Teaching Them to Bascule

One of the horses I ride is a talented jumper, yet can be quite scary to jump as she removes random strides from the approach and can rush in her excitement;  often leaves a leg dangling and feels flat backed as she jumps so doesn’t feel that comfortable. Then I saw a photo of her jumping, and she does jump in a hollow frame, exactly (to my relief) how I imagined she looked.

So my task now that the mare is going more consistently on the flat is to get her to start using her back more and to become more supple over it. I’ve always done poles with her, especially when she’s feeling nappy, but she usually clonks over them. She is cleaner over canter poles rather than trot, so that’s where I started

A couple of weeks ago I put up a mini grid, of a placing pole to a 1’6″ vertical to another pole. The idea of this was to get the mare cantering in a rounder frame with more activity in the hindquarters, and exaggerating this over the little jump. Her canter began to improve over the poles, and then she got excited and started jumping the upright, flicking her head on landing. When horses land after a jump the concussive forces travel up their legs and are absorbed in the body and back. Where this mare is tense in her back the concussive waves are sent through her neck, like a whip lash. Which results in the head flick. Obviously this can’t be comfortable for her or her rider. However, I was able to generate this better quality canter away from the poles, so I felt I’d made progress. I repeated this similar exercise with a 2′ upright, approaching in trot as well as canter, to get her popping the fence neatly without flicking her head in the air. Repetition helps unlearn bad habits and teach new techniques.

The following week I introduced trot cavaletti, and I’m afraid she totally didn’t understand! I think it was a bit too hard for her, as she was torn between rushing through with a flat back, and jumping the poles individually. I abandoned the idea and just worked her over normal trotting poles to establish the rhythm again and stop her rushing them.

Today I had a single raised pole, only a few inches off the ground, and used it to get her lifting her feet a bit more during the warm up so she wasn’t slouching along like teenagers on their way to school. She cleared the pole in trot quite happily today, and the canter felt great; she was more active with her hind legs and felt softer to my hand as well as feeling more balanced and much easier to sit on because there was no tension in her back. 

I’m hoping to build up the raised trot poles so that she can confidently negotiate a row of them and in terms of jumping I want to introduce a row of small bounces so that she has to flex over her back in a small bascule over each one, which will teach her to stay steady over jumps, strengthen her muscles and establish her technique. Later on, an A-frame jump will help tidy up the mare’s technique and get her picking her feet up. Low, wide spreads will encourage her to bascule more, so I will move on to them soon. 

I was really pleased by the way the mare cantered over the raised like today, and feel that she’s understanding what is being asked of her. When she’s mastered it over poles and jumps I feel there will be a big improvement in her flat work

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