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 2, we'll learn how to show off the hand gallop.

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 - review our recently published exercise on rocking rollbacks, and then check out how to show off your hand gallop (below). 

Show Off the Hand Gallop

The Challenge: The derby course designer will ask for a hand gallop, usually right before you jump the last big oxer or obstacle of the course. It provides a thrilling finish for the audience and a real challenge for horse and rider: how to show a brilliant hand gallop without losing your balance to that all-important last fence?

Your Goal: Show the hand gallop early so that the judges check it off the list. Execute the hand gallop seamlessly and with control so that you can jump the last fence in style.

The Exercise: Set up two fences at opposite ends of your ring, a vertical to an oxer. Place a cone three strides after the vertical.

Step 1: Jump the vertical. Immediately upon landing, your first goal is to find your horse’s balance. Bring your upper body to a more vertical position, sink down deeper in your tack and steady with your hand and leg working together. Let your horse rock back onto his hind end. Practice this until you can achieve this balance well before the first cone and without it being visible to the judges.

Step 2: As you pass the cone, move up into the hand gallop. Lighten into a half seat, move your upper body in front of the vertical, add more leg and take a soft feel of your horse’s mouth as he increases his stride. You should feel more power, more energy and a longer stride from your horse. As you practice, think about adjusting your horse’s stride: Can you do it in one to two strides? Can you do it seamlessly?

Step 3: Hand gallop for at least 10 strides. The goal here is to keep your horse uphill between your leg and hand—do not let him flatten out or become heavy in front.

Step 4: Now you have executed the hand gallop, so focus on finding a good distance to the second jump. If you have your horse’s engine working from behind, then you can make any distance work—long or deep. But be careful not to look at this last fence too early as you are galloping—it will tend to make the distance you see long.

Before You Ride into the Ring: Strategies for Success

1. Take a picture of the course map beforehand so that you have it for reference. Decide in advance the approach of your courtesy circle or track: What lead will you choose (if there is an option) and where will you pick up the canter? At what point will you have established your pace? You can plan all this in advance.

2. When you walk the handy course, walk the most technically difficult track first, an easier track second and then the easiest track of all. You need to study all three. When it is your turn to ride, you want to be ready to pick one of these three options based on how aggressive you want to be in the handy round. Which track you pick—and how much risk you take—often depends on what the other competitors riding before you have achieved.

3. Try to watch at least three or four rounds before you ride, if the order of go allows for it. Pay attention—sometimes the course rides differently than it walks. For example, a two-stride in-and-out may be set on exactly the right distance, but it might ride long for most horses because it is set after a sharp turn. Perhaps there is a fence that looked normal to you but that many of the horses don’t jump well. Having this information in your pocket will help you perfect your ride.

In our next installment, we'll teach you an exercise to learn to finish your course with flair! 

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

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