Riding the Outside Shoulder Around

I’ve done some work with several clients this week about riding the outside shoulder around turns.

If a rider, like many novices and children, uses the inside rein to turn their horse then the horse will give too much bend through their neck, which opens up the outside shoulder. So when the inside hind leg comes under, instead of acting on the centre of the horse’s body and propelling them forwards, the inside hindleg works across the horse’s body, throwing their weight diagonally, out through the outside shoulder. This means that the horse moves less efficiently and has less power because energy isn’t flowing through the horse’s body back to front.

To the untrained eye, a horse giving an exaggerated neck bend can seem to be more supple than a horse who is slightly straighter through the body but engaging his hindquarters, yet the latter is working more efficiently and correctly.

Often, I believe, this trait comes from riders over using their inside rein, and horses being asked to ride too small a circle or too tight a turn before they are physically strong and balanced enough, so in order to negotiate the turn they fall through the outside shoulder as they go round.

Firstly, let’s look at how to prevent a horse falling out on turns and circles. The aids are the outside leg pushing the barrel around, and the outside rein maintaining the contact and preventing the neck from flexing. For a horse who is inclined to fall out, this rein has to be prepared to support the shoulder as the horse tries to fall out, then tries to work out how he should be moving. Often, this is where it goes wrong because the rider is not convinced enough in their application of the aids or strong enough in their core, that when the horse gets heavy in the outside hand they lengthen the arm to relieve the pressure. Which means the horse continues to fall through the outside shoulder. The inside rein on the turn opens, to tell the horse where they should be going. Think of this rein as an indicator, not an instigator. It is only suggesting to the horse which direction they need to go, not causing the movement itself. The inside leg prevents the horse falling in and also acts as the accelerator, keeping the impulsion of the gait. The rider’s body turns in the direction of movement, being careful not to throw the outside hand forward. The inside seat bone is loaded fractionally, and the outside shoulder and hip go forward.

So that’s how you should ride a turn. Be honest, do you always abide by these aids, or do you sometimes panic and think you aren’t going to make the turn so grab the inside rein? Or do you forget about the outside of your body? It’s very easily done, particularly when a horse tries to fall through the outside shoulder due to habit/old injury/previous poor schooling/evasion.

What exercises can be done to teach the rider to bring the outside shoulder around on turns, or to teach the horse to engage their inside hind leg through turns?

Firstly, I’ll often ask a rider to think about what’s going on underneath and behind them on circles while they warm up, this builds an awareness of the parts of the horse which are out of sight. Then they will more easily feel any improvement.

I like to use squares too, whether it’s just riding E-B or creating a square around the letter X. I’ll ask my rider to imagine that their horse is a plank of wood for a moment, and round each corner they are going to keep them as straight as possible. This stops them using so much inside rein and gets them using the outside aids. Once they are managing this and aren’t likely to fall back into old habits, we start introducing a bit of bend and softening the square into a circle. However, I get them to focus on creating a bend in the body, not the neck first – that comes naturally – so my rider thinks about the feel underneath them and uses the leg and seat to get a slight curve along the horse’s spine. Finally, I tell them to just allow the neck to bend in the direction of movement, which usually means that the horse gives just enough bend and the rider hasn’t lost the outside shoulder.

So this gets a rider feeling the difference between a uniform bend through the body, and a horse falling out through the outside shoulder. Hopefully they then apply the same aids on all circles and turns.

Now let’s look at the horse. Some horses are naturally crooked, so seem to bend easily in one direction and not so much in the other. One mare I teach sits in quarters right. We’ve done a lot of work building her rider’s awareness for the slight bend, and worked on improving the mare’s suppleness. In the trot my rider is getting more effective at using her outside aids and their circles are much improved, but the crookedness shows up most in the canter. Especially on the right rein. Both horse and rider have slight counter flexion, which added to the quarters sitting right means that circles tend to be more of an impression of a motorbike. So we’ve worked on my rider correcting her position and degree of turn, and then we asked the mare to look slightly to the outside in the canter before moving on to squarish circles, keeping the outside bend. To do this my rider had to keep her outside rein and exaggerate her outside leg. However, the mare soon started to move around the school with her outside shoulder coming round. After doing this a few times my rider could really feel the improvement in the canter – it was more active and where the mare was straighter it looked like the hindlegs were propelling her along better. Returning to usual circles in canter, my rider managed to prevent the mare curling her neck and falling through the outside shoulder whilst having a bit of inside bend. Now she was riding from her inside leg into her outside rein, which means she has much more control over the horse’s positioning through turns.

