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 1, we'll learn how to rock those rollbacks.

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--in this article Liza shares tips to execute a beautiful rollback on your course. 

In today’s horse-show world, hunter derbies are hot. Since being introduced by the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association in 2008, these exciting new classes have grown exponentially—driving more entries and an ever-expanding group of riders who want to try their first derby course.

In last month’s issue of Practical Horseman, I explained that derbies may seem intimidating, but they really are just a series of tests. And these tests can be isolated and practiced at home. I introduced three key exercises focused on developing and keeping the right hunter pace, mastering the bending line and taking the fear factor out of trot fences.

This month, we will build on that learning by introducing three more exercises that add even more skills to your tool kit. No matter what your goal—nailing your first hunter derby or just being more competitive in your hunter division—these exercises will help you master pace, track and balance. And that will make you and your horse more successful anywhere you choose to compete.

Rock the Rollbacks

The Challenge: A rollback occurs when you land after a single fence (or a line) and need to execute a very sharp turn back to another fence. This challenge is typically set as a vertical fence to an oxer. Sometimes there is another obstacle in your way, so you need to decide to go inside or around it to make the turn.

There are four things that typically go wrong at rollbacks: turning in the air too quickly on the vertical, leaning in on the turn, slowing down on the turn and neglecting to get your horse’s attention on the oxer.

Your Goal: Find the same pace and the same distance to both fences with smoothness on the track and accurate distances to the jumps. Just like in any hunter course, the trick is making the jumps match. And a rollback is no different than any other turn—it is just a lot faster.

The Exercise: Start with a simple vertical with a 180-degree right turn to a crossrail representing the oxer. Place an obstacle (like a standard or a big plant) in the middle of the turn—you want to be able to ride about five strides to pass the standard, then you will make a right turn around it to get to the second fence.

In the beginning, the crossrail allows you to work on your technique in the turn without worrying about finding a distance to a real oxer. Practice each of the following parts of the rollback, starting with a turn around the outside of the standard.

Step 1: Work on staying straight to the vertical and straight in the air until your horse lands. Do not try to turn in the air—it is not necessary and it will make your horse land on his inside shoulder with his haunches trailing out. Rather, look straight ahead in the air and step into your outside stirrup, which will help keep you centered over your horse. On landing, use a little inside leg with an opening left rein to keep your horse from cutting in on the turn. As you land, your eyes can look right to focus on the turn to come.

Step 2: Once your horse is straight and you feel organized, you start to make the turn. Practice staying in the center of your horse. Do not lean in. Pulse a little of your weight into your outside stirrup. Your shoulders should mimic your horse’s shoulders—square and straight. Keep a feel of your outside rein, as you push your horse from the inside leg to the outside rein.

Step 3: Practice keeping your pace consistent throughout the whole exercise. As you land after the vertical, quickly find your horse’s balance. You should feel that he has his weight under him, on his hind legs. Your seat should be lightly touching the tack and you should feel centered in your saddle. Canter forward all the way through the turn. Recognize that the turn will naturally slow down your horse, so press forward with purpose around the turn. Note that by cantering forward you are not committing to taking a big distance on the second fence. You are just creating enough pace to give yourself options.

Step 4: As you make the turn, realize this is a blind turn for both you and your horse. You know that you are turning directly to another jump, but did you tell your horse? Make sure you are steering with both your arms and your legs. Keep using inside leg to prevent him from dropping in. As you crest the turn and pass the standard, add your outside leg to straighten him and focus his attention on the second fence.

Once you can successfully execute all four steps of the rollback, you are ready to build the crossrail into an oxer. And as you get smoother, try to tighten the rollback. Make it riskier and riskier and test your ability to tighten the turn while keeping your horse balanced with a good line and a forward pace.

Step 5: Got it mastered? Now try turning inside the standard.

Liza Towell Boyd is one of the country’s most successful hunter riders and trainers and has won more than 25 USHJA International and National Hunter Derbies. In a historic three-peat, she rode her legendary chestnut gelding Brunello to win the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Brunello went on to be the 2015 USHJA National Horse of the Year. She placed third in the 2016 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship on Stella Styslinger’s O’Ryan, who is the demonstration horse this month. Liza trains at her family’s Finally Farm in Camden, South Carolina.

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

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