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Keeping a Horse Straight at Take-off

Submitted by member: Alallos

My (young) horse shifts to the left when he takes off at a jump. How do I keep him straight?

Answer by Natasha

Hi Alexa,

Thanks for submitting your question. You can implement a few exercises into your training to teach your young horse straightness over fences. But, firstly, I suggest that you ensure your horse is physically well and sound. Outside of simply being green or uneducated, I have found that a horse that typically shifts one direction before and over a fence is usually compensating for pain, discomfort, or weakness in an area. It may be beneficial to you and, of course, your horse to have a vet evaluate your horse’s physical comfort and well-being to make sure this is not an issue related to discomfort or the avoidance of pain. Young horses go through many phases of growth; with that, you always want to make sure your horse is comfortable and that you are providing him/her with a successful development. Always teach the horse what he/she can do — not what he/she cannot do.

Moving forward, I like to keep things very simple and clear when it comes to training young horses. I never complicate an exercise or advance my horse further until I feel they completely understand particular basics of flatwork and schooling over fences. I also make sure that I am clear, balanced, and effective with my aids and position. Am I leaning in a particular direction in the air, consequently creating a shift in my horse’s jump? Can I open my rein and direct my horse to help him/her understand better? Check your position first to ensure you are giving your horse clear direction.

The simplest way to help a young horse with straightness is through the use of ground poles. Set a single cavaletti (so that you are not overjumping your horse) with a vertical ground line set to the left side in front of the cavaletti. This pole will set a boundary for your horse so as to not shift to the left. Begin by approaching the cavaletti at the trot and maintaining a right opening rein to help indicate that you want your horse to stay straight. When you feel he/she is comfortable with that, continue the exercise at the canter. Advance the exercise by adding another vertical pole on the landing side of the cavaletti, placed to the left and in alignment with the guiding pole on the front side. Continue with these guiding poles over cavaletti until you feel your horse is understanding of the concept and the tendency to shift to the left dwindles.

When schooling over fences, it may be beneficial to implement these guiding poles over a few fences throughout your coursework to help remind your youngster and establish consistency. Until you feel this basic concept of straightness is met with understanding and progression, I would not move forward with more advanced gymnastics or complicate the training. You can work on straightness daily in your flatwork with the use of ground poles and cavaletti so that you continue strengthening your horse’s foundation while not overjumping.

Keeping a horse straight exercise.

Some excellent videos for insight on training young horses can be found below.

I hope this helps you and your young horse. If you are still having trouble, don’t hesitate to send in more questions. Keep an eye out for our future feature on the site where you will be able to send in a video for critique and assistance. (Coming soon!)

-Natasha

Video Recommendations:

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The first of the series, this video outlines a simple, progressive method of flatwork for all jumping disciplines. It focuses on the training of a young or inexperienced horse with the aim to achieve obedience to light rein and leg aids, and assumes the rider is familiar with the proper techniques of riding and jumping. But you do not have to be a highly experienced or seasoned rider because Bernie’s strategies are clear, straight-forward, classic and timeless. The Basic level highlights his favorite exercises that can be incorporated into anyone’s training program.

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Natasha Traurig Ferrara

Raised in the barn, Natasha Traurig Ferrara developed her riding career under the tutelage of her parents, Christine and Bernie Traurig, establishing an esteemed foundation in horsemanship at a very young age. At the age of 18, Natasha claimed her “professional” status and continued her education and career under the direction of prominent riders like Mandy Porter, Simon Nizri, and Michelle Parker, and running the sales and development of horses for Neil Jones Equestrian. She now operates Traurig Tradition Inc., specializing in the development and training of young horses to Grand Prix Show Jumpers, and is based in Parker, Colorado.

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