- TRAINING -

Little tweaks – big improvements

- show jumping with Clem Smith

Words and photos: Show Circuit

It’s all about simple adjustments and fine-tuning in this jumping lesson for Auckland-based Grand Prix rider Glen Beal and his stunning grey gelding Sacramento. In this high-intensity lesson, top Australian show jumping rider and coach Clem Smith works on small changes with Glen that make a real impact. 

Training the canter   

They start with a line of three crosses, at all set an equal distance apart. Glen’s challenge is to alternate between going down the line in three and four strides to get his horse listening and work on creating an adjustable canter, which is crucial when they’re jumping a full course.

Before they begin, Clem reminds Glen to sit tall with reins short and thumbs on top, so he doesn’t roll his wrists in and allow his horse to lean against the contact. First, they go down the line in a quiet, well-executed four strides between each cross. “That was great, just keep those knees a little more open and your lower leg wrapped around the horse,” says Clem. Next time they have to shift the canter up a gear to get down the line in three strides. “Start with the active canter you need and make sure you have it out of the corner so it’s even all the way to the first and you don’t have to chase.”

They get the three, and after a few more times down in both three and four strides, Clem is satisfied with the progress but wants Glen to keep thinking about his lower leg. “That was very good; he’s more rideable today. Just watch those knees when you start to ride forward, a couple of times when you moved up for the three, your knees tightened up. As soon as you start to feel the lower leg swing, open the knees and get your leg on.”

Trusting the distance

On this horse, Glen has been struggling to wait for the right distance, sometimes panicking and chasing him to a fence. Clem’s advice is simple: “Relax and trust yourself.” As he moves on to the first course, Clem keeps a watchful eye and sees from several strides out if Glen is looking like reverting to a chasing stride. “Just be patient, it’s going to come!” he says. 

They jump a really nice course over the related lines, bending lines and combinations that Clem has set at about 1.10m. “Your rhythm is improving, and you’re trusting

your decisions, which is making things much easier for you both,” says Clem. “That time at the double, for example, you may have felt like you waited too much and got a little close, but you’re better to be like that. You don’t want to be jumping into a combination too big because he’s got a lot of scope and jumps big anyway, so you’d be hauling him back to make the distance at the B element if you’d chased to that distance.”

Glen is worried that his horse is still sometimes wanting to race, but Clem assures him he will change. “Just sit up, stay still and consistent, and he will learn. While you’re training he might pop a couple out, but he will learn to back himself up a bit, and it’s important that he does, particularly in the big classes when you’ve got to be able to let him canter down on a soft rein.”

It’s all about rhythm 

With the fences up a couple of holes, Clem wants Glen to focus on getting the right canter from the start and keeping it. The course consists of related lines, rein changes, rollbacks and tricky corners, so Glen has to focus on maintaining a consistent rhythm. “Keep your eyes up, knees soft, an active canter and the same rhythm right the way around, that’s the main thing I’m looking for,” says Clem as they get underway. They jump a good course and Clem’s pleased, not just with the rider but with the horse too. “I think I’d like to take this one home!” he laughs.

It’s time to raise the fences again, and Clem encourages a slightly more active canter. “You need to move the canter up now that it’s a little bigger, as that will give you more options for a distance. To move forward, make sure it’s coming from your leg to keep the horse in the same body shape. Don’t lean forward and let him poke his nose out.”

Again they jump a lovely course with no hiccups and Clem’s ready to finish on a good note with some closing advice. “Remember your consistent rhythm. After landing, you need to regain your canter; now and then you’ll soften off for two or three strides after a fence, and he gets a little dull on the approach to the next, so keep riding the whole way around. That was great, though, we won’t get him to jump much better than that.”

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