- TRAINING -
One jump ahead
- show jumping with Catherine Cameron
Words: Pip Hume l Photos: Show Circuit
In this article highly regarded show jumping coach and mentor, Catherine Cameron takes us through her training system with the then promising four-year-old stallion Lamaze.
Catherine and Lamaze who is by the Holsteiner stallion La Lair, out of Jazz (by Lio Caylon).
Lamaze is quite a spooky horse, but he’s also a bit of a player and a bit naughty.
“They need a little bit of attitude so you can channel it in the right direction. This horse thinks he is Mr Cool. If you let him take advantage, he can be quite a monkey, so I like to get him listening, soft and round. “
Catherine says that Lamaze doesn’t have the best trot, but he does have a great canter, which is more important for a jumper – although ideally, you would have a great trot as well. He’s very light in the mouth so he can tend to get a little bit behind the vertical at this stage, but Catherine thinks he is going to be very easy to collect when he is strong enough to do it.
During the warm-up, she works a lot on transitions – not just between paces but also within the pace, forward and back – to get Lamaze listening. “Transitions are fundamental with any horse, but especially the young ones.”
She also prefers to school with a dressage whip rather than spurs. “I don’t always wear spurs even in the ring – sometimes I use small spurs on my good horse, but just as often I don’t.”
With young horses, Catherine generally tries to stay off their back a little in the canter, although Lamaze has a good canter and can carry her. “If he gets really smart, I’ll sit down a little more, but until youngsters get strong in their backs, the rider shouldn’t sit too hard.”
It’s also essential with a young horse to give them plenty of breaks to catch their breath, she adds. “They usually aren’t particularly fit at this stage in their training and can tire very quickly, both physically and mentally.”
The importance of flying changes
Lamaze can already do very good flying changes, although he can get a little exuberant with them! Catherine likes to start her horses doing flying changes as soon as she can. “This isn’t what the straight dressage people do, but honestly, if a horse is correctly balanced, he should be able to do flying changes.”
Her focus on flying changes goes back to her World Cup horse Bell Tower, who was terrible at them. “I remember my coach saying to me ‘They’ve gotta be able to flying change!’ so every horse I’ve sat on since then has been taught to do them. It’s not all that much fun cross-cantering into a World Cup-sized oxer. It didn’t bother me back in the day, but I’d be a lot more concerned now!”
To be proficient at flying changes, the horse needs to be very straight and balanced, and he needs to be able to carry himself. Lamaze is naturally very balanced, so flying changes are quite easy for him. “Because he finds it so simple, the work doesn’t wind him up, and it keeps him thinking the right way. He’s always thinking about something!”
For horses that are not so good at flying changes, Catherine starts out working them over a pole, but the sooner the horse learns to do changes on their own, the better. “With a horse that’s not as balanced and as strong as Lamaze, I wouldn’t ask for too many changes in a session – just one or two and leave it at that. I also see a lot of people trying to do flying changes by leaning in around a turn, which in my view is not how they should be done as it unbalances the horse and makes his job that much harder.”
“Once the horse is listening and doing everything fairly well, he’s ready to jump. And it’s once you start heading to the jumps that the faults start showing up!” she adds.
Catherine likes to have small jumps set up in the arena at home so that when she’s doing flatwork, she can pop in a few jumps if she gets bored.
“Ideally speaking, show jumping is dressage with jumps, and the horses I sit on should be able to jump – otherwise I don’t want to be sitting on them! Lamaze has got everything going for him, so I play around with him for now.”
She doesn’t jump even the good horses over big fences very often, and she doesn’t set up a lot of exercises in the arena.
“You can do all the gymnastic stuff you like to help the horse’s technique – which obviously at times you need to do – but there aren’t any gymnastic jumping competitions unless you are in a six-bar.”
Catherine says that if the rider can get the horse to a fence balanced and listening, then it’s his job to jump it. But the horse also has to be allowed to make mistakes so he can learn from them.
“In a big class, things don’t always go to plan, and the horse has to be able to help himself because everyone makes mistakes. The horse needs to have good natural instincts. To a certain extent, you can train the instincts out of them, and that’s a shame. So I like to start very quietly with them, have them balanced and straight and let them find their way over the jump. If they come into it a bit slow, they learn that they have to push. If the horse wants to trot in and fall over it, that’s his problem. It becomes the rider’s problem if he falls on his nose, though!”
Catherine would like to think that Lamaze will be sticking with her for a long time, “but you never know. If he does end up going to someone who isn’t as accurate as a rider, he’ll need to know how to deal with situations when something goes wrong – or it could end in big trouble.”
A vertical on a circle
One of Catherine’s favourite exercises is to set up one small vertical on a circle. She wants the horse balanced and waiting, going on a nice even stride and meeting the jump straight. “I’m not looking for a huge jumping effort in this exercise, but if I put the horse in deep, I want him to try to get over cleanly.”
She also feels that it’s essential for young horses to learn to do things slowly, and to teach them to wait. “I want to be able to let go of the head through the jump – although if I thought the horse was going to crash, I would take a pull! As the horse gets the hang of the exercise – if he’s listening and not being smart – I’ll bring the circle in.”
On a more experienced horse, the circle will become quite tight – a turn, then straight over the jump, then a turn. She does this exercise quite a lot with all of the horses and also with her pupils, saying that it’s also really good practice for jump-offs.
Riding a small course
Catherine finishes her session by popping Lamaze around a small course, including a tight four-stride line.
“It’s all about how you ride the first jump in a line,” Catherine explains. “If you get it wrong, then you’ll see whether your training is right or wrong!”
Lamaze jumps the course well, keeping a nice rhythm throughout. “On the whole, he went around the whole course nicely; he listened, and we had some nice jumps. A couple were a bit ordinary, but he’s quite scopey, and it’s all very easy for him, which is why he doesn’t need to concentrate too much. Sometimes he takes a cheap rail, but if he doesn’t do that, then he doesn’t learn,” she says. “I will be very surprised if this horse doesn’t end up being a very good horse.”