Following on from our last jumping lesson, we decided to challenge him a bit more! We set up a course of 6 fences for Dante to see how well he tackled them. This was quite the difference from all the grid work we had been doing, it meant that he or I didn’t have the safety net of the ground poles between fences to help him figure out his strides.
Dante was lunged first, once in the arena we started with a trot on each rein adding in a few 20m circles, getting him listening to me. Moving up into the canter, I really need to work on softening the contact, giving and taking with the reins. I tend to tense up in my hands quite a bit, Dante really reacts to me tensing making him do the same, it is something I have been working hard on, riding with a soft contact sometimes scares the crap out of me with a young horse underneath me it can feel like I don’t have control at times!
To my surprise a few old habits came creeping back in the warm-up. He was not moving forward from the leg as smoothly as he had been doing previously, keeping in mind that the draw reins were very loose on him, as I am working towards getting rid of them altogether, but that slight bit of freedom with his head seemed to be all Dante needed to try his old tricks again, quite disappointed in him to begin with but ignoring him and consistent pushing to get him moving forward & they seemed to disappear. I will admit I have been quite busy the last few weeks that he may have gotten a few extra days off that he shouldn’t!
We started with an exercise across the diagonal, a cross pole with a ground pole before hand to help assist him with his approach. Trotting in, making sure he was not rushing to the fence, (he seems to have grasped the concept of not rushing with all the pole work we have been doing) He approached it well, keeping him soft and supple in the contact really was key to this, it is quite hard to grasp as he still really needs to be held together into fences. Keeping in mind that a light seat was all he needed over these fences, remembering to sit up tall on approach & again straight after the fence.
Note: Before picking up Canter in the corner, or anywhere in the arena, make sure to have a balanced trot before my transition up into the canter. Keeping a stronger contact on approach to the fence as he tends to get quite excited, keeping strong leg on, he breaks out of his canter quite easily. Again, over the fences jumping position doesn’t need to be over exaggerated, sitting quietly and making sure not to drop the contact after the fence or two strides before the fence is key!
Moving up to the canter, he again approached it well but began charging/running off after. With this my instructor asked me to bring him back to a halt three/four strides afterwards. This was very challenging. I felt that I began to pull on his mouth more than I should while trying to get him to stop, so my instructor showed me an exercise to do from using my seat, leg & voice rather than relying on my hands. Dante picked it up quite well, but again after the fence I must remember to sit up tall! We continued this exercise adding in a ground pole after the fence to help him collect himself on his landing. He really began to listen when I asked him to come back to a halt after the fences.
Exercise: Keeping a light contact, sitting back in the seat, with my heels down & squeezing with both heels just behind the girth into a halt. Keep practicing this down from a trot until he comes back under into a square halt.
Jumping A Course of Fences
We had a course of 6 fences set up, which we moved onto next, this would be one of the first courses myself & Dante have properly done to be honest! Everything we have done previous has involved grid work or single fences. Not going to lie getting him around the 6 fences was tough work!!!
I have an awful habit of not sitting up tall with my shoulders back, this caused a few problems through out the course. Also having to hold him around the whole course to keep him together was hard going on the poor arms!!
As we began, I found that I was the one doing all the work, this so called teamwork thing still hasn’t registered in Dante’s brain! He wasn’t exactly helpful, he was running into fences, constantly changing legs, getting disunited a lot!
The one thing I will commend him on to be fair to him, in between fences he DIDN’T rush!! This in itself was such an achievement, he used to demolish fences but he really began to come back to me when I asked him too. Holding him for that shorter stride, which was something he used to be dreadful at is now something we are both getting good at!
The course we had set up, had quite a few tight turns, using my corners was key to getting good lines into these fences. As I turned the corners to approach the fence, I began to drop my shoulder again, which was causing Dante to change legs and to get slightly off balanced, with me dropping my shoulder slightly my contact suffered giving Dante that extra bit of freedom to drop the head and race on slightly, this was no fault of his own, all habits I need to get on top off!
To fix this: I had to sit right back in the saddle, almost like pushing my bum forward but underneath me, sitting up with my shoulders back, again keeping a consistent contact. Straight away I could feel Dante coming back to me and staying at the pace I wanted him to go, feeling his hocks coming in underneath me which is what I wanted.
From doing the above, he improved tremendously around the course but continued to be quite careless. He tends to get disunited on the corners of the arena, even when I fixed my position, turning into fences, he seems to still be quite unsure of where he was going or what he was to do until he was two/three strides away from the fence. I have added in an exercise, that was recommended to help him realise that just because he has to ride into a corner doesn’t mean he has to change up the way he’s moving!
Exercise: Place Canter poles in 4 corners of the arena, cantering over them and putting him on a circles afterwards, keep him anticipating what’s next instead of him thinking he is doing the same exercise over and over. Adding in poles at A & C to make the exercise slightly harder, giving me a bit more control regarding holding him back. this will help him hopefully use his corners a bit better, and help him to canter out of a corner down the diagonal a lot more smoothly without him changing legs.
Lifting his legs over the fences was also an issue. On one occasion we both almost stumbled over the fence because he literally ran into it. Luckily it was quite easy to pick him back up to get over the next fence but again he was no help to me whatsoever, if the fences were any bit higher we could of been in big trouble!! Jer, my instructor suggested that I get open tendon boots, I currently have brushing boots on him which would be fine for XC but show jumping not so much. When he hits his legs off the fences, I don’t think he can actually feel it with the thick brushing boots he normally wears, they are so padded! With the open tendon boots on, at least when he hits the pole he will soon realise he needs to lift his legs up & over the fence, It is cruel to be kind sometimes!
Doing the course really took it out of us both, it really showed me how much work both of us need to get us working properly as a team, but that’s what lessons are for! He picks up on things fairly quick, and is still constantly improving, which is all I want from him. Doing the exercise below was suggested to help me focus on my position into fences using ground poles. This way when the ground poles turn into fences It should translate that I ride it the same way! It is an exercise that will also help him to keep a steady pace around a course of fences, I cant wait it try it out!
Exercise: Set up course of canter poles around the arena, and focus on not tilting forward over the ground poles, not slouching afterwards either & work on keeping a steady pace in the canter. To make it slightly harder shorten the strides in between poles and try hold him to get that extra stride.
I cant wait to continue on our jumping journey!
If anyone has any tips or suggestions about jumping feel free to comment below, the more exercises we can do to help the better!!