Making Molehills Out Of Mountains 

I realised a couple of days ago that it’s been a while since I’ve done a lesson based blog. It’s not for the lack of teaching, I think rather just the busyness of holidays and revision has made in depth blogs rather less appealing. 

But one of this week’s jump lessons has quite a useful exercise in it.

We’ve been working a lot with this horse on improving the quality of his canter as he is such a long horse and he’s finally getting the idea of shortening his stride and taking his weight onto his hindquarters. This is really noticeable in the jumping because he’s not losing the quality of the canter around corners which is improving his take offs.

A couple of months ago I did some bounces with him and his jockey. It didn’t go that well because I think my rider got overwhelmed with the concept of bounces and over rode them. So I returned to some gridwork and other jumping exercises.

I decided this week to try again with bounces. But as I know this rider will focus on them and make a mountain out of a molehill I planned to just incorporate the bounce into a grid. I wanted the grid to make her horse think, to highlight  the improvement in his canter, as well as to work on their gymnastic ability.

I laid out four poles. Between the first and second was 12′ to make a bounce; 36′ between the second and third for two canter strides; and 24′ between the last two for one canter stride.

We worked over the poles in both directions in a slightly lengthened canter to accommodate the distance (which was built for jumping) until my rider relaxed into the exercise and loosened her hips so that she folded slightly over each pole to not inhibit her horse.

Next, I built the last fence as a cross and had them ride the grid a few times. Once they were in the grid, the poles flowed fine, but my rider was still focusing on the first pole and bounce. 

Repetition is key and reminding my rider to ride towards the jump at the end, and to look up not down at the poles meant that they negotiated the grid more comfortably.

We raised the cross pole to an upright and then made the third pole to an upright. I wanted the bounce poles to just become normal, part of the furniture so to speak, before I raised them.

Once the grid with the third and fourth fence up was flowing nicely I put the second element up as a teeny fence. The last two fences were around the 75cm mark, but the second fence was more like 50cm. They popped through it a couple of times until my rider looked more relaxed, and then I made the first bounce a 50cm upright. They were deliberately small so my rider wasn’t phased by height and so they felt more like exaggerated canter strides. Then once she’d stopped overthinking them I could raise them a bit.

The first couple of times my rider looked down and they met the first fence erratically, but the two strides after the bounce allowed both horse and rider to sort themselves out – the main reason I put two canter strides in here. 

When my rider created a balanced canter, rode the corner and closed the leg a couple of strides out, they met the bounce on a perfect stride, and had an excellent run through the grid. Her horse thinking about every fence, picking his feet up well and not rushing – he can sometimes get flat through grids which is why the one stride distance was after the two stride distance. When they’re more confident we could do a similar grid in reverse. My rider was also starting to see each stride and stay in balance over each element.

To finish, we had the bounce fences a bit bigger, and the last fence at 90cm, to test the horse’s proprioception, rider’s balance and for the bounces to be more influential and challenging.

They negotiated the grid perfectly; the bounce was no longer playing on my rider’s mind, which meant she just created the quality canter and allowed her horse to meet the fence appropriately. Where she was more relaxed over the fences she went with the movement of the horse more, which caused the grid to flow nicely. The horse wasn’t rushing the grid, and was jumping each element carefully and steadily, which was lovely to watch. 

I’d like to use more bounces with this pair to strengthen the hindquarters of this horse and to help improve his agility and quickness that he lifts the forehand and bends the forelegs over fences because I feel that is a weakness in his technique. Hopefully now my rider is less concerned about bounces we can incorporate them into other exercises and then see an improvement in the horse’s jump technique.

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