The value of grid work in training show jumpers

Photo by Thowra_uk

Every show jumper should use grid work in training. The benefits are enormous to both horse and rider. Just be sure to pitch the level of work you ask to the level of experience the horse and rider can reasonably do.

For the purposes of this blog I’m going to define grid work very broadly – from a related distance of two poles on the ground a series of obstacles in a line or in a circle on a related distance. Examples of given below of different exercises (although the distances are not given). Note that both these exercises are not for beginners.

So what are the benefits of grid work? They include:

  • Improving a riders balance
  • Improving the riders seat
  • Improving the horses technique e.g. sharpening it up in front, improving its bascule, helping it lengthen or shorten between fences
  • Improving the horse’s balance
  • Improving the horse and rider’s confidence
  • Allowing you to correct specific areas through specific exercises
  • Allowing you to practice straightness and riding through lines accurately
  • Teaching riders to ride with finesse and allowing the horses to jump without hindering them
  • Adding variety to training

In order to really benefit from grid work it’s important to:

  • Start slowly and correctly, and then build up the exercises
  • Make sure that your distances are correct!
  • Don’t overdo it. It’s hard work for the horse both mentally and physically
  • Have someone on the ground to assist or advise you. It not only helps with poles but it’s critical for advice on your position and how you ride the exercise. Remember if the rider is correct, the horse will be correct

If you found this interesting you may also want to read:

Jumping your horse in balance: 3 training exercises for the horse rider

Exercises at a walk with a show jumping pole to increase your horse’s flexibility and obedience

Circle grid work exercise for training a show jumper

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”


Improving your relationship with your horse for improved riding

Off Guard grazing with my daughter and me

One of the wonderful things about riding is that it offers us the opportunity to learn for a lifetime. There are always new techniques to master. We can always gain new insights into ourselves. Our bodies adapt wonderfully to the demands of physical work and stress. And there are the challenges of our horses and the partnerships we develop with them.

For Pat Burgess a partnership is essential.  I read some of her philosophy recently and felt quite inspired:

“At the heart of my philosophy is the partnership with the horse. It is so important. The horse must know that you are the boss and he must develop trust and confidence is you, and respect for you. People try to establish dominance with whips, strong bits and so on, but it is not that at all….

The partnership must be built on trust, mutual respect and discipline. You must have an affinity with the horse – a love and understanding of him. A true ‘horse-man’ achieves the perfect partnership by becoming one with the horse on every level: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. To achieve that bond you must be finely tuned to each other, using your body language and thoughts to communicate instinctively. That harmony is the difference between mediocrity and brilliance. The horse has to want to jump, it has to be his choice – but you have to make it his choice though your intention becoming his intention. This will only happen if you progress slowly so that the work is easy and you build his confidence – it cannot happen by force”. (From Celebrity Jumping Exercises compiled by Caroline Orme and published by David and Charles 2009)

I’ve been lucky enough to be riding my new horse for the last 2 months. In doing so I’ve had time to reflect on how to build a new partnership and been building a new partnership. In doing so I’ve worked much to the philosophy Pat describes above. The kind of things I have been doing include:

  • Spending time with my horse – tacking him up, untacking him, taking him out to graze and talking to him;
  • Having good contact with him that he enjoys and has begun to seek out – grooming him (he was scared before), just standing next to him and stroking him (he now moves to me for it);
  • Maintaining discipline on the ground – he is not allowed to rub his bridle, he is not allowed to just walk off when I have dismounted etc;
  • Being consistent in my aids and demands when riding as well as my praise;
  • Being reasonable in the demands I make on him and placing him in the best possible position to meet those demands. For example I ask him to jump positively and I always have an instructor on the ground that I have enormous faith in to assist and advise me.
  • Flatwork, flatwork and more flatwork.  Then just having some fun on outrides.

These have definitely helped me mesh with my new horse. They also help me with Shangai Affair. If you have any other advice you would like to offer us that works, or any feedback on my ideas, please let us know.


“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Ride your horse with a plan

Photo by DVPonyClub

I always think that riding isn’t difficult, but riding well is extremely difficult. A good example is an article I was reading on how to ride a straight line. My husband (a non-rider) thought it was easy and offered the following advice “doesn’t it mean you don’t drink before you ride?” Alas, as you may well know he was horribly wrong. The article informed us, in 20 points what a rider has to do to ride a straight line.

While some of us are more goal oriented as people than others, it’s still important to have a goal or a plan when working with horses and riding. That’s because we work in partnership with a horse. Its part of our responsibility as a horse rider to help ensure the horse does not learn bad habits (at worst) but develops and thrives (at best). This is true no matter what the age of the horse. This does not have to mean that the horse develops into a competition horse. It can mean that the horse improves its balance, or builds muscle, or gains confidence, and/or increases suppleness.On the ground it can mean that the horse maintains or improves stable manners, or becomes easier for a farrier to work with or remains a real gentleman.

Horses learn from repetition. Each time we are lax or sloppy in our habits, or each time we let our horses get away with something, we allow them to learn something ‘new’. This may be something we don’t want them to be learning because we are not paying attention or not challenging them. Planning what we want out of each ride – even if it’s just a hack on our hack, helps us ensure we maintain discipline.

It’s a bit easier to work to a plan if you are a competitive rider and you have a competition programme set out. The key things to look out for are the dates of your shows; the level of fitness required of you and your horse; the condition your horse should be in; and special areas you should be working on well before the show. Show preparation takes a huge amount of work and cannot be done in the last week or two.

Given the importance of planning, it’s also important to set a goal for the year as well. Setting goals helps focus the mind and provide a context for the plans you make. It also helps keep you motivated. Goals are deeply personal – so choose what is important to you. You and your horse will be living it out in 2012.

My goal for 2012 is “to consistently jump technically good rounds on happy and confident horses.” Hopefully Off Guard and Shanghai Affair will appreciate it.

Wishing you and your horses all the best for 2012.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

5 tips for good show jumping jump offs

Photo by cartese

There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping a really good jump off. I always want to be the horse and rider combination that jumps a good time, consistently using good technique, with a happy confident horse. I don’t want to be the person galloping round and thinking I’m lucky I made it. It’s not sustainable and it’s not possible over larger courses.

So what does it take to jump a good jump off?

1.  Shorter lines

Look for the shortest lines that are reasonable for you to take.  Remember that you should consider how supple your horse is and how experienced both you and your horse are. If you aren’t able to angle a fence then don’t. Practice at home first.

2. Start and finish

Remember to cross the start and finish lines as close to line or the jump as possible. This may mean that you alter the most obvious line to the jump.

3. Don’t lengthen or gallop

Remember that shorter lines and clear rounds win. Don’t go faster and longer on an ordinary track. You risk lengthening your stride and flattening into fences. A stronger stride into a fence also makes it more difficult to make a tight turn afterwards.

Make sure that you are keeping your horses hocks underneath him or her and that you are riding your horse forward into your hands. This is especially important through your corners!

4.  Let your horse jump

Keep your body as still as possible over the fence. Keep a supple hip let your horse determine the amount of forward bend you need. This will help your horse lift through the shoulder and lessen the chance of a knock in front. It will also allow you a quicker recovery for a quick turn. Look in the direction you are going to turn when you are going over the jump. This will help you land on the correct leading leg.

5.  Be organised and prepared

Plan your jump off course in advance. Go through it in your head time and time again. When you get into the ring you shouldn’t think – you should just do. (See our blog on using visualisation for improving performance).

Good luck – jump and enjoy.


You may also be interested in  reading our blogs:

1.  Jumping your horse in balance: 3 training exercises for the horse rider:

2.  Visualization for better horse riding performance:

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Horse training: 5 tips to create impulsion

Photo by Bob Haarmans

Think of impulsion as the horse’s willingness and energy to go forward. Almost like a car – when you put your foot on the accelerator you want it to move forward immediately. Power would be great too. So how do you create impulsion when schooling your horse?

1.  Use transitions

Transitions can help get your horses hocks underneath him or her. They can help get your horse pushing off his or her hock. A good exercise is to trot, walk for one step and then immediately trot again. Repeat this at least 8 times on each rein. Do more if necessary throughout your session.

2.  Lengthening and shortening

Choose a pace e.g. trot. Then lengthen for 4 strides, shorten for 4 strides and keep repeating the exercise. The constant changes mean that you have to be quite demanding of your horse. You have to collect him or her on each shortening. If your horse is more balanced, do this exercise on a 20m circle.

3.  Pole work

Walking, trotting or cantering poles help make your horse think where her or her legs are being placed. They also help build strength and improve balance.

4.  Ensure you are giving the correct aids

Impulsion is created from behind and into the hand. You may need someone on the ground to check the balance and timing of your leg aids to your hand.