I’ve done similar work with another client, who’s cob falls out on right turns. This is more important for her with her jumping because when the cob drifts out through his left shoulder he loses power, which means he chips in or is more likely to know the fence down. As soon as his rider rode a square turn, off her outside aids and with slight counter flexion, they maintained the quality of the canter to the fence and met it on a much better stride. Next week, I’m planning on doing some more work on this right turn before fences to really establish my rider’s aids, and her horse’s technique and balance through the corner.

Other exercises I like to use with a horse who is reluctant to bring their outside shoulder around on turns are; shoulder in, shoulder in on turns, haunches out on turns, turn on the forehand. Anything really that gets them listening to the outside rein, encourages them to bring the inside hindleg under and towards the centre of their body and helps improve their general straightness.

Horse and Country TV did a useful video about the importance of bringing the outside shoulder round on turns, and you can see from my screen shots below, the difference between the first one (riding off the inside rein) and the second one (riding from the outside aids). If you can, see if you can find the full length video masterclass.

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Tug Of War

If a horse is strong; be it in the field, school, on the ground, jumping or cantering, a rider or handler’s natural reaction is to pull the reins or hold on tighter. This creates a static pull and unfortunately isn’t that effective.

For this post, we’re ignoring the rest of the aids and body language, because I feel that this area is often most misunderstood by novice riders.

Imagine you are trying to push someone over who’s bigger than you. If you just lean your body weight against them then they will adjust their centre of gravity and lean against you, thus making them more stable and harder to push over. This is exactly what happens if you pull statically on your reins, or the lead rein if you’re on the ground. The horse will lean against you akin to a tug of war. Because they are so much heavier (ten times is the suggested ratio) gravity works in their favour and ultimately you will lose.

Going back to pushing someone over. Tactically, it is much better to give a series of smaller pushes, so unbalancing them and preventing them securing their centre of gravity against you. Now back to the horse scenario. A series of squeezes/jerks/tugs, whatever you wish to call them, is more effective at directing the horse and monitoring their speed.

Think of it as a give and take, or squeeze and release. You maintain the contact, be it lead rope or reins, but use your hand to apply pressure, then as the horse responds (however marginal) you relax the fingers. Don’t push hands forward because that will allow the horse to rush again. The release rewards the horse for his slight reaction, and reapplying the pressure repeatedly stops them leaning against you and means that they maintain respect for the aids.

From a driving perspective, you want to imagine you’re slowing decreasing your speed. So from 60mph, to 55, to 50 and so on. If you squeeze the rein yet drop the contact between squeezes it’s like alternating between the brake and accelerator. Some horses, like when you’re driving downhill, need frequent taps on the brake (half halts) to stop them rushing out their rhythm.

It’s a hard thing to get your head around, especially when faced with a horse who doesn’t want to stop cantering across the field, because it’s an automatic reaction when self preservation kicks in, but ask your horse to steady in small increments with a series of half halts rather than trying to win a tug of war and bring them to an emergency halt. Practice in the school, in a simulated environment so that you feel more confident out hacking and in open spaces, as well as training your brain.

A Variety of Bounces

I wanted to get a couple of the horses and riders I teach to improve their reactivity over fences so I put together a grid to get them thinking.

I laid out five poles, ten feet apart (we were working on grass, up a hill and neither horse has a huge length of stride so I reduced the usual bounce distance of twelve feet) and then walked two shortish canter strides to another pole. That was 30 feet to anyone going to replicate the exercise, 36 feet if you’re on a flat surface or have a bigger striding horse.

We warmed up by cantering up over the poles. Both horses managed to make the distances with a slightly more forwards canter. Checking for straightness as we went over them.

Then I built up the first fence as a cavaletti, so about eighteen inches from the ground. Then the third and fifth poles. The idea of these small fences was to improve the quality of the canter, and to give it a bit more jump.

Next, I raised the second pole, then the fourth, to just bigger than the cavaletti poles. Once the horses had popped through the grid comfortably, really using their hindquarters, and rounding their backs over the poles.

