Submitted by member: Ignacio
How do you correct a horse to jump straight? I own a mare with lots of scope, but she tends to land to the right. How can I work with her on the flat? And what jumping exercises can I build for her?
Answer by Linda Allen
This is an important issue for a couple of reasons. Many horses develop a tendency to either drift to a ‘corner’ of a jump on approach, and/or land consistently to one side of the jump. It is important to consider the possible reasons for a horse doing this, which include:
- A soundness issue (either obvious or hard to spot)
- Being ridden by a rider who unconsciously encourages or fails to recognize lack of straightness
- Or it may have started as a simple preference for a certain balance on take-off or landing, that progressed into a habit
When straightness becomes an issue rather suddenly in a horse that has been straight and not ‘one-handed’ previously, I would seriously consider soundness as a cause. Some riders lack straightness themselves and tend to have multiple horses that they ride learn to compensate by developing a drift. Just as often I see horses that simply learn to jump to the corner because they prefer one lead to land on, or find a deep or uncomfortable take-off point can provide them more room by jumping diagonally. Since horses learn through repetition, permitting them to practice this on a consistent basis can create a very difficult habit to correct. It is a sure thing that if the rider or trainer fails to address straightness until it reaches the point of hitting the standards on one side, it will be a long haul to overcome this habit.
Young or green horses are seldom very straight since they are still learning to maintain their own balance and deal with a rider aboard. True straightness on the flat is quite far up the training scale. Until the horse is comfortable with shoulder-in, haunches-in and out, and leg yield, using stronger hand and leg aids simultaneously to correct straightness is as likely to confuse the horse as it is to help him.
When straightness is more of an issue when you jump, I prefer to use exercises that encourage the horse to find straightness and better balance without being too active in the process. With horses just beginning to jump, I like to use a ‘chute’ of parallel guide rails on the ground at least on the landing side, and perhaps also on the approach with some horses. These shouldn’t be so close that a horse might land on the near end of one, but serve as motivation for the horse to straighten themselves with minimal, potentially confusing, aids from the rider. I prefer this approach rather than the “v poles” or tall cross rails that many use as a quick fix. I find that the benefit tends to disappear as soon as they are gone.
As the greener horse achieves better balance, or with a more experienced horse, I will add additional exercises designed mostly to emphasize a landing that is controlled by the rider. A horse that lands ‘straight’ is really incapable of taking off crooked. (Remember that ‘straight’ refers to a horse following the exact track—with its entire body—be that track a straight line [perpendicular to the jump or on an angle to either right or left], a bend, or a turn.) Be sure your horse lands exactly at the center of the landing area, and can travel straight after the jump, by testing it with parallel rails on the ground approximately 8-10′ beyond the jump (the first stride on landing will begin between these rails), and then another set 2, 3, or more strides further on. These ground rails can start about 8-10′ apart, but reduce this down to 4-5′. Your horse should canter quietly on after the jump without attempting to do lead changes or any zigzagging. If this isn’t the case, give your horse lots of practice to learn the balance that will make this narrow ‘alley’ easy to navigate. Use the time to note and correct any small deviation from your own straightness on landing.
For a green hunter, this form of straightness is really all that is required. But for jumpers, equitation horses, and handy hunter rounds, your horse should also understand landing on a particular lead when asked. The exercise for this is approaching a fence on a straight line and changing your lead over the jump. For this, the mild change in direction must happen as your horse is leaving the ground. Once the horse reaches the top of the arc and is beginning to land, the lead is already ‘set’ and it is impossible for the horse to change the landing leg. The rider has to have the skill to execute the right timing, as the actual aids are most effective when they are very simple: move your eye into the curve you want to land on, turn your shoulders in the new direction, and slightly weight your stirrup on the side you wish to turn toward. DO NOT lean your upper body or pull on the rein to turn. By rotating your shoulders you will provide extra release to the new outside rein, and be able to open the rein slightly to show your horse the new direction. If your horse does not land on the correct lead, do not chastise your horse or increase the intensity of your aids. Instead continue on the turning track, and a few strides later either walk or do a quiet simple change of lead. Just repeat the exercise with the same soft aids, but ask your horse a bit earlier, and check that your balance is not changing by leaning your upper body. Give the horse plenty of chance to figure it out while you fine tune your timing and control. If you find the timing difficult, be sure it is a small jump you are using, and perhaps try it with a trot approach at first. It might also help to use a placing pole at either the trot or canter until you are both solid with the exercise in both directions.
How long it will take until your horse is reliably straight will depend on just how long you have both been practicing not straight. Plan on taking it slow but steady—both you and your horse will have more success with a relaxed but focused attitude. Continue to use the exercises—varying your landings randomly—as needed to maintain straightness and achieve light responsiveness in your partnership with your horse.
Making The Most Of Your Turns On Course
As an ‘R’ rated judge, one of Hope Glynn’s pet peeves is witnessing riders who don’t use the corners on course to their full advantage. Setting up the proper track at the proper pace out of the turn is crucial to the subsequent outcome of that first fence or a line. Learn her strategies to consistently set yourself and your horse up for success coming out of a turn.
Running Time: 8 minutes and 16 seconds
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Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website: www.llallen.com