- TRAINING -
One jump ahead
- show jumping with Anna Stephen -
Words: Pip Hume l Photos: Show Circuit
Pip Hume sits in on the first formal jumping session for Blade; a four-year-old Thoroughbred recently retired from the racetrack.
Blade is by Guillotine and was lightly raced under the racing name Laquiante.
The lesson starts with a walk around the arena for Blade so that he can have a good look at everything, loosen up and relax in a new environment.
Once he picks up the trot, Anna wants to see him travelling straight and in a nice purposeful rhythm. She stresses to Karina that it’s essential to have him forward and in front of the leg, supporting him around the turns with an open inside rein, and not worrying about his head carriage or whether he is on the bit.
With Blade maintaining an excellent forward trot in a nice contact, Anna asks for some 20-metre circles in the corners. She reminds Karina to open her inside rein to encourage Blade to bend and to support him with her legs and outside rein so that he doesn’t fall out through the shoulder.
“I’m very fussy about straightness – keeping the horse squarely underneath you on circles and corners – because once you start riding courses, it’s critical to setting up your lines,” Anna explains.
Blade looks comfortable in trot, so Anna asks Karina to pick up the canter. Again, she wants Blade travelling freely into an even, light contact. She wants Karina to let him find his balance.
“He’s too weak at the moment to hold a frame for more than a stride or two,” she points out.
Blade remains very calm and settled in canter, so some large circles are added in the corners of the arena as the very beginning stages of encouraging him to engage the hindquarters more, before allowing him to travel straight along the side of the arena.
Introduction to jumping
The next step is for Blade to work over three poles on the ground. The objective is to let Blade have a look at these and work out how to step between them, with Karina allowing him to stretch forward and down, encouraging him to use his neck and shoulders.
Anna feels that three poles are enough of a question for a young horse to handle. She has them set at a fairly short distance to make it easy for him, and to encourage him to stay in his rhythm without rushing. Blade remains relaxed and confident, and is happy to walk and then trot through the poles, working on the same principles as before – a forward, straight, rhythmic trot, accurate corner, and relaxation through his neck and shoulders as he trots over the poles.
Karina works on keeping him straight and staying relaxed, with an even contact that follows his mouth as he stretches down over the poles.
Karina then pops Blade through a deconstructed cross-bar, with the poles on the ground between the jump stands. Anna puts up the rails and Blade is happy to trot over the small obstacle.
Karina’s job here is to ride accurately through the corner without letting Blade fall out through his shoulder, to ride him straight over the jump, and to maintain a soft, even contact at the base of the jump and through landing.
“You must maintain that soft contact going into the jump and don’t drop it,” says Anna.
Because Blade has remained happy and relaxed and is showing no signs of being spooky or unsettled, after another short walk break, fillers are introduced. The oxer has a small spread, with painted tyres as fillers placed alongside the jump stands (away from the centre of the crossed rails). It’s a busy jump to look at, but Anna says that because the centre of the oxer is clear, it poses no problems for young horses.
Anna explains to Karina that she needs to focus on straightness going into the jump and on maintaining the quality of the trot, rather than speed.
Again, Blade jumps competently and without problems two or three times, and is rewarded by another short walk break. At this stage, Blade has been trotting happily over the obstacles. Anna would like to see how he canters over a jump, so she uses a three stride combination set at an 11ft distance.
“He won’t be travelling at canter after the first jump, and we don’t want to have to chase him to make the distance or encourage him to run at the jump and end up with a flat jump,” she explains. “We want to teach him to get to the base of the fence on a rhythm without losing any relaxation.”
The combination is straightforward and poses no problems, with Blade trotting and then cantering through, so they move on to a more testing one-stride double.
After a crooked approach, Blade baulks at the double before running out at the second element.
“It’s not a biggie. At this early stage, it’s easy for these things to happen,“ Anna tells Karina. “He wasn’t straight, and he took the easy way out. Just trot through again and make sure he is straight, and that you keep the same even contact and stay relaxed and committed to the second fence.”
Anna also steps into the second element, to ‘close the door’ and make it easier for Karina. Karina has a much smoother ride with a straighter approach, and Blade jumps through both elements.
Trotting through the combination a couple of times increases Blade’s confidence, and when asked to canter, he goes through the combination easily.
There are just a couple more obstacles for Blade to have a look at. A narrow stile with a half-barrel filler and a wall painted in a red brick pattern pose no problems, but Blade’s first error of the day happens when he takes off too early at the final fence - a rail with a blue plastic filler - and knocks it behind. Anna and Karina are both pleased that he does not overreact or become worried by the rail and comes back around to jump it cleanly and confidently a couple more times.
Finally, Anna works out a simple, flowing course with no traps. Blade has seen all of the jumps and is confident with them, and the pair make easy work of jumping around it.
Concentrate on straightness and rhythm.
Let the horse travel.
Lots of walk breaks of 20-30 seconds to provide a mental release.
Keep sessions short and sweet – 20 minutes is plenty for a young horse.
Lots of praise – whenever Blade makes an effort, he gets a pat to let him know he has done well.
Encourage him forward with a tongue click – that can be invaluable.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Horses are not machines. It only has to be good enough.
Don’t worry if your horse makes a mistake. Mistakes are how we learn.