In Part 2 of eventer Kyle Carter's series on jumping ditches, he'll show you how jumping poles next to a ditch can give your horse (and you!) the confidence to succeed.

In Part 1 of eventer Kyle Carter's series on jumping ditches, he shared the first step in introducing your horse to this exercise. Refresh your memory and then move on to Step 2 below! 

Step 2: Jump Poles Next to the Ditch

Set up for this step by placing the two show-jump poles parallel and next to one another in the open space beside the end of the ditch. In the photos, the poles are right next to each other. Set one pair‘s ends against the end of the ditch so that they appear to extend its length. Place your cone or marker on one side of the poles, perpendicular to and about 18 feet away from their centers.

Now I’m going to teach you how to develop the ride that I want you to use in the approach to every ditch from this day forward. Pick up an active posting trot and coil your horse’s energy into short, punchy steps. When that feels good, turn him onto a line that will take you past the marker and over the center of the jump poles.

As you pass the marker, bring your seat down into the saddle in a sitting trot, sit up tall and close your legs on his sides as much as necessary to make him move forward. (Depending on your horse, this can be anything from a whisper of a leg aid to a very strong squeeze.) Think of increasing your pace by 20 percent. In this short space, you probably won’t actually achieve this increase, but this mental goal will produce the forward reaction you need.

You must feel a true reaction. He must move! If he’s on the lazy side, think of going as fast as you possibly can. It’s not good enough to say afterward, “Well, I closed my legs.” It’s OK if he breaks into a canter. Whatever he does, be careful not to tip your upper body forward.

Don’t worry if your horse gets flat over the poles. To jump open ditches, he doesn’t need any loft to his jump. But he does need the confidence to travel across them without hesitation.

Since your horse is already comfortable about getting fairly close to the ditch, he will likely focus more on the poles. Don’t worry about whether he jumps them or simply steps over them. If he knocks them out of place, have your ground person straighten them.

Repeat this several times at the trot and then do it at the canter, always approaching from the same direction and applying your increased leg aid the moment you pass the marker. If your horse gets too strong and fast, use a little less aid in the approach next time, but still insist that he move forward to the ditch.

Canter over the poles this way at least eight times, making a big continuous circle on the same lead to return to the beginning each time. Always start with the punchiest, shortest stride possible (this is the same idea as the energetic, collected “coffin canter” you’ll teach him later in his career) and then think of increasing your pace 20 percent more in the final strides to the ditch. Even if it feels redundant and unnecessary to give him the cue to go forward at the cone, do it anyway so that the sequence becomes routine for both of you.

This is the step people don’t take seriously enough. Developing a consistent ride in the approach to ditches is the whole foundation for riding them successfully. Nobody ever masters ditches. They always require a clear, determined approach that says, “We’re moving forward now!” Even when I’m jumping an experienced, Advanced-level horse over a relatively small ditch, I still ride it the same way because that’s what horses understand.

Stay tuned for Part 3! 

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

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