5.  Ensure your horse is listening to your aids

Don’t nag with your leg. You should not be closing a leg with each stride. If you are, your horse is probably not working with impulsion. Your leg should generally be at passive your horse’s side. Your horse should be working into your hands and you should be using your legs to instruct or correct your horse once in a while. Then you know that your horse is working with impulsion. If you are nagging with your legs your horse is not listening to your aids. If this is happening you should apply leg and give a tap with your whip to get a response.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Using visualization when you ride at shows

Photo by Dave Catchpole

Horse riding is as much a mind game as it is about technique and being physically fit. In fact, you can be as fit as you like, and have the best technique in the world – but if you are not mentally in the right place you won’t be able to perform at your best.

So what exactly is visualization and how can you use it?

Visualization, in the context of horse riding, involves imagining performing an exercise with your horse. If done in a specific way it can positively impact your behaviour. (See below for tips). I use visualization as a key tool to help me prepare for my show jumping competitions.

The night before a show I will, for example, recall my jumping in past shows where I did well. I will remember specific lines that I jumped in detail. I will remember specific jump-offs. I play them though my head like movies. I also access how I felt. Then I imagine how I will jump the next day. I imagine jumping in a rhythm, maintaining impulsion, feeling my horse light in my hands, meeting my jumps spot on, keeping my head up and my shoulders back etc. My visualization almost has a tick, tick, tick in my head for each canter stride to help me keep the rhythm in my head, especially as I go round corners and before and after each fence. I don’t change the beat in my head. I also have a positive feeling with this visualization – everything is smooth, controlled and confident. I also see my horse as happy and relaxed. In fact I feel her happy and relaxed.

When I walk the course at the show the next day I take a lot of time to transpose the visualization onto the course. I don’t just memorize the course – I visualize myself jumping it as I had prepped the night before. I run myself through the course very slowly, visualizing myself jumping it in detail, numerous times. If I don’t do this I can lose the focus that I need in the ring and you can see it in my performance.

Visualizing performance becomes even more important for jump-offs where you have less time to think as you jump. You have to ride the tight turns smoothly – almost instinctively. It helps to run through the course in your brain a few times in slow and deliberate detail. You almost have to take each stride in your mind – think how you will ride it and how you will feel when you ride it. Make it as life like as you can. When you do the course it should be as though you are doing it again and just perfecting it.

Remember that proper visualization takes real concentration, time and hard work. But you will see the results.

Tips for effective visualization

  1. Imagine you are watching yourself achieving your goal e.g. watch the dressage test
  2. Imagine what you will be doing in detail  e.g. you have a sense of the horse’s hind legs engaging under you as you apply your inside leg
  3. Imagine how you feel and what you feel  e.g. you feel relaxed and focused; you are thinking that you are going to enjoy yourself
  4. Take time and concentrate
  5. Repeat the visualization at least 4 – 5 times, more if necessary.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

5 tips on how to prepare yourself mentally for a show

Competing is never easy. Even top professional sports people need help with their mental state when it comes to competition. Being able to do something well does not mean you can compete well. When you enter a competition the emphasis shifts from pure ability to mental ability as well. Successful competition is 50% mental and 50% ability.

All your training has been done; you and your horse are in peak physical condition to compete. Here are some tips that will help you on the day of the competition.

1. Get organized

Plan your logistics well in advance.

  • Know the best route to the show grounds.
  • Establish how you will get to the show grounds.
  • If you need to box to the grounds, book a horse box well in advance and make sure you have a vehicle and person to tow the box.
  • Know how far away the show grounds are and what time you need to leave to get there well in advance.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary equipment and supplies ready.
  • Aim to arrive about 1 hour before you have to ride.

Being well organised on the day is the best way to keep yourself calm. The last thing you want is to be running around on the day of a show looking for tack and trying to organize logistics. This will just stress you out unnecessarily.

2. Practice boxing in advance

Boxing your horse can be a stressful moment. Some horses box easily and calmly. Some don’t. If your horse is not used to boxing; practice in advance. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Make sure the horse box is open as possible. If it has a front door open it to let the light in. Make sure all dividing panels etc are out of the way.
  • Once your horse is in the box reward them – you can give them lunch in the box or a treat while in the box. This will create a good feeling for them about being in a box.

3. Warm up strategy

The horse that you are riding has strengths and weaknesses. You need to know what these are and address them in your warm up. For example: if your horse isn’t used to travelling and being in new places take them for a walk around the show ground prior to entering the warm up arