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Straight & forward

- jumping with Jacque McKinley -

When teaching a lesson to any rider, on any horse and at any level, control and accuracy are at the top of the priority list for Auckland-based show jumping coach Jacque McKinley. She shares three straightforward, easy-to-set-up exercises with us that can be adjusted to suit the level of training of any horse.

© Show Circuit Magazine

Words and photos: Show Circuit Magazine

Get it right between the fences first

These three exercises are favourites of Jacque’s, and they all work harmoniously together and cover a wide variety of show jumping ‘basics’ while remaining relatively simple. The level of difficulty can be adjusted to suit an individual combination.

“Having control of the shoulders and the ability to turn a square corner help so much towards riding with accuracy, and if you are getting everything right in between the fences, then the size of the fence is irrelevant,” Jacque explains. “I love this combination of exercises because they work together to help with so much in your riding.”

“Keep your hands soft and still with elastic arms, and ride him up and forwards into that.”

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Exercise one - Quarter Pirouettes

Riding on a square with quarter pirouettes through the corners is an exercise you can do anywhere and is something you can do on any horse. Think of riding on a square, using the outside shoulder to turn the horse onto the new straight line. While it is a simple exercise, you can achieve so much – engagement of the hind end, control of the shoulders and suppleness of the neck and poll.

Try it at home:

  • Start in a walk on a big square

  • Ride a straight line

  • Make a quarter turn from the horse’s outside shoulder, maintaining inside flexion with the inside rein and keeping your leg on to ensure the horse maintains a forward rhythm

  • Come out of the turn onto a straight line and ride forwards

  • Repeat at the next corner.


Once your horse is comfortable with what is being asked of him, you can move into trot (although technically pirouettes can only be done in walk and canter, you can still get the same feel for it in trot in this exercise) and then canter, following the above steps. As you and your horse begin to find the exercise easier, you can increase the difficulty simply by making the square smaller, and your quarter turns tighter. Make sure you’re not allowing the horse to become dull in the reins, or that you are relying too much on your reins to collect and turn.

“Keep your hands soft and still with elastic arms, and ride him up and forwards into that,” Jacque reminds Alexa.

Exercise Two - Tram Tracks


“So many riders have lovely accuracy to the fence, riding a nice straight line, jump the fence and then canter off without a thought, and lose the line,” says Jacque.

While this might not matter if you’re only jumping a single fence, the time it takes to get the horse straight and organised again will impact your riding when jumping a course.

“If your horse can land and automatically think ‘straight,’ it is one less thing for you to worry about when competing,” she explains.

“But to get to that point takes practice, which is where exercise two comes into play.

“I put ‘tram tracks’ on the landing side of the fence to encourage the rider to land in the middle of the fence and ride away straight before turning. It’s all about discipline.”

If you have a horse that’s not straight on the approach to the fence, you can add these tram tracks before it to encourage a straight line to the fence, as well as after it.

© Show Circuit Magazine

To increase the difficulty of this exercise, you could also combine it with exercise one. Ride straight away from the fence before asking for a quarter pirouette and then riding straight again.

If you or your horse have not ridden through poles on the ground before, Jacque suggests placing the poles and then walking through the exercise a few times until your horse understands.

© Show Circuit Magazine

“If your horse can land and automatically think ‘straight,’ it is one less thing for you to worry about when competing.”

© Show Circuit Magazine

Exercise Three - Herringbone

This one is all about control. “The previous exercises help set up for this one nicely. If you are riding nice straight lines before and after the fence, and have control of the shoulders, this should be easy,” Jacque says, adding that riders must focus on the outside rein and outside leg in this exercise.

Try it at home:

  • Start on the right rein

  • Ride straight to and away from fence one

  • Circle right (roughly 15-20 metres depending on the level of the horse)

  • Ride straight to and away from fence two

  • Circle left and continue in this pattern.

  • The aim is to ride with balance throughout the entire exercise. Keep the same rhythm and try to encourage the horse to land on the correct lead for your next circle.

  • “Keep your leg pressing, but make sure your hands remain soft and that you keep that inside flexion,” encourages Jacque.

If you are finding the straight lines or the turns difficult, you can spread the fences out a little more to give yourself more room, or go back to exercises one and two to make sure you have the basics rights first.

© Show Circuit Magazine

“The inside rein should be elastic while the outside should be balancing.”

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