This alone is a great suppling exercise, but I wanted to improve the horses’ bascule. So I progressively raised the second and fourth jumps so they were double the height of the cavaletti. In order to negotiate these higher bounces the horses had to shorten their bodies, take off at a steeper angle and tuck their forelegs neatly and quickly to their chest.

Finally, I put up the last jump at about 80cm. The bounce fences encourages the horses to shorten their canter stride because they are making air, so to speak. Then they have to lengthen the canter stride and almost go slightly flatter in order to get the two strides to the final fence. A lot of horses find it difficult to adjust between these two canters so take off too far away from the final fence.

For a fairly straightforward exercise, the horses had to think about the fences. Pay enough attention to the smaller bounces that they didn’t tangle their legs up, but not over jump the smaller fences. The horse in the video b is very clean with his front legs, and this exercise made him tuck them up quicker than normal, which will help get him out of trouble if he gets in too deep to a fence. The other horse in the lesson can dangle his forelegs a bit, so alternating the height of the fences gets him thinking about his technique.

For the rider, it’s a good test of balance because their jump position varies between the smaller fences and the bigger fences. Which also serves to improve their position and lower leg stability.

Tackling Steps Cross Country

At a recent cross country lesson I did we had some fun going up and down some steps at the water’s edge, so I thought it was a good topic for discussion.

Steps are always seen at the higher level competitions, but increasingly are being seen in miniature form at grassroots and training venues.

Usually there’s either one or two steps, and they can either be a step up onto a mound, where there’s another jump and a gentle decline, or vice Verda, or they are set into the side of a hill, so making use of the terrain.

Firstly, let’s take a look at going up steps, because it’s easier for both horse and rider, and usually the first direction tried.

The horse needs to approach with plenty of energy, after all they are going uphill, but the canter (or trot if it’s a green horse and small step) needs to be heading towards collected, so that the weight is off the forehand and the hindquarters are engaged, ready to push the body up the step. The rider wants to be sat up, so that they are looking up the steps and their weight is off the horse’s shoulders. As they jump up the steps, the body should fold forwards, without collapsing onto the neck, hands forward to give the horse plenty of rein because they will need to stretch their neck out to balance. If the heels are down and the weight is in the foot then the rider won’t load the shoulders. A common problem when going up steps is gripping with the knee, so as they fold into their jumping position the lower leg swings back and the rider’s weight tips onto the horse’s withers, so unbalancing the horse and making his job difficult. I always find that you need to stay forward longer than you think over steps, because if you sit up too quickly the hindlegs will find it harder to mount the step.

When introducing horses and riders to steps I always like to find the smallest one and trot then canter up the single step until both are looking confident and understand the concept. With steps you can definitely feel when it has gone right, so often it’s a matter of waiting until it clicks with the rider.

Lots of training venues have a variety of steps, which are really useful for progressively building a horse and rider’s confidence and experience. Once the small step is mastered, and perhaps put into a short course, I like to add in a second step. Usually you can find a small pair of steps. With a pair of steps, the rider needs to be very flexible and balanced, to be able to fold up each step without impacting on the horse’s way of going. The horse needs to be thinking forwards, especially between the two steps so they don’t lose their momentum and end up scrabbling up the second step. As the rider feels the hindlegs climb the step, they want to close the leg to encourage a positive canter stride so they reach the second step at a suitable take off point.

Once two small steps are mastered, you can start to jump up bigger steps. This is physically quite demanding on a horse, so you’re almost better off doing smaller steps a couple more times and keep them feeling confident and not too fatigued.

Next up, is the rider scarer of jumping down steps. Again, start small, and with a single step.

Approach the step steadily, but with positive energy, allowing the horse plenty of time to look and assess the question. Don’t look down the step, drop your weight into your heels as you close the leg to encourage the horse to go down the step. The horse’s weight shifts backwards as they step off the edge, so lean back and allow the reins to slip through your fingers so the horse can lengthen his neck down the step. Lengthening the reins is important to stop the rider being jerked forwards and landing up the neck. Again, a lot of riders don’t stay back for long enough so it’s important to encourage novice riders not to rush to sit up. The secret to staying balanced down steps is keeping the weight into the heel and the lower leg forward.

