- TRAINING -

Developing rider discipline

- jumping with Luke Dee -

Luke Dee’s success in the show jumping ring as a teenager propelled him to the USA. Now, after a full-on few years riding and competing in the United States and Europe, he has headed back to New Zealand for a well-earned break. While he is here, Luke is happily giving back to the sport he loves by sharing what he has learned with the next generation of rising stars.

Words: Pip Hume  l  Photos: Dark Horse Photography

Starting simple

Luke’s coaching and training style are based around keeping things straightforward and simple, encouraging his pupils in incremental achievements, whether big or small. His goal is to challenge riders, but never over face them.

During the warm-up, his focus is on making sure that the horse is in front of the rider’s leg and attentive. With a lazy horse, it’s forward, forward, forward before anything else. However, Daisy is a naturally forward pony who doesn’t need a lot of kicking along, so the aim with her is to make sure that she is between Sophie’s leg and hand, and listening to her rider.

“We need to keep changing things up all the time with lots and lots of transitions, both within the pace and between paces. If you trot around in circles, the pony will get bored very quickly,” Luke explains.

Forward & straight

After a walk around the arena, Sophie works Daisy in trot. Luke asks her to let Daisy go forward a little on the long side, and collect her on the short side, where they work on a circle before going large around the arena again. She begins the exercise in rising trot, progressing to sitting trot on the short sides and circles.

Luke quickly identifies Daisy’s tendency to drop down and come behind the vertical, or “suck back”. He urges Sophie to lift her hands a little to prevent this and to work on lengthening and shortening the stride to encourage Daisy to bring her hindquarters more underneath herself.

On the circle, Luke wants Sophie to check that Daisy isn’t bulging out through the shoulder. “Flex her to the outside and then push her over to stop that outside shoulder popping,” he tells her. “You need to keep her straight on the circle – by that, I mean that her bend should follow the curve of the circle so that she doesn’t flex too much to the inside or pop her shoulder out.”

On the long side of the arena, Luke asks Sophie to send Daisy forward, then soften her hand and let Daisy stretch a little.

The exercises are repeated at the canter, with Daisy becoming noticeably lighter and more responsive.

“We need to keep changing things up all the time with lots and lots of transitions, both within the pace and between paces. If you trot around in circles, the pony will get bored very quickly."

Getting it right at home

Even though Sophie and Daisy are capable of jumping quite substantial fences, Luke says they will learn just as much, if not more, using poles and smaller jumps.

“Exercises over poles on the ground and small jumps are about thinking and concentrating; learning to be onto it all of the time. The exercises are how you learn to ride the distances and adjust the stride. You have to get the basics right at home and put in the groundwork, so it all happens easily when you are at a show.

“I used to want to go out and jump all day long, but now I never really jump big at home. I might give a horse a decent jump to tune him up just before a big show, but that’s about it.”

Luke measures every distance accurately. Over poles on the ground, he allows one step for take-off, one step for landing, and four steps for each stride.

His first exercise looks very simple – two poles on the ground with a line of four strides between them on the long side. The first time, Daisy goes through in five strides.

“Go again, and when you land after the first pole, allow her to move on for the first two strides. You won’t need to push her to make that distance, allow her to move on a little more. Every adjustment is very slight and should be very smooth. You can mix the line up a bit and ride it in four strides, or five, but decide on the number of strides and then ride that number.”

Luke says that developing rider discipline in this way can make the difference at a show. “If you walk a line and it’s six-and-a-half strides, you can decide whether to move the pony on a bit for six strides or wait for the seven.”

The exercise on the opposite long side has a line of seven strides. Again, Luke has Sophie ride forward for the seven strides, collecting Daisy before the corner, and then come around again to ride a waiting line for eight strides.

Throughout the lesson, there are frequent changes in direction. Luke also makes sure that there are plenty of opportunities for Daisy to stretch forward on the long side, as well as taking walk breaks.

“Exercises over poles on the ground and small jumps are about thinking and concentrating; learning to be onto it all of the time. The exercises are how you learn to ride the distances and adjust the stride.”

It’s all about line and track

Luke’s jumps are arranged in two half circles that allow for all sorts of lines and tracks to be ridden. The most simple, direct lines are fourteen steps – one step each for take-off and landing, and three strides (four steps for each stride). For a horse, he says, another half a metre might be needed.

The jumps start low, and Luke progressively raises them, first to about a metre and then 1.10m.

The first time through the middle combination, Daisy makes an awkward jump over the second element.

“She got a bit deep into the first element coming off that turn, and when she landed, you pushed when you didn’t need to,” Luke explains. “If you had sat still, she would have backed off the second element and jumped it nicely.”

Over the bigger jumps, he urges Sophie to use all of the space available and to keep Daisy straight over the jumps. Where she is inclined to jump a little bit to the right (over one particular combination she is a little bit ‘looky’), Luke suggests that Sophie open the left rein at take-off to keep her straight.

“After the combination, sit tall and don’t let her cut the corner. Let her open up smoothly to move away; don’t hurry. Rushing leads to mistakes,” he adds. “Just take your time and give yourself enough room.” 

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