- TRAINING -
- showjumping with Dani Maurer -
Words: Ashleigh Kendall l Photos: Show Circuit
In this lesson, Grand Prix showjumper Dani Maurer helps our amateur rider Kimi Knight to prepare for her upcoming competitions. Kimi recently decided to refocus her goals and make a move into the showjumping arena and away from her eventing background. Dani is here to help her make the transition.
Before even thinking about jumping, Dani and Kimi work on improving Louis on the flat. Their primary focus is on ensuring that he is responsive off Kimi's leg, working in a nice frame and is engaged behind. Louis is a big horse, and sometimes he likes to cheat by pulling into a long frame, so Kimi has to work hard to keep him shorter and active. She also has to focus on keeping him straight as he loves to push his shoulder out, especially on the right rein.
"Make your walk a little bit more active," Dani tells her. "His left shoulder is already starting to pop out. As soon you try to take up the contact he goes straight out the left shoulder, so try and use a counter-bend for a couple of strides and then bring him straight, so that his shoulder stays straight. Same when you move into trot - think of having a little bit of outside flexion to straighten him up before you go into trot."
Working on straightness on the flat and correcting the issue from the beginning is going to make the rest of the ride a whole lot easier for Kimi, as there will be less to have to try and correct when they are jumping. Once they have satisfied Dani in the walk, they prepare to move onto the trot. Dani stresses the importance of taking care of the transitions and not rushing through them. "Get it right the first time - and if it doesn't go well, then just come back to walk, reorganise and try again. It is essential to keep the horse straight the whole time, especially in the warm-up, because you don't want to be taking any problems with you into the jumping - they will only become ten times worse!"
Push him together!
Dani asks Kimi to lengthen Louis' trot as she changes the rein, and Louis tries to cheat and pull too long in his frame. "Try not to let him get long like that when you lengthen the trot," she reminds Kimi. "You still need to keep the contact in front as you push the trot on. When he has the right shape, and he is holding the contact nicely, then you can soften - but make sure that you're not just letting him get long and flat because you are giving that contact away."
When Kimi comes back down to walk, Louis gets a little heavy in the contact and on the forehand. "See how he got heavy in that downwards transition?
When you're preparing to come back to walk - shorten the trot up a little bit first to help him sit and stay active," Dani explains. "Take your time coming back into walk, shorten the trot up first, make sure he's sitting and then say 'walk'. Even if he comes above the bit to make the transition, I would rather that then the other way where he falls on the forehand. Keep him active without the trot getting longer. Think about pushing a spring together when you're doing your transitions - that's the feeling I want you to have like you're pushing Louis together more."
Don't let him lean
With a horse like Louis, who likes to lean on the rein or pull against it, it's tempting for Kimi to get stuck holding onto him to try and keep him in a frame. Dani cautions against this. "Think about it like a half-halt, and then give, half-halt, give, so that you both aren't getting into the habit of leaning on each other. He has to go on his own, but he won't learn to if you are just holding him there," she tells Kimi. It is also essential to keep the contact steady and not completely give it away when you are trying to be soft in your hand. "Just soften your contact, you don't need to loop your reins," Dani explains. "Feel how as your trot got bigger, he started stretching out and you lost his shape altogether? So put him back in the right shape and start again, building him up but not letting him go out of posture."
Once Louis is working in a soft frame again, Kimi can start putting energy back into the trot and work on building it back up.
Make a spiral
Once Louis is working nicely in the walk and trot, Kimi moves on to improving the canter. Dani gets Kimi to canter on a circle around her, and once Louis feels like he has a good rhythm, she asks her to leg yield him inwards off the outside.
"Start to spiral in around me and make the canter slower. As you spiral in, think about his shoulders - are they still wanting to pop out? Or are they turning from the outside in? Then start to leg yield out, and make the canter stronger. When you spiral in again, make sure that he isn't just hanging on the inside rein. You don't want him relying only on the inside rein, or having too much neck bend. And even though you want the canter to be slower, don't let it get laboured. Keep him active so that he's jumping through from behind," Dani explains as Kimi works through the exercise.
Another great exercise on the flat is the simple leg yield. It straightens the horse, puts him in the outside rein and gets him using his hind leg and pushing through from behind. It is especially useful for horses that like to sneak out through the shoulder and get crooked.
"As you come back down into trot, think about leg yielding away without losing his shoulders," Dani encourages. "Keep him soft on the inside rein and stepping over from behind."
This is a fantastic exercise for getting the horse to use his hind leg properly and step through from behind, increasing engagement without slowing him down - which in turn will improve his collection, giving him more power for the jumps!
Dani sets up a simple yet effective exercise for Kimi and Louis to start their jumping with. She places a pole on the ground, then measures six strides on a curve to an upright, followed by another six stride curving line to another pole.
"First time around, I want you to ride the exercise for the six strides. Then when you have that right, I want you to ride it for seven strides." Dani explains that it's important for Kimi not to over-ride the pole in this exercise, or it will make her job harder riding the rest of the line.
"Don't collapse too far forward over your poles," she says. "It was a long, strung-out six that time! There has to be a stronger canter from behind, and you have to keep your hands still over the pole. You were almost jumping the pole like you were doing 1.10m! Stay a little bit taller over the pole and the middle jump, because that's not big either."
The trick with this exercise is to go for a strong canter to make the six strides without getting long and flat. "The first attempt was a bit flat. He still has to keep connected, because even though you're asking for a bigger stride than you would if you were riding it in seven strides, we don't want him to get long. Push him into your hand a little bit more for your six."
In this exercise, Louis also pushed his shoulder out a little bit, revisiting the same issue that they were working on in their flatwork. Dani immediately offers some advice to fix that. "Feel him pop out through that shoulder? Just circle in canter for me without the poles, because I want you to collect him up more before we move on to making the seven strides."
Getting a good, quality canter is going to make the exercise more rideable and more comfortable for the horse. "Collect him up and sit him up," Dani reminds her.
Ride a rhythm
Next time through the line, Kimi and Louis make the seven strides, but it lacks rhythm. "Can you feel how he starts too strong, and then you go to half halt and he gets behind the leg? It has to be an even seven strides right from the start. Don't be afraid to ride him forward, half-halt and then sit him back, so he is in front of your leg a little bit more," Dani says.
"Try to think about the quality of your canter. You want to have him going forward into the hand, then you can sit him up, and the jump is going to be much better."
It is so vital, Dani stresses, that you ride as accurately as possible – no matter what your discipline. In showjumping, it can mean the difference between clearing a fence or falling short, so it is crucial to get it right! This means riding precise lines in your training.
"Always aim to take off in the middle and land in the middle of the fence," Dani says. "Ride your lines and don't get complacent. Remember to sit him up around the corner - don't chase him and let him get long and flat over the vertical." Always keep the horse together with his power in his hind legs so that he can use that power for the jumps.
When Louis does get a bit flat and doesn't jump up to Kimi over the fence, Dani tells her to sit up more and use more leg into the fence to improve his technique. "Sit up and don't get ahead of him with your body. Wait for the jump to come to you, and he will jump better."
Things to remember:
Think about pushing a spring together when doing transitions.
Don't let him get too long and on the forehand in between fences.
Sit up for your fences.
Keep him in front of your leg and coming through from behind, because the more power he has coming through in the canter from the hind leg, the more power he has to use for the jump!