Some green horses tend to be a bit over zealous and leap down the steps. I find that repetition, and making little deal of the steps usually solves the problem. Only when the horse steps calmly off the step do you want to start going down bigger steps, or multiple ones. Going down steps is a big confidence test for horses, and the rider needs to be quietly positive and stay balanced to give the horse a good experience.

The next step, excuse the pun, with steps is to incorporate them with water complexes. Firstly, stepping up out of water, and then dropping down into the water. The more steps you do, the more confident the horse and the rider become and they start treating steps like any other jump.

I was very lucky that Otis loved negotiating steps, and was very confident going up and down steps, and I loved doing sunken roads and step combinations with him. I spent a lot of time doing small steps, and each time I went cross country schooling I would warm up over small steps to build his confidence and remind him of them before incorporating them into courses so that neither of us thought twice about steps.

The Addiction

Why is one day eventing the ultimate competition for so many amateur equestrians? And what makes it so addictive?

I always think it’s the hardest competition to be successful in because you have to get three different disciplines, which require totally different skills, right on the same day. Which is tricky enough, but when you consider the external factors such as weather and ground conditions, both horse and rider fitness and frame of mind, preparation, large class sizes, as well as factors such as tack, shoes, and other equipment, you realise that success in eventing is actually a pretty tough call.

First up, is dressage. You can practice this a hundred times at home, learning it off by heart and perfecting the movements. But when you get to the event the dressage arenas are on grass, possibly with a gradient. Depending on the time of your test, the grass may be dewy, and there is usually more grass cover than the corner of the field that you practiced in at home which can make it slippery. There are usually three or four, if not more, arenas next to each other so horse and rider need to adapt not only to the ground conditions, but also to focus on each other and the test so that other competitors don’t distract them.

So whilst dressage can be the one you are most practiced for, it still has unknown factors to contend with. Although competition experience and knowing the venue can help minimise this.

Next up is showjumping. You can’t get much better than a clear inside the time, but it’s just as easy to have an unlucky rolled pole, so it’s important to practice jumping bigger than the competition height, and over courses on grass. As well as ironing out any blips such as a dislike of planks or water trays. Showjumping courses are usually on grass and can have a gradient, which adds to the complexity of the round.

Finally is the cross country, and don’t forget you have to remember the course that you walked yesterday or a 7am that morning before your dressage. Which can be problematic in itself. The cross country is undulating, likely to ask a few questions such as skinnies, jumping into dark, drops, water or steps. All of which can be practiced at home, but it’s a real test of horse and rider fitness as it’s the final phase of the day, and tests their confidence, ability, and relationship because there is fence after fence. No matter how hard you try cross country schooling, you will jump the trickier fences as part of short courses rather than linking the tricky ones together in a longer course. The competition fences are unknown too, which can make green horses or riders back off but this develops with experience and confidence.

There is also the time aspect of cross country too: the terrain and weather conditions can sap a horse’s energy which makes getting inside the time difficult, but there is also the rider’s awareness for how fast they are going, or should be going.

Just from this, you can see all the different elements you need to practice and perfect in order to be successful at a one day event. The horse needs to be relaxed and obedient, with a good level of schooling for the dressage. They have to be steady, with a careful technique showjumping, and then they have to be fit, fast and bold for the cross country phase. With all those different elements to work on, there’s a higher risk of one not being quite right on the day; be it over excitement in the dressage phase, an unlucky pole showjumping, a doubt in confidence over the tricky cross country fence, or fatigue setting in half way round. I think it’s the challenge of balancing the phases, and of getting them all right on the day which makes riders try, try and try again. And then when you do get that sought after placing, you value the rosette far more than any others you have!

Gaining Control

People learn in different ways; almost like the two approaches you can take when doing a jigsaw. Either you fit all the edge pieces and get a general outline before filling in the middle to complete the picture. Or you find all the sky pieces and put them together, before putting all the grass pieces together; thus you focus on the smaller parts whilst completing the big picture.

For the former learners, it’s best to give them a fairly complex exercise and then evaluate it and focus on little bits to improve on the next time. For the latter, you want to use a series of simple exercises that each focus on one element, and after successfully negotiating them the rider will be successful in the complex exercise.

I’ve been using this second teaching technique with a young client over the holidays. We’ve done jumps on a circle exercises to practice steering over jumps: mini grids to help improve their position: a keyhole exercise to improve her reactions and recovery after jumps.

However, when we progressed to riding a course of jumps and the pony got quicker and keener, my little rider got worried. So I devised an exercise that would make my rider believe in herself and her ability to control her pony throughout a course of jumps.

While she warmed up, I laid a train track of poles going across the arena at L, and frequently asked her to turn across the school, trotting through the poles. Then she had to ride forwards to walk as her pony’s front feet went between the poles. Then a trot transition as they exited the poles. Then she rode a halt transition between the poles.

The physical presence of the poles gave my rider something to aim for, and made her try that little bit harder get that transition between the poles. This also made her believe in herself and her ability to control her pony.

Next we progressed to a pair of poles before a jump. The jump pole was on the floor to begin with, and I gradually built it up. My rider had to trot the exercise, but walk between the pairs of poles. We worked in both directions so that the poles were either before or after the jump. This meant that my rider learnt that she could dictate the speed of the approach to the jump, and subsequently learn to correct their speed after the jump.

Once they were negotiating this exercise I introduced a pair of poles on the other side of the jump. This really tested her: she had to concentrate on riding a transition before and after a jump. Which actually took her focus off the jump so she enjoyed the jumping itself more. Even when her pony resisted the transition, my rider learnt to be a bit firmer and more insistent so that she got a response from her pony. It was nice to see her getting more and more confident, and riding more positively.

The following lesson, I laid out a course and we worked through the principles of the last few lessons – riding turns, steering and planning routes. As the jumps got bigger, and we repeated the exercise, the pony began to anticipate and get a bit quicker. So we pretended that there was a pair of poles before and after each jump to walk between. This focused my rider on controlling the speed, and showed her that she was in control at all times. Which meant she was far happier jumping and could then ride the course in a rhythm, ride the lines and turns that she wanted to and grow in confidence each time. Hopefully by reminding her pretend there are tramlines when her pony starts taking his own initiative, she will be proactive and effective in correcting him.

Last weekend I took one of my little clients to her first showjumping show. It was a local affair, at a run down venue. But it was nearby, and aimed at beginners and nervous riders.

We were one of the first to arrive, so could take our time walking the course. Our deal was that I would lead my rider in the first class, as it was her first competition and we needed to build confidence and enjoyment. Then in the second class, if all went well, then I would just be in the ring to assist. The nice thing about this competition was that competitors could have assistance in the ring in the first three classes. Which is obviously ideal for first timers.

The course wasn’t designed for leaders in mind, with few shortcuts to take and lots of related distances going from one end to the other and across the diagonals. Add into the mix that it was single phase, with jumps seven to twelve timed.

Anyway, we were one of the first to go in the cross pole class. I forget how competitive I can be for other people. It brought back memories of Christmas gymkhanas when us leaders were more competitive than the kids we dragged along behind us.

I think as well, I’ve recently had a shift if perspectives, and no longer want to focus on my competitive aspirations or success. Perhaps it’s having been out of the circuit for so long. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that from March the centre of my world will no longer be me, but it will be the little person currently inside me. Anyway, I find myself more and more getting satisfaction and pleasure from planning and watching my clients compete and grow.

So yes, I will admit that I got slightly competitive in that first class, despite feeling puffed out at jump six, and we managed the jump off in a mere 39 seconds. Not bad.

Even though we knew we’d been fast, I expected a nippy little pony and confident child to whizz round. However, the nature of the show actually meant that those competitors weren’t permitted to enter, or hadn’t gone. Which meant, to my clients great delight, she won! She was thrilled with her rosette and medal, but we needed to do some negotiating for the second class.

Unfortunately all the jumps went up to uprights, which although are within her capabilities, are less friendly for the nervous. Especially away from home. So I resigned myself to running again. We weren’t as fast, I knew that because I had to make more of an effort over each jump, so we were narrowly pipped into third place. However, my rider did the trot lap of honour herself and was very happy with the yellow rosette.

I love little shows like this; where the commentary is encouraging, the course is friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed, and assistance permitted. It’s so important to make riding away from home enjoyable to build confidence in young or beginner riders and to encourage a good sense of sportsmanship, as well as to ignite that flame of competitive spirit. The beaming grin on this clients face was worth the aching muscles the following day, and I felt very pleased to have given her a positive experience at her first competition.

