As many of us who have seen the eventers tackle the Badminton Horse Trials course will know, jumping a staircase combination fence is an essential skill if you’re a fan of cross-country riding. The type of fence requires you to jump up a series of steps, possibly two or three times, and there may be another fence at the top of the plateau to be negotiated as part of the challenge.
Walking the course
When it comes to walking the course, it’s very important to pace out the distance between the steps – most commonly, there’s only enough room for your horse to bounce up the obstacles without room for a stride in between. A good plan stand at the top of the staircase and look down to see where the most direct line lies and mentally make a note of where the best take-off point is to the first step. If there is a jump at the top, there should be room for one, two or three strides, so be sure to work out this striding carefully so you know what’s right for you and your horse, and can plan accordingly.
Your horse will need to be very fit, as this test requires plenty of strength from his hocks and hindquarters. Incorporating hill training into your regular fitness and training work can be a useful way to do this, and it should include cantering up some steeper hills and walking back down. This will also serve to desensitise your horse to various gradients as he becomes more accustomed to this sort of exercise.
Jumping up a staircase will cause your horse to slow down, so it’s essential to attack it with a forward, energetic canter, as the upward and forward propulsion will absorb a good degree of impetus as he proceeds. You’ll also need to consider your route up the steps, which should be very straight and determined – the last thing you should try to do is zig-zag your way up, especially if there’s a jump at the top.
Your position in the saddle should be in your forward jumping position throughout the combination – remember to look upwards at the next part of the obstacle as you tackle it. Don’t allow your lower leg to slip back, but keep it on or just behind the girth – this will help to keep your leg on and provide the energy needed. Remember that your horse requires freedom of his head at this point, so rely on your seat and leg to maintain straightness, and relax your rein contact. If there’s an obstacle at the top of the staircase, this is when you can gather your reins to help keep a straight line into it, but remember to keep your leg on to ensure enough impulsion to clear the fence.
Jenny Richardson is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers cross-country training breaks in the heart of Ireland. Visit www.castleleslie.com