In Part 1 of this three-part series on course-riding skills, top trainers Traci and Carleton Brooks shared an exercise to fine-tune your eye while on course. Later, in Part 2, they demonstrated how practicing a cloverleaf pattern can help create smooth, thoughtful rounds. In the final installment below, our exercise "Jump Two Fences on a Curve" should help you develop a correct pace on course, be more mindful of your track and rhythm and also keep your eyes focused up to improve straightness.
Exercise 3: Jump Two Fences on a Curve
Exercise 3: Jump Two Fences on a Curve
The above two exercises are plenty for one day. Save this third exercise for another session. Again, use all the skills you learned in the previous exercises when you do this one.
Start by setting two small fences on the end of the arena, five or six strides apart and positioned at slight angles to one another so you can jump them both on a curve. Pick up the canter and establish a good pace before aiming for the center of the first fence, again counting out loud, “One, two, one, two.” As before, straighten for one horse length before and after the jump. After your horse lands, ride him forward into both reins and maintain your rhythm and pace while riding the curved track to the center of the second jump. Straighten him again for this fence’s takeoff and landing.
TIP >> Try to ride forward into the reins after each jump.
Make your turns before and after the jumps both smooth curves—not square turns—while maintaining the rhythm, pace and symmetry of the shape just as you did in the cloverleaf exercise. Remember: Look, then turn.
Repeat this a few times, then incorporate the technique you learned in Exercise 1, adjusting your track slightly to correct for deep or long takeoffs at each jump. (If you like, you can mark chutes before and after each jump as you did in Exercise 1.)
You can also vary the number of strides between the jumps by changing your canter and/or track. For example, if your horse has a normal 12-foot canter stride, ask him to open it up to about 14 feet and ride the exercise in one less stride. If necessary, take some of the curve out of your track (fade slightly to the inside) to shorten the distance. Turn a little later in your approach to the first fence so you jump it on a very slight angle and land on a more direct track to the second jump. In the air over the first jump, give a longer release. When you land, add more leg—especially outside leg—and stay a bit lighter in your seat. This will help you subtract a stride comfortably.
Then try collecting him in the approach to the exercise to produce a 10-foot stride and add a stride between the jumps. Turn a little early to the first fence so you jump it on a very mild angle in the other direction, which will put you on a wider track with more curve in it. This will provide the extra distance you need to add a stride comfortably. Give a slightly shorter release in the air over the first fence. After you land, get a little deeper in your seat and put your leg on as you ask your horse to collect his stride between the jumps.
As you practice riding this exercise in different numbers of strides, you’ll develop a feel for the correct pace and stride length you need for each situation.
More advanced riders can increase the difficulty by adding a jump halfway down each side of the ring on the quarterlines—at least six or seven strides from the end jumps. This way, you’ll jump a fence on the quarterline, then jump the two fences on the curve, then finish with the fence on the other quarterline. Start simple, aiming for the center of each jump, focusing on riding forward into both hands and thinking of each jump as just another canter stride. Then challenge yourself by incorporating the above-described striding adjustments. You’ll have to land from the first quarterline jump, then balance and work to get just the right canter to produce your desired number of strides between the end jumps, then organize and balance again to jump the last fence nicely.
When this is going well, depending on your experience level, you can modify the exercise in a number of ways. We like to turn the fences on the quarterlines into combinations with two-strides, one-strides, even bounces and triple combinations (if there’s enough room in the arena). Be sure you still have at least six or seven strides between the two jumps on the ends of the ring and the combinations. As you go through the combinations, ride each stride. Close your legs and ride forward to the next fence, encouraging your horse to make a good jumping effort every time.
You can also vary the exercise occasionally by jumping the end fences and then turning across the diagonal to jump another fence along it. Then complete the diagonal and ride the exercise in the other direction. Or try the exercise without stirrups.
TIP >> Constantly Correct Your PositionNobody keeps her position for more than three horse lengths without making an adjustment. Say your eyes dropped, your fingers opened on the reins, your heels came up or you sat back too far. Whether the change is dramatic or subtle, the sooner you make the correction, the better. Avoid trying to “hold” your position in place. That invariably leads to worse problems, like holding your breath and locking up your body, which will cause your horse to react negatively by doing the same thing.
Another fun variation is to jump the end fences on the curve, then take both reins in your outside hand while putting your inside hand behind your back. Ride like this to the next jump or combination on the long side. This is a great way to correct habits of twisting or falling on your hands—or to test that you’re not riding too much with your hands.
As we mentioned earlier, if you ever run into trouble, simplify! Lower the fence heights or remove jumps.
Above all else, remember to keep your eyes focused up. That will improve your straightness. Combine this with a constant awareness of your track and rhythm, and everything else will fall into place.
This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.