Wendy and Koyuna Sun Dancer at Luhmuhlen 4 Star 2012 Photo: Libby Law
Wendy Schaeffer of Sunburst Equestrian is not only an Olympic gold medallist in eventing but also a winner of World Cup show jumping who competes at the highest levels in both disciplines. In this series of articles Wendy will be bringing you training tips and exercises to help improve your horse’s jumping technique and help you as a rider train your horse more effectively. In the first article Wendy suggests how to use 10 of her top jump training exercises for horses of all levels with video examples to help you
Exercise 1 – Circle of poles in trot
After warming up on the flat in walk and trot proceed to trotting around the circle of poles (~17m circle by the time I set up wings around poles, and have room to canter around outside them, with 4 poles forming each point of the circle…if that makes sense!)This exercise is a great way to commence a poles/jump session, asking horses to both think about their feet and to prioritise the all important inside leg to outside rein connection. I also fid that horses improve quickly with these exercises. Stay on this exercise for quite a few circles – you should feel the horse relax and become more supple as you progress. It is also very helpful in preparing both horse and rider for the more challenging exercise that it becomes in canter!
Exercise 2 – Single pole on circle in canter
Once the canter pace has been successfully established i.e. horse is in front of rider’s leg, straight and supple, then ask the horse to canter a single pole which is the top or bottom pole of the circle of poles. If the horse is more naturally a little behind my leg, I will ride this exercise in almost a medium canter to encourage them to be big in their stride length as we do need more collection when putting all poles on the circle together
Exercise 3 – Circle of poles in canter
Once I have successfully placed the single pole in the middle of my horse’s canter stride a few times, I move up to take on the circle of poles. Start with either the top or bottom pole, having cantered around one of the side poles; if you start with a side pole off the long side then it does make the angle of entrance to the circle difficult, compromising your line…I speak from experience! The exercise in canter can be quite challenging – it is all about rhythm and line. I find that once I commit to staying on the circle then the horse will learn that that is the required line and with that expectation will be easier to keep on the circle.
The greener horses may well break out of canter during this exercise – either leave the circle for a part of a circle before re-establishing canter and recommencing the circle or ask for them to move back into canter between poles…this can be difficult. It really is up to the rider/trainer on the ground to assess how the horse is coping with this exercise and when it is best to leave it and do something else for a while. Whilst I focus first on keeping the canter all the way around the circle and second on placing the pole in the middle of the horse’s canter stride, it then becomes apparent which ‘distance’ is best to ride for – usually an inside 3 strides is easiest on the younger,greener horses with a big canter stride or the steadier 4 strides on an outside line. I often change rein out of this exercise by rding a slightly more angled line in the final quadrant to set the horse up for a change of lead as shown in the following video clip.
The progression is then to vary the number of strides anywhere between 3 and 6 strides in each quadrant and one’s imagination is then only limited by how technical this exercise can become with different striding patterns i.e. 3 strides then 4 then 3 then 4 or a 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3 stride per quadrant pattern. On the more experienced horses, I also ask them to hold counter-canter around the circle with changes both back to true canter and from true canter back to counter-canter!
Exercise 4 – In and out
Set at a short 18ft distance across the arena, this exercise is both quite demanding and a very effective suppling tool. It is imperative that the approach and exit are straight so I encourage riders to ride a 90 degree turn off the arena long side onto the first vertical. Again, the value of this exercise lies partly in it’s ability to teach the horse quickly to turn efficiently the stride after landing (or crash into the fence!) which I find effectively supples the horse for me!
Exercise 5 – Side poles on circle raised to small verticals & around to bounce (left rein)
I then return to the circle of poles exercise on the left rein where I now raise the 2 poles on the long sides of the arena. I start this exercise over the pole and again commit to stay on the circle with the jump, then pole, then jump etc. I find 4 strides per quadrant is the safest pattern to aim for as 3 strides per quadrant can soon get out of control!
When I am happy with my horse’s performance on the circle, I leave the circle once over the jump on the long side that leads to the short bounce set at 10ft, some 20 paces away (steady 5 or 6 strides). My aim is to ride to the bounce in a relatively collected/connected canter relative to the training level of the horse as it is a short bounce distance.
