When a horse jumps well, he rounds his back, uses his shoulders to raise his forearms, tucks his legs, and stretches downward with his head and neck.
To some degree, good jumping style is innate -- you can't turn a naturally poor jumper into a star. But with training, you can improve on any performance and style.
I've found that the key to improving a horse's form is keeping the task simple: An uncomplicated exercise is easy for him to understand and learn. I encourage a horse to jump relaxed and round by using a straightforward gymnastic: two ramped oxers set one comfortable stride apart. Because of the difference in the pole height, the ramped oxer will encourage a higher forearm and a tighter lower leg, and, on landing, will bring him deeper into the gymnastic. That deep landing produces a balanced and condensed stride to help prepare the horse for the second obstacle: a reverse ramp oxer. As he jumps the reverse ramp, its higher front rail will encourage him tomeasure the obstacle?and doing that will promote a crisper use of the front end, along with a round back and a well-defined hind end.
Here's how to make the exercise work for you. After warming your horse up and jumping some single fences, set up two oxers, each two and a half to three feet in height. (Keeping the fences on the low side will prevent them from backing your horse off or causing him to worry about the effort.) Set the back rail of the first oxer six inches higher than the front rail; on the second oxer, set the front rail six inches higher than the back. Leave a distance of twenty-one to twenty-four feet (whatever is a comfortable cantering stride for your horse) between the jumps.
Canter to the first oxer on a relaxed stride, so that the horse produces a good, round jump in. In order not to interfere with his concentration (which could affect his form), sit quietly as he jumps, lands, and canters one stride to the next fence. The second oxer, ramped away, should make him more alert; he'll take a look at the rails, draw his knees up, round his back, and flip his hind end as he goes over the jump.
School through this gymnastic to sharpen your horse before you go to a show, or as part of his regular jumping sessions. The more often you ask him to jump in top form, the more of a habit it will become.
--Updated from Practical Horseman, March 1992.
Virginia-based top hunter trainer Tommy Serio shares tips on schooling a horse that rushes his fences in the August 2002 Practical Horseman magazine. In more than three decades as a professional, Tommy has won numerous year-end awards and major show championships aboard legendary hunters such as The Wizard and For Many Reasons. In 2002 he rode Summer Rally to the regular conformation championship at Devon Horse Show and Upperville Colt & Horse Show (where they also won the grand hunter championship); he was also grand green hunter champion at Upperville with Somerset Bay.