I don’t think there are enough of these novice shows around. You can usually find a “mini” showjumping competition during half terms and holidays, and I have managed to find a mini cross country competition for this rider to do soon – although I have excused myself from running! I’d quite like to see more “mini” dressage competitions. Aimed at the young, and not too long for leaders, it will help build confidence and encourage kids to take up dressage as well as encouraging a better level of riding. A lot of local shows tend to have lead rein classes or young handlers, but I wonder if you could run a whole show for lead reins, or just off the lead rein.

After all, if we don’t look after and nurture those starting out competing and riding away from home, then unaffiliated and grassroots competitions will suffer because people won’t be confident or comfortable enough to enter.

This weekend, I also had a client doing her first ODE. It was a proper grassroots, unaffiliated competition run at BE standards, so was a big step up from local competitions that they’ve been to. I didn’t attend, although I would have liked to, but the last couple of weeks have been fun prepping them both for the different disciplines, as has being at the end of the phone and answering her questions when she walked the courses. Getting text message reports during the day was also great; I could congratulate, commiserate, discuss whatever she needed to do. It’s a tough thing, taking the step up to busier competitions, where professionals are against you, but I think getting a dressage test that puts you within the top half of your section, and a clear showjumping round is an excellent start. Unfortunately the cross country didn’t go as well as I’d have liked, but we had talked about fitness possibly being an issue because the course was much longer and more technical than they’d ridden before. And this will only improve as my rider becomes more adept at finding the right canter speed, and ultimately has more experience jumping courses of this level. Of course, there’s plenty to learn from her first competition and I feel that being so involved during the day means I get first hand knowledge of her experience and know how to alter my lesson plans to best help them. Besides, eventing is the hardest competition to enter because you have to get three very different disciplines right on the same day.

But yes, with perspectives changing, I think I will definitely be more involved with competing clients, and get just as much enjoyment competing through them as I do myself.

The Keyhole Exercise

I like to scale down jumping exercises for the kids, after all the principles behind the exercises are the same, whether the pole is on the floor or three foot high.

A couple of weeks ago a built a grid of three jumps for one of my little riders. It’s hard to measure distances accurately for little ponies in trot and over such tiny crosses. Anyway, there were about three trot strides between each cross. We built it up from poles on the floor to third hole from the bottom crosses, the purpose of the exercise was to improve my rider’s flexibility, and get her switching between her upright position and her jumping position quickly. I find that a lot of children have slow recovery times after fences, and find it difficult to use their tummy muscles to sit up again after fences.

We managed to improve my little rider’s position and repeatedly going into her jumping position highlighted to her any weaknesses. For example, if your toes tend to point down over a fence then by the time you’ve got to a second fence on a course your foot position has been corrected. But if you have to sit up and almost immediately fold forwards again, the second time feels less secure because your foot wasn’t in the correct place to start with.

So with her recovery time improving, I wanted this week to highlight the importance of recovering quickly after a jump. After all, we are going showjumping this weekend!

I built the Keyhole Exercise, which is one jump (I sometimes make this a double to ensure more advanced riders stay straight) then there were four pony trot strides to one of three fences after – one fence to the left, one to the right, and one straight after the first fence.

After warming up over the poles on the floor, practising steering between the jumps. Then I made the first fence a tiny cross. Just enough to get the pony picking his feet up and my rider doing her jumping position. After riding a set route, we built up the other fences to similar size crosses.

This was where it started to get more fun. The pony got a bit more excited about the jumps and picked up speed, obviously giving my rider less time between fences to steer. Her pony, whilst very good, has that typical mind of his own, and if you don’t tell him to go left he will make the decision himself and go in the direction of his choice.

This meant that if my rider wasn’t quick enough to direct her pony, or committed enough with her aids, he tended to go from the first jump straight to the second.

Our focus was on preparing the turns, for example not waiting until after the first jump to start steering. Then it was also important to sit up quickly and use the reins and legs to turn her pony, and to keep turning until she got to the fence – this made my rider more determined with her aids and she became a bit more insistent.

After she’d managed to ride the set turns, we played a game where by I told her which jump to do as she was going over the first one by shouting out the colour of the corresponding poles. We had a few misdirections, when she was a little slow and not determined enough to direct her pony and he took the initiative, but it was really interesting to see my rider suddenly get a little bit more competitive, and start to ride more positively and determinedly between the fences. Which resulted in them getting it right every time!