Exercise 6 – Side poles on circle raised to small verticals & up to bounce (right rein)
I then repeat this exercise on the right rein where I leave the circle once over the jump on the other long side then continue on around the arena to come back to the bounce. I then aim to jump the bounce and proceed back to the long side fence of the circle and, if possible, continue on the circle for a round or so. This last part does take a fair degree of control though!
Exercise 7 – In & Out Exercise raised
I then return to the In & Out exercise, raised by up to 4 holes which then considerably raises the level of difficulty
Exercise 8 – All 4 poles on circle raised & around to raised bounce/oxer (left rein)
The next exercise is back on the circle with all four poles raised. Again, the 4 stride/quadrant pattern is easiest to keep the horse on the circle in the best rhythm and line. This exercise is where our ability to maintain that consistent rhythm and line is most tested. Done smoothly, it all looks easy but can quickly ‘go south’ with one mistake compounding another.
Again, as the rider/trainer of your own horse, you need to be diligent in reading how your horse is coping both physically and mentally with this exercise as it is relatively demanding on both their body and mind! I will aim for 3-4 circuits in a row then leave the circle for the bounce (raised by 1-2 holes) before it falls apart! I will also perform this exercise as the circle of poles down to an oxer on ~22 paces ie I push the first bounce fence back towards the second bounce fence to become an oxer of an appropriate height.
Exercise 9 – All 4 poles on circle raised & up to raised bounce/oxer (right rein)
Repeating the exercise on the right rein, I will look for the horse to be as symmetrical as possible ie doing the exercise as well on both reins. I do find that these exercises have a high learning effect meaning that the horse will usually improve between sets of the exercise regardless of which rein they are performed on though, of course, there are horses which will find one way more difficult. In these cases, I will often move between the exercise on both reins to give the horse a bit of a break/improve confidence by going back to the horse’s easier rein.
Exercise 10 – Combining exercises
Once I am happy with all exercises individually, I combine them ie start with a left rein approach to the In & Out exercise changing rein to the right then back on the right rein changing rein to the left from where I will go to the circle exercise that progresses on to the bounce/oxer then perhaps change rein through either the In & Out exercise or by jumping 3 parts of the circle exercise before changing rein over one the fences on the centre line then come to the circle exercise on the right rein for a circuit or two before leaving the circle to come around to the bounce/oxer to the circle exercise for a few fences – one circuit.
Happy riding until next time!
Not long before he comes back into full work . He has some big shoes to fill .
Currently I have nothing to ride, longest I have been off a horse’s back for over a decade. Strange feeling. Getting a few things done around the house though and the water tank is installed in the float along with the pressure pump, so I can hose my horses off at the float from now on.
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If you own horses long enough, sooner or later you are likely to confront a medical emergency. From lacerations to colic to foaling difficulties, there are many emergencies that a horse owner may encounter. You must know how to recognize serious problems and respond promptly, taking appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of your veterinarian.
Preparation is vital when confronted with a medical emergency. No matter the situation you may face, mentally rehearse the steps you will take to avoid letting panic take control. Follow these guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help you prepare for an equine emergency:
- Keep your veterinarian’s number by each phone, including how the practitioner can be reached after hours.
- Consult with your regular veterinarian regarding a back-up or referring veterinarian’s number in case you cannot reach your regular veterinarian quickly enough.
- Know in advance the most direct route to an equine surgery center in case you need to transport the horse.
- Post the names and phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbors who can assist you in an emergency while you wait for the veterinarian.
- Prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry, readily accessible place. Make sure that family members and other barn users know where the kit is. Also keep a first aid kit in your horse trailer or towing vehicle, and a pared-down version to carry on the trail.First aid kits can be simple or elaborate. Here is a short list of essential items:
- Cotton roll
- Cling wrap
- Gauze pads, in assorted sizes
- Sharp scissors
- Cup or container
- Rectal thermometer with string and clip attached
- Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
- Latex gloves
- Saline solution
Many accidents can be prevented by taking the time to evaluate your horse’s environment and removing potential hazards. Mentally rehearse your emergency action plan. In an emergency, time is critical. Don’t be concerned with overreacting or annoying your veterinarian. By acting quickly and promptly, you can minimize the consequences of an injury or illness.
For more information about emergency care, ask your equine veterinarian for the “Emergency Care” brochure, provided by the AAEP in partnership with Bayer Corporation, Animal Health. More information can also be obtained by visiting the AAEP’s horse health web site, www.myHorseMatters.com.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse.