Show season has arrived here in the winter Eventing capital of the world. Aiken is hustling and bustling, and now that I’ve got a few horses to prepare for the season, it’s gymnastics season, full-on, here at High Heart!
For yesterday’s lesson, we began with a simple walk-trot warm-up just to get the blood flowing. To help establish bend and rhythm, I had Allison trot through a series of poles set on a bend. The curved line of poles were set for a working trot through the middle. Spiraling in or out would result in a shortened or lengthened trot. From there, we moved to a small gymnastic to get him picking up his feet and rocking onto his haunches. A simple ground pole set 4.5 feet from a cross-rail with a ground pole on the other side set roughly the same distance (adjust per your horse’s stride) meant that Owin had to trot in over the pole, jump, land, and trot out over the pole–a good one for horses who tend to be a bit careless with their feet. This was all still part of the warm-up. Owin made good work of the exercise by simply trotting over the cross-rail. I wasn’t even mad…it was impressive he could pick up all 4 legs that high! So, we bumped it up to a small vertical and got the challenge we were looking for. Note: keep the trot slow and quiet. Don’t let the horse use momentum to get through the exercise, or you’ll defeat the point.
Then, we moved back up to the curved line, where I’d set a vertical off the end of the poles about 18′ away. Now I asked Allison to trot Owin through the curved line before straightening and trotting to the vertical. Easy enough, but then I asked her to reverse it. She trotted to the small vertical, landed, then asked Owin to establish a rhythmic trot and bend through the poles. If your horse has a tendency to rush after landing, this one will prove fairly difficult. Keep the vertical low enough that the horse can stay balanced, but high enough to challenge him and make him rock back onto his haunches. It’s booty boot camp for horses!!
For the third exercise, I had her trot over that same vertical, but at an angle so that she had a straight 3 strides to a second vertical, then one stride to a wide, ramped oxer. For horses who tend to hang a knee, jumping verticals at an angle can help remind them to snap up that knee. For the rider, it’s a good way to work on holding your line. The three strides gave you plenty of time to build some momentum, but in doing so, you’d jump in too close, miss the 1 stride distance, and have the front rail on the oxer. So, this line has to be ridden fairly accurately. The one stride to the oxer really reminds the horse to sit back and bascule over. The first time through, Owin, a typically flat jumper, rounded his back and caught Allison off-guard. He bumped her out of the tack a bit, reminding her to keep her lower leg secure and not jump ahead.
After jumping that line a couple of times, we returned to our first basic gymnastic and converted it to a low wide oxer with a bounce out over a vertical. By trotting in, you force the horse to really push from his haunches up and over the oxer, then do the same for the bounce out. Using momentum makes this exercise easy, but a slower trot in will really make that booty burn!
Finally, we put everything together, starting with the angled vertical combination. I had Allison enter from the right hand side with instructions to land either on the left lead or to make a simple change before turning left and heading to the wide oxer bounce. From there, she was to land, return to trot, turn right and trot through the bending poles before popping out over the vertical. We capped off the lesson with trot and canter sets around the ring. For the canter sets, I had her push Owin to a hand gallop up the slight elevation, then half-halt and rebalance for the ‘downhill’ grade. Two trot sets–one in each direction–at 2 minutes each, with 2 minute walk intervals between (we focused on walk-halt transitions during our intervals), then 2 minute canter sets in each direction with another 2 minute walk interval between them (walk-halt-reinback this time).
Watch the videos of the wide oxer bounce and then the 3 of them together to see how it all rides.