6 Exercises to Nail Your Hunter Derby: Finish Your Course with Flair - Expert how-to for English Riders
Build on last month’s work practicing pace, bending lines and trot fences with three more elements, says derby star Liza Towell Boyd. In Exercise 3, we'll learn how to master the final part of your jumping round.

Last month, derby star Liza Towell Boyd demonstrated steps to ace your hunter derby round, which included how to pick up and keep a good pace, how to master a bending line and also how to perfect the trot fence.

This month, we'll outline three new exercises. First, review our recently published exercises on rocking rollbacks and acing your hand gallops... and finally, check out the final installment below: finishing your round with flair! 

Finish Your Round with Flair

Liza Towell Boyd's step-by-step approach to mastering the final stages of your hunter derby course. 

3. Finish Your Course with Flair

TIP: It is perfectly acceptable to use a soft voice command both in practice at home and in the derby ring. A quiet “whoa” can help communicate to your horse that it is time to stop—now.

The Challenge: Typically, at the end of the handy course, you see the riders come back to the walk promptly after their last fence and walk directly out of the ring. But sometimes the gate is very close and your horse may be too enthusiastic to do this smoothly. Remember that you are being judged from the moment you walk into a ring to the moment you walk out of the ring. I don’t like to see riders do a rough downward transition just trying to achieve the walk in time.

Your Goal: Landing and immediately coming back to the walk is the handiest, and over time this should be your goal. But if your horse is strong and you are going to end up in an unattractive tug of war, it is more appealing to do a tight turn and then walk directly out of the gate. The trick is testing your ability in advance and knowing what you and your horse can execute smoothly.

The Exercise: Set a simple jump on an angle near the gate of your schooling ring. Or set a simple jump heading right toward that gate. Either option works, and you will encounter both set-ups in derby classes. Place a cone about three strides before the gate.

Step 1: Jump the fence quietly and practice coming back to the sitting trot as soon as you can—if it needs to be on a circle, that’s a good place to start. Once your horse gets the idea, practice jumping and then coming back to the sitting trot earlier and earlier until you can do it by or before the cone.

Step 2: Jump the fence, land and then halt and back up a few times. Try to do this earlier and earlier until you can halt quietly by the cone.

Step 3: Now jump the fence and come back to the walk at the cone and walk out of the gate. If your horse is now responsive enough to execute this, that’s your game plan. Note that if you land on the wrong lead and you are worried that you might miss the change, then why take the risk? Just go immediately to the walk.

Step 4: Keep practicing, but if your horse is too anxious to give you the walk in a reasonable time—then plan for a balanced tight turn and then walk out of the gate. Practice this to the right, then eventually move the jump so that you can also practice a tight turn to the left. Over time, your horse should be able to land, execute a nice turn that fades into a walk and exit quietly out of the gate. The beauty is that the turn will put the brake on your eager horse. Your job is to make this transition smooth and make it look like you planned it. Which you did!  

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of Practical Horseman. 

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