Last week I set up a fun little exercise for Otis and Llani. Four cross poles on a large circle. Usually when I set up this exercise I make the circle too small, so I made a conscious effort to push the poles out a bit more.
I warmed up using the poles on the floor, both to improve the canter and improve their suppleness and rhythm. Once I`d warmed up I popped all the jumps up as crosses. The height wasn`t important as the focus was on rhythm and suppleness, as well as improving the bascule by getting the inside hind underneath them. The cross gave a focal point to help keep the circle round, and to give me a point to aim for.
Otis finds this exercise easy. I popped him over a single fence a couple of times to get his jumping head on and then we cantered over the four jumps a couple of times on both reins. He has to be economical with his jumps, and continue travelling on a curve. We repeated the exercise a few more times and then I put up a bigger upright and jumped that on it`s own. Otis felt like he was making a better shape over the jump. This exercise was particularly useful in strengthening Otis`s left canter. He prefers his right when jumping and any big or awkward jump results in him changing onto the right lead, so by continually taking small jumps and on the left circle he had to utilise his left hind leg. This week I noticed he was more likely to keep his left lead over jumps, so hopefully the exercise was beneficial in this aspect.
Llani however, really benefitted from this exercise. He tends to make a longer shape over fences, covering the ground and being quick after the jump. I took my time with this exercise, building it up slowly. If he took a big leap over a fence and wasted valuable time between then I just went around the outside of the next fence so I could rebalance and get a good line to rejoin the circle. Initially I only linked two fences together, and then three and then four so he wasn`t outfaced. I had to be really committed to my line, making sure I was looking for the next jump. Once Llani understood the exercise he didn`t rush as much, took each jump in more of a skip than a leap, engaged his inside hind. I`ve noticed that his rhythm, and technique when I jumped him this week was better, and he took his time on the approach, which means he has more chance to evaluate the question.
Later in the day I used the poles on the ground with a young horse and his owner to give them a focus on the circle and illustrate the effectiveness of the outside aids in maintaining the rhythm. They ended up trotting the circle with alternate cross poles. Four fences would have been too much for the youngsters balance and brain, but two gave him something more to think about.
The exercise came in useful later with a slightly nervous rider. She recently fell off jumping and I wanted to work on her suppleness and confidence. We warmed up using the poles and the first thing she needed to do was to stop looking at the poles so her mare would stop hopping over them. Then she did a bit of light seat in canter before cantering a circle over the poles. I built it up gradually, and we just worked on maintaining the rhythm, folding at the hips over the jumps and looking where she was going. Because the fences came quickly she had to look in the direction, and the repetition of folding meant my rider rapidly became more supple. We finished by jumping a bigger fence on it`s own, but still kept the focus on the quality of the approach and my rider`s position. I felt they were much improved by the end.
Interestingly, my rider said at the end of her lesson that it hadn`t felt like a jumping lesson, but more of a suppling and rhythm building exercise. Which I suppose it was. I can`t decide if it was a compliment or not, but it reminded me of the saying on one of my hoodies – “Showjumping is dressage with speed bumps”.