One of the most important qualities to focus on when training your horse for showjumping or cross-country is carefulness, but this can be a misread and misunderstood trait. A successful jumper isn’t created by startling him so he makes an enormous effort over every fence. He’s made by teaching him slowly and sympathetically where to put his feet, and how to think his way through a course of fences or a combination. A careful horse is actually a correct jumper.
Teaching your horse to be careful is important for three key reasons…
- a careful horse is less likely to make a mistake such as knocking a showjump down, which is costly, or leaving a leg over a cross-country fence, which can be very dangerous
- it helps your horse work things out for himself, which will give him confidence and make him bolder across country
- a horse who gives due care to a fence is able to measure exactly the effort needed and economise his body, making him more likely to stay sound in the long-term. Often, you’ll notice that exceptionally scopey young horses who win everything at one- and two-star levels don’t necessarily make it all the way to the top. If you can teach your horse to jump in the right way, you reduce the risk of him jarring his legs, which will help prolong his ridden career.
Exercise: Step in time
A great way to increase accuracy and teach independent thinking without too much wear-and-tear on your horse’s legs is schooling over cavaletti. They can be used to create lift in his paces and they’re a great warm-up exercise for jumping.
Try this… Place cavaletti around your arena, and canter over them and around them in varying orders, as though you’re schooling round a course of fences. Because they’re small, you can focus on maintaining your canter rhythm.
If your horse tends to get hot and strong while jumping, practising course-riding skills over cavaletti can take away some of the excitement. Likewise, if he’s not particularly brave, it can help to build his confidence because the obstacles are insignificant.
However, the way you ride to, from and between them will be the same as when you jump a course of fences. Done correctly, you should be able to count out an even three-beat tempo all the way round.
Top tip Always give your horse the chance to warm up mentally by walking and trotting over individual poles and cavaletti before tackling any exercises.
Find out more of Tom’s exercises for achieving a careful horse in the May issue of Horse&Rider, out 5 April.