How to solve 3 common jumping issues on the flat

How to solve 3 common jumping issues on the flat

Without a solid foundation on the flat, it’s almost impossible for your horse to perform at their best over a fence. Six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green helps us troubleshoot 3 common jumping issues and explains how you can tackle them with simple exercises on the flat.

Whether you’re showjumping or going cross-country, having your horse balanced, forward and in front of your leg is crucial to a clear round. And it all starts on the flat, before there’s so much as a placing pole in sight.

Developing your flatwork not only builds fitness and flexibility, it prepares you and your horse to overcome a variety of challenges when out competing. So, what are the main flatwork issues that affect jumping, and how can you adapt your training to overcome them?

Problem 1: Struggle setting up between fences

Rushing into a fence is a common problem, and can result in a pole down or uncomfortable jump due to the horse losing balance and rhythm. Your horse must be sitting back on his hocks to jump efficiently and to achieve this, you must be able to shorten and lengthen his stride.

Solution: Practise shortening and lengthening strides

‘You want to achieve a concertina effect,’ explains Lucinda. ‘When asking the horse to steady, your body should stop moving with the momentum of the horse – as your body slows, so will your horse. Similarly, when you want to lengthen the stride, use your body and leg to push for more ground coverage.’

This is a great exercise to practise on a hack:

  1. Find a stretch where you can canter safely — a straight line such as a track or along a fence line is best.
  2. In canter, come out of the saddle into a light seat and practise asking for shorter and then longer strides.
  3. Count your strides. Lucinda recommends riding 10 lengthened strides and then 10 shorter strides.

When asking for bigger or smaller strides, it’s important that your horse’s reactions are sharp. Lucinda always gives her horse a light aid before asking with a slightly sharper aid if he doesn’t respond. She says: ‘He must listen to you and react when you ask. I like them to go on the squeeze of my leg and steady with an ask on the reins. It saves precious time when you are out competing against the clock.’

If you’re struggling to find a suitable spot out hacking, try these exercises in the arena to make your horse even more responsive to you.

Problem 2: Losing impulsion in front of a fence

Jumping fences straight off a corner can be tricky because most horses will naturally lose energy on the turn. You can speed up a turn by making it shallower, but you won’t have the horse’s hocks underneath him as well as if you make a squarer turn. This is a common challenge that shows up on showjumping and cross-country courses.

Solution: Square your corners

‘The more right-angled you make the turn coming into a fence, the more the horse’s hind legs have to come underneath him, and the more impulsion he’ll have,’ says Lucinda. You can practise maintaining your horse’s impulsion by riding right-angled corners in the arena or field, like this:

  1. Set out two poles in a corner, forming a 90-degree angle so they mimic the track but are a metre inside it.
  2. Ride towards the poles. Start slowing down as you approach the corner by sitting up and asking for a half-halt. You can also use your voice to steady him.
  3. Ride the 90-degree turn.

Don’t worry if your horse hits the poles at first – they’ll soon learn to balance themselves on the corner and you can use the same strategy when you approach a fence.

‘You win or lose your jump on the turn,’ says Lucinda. ‘People are nervous to make a turn that really employs the hind legs, but it sets your horse up brilliantly, and the more you practise, the more confident you and your horse will be.’

Problem 3: Your horse is stopping at fences

Horses can refuse a fence for a number of reasons. So, if your horse suddenly and unusually starts refusing to jump, it’s important to rule out pain by talking to the vet and saddle fitter.

Pain while working (lameness, sore back, teeth issues etc.) is the most common reason for a horse to refuse to jump and it is important that this is dealt with before addressing his training. You can nip future issues in the bud early by learning how to spot a horse in pain.

When you’re sure there are no physical problems, you have your work cut out because he has learned the habit of refusing. You have to break that habit and realign his mind by teaching him that stopping or running out is not an option.

Solution: Teach your horse to go backwards

This is so that if your horse does stop at a fence, you can ask him to rein back enough strides (around 10 – 15 yards) so that you can then reapproach the fence without ever having to turn away.

‘I start by teaching my horses to back up in-hand,’ says Lucinda. ‘It can take time, so keep practising.’ Here’s the method she recommends:

  1. Find a flat, straight area like a driveway or the long side of an arena. ‘I use a chuffing noise,’ explains Lucinda, ‘but any noise works once he has connected it with reversing. Give him the signal to back with the noise you have chosen and tap the fronts of his legs with a stick – as sharp as you need to gain a reaction. Once he steps back, release the pressure of the stick so he learns by pressure and release.’
  2. Start with a few steps, building up the number of steps you ask for each time.
  3. Once he understands what you want, encourage your horse to drop his head while backing up. This helps to build muscle in his loins.
  4. When you are both confident on the ground, ask him to rein back when you’re riding.

‘Hopefully, he’ll remember the voice/noise command from the in-hand work,’ says Lucinda, ‘which you use to tell him what you want as you squeeze and pull. You may need someone on the ground with a stick to remind his legs to lift up and reverse.’

Could your approach do with some fine-tuning? Learn how to tackle these seven common XC fences with Lucinda’s expert tips.

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