Every winter I’m bombarded with people asking me what they can do with their horse. The thought of spending more than five minutes in a school seems to fill them with dread. It shouldn’t! Schooling is only exercise. Anyone can do it. School your horse this winter and you’ll be ready for the shows next year.
Often it’s not just what to do that is the problem – it’s having the time to do it – especially if you want to jump. Getting jumps in and out for half an hour’s riding can seem like a real effort and you end up staying on the flat even though you know you ought to be jumping.
In the past I’ve had four or five horses to school in one arena. Some over fences others on the flat and with time a big problem – especially in the winter – I quickly learnt how to maximise the use of a single fence.
Too often riders put a couple of fences up at E and B. That’s so limiting and incredibly dull. Build a fence at X and there are at least six directions you can jump it from and you can shorten or lengthen the approach or landing.
You may be thinking “What about the warm up cross pole?” Well that’s your choice. Put one at E/B out of the way if you need one. Personally I warmed my horses up well enough and kept the fences at a reasonable height. When you consider the first fence you might have to jump straight from the Meet on a day’s hunting it makes you wonder why we bother warming up at all!
Not only is the height of your fence important – you’re here to get some practice in over some fences not jump a puissance – its jumpability is important too. You must build a fence that’s jumpable from all directions. It needs to have a straight top pole and if you opt for a spread it needs two top rails at the same height and ground poles on either side. For schooling an upright is just as useful unless you need to practise spreads for a reason. (And you only need two poles)
With your fence in place you can now jump a continuous course of fences without filling the school up with jumps. What could have taken you an hour to set up has taken you five minutes and it can stay there without affecting any other horses you need to ride later.
Your first few fences are best done up and down the centre line in trot to allow your horse time to see the fence and get used to the idea. Use the time wisely. It’s a great place to jump as it concentrates your mind on straightness.
The turn onto the centre line is important. Turn your body and look at the marker at the far end. Looking where you want to go is the best way of insuring you get there. Time is short between your landing and the turn at the end so accept whichever pace you land in and push on to keep your horse’s hocks underneath him.
With a novice horse run through each direction of fence in trot before stringing them all together or attempting them in canter. Jumping across a straight fence on a diagonal line isn’t as hard as you may think. Put yourself in your horse’s position. Would you need to stop, look at the jump or question jumping it? It’s doubtful.
Jumping across a fence is actually quite straight forward as long as you’re prepared. Turn onto the diagonal and focus only on the marker you’re heading towards. Forget about the fence and let your horse do his job. He’s only likely to run out in one direction. He won’t turn towards it. So keep a good contact on the rein nearest the jump and ride forward.
Your landing after a fence on the diagonal is important. Riders often allow their horse to cut off the corner but imagine if you wanted to turn straight down the centre line over the fence again. Look at the marker you’re heading for and ride to it. Plenty of inside leg will push your horse out towards the track. Keep both hands level to keep his shoulders together and hold your contact.
Although you may want to give your horse a clear run at the fence don’t forget you can shorten your approach or landing. Using the ¾ line as your furthest point instead of the track will make life much more challenging.
Always shorten your approach before the landing. It’s far easier to unintentionally allow your horse to cut corners as he lands than as you approach the fence. Do that and he’ll lose balance. It may not notice over the next fence but during a course it will take its toll. An unbalanced horse will stop, run out or – even worse when you’re under time pressure – have a pole down.
How you tie these fences together is your call. An experienced horse ought to be able to turn from diagonal to centre line every time whereas a young horse will benefit from using the long sides to rebalance. Whatever you do I’ll guarantee you’ll have more time and jump more fences using this single fence than you will if you put out a complete course.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
The Equestrian Store www.theequestrianstoreni.com