Successful showjumping is all about rhythm, power, control and a level head on your horse’s shoulders. I start my young horses with plenty of hacking, poles and small fences to help set them up with these skills. While these might look like baby steps, older horses can benefit from the simple things, too – so if you’ve got a horse who rushes from time to time, loses his canter or thinks he knows best, taking time to establish the basics is a great way to improve his way of going. Work on perfecting his rhythm and power, as well as keeping him calm and under control, and you can’t go far wrong.
Lesson one: rhythm
When I warm up, I’m looking to produce a regular, forward rhythm that feels light on the forehand and powerful behind, my horse pushing with his hind legs underneath his body for self-carriage. Here’s how to create this feeling at home.
Use a circle
Riding your horse on a circle will help him carry his weight on his hindquarters, lifting his forehand and giving you the lightness you’re looking for. With this in mind, take your horse onto a 20m circle in canter, remembering to…
- ask for transitions to encourage him to sit back on his hocks. They’ll also keep him listening and create more forwardness. Start with transitions between gaits, then see if he’s built up enough energy to give you direct transitions, such as walk to canter
- soften the contact with relaxed elbows and shoulders. Your horse won’t be light if you’re against him, so don’t give him anything to lean on
- change the rein regularly to work both sides of his body evenly and keep him interested
Give and take
Part of a quality rhythm is making sure your horse can carry himself. If he can, he’ll feel balanced, in front of your leg and pushing through from behind without being propped up by your hand. To test this out, try a give and retake of the reins…
- Establish a forward, rhythmical canter. You can do this on a circle to help keep your horse’s back end underneath him.
- Keeping your body tall and your shoulders up, offer your inside hand for a few strides so that there’s a clear loop in the rein. Your horse’s canter and head carriage should remain the same throughout.
- Return your hand to its normal position.
- Once you’re comfortable and successful when giving and retaking the inside rein, try with both hands, progressing to the long side.
Check out September Horse&Rider for more great exercises from John Whitaker, on sale 23 July 2020.