At this point, I’d like to add in a bit of friendly competition in the form of group lessons with friends which I think will up my little rider’s game, because she will try that little bit harder to ride her lines and be that little bit bossier with her pony so that he doesn’t let her down. It’s a trait that all kids with ponies develop at some point; the sheer will and grit determination to ask for a move and be confident enough to keep asking until their pony obliges. After all, they have to make up for what they’re lacking in physical size and strength with the desire to succeed!

Changing the Bascule

Every horse and pony is put together differently, which results in a different technique when jumping. For example, some have a very uphill canter and engaged hindleg which allows them to jump with quite a steep bascule – like a pogo stick. Others, who have more of a horizontal gait, will prefer to take off a bit further away from the jump so their bascule is longer and flatter.

I don't think you should try to change a horse's jump technique too drastically, because you're then working against their physical capacity. However, it is always worth trying to enhance their ability and develop the muscles that will allow them to jump more effortlessly.

One of my clients has a pony who tends to get long in the canter on the approach to jumps and so has a very long, flat bascule. He is tidy with his legs, so the shape his body makes isn't a problem, but when he jumps off a long stride he lands long and flat, so it is tricky for my rider to rebalance themselves, or even turn for the next fence! My aim was to improve my rider's feel for a better balanced canter and teach him to hold the canter together on the approach to fences, which will help their landing and getaway.

The last couple of lessons we've used our warm up time to get a feel for lengthening and shortening the trot and canter. The purpose of working on lengthened strides was to teach my rider the difference between balanced, lengthened gaits and rushing or running onto the forehand. After all, they will need to lengthen the canter in jump offs and on the cross country course. We focused on my rider using his seat to encourage the bigger strides, and feeling that he still had a rein contact throughout.

Next, we turned to shortening the strides, or squashing the pony together to give it a non-technical term. It wasn't all about pulling the reins, but rather a series of half halts with the outside rein and a stiller seat. Oh, and lots of tummy muscles! Over the last few weeks, my rider has really started to get a feel for a smaller striding, bouncier trot and canter.

Now we have to link the flatwork to the jumping. Half of the issue comes from my rider not holding the canter together on the approach, and half of the issue comes from the pony preferring to jump long and flat. So I built a series of three bounce fences, which will encourage the pony to jump in a steeper bascule, and to get a little closer to the fence, as well as to be a little more careful and calculating about his jumping.

We used cross poles initially, and my rider held the canter together in a much more balanced fashion until a couple of strides away from the fence, and even then he didn't fire his pony to the jump. Where the jump wasn't that big, I think my rider felt happier keeping the steadier, smaller canter until the jump.

After they'd jumped a few times we discussed how the grid felt. One time, as my rider correctly identified, they met the first fence on a long stride so had a flat jump then the pony had to really adjust his body in order to negotiate the second and third element correctly. When they had a closer take off point, the grid flowed much better and each bascule was more even.

Their getaway from the jumps was improving because my rider could just sit up and rebalance the canter, instead of having a flat, fast canter and the pony on the forehand, which is far harder to correct. The pony was also more willing to come back to his rider. We also put in a 15m circle after the grid to ensure my rider carried on riding after the jumps, and didn't collapse in a heap after. This also helped the pony rebalance and refocus.

We progressed to uprights, which are more demanding for the pony because he has to pick up his forelegs quicker, and make an even steeper bascule. The first time, they tapped each fence as the pony was a little slow in tucking up, but the second time my rider could feel his pony rounding his back more, and they jumped through soundlessly as the pony was quicker with his legs.

My next challenge is to get my rider riding courses in a steadier fashion (I am of course battling against that boy, gung-ho mentality), taking his time to rebalance his canter between jumps so that his pony approaches in a more uphill canter, which will enable them to jump bigger more successfully and effortlessly. By being more consistent in their canter on the flat and when jumping will also help the pony strengthen these muscles, which will further improve his bascule and technique.

I am really pleased with how this young rider is taking on board all the technical information I'm giving him about how horses jump, and I hope that his understanding of our reasons for doing these exercises will mean he does his homework and will be consistent in how he rides, and what he expects from his pony.