In training, the focus for many riders is pushing the height of the fences, mastering complicated turns and angles and building fitness. All this plays a part in boosting performance, but I’m also a big believer in training outside the box and pressing pause on popping jump after jump – something I like to think of as a bit of constructive playtime.
Not only is it mentally beneficial for your horse to have a break from the norm, trying a less conventional exercise injects a bit of fun into your jumping. It takes you and your horse away from the comfort and familiarity of wings and poles, too, and secretly builds up important course-riding skills along the way.
A different challenge
On my yard, playtime in training takes the form of tackling obstacles and combinations that are a bit alien to anything you’d usually find on a course of showjumps. For example, I might set up a triple bounce of water trays on the floor, or come to a narrow obstacle, such as a filler on its own.
The idea is to ask your horse different questions from those in everyday training. Rather than, ‘jump higher’, or ‘turn tighter’, you’re presenting your horse with a question that asks him to ‘be brave’ or ‘trust me’. Despite looking like just a bit of fun, playtime still adds a pressure element to your training and will test the skills you’ve already cultivated. It could reveal areas to improve that might not be so apparent over showjumps, too.
Fun by the barrel
Something I love to do with my horses is ask them to jump a line of three barrels. As well as being a bit of a thrill, this exercise tests…
- the quality of your horse’s canter, to maintain balance and power
- straightness,to ensure a clean line to the middle of the fence. The barrels’ narrow width really highlights the importance of straightness and if your canter is steady but powerful, holding your line will be much easier
- trust and bravery, so ensure you give your horse clear, confident instructions
- your reactions, so that if your horse breaks his focus you can set him back on course with effective aids
As a combination, if you’re lacking in any of these factors, this exercise will soon flag it up. However, don’t let that dishearten you – keep practising and you’ll soon improve.
Find out how to ride this fun barrel jumping exercise in August Horse&Rider, on sale 27 June.