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Putting flatwork first

- Show Hunter with Charelle Marshall -

This lesson had a big focus on perfecting position, technique and the primary way of going on the flat before looking at jumping anything. Charelle values her time spent on the flat and feels it makes a huge difference when she comes to jump. She also emphasises that there are many exercises, some of which are outlined in this article, that can prepare you for jumping without having to jump a lot of fences, which ultimately is far better for your horse in the long run!

© Show Circuit Magazine

Words and photos: Show Circuit

First impressions

Charelle asks Eden to ride out using the whole arena in rising trot, and she stands back to watch Eden’s usual warm-up before getting into teaching. “First I like to see how they normally ride and how they normally sit on a horse,” she explains, as that way she can see what improvements need to be made and what the pair do well together. In this case, Charelle immediately notices that Rosie can be a little lazy and Eden tends to nag at her a bit to keep her going, which can make a dull horse dull over time as they just stop listening to the aids altogether.

“Ask her forward to walk,” Charelle tells her. “See how she died there? You asked her to walk, and she fell into it. Next time I want you to go forward to walk again and then forward to trot again, and I want you to keep a little bit more leg on. You don’t want her to drop behind your leg because her whole body goes out behind her when she does.”

Eden needs to keep Rosie in front of her leg and trot the hind legs under into her walk transition - that way she will continue to use her hind-leg, stay off the forehand and remain active into the walk. Charelle tells her always to be disciplined in the downward transitions. “Take care of your transition and then take a break. Never get into the habit where you flop into a transition and take a break straight away!”

Charelle has a helpful analogy for Eden to think about when she is riding through transitions. “It would be like if Mum was driving the car and she just turned the car off and then on again. So you’re in walk, then when you trot, it’s like you’re turning her engine back on again. Keep the engine running and just slow it down.”

Transitions are your friend

Charelle explains that she likes to use lots of walk-trot transitions when she is warming her horses up because then she can start schooling them straight away without it being stressful for them. “We are finding out about how she is with your leg today before we get cantering and before we start jumping jumps,” she says.

Keep marching on

Next, Charelle asks Eden to change the rein by doing a little half-circle to the inside and then going forward into trot straight away. “When you come back from trot into walk you can see she still wants to fall into the walk and stop a bit, but you are making her keep going and keeping her in front of you, and now that is coming into a better trot. When she goes to walk, I want her to march forward like she is going somewhere really exciting and she wants to get there,” she says to Eden.

© Show Circuit Magazine

Straightness and bend

Charelle then asks Eden to ride a three-loop serpentine through the arena. Rosie naturally travels very straight, which is excellent, as it is often something riders have to work hard on correcting straightness; this needs to come before everything else on the training scale. “Now we are going to add some bend to her straightness. You will feel that when she goes around the corner she’s a little stiff and she isn’t bending quite well enough. She kind of throws herself through the corner,” Charelle points out.

© Show Circuit Magazine

Leg yield on a circle

An excellent exercise to increase bend and suppleness is to do some leg yields on a circle. “As you are trotting on the big circle now, I want you to use your inside leg to push her tummy out while keeping that nice contact, and quietly squeeze on the inside rein to get her to look in the right direction. That doesn’t mean pulling on the inside rein, but just politely ask her to look around. It is just like a little sponge; ask her head to the inside. Now you are going to add some smaller circles into the big one. Through those little circles, you are going to ask her to bend her body by pushing her tummy out.”

As Eden starts this exercise, Charelle’s sharp eye notices a common problem. “Your circle started beautifully and then about halfway around, she started to fall in because your legs got tired from pushing her out. You come to the corner, and she falls around the corner, so she is just laying on your inside leg.”

This seems like a simple exercise, but lots of people forget that this is important in jumping and they don’t focus on it so much. “When you are jumping, this is super important. If you want to be a Show Hunter rider you need to get better at this,” she says. “If you jump down a line of jumps and then do a bad corner, how are you going to get to the next jump? It’s going to be tricky, and you probably aren’t going to get a good flying change.”

She reminds Eden that her focus when she rides circles is to get them perfect and a nice, even shape throughout. “I want you to ride a nice circle then ride nice and straight away down the long side before you circle again. Show Hunter is about two things - being able to have that nice circle but still being able to go straight.”

Outside rein to turn

When Eden changes the rein to work on the other side of Rosie’s body, Charelle finds that she encounters the opposite problem. Most horses have a better rein and a not-so-good rein, so it isn’t too surprising that Rosie is the same in this instance.

“So there she did the opposite, she found it hard and then tried a new thing to avoid the exercise and drifted out. That is when you use your outside leg just to catch her. I turn with both my outside leg and my outside rein set on their side. Don’t rely just on the inside rein because that is what happens,” she says.

Never rely on just your inside rein to turn, as it is the outside rein that turns the horse and the inside rein is just used for bend and flexion. If you only rely on your inside rein, then you open yourself up to letting the horse drift through the outside shoulder and become crooked.


Rosie has a lovely rhythm - she just trots along and doesn’t get faster or slower. “Rhythm is the most important thing for Show Hunter other than the jumping technique,” Charelle says. If your horse isn’t so good at maintaining rhythm, he might rush and argue a bit or drop behind the leg all the time. Be sure to focus on this when you are schooling your horse, both on the flat and over jumps.

Top tip:

If Rosie falls behind your leg, don’t be afraid to use your whip. I would rather see someone use their whip once and get a reaction than kick, kick, kick and nag their horse.

© Show Circuit Magazine
© Show Circuit Magazine

Perfecting a secure jump position

Before Eden even looks at a jump, Charelle asks her to work on her jumping position on the flat. She reminds Eden that when she is riding in two-point and jumping over fences, she has to make sure that her lower leg doesn’t go too far backwards.

“If you go into your jump position, but your leg slips back from your knee, it makes you a little weak through that position. If your lower leg has dropped backwards, then what part of your body is holding you on your pony? You end up gripping with your knee,” she explains. “When you are ready, go into your jump position in trot and focus on keeping that lower leg forward.”

Charelle commends Eden on her naturally beautiful upper body position. “It is something that is very hard to teach so well done!”

Training muscle memory

It is essential to train your position correctly because every time you ride, you are training muscle memory, meaning that it becomes second nature and you are not having to think about it at all.

“By training your jumping position on the flat, you are training muscle memory without having to jump a whole lot of fences,” Charelle explains. “You don’t want to be jumping your horse over lots of fences every day, so this is a fantastic exercise.”

Doing this at rising trot means you can practise it every day. “If you practise this for even a minute every day, pretty soon your body is going to get really strong, and it is going to develop muscle memory which will make your job super easy.”

Canter on

When you are warming up and schooling on the flat, always think about whether the canter is good enough to achieve the required amount of strides that you would need on course. Rhythm is huge in Show Hunter, and without it, you are unlikely to end up in the ribbons at the end of the day. Rosie has a great natural canter rhythm, so Eden doesn’t have to try and fix anything; she just needs to focus on riding her well.

“Now we are going to go into canter, and from that take her big canter step forward as if you would to jump. It isn’t a fast canter, and it’s just a longer step. That’s what we want for all of the canter work today. From that, we are going to add in some turns like we did in trot.” Again Rosie struggles a bit with bend and suppleness, so the aim in this exercise is to work on that, just as they did in the trot work.

© Show Circuit Magazine
© Show Circuit Magazine

Jumping time!

Now that they have done all this good flatwork, Charelle explains to Eden that they aren’t going to need to have to do a whole lot to warm-up over jumps. “Many people will warm-up over one jump, but I like to start down a line first. That way, I can canter down the line, count the strides, and that will tell me straight away if I am on the right rhythm or not. Rosie is already quite tired from her flatwork, so we don’t want to waste lots of energy warming up over a single fence on the wrong rhythm. We might as well get it all right.”

They applied the principles from the flatwork to the jumping, using three fences on a half-circle and focusing on using the new outside aids - the outside rein to turn. Their hard work resulted in a picture-perfect couple who could jump around the full track with flow, rhythm and balance!

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