Boldness is an important skill for you to work on, even if your horse naturally locks on to fences and is keen or quick. It’s also intrinsically linked with accuracy – I’ve had horses who wanted to jump everything they could, but what they cantered towards wasn’t necessarily what I’d aimed them at! Working on taking the drama out of jumping will make it much easier to train your horse to be accurate and rideable.
Rhythm is everything
Every time you approach a fence, you need to make sure that you’re straight, balanced over your stirrups and maintaining a rhythm. Remember to always ride in exactly the same way, whether you’re training at home, competing, or riding in a lesson or clinic.
Introducing the elements
Barrels, fillers and water trays are common in showjumping courses, and they can provoke a reaction in young or sharp horses. Help to create a sense of normality by schooling around them regularly at home.
When you’re getting ready to introduce your horse to something new, it’s a good idea to start by warming up over a single pole or a cavaletti. If he’s easily distracted, this can help to channel his thoughts into his work without putting any pressure on him and it has the added benefit of stopping him from looking around for things to spook at. Hot, quick or reactive horses need to have a purpose, even if it’s just something simple.
Exercise: Serious skinnies
Set it up… Begin with two barrels lying down end to end with wings either side, and put a pole in front and behind to prevent them rolling. If you don’t have barrels, use fillers or blocks. As your horse’s confidence progresses, you can make the exercise more challenging by removing one of the barrels.
Work it out… Starting with a wide, low obstacle will give your horse confidence and he’ll begin to seek out the next challenge. By keeping the fence essentially the same and just changing its width and height, you’re giving him the chance to focus on what he’s being asked, rather than worrying about the fence itself.
Ride it through… Pop over the barrels a couple of times on each rein. If you need to, use V-poles to encourage him over the fence. When you feel you can consistently jump over the middle of the barrels without V-poles, remove one and bring the wings in. Then repeat the exercise, maintaining the same active, rhythmic canter, and looking up and over the fence. Your end goal is to really test your accuracy and jump right over the middle of the single barrel.
For more useful exercises to help you create a bold, brave horse, pick up your copy of June Horse&Rider, out 3 May.