Start simply with six strides to five and back to six. Keep it simple and uncomplicated and not confronting or aggressive. The horses learn to trust and believe in the rider’s easy aids. If the horse becomes unsettled, we simply go back in an open area and re-establish rhythm and balance in a confident contact and outline that suits that horse’s natural balance, and then start back with poles and adjustability. It is repetitive and takes patience and confidence for the horse to believe the rider and trust himself.
We also do a lot of counter canter as we believe this instills more confidence, less panic and better organisation. We start with long, open lines and loops and then whole circles, always making the counter canter balanced and adjustable back and forward. Showjumpers need to learn to balance whether in true or counter canter, and we use a lot of counter canter for balance and confidence.
Once we have our horses to a contact, and balanced and in a good rhythm back and forward, we use shoulder-fore on the circle to encourage an active carrying hind leg — and then from this to travers to train adjustability and an active hind leg. We do this in trot and in canter.
Flatwork for our showjumpers is about the same principles as dressage, but with more inference on a natural balance and rhythm that pertains to each individual horse’s natural ability and balance.
We always need a half-halt. We need more power from behind and more engagement, but it is not so important to have the dressage arched neck and total control of every step and stature.
We say again, it’s all about balance and rhythm.
We love to see our horses steady and in the frame that suits them to produce a better balance. With some it’s up, some down, some in, some out!
We love the dressage attitude but it must always be realised that jumpers need to simply trust their own balance that comes to them as a progression from their conformation. We can only help with steady contact and confident transitions without taking away their own volition and initiative to jump the fence.
Our total aim is to help and not hinder! This takes time, patience, thoughtfulness and, above all, passion and consideration. Enjoy the journey and listen to your horse.