maintained. This formula will help prevent injuries and sustain your horse’s fitness and skills for the duration of the horse show season.
Identify Homework: Identify the skills that need improving or correcting: e.g. response to aids, cutting in or falling out through corners; heavy on the bit; maintaining a canter pace/stride; distances; maintain fitness; accuracy; attention, focus and relaxation.
This is a fun exercise that is easy to set up and covers several skills including: refining the half-halt, bend aids and balanced canter through turns, straightness, maintaining a relaxed canter rhythm, smooth take-off distances, rider’s preparatory aids, decision-making and problem-solving!
- This exercise refines timing of placing and applying aids for shape of half circles followed by straightness before and after jumps.
- Alternating the approaches will refine a rider’s eye for take-off distances from different proximities.
- Riders can practice this exercise using a modified three-point, a two-point position, or alternating between the two positions.
- Rider’s practice problem-solving by deciding which approach turn and which landing turn would help refine their horse’s rideability.
- Rider improves combining their internal and external focus.
- Horses are predictable – they tend to do the same thing in the same spot (cutting in or falling out, increasing or decreasing pace).
- Understanding how the horse responds to this exercise allows riders to be proactive with preparation and corrections.
- Horses learn from repetition: correctly applying aids early will ensure the horse’s rideability – bend, softness, straightness, and lightness.
- Alternating the approaches builds confidence in a horse’s eye for take-off distances at different proximities.
- Alternating the approaches and landing turns gently pushes the emotional threshold of difficulty, improving confidence.
- This exercise improves a horse’s internal and external focus combined.
- Horses constantly ridden with correct timing and aids while they focus on upcoming jumps builds strong partnerships.
- Improved fitness: coordination, balance, muscle elasticity and stamina
Set up one jump in the centre of the arena. On the approach and the landing space envision different, equal ½ circle turns. Place a cone on the start and finish of each of the three half-circle turns before and after the jump. Number the half-circles: #1 (closest to the jump), #2 (the middle turn), #3 (furthest away) on approach and landing. The riders will ride outside the cones. (Spacing between cones will depend on what your arena allows, and feel free to experiment with different distances.)
Warm-up: Start with the jump as a pole on the ground. Ride first at trot, then canter, in a straight line.
What To Do: Starting on the right rein, canter the #3 half-circle, ride a straight line over the pole and finish by cantering the #3 half-circle. Continue and canter the #2 half-circle, followed by a straight line over the pole and finish by cantering the #2 half-circle. Continue by cantering the #1 half-circle, a straight line over pole, and finish by cantering the #1 half-circle. Repeat on the left rein.
How To Do It: The cones identify when to prepare the bending aids for the half-circle and when to prepare the straightening aids to maintain the canter on the approach and landing of the jump.
Why To Do It: This exercise improves precision and focus. If the horse is not cutting in or bulging out and maintains a rhythm, the take-off distance will be there.
Decision Making/Problem Solving: If the horse begins to anticipate a turn before or after the pole, the rider can ride for a different turn next time, ensuring the horse waits for the aids. If the horse is balanced through the turn and has a light canter rhythm to the pole, the rider may decide to take an earlier landing turn.
Variations are only limited by your imagination:
- Set up different types of jumps: pole on the ground, cross rails, vertical, oxer (ascending and square), different types of filler (gate, brush, wall, boxes, planks), Swedish oxer, skinny/narrow, any style or colour of jump that is similar to what you see at competitions.
- Ride at canter; trot to the jump and canter away; alternate trotting and cantering the approach; canter a half-circle, back to trot approaching the jump
- Set different heights. The higher and wider the jump, the more challenging the turns on the landing.
- There are multiple variations of alternating the three approaches and alternating the three landing turns; e.g. canter turn #2 approaching the jump and canter #3 turn after the jump; canter #2 approaching and #1 on landing.
- Ride the three different approaches on one rein and landing turns on the opposite rein; e.g. approach on the right rein and take one of the turns on the left rein.
- Continually riding the exercise for 1½–2 minutes will maintain the canter fitness and focus required in the show ring.
- Have your coach call out which approach turn and which landing turn to ride. Early instruction gives the riders time to prepare the horse; last-minute instruction can simulate competition pressure.
- This exercise also great for improving your skills as a rider and for training young/green horses.
To win in jumping classes it all comes down to focus, precision and reaction time, whether in the hunters, handy hunters, equitation, medals, show jumpers, juniors or amateurs. This simple exercise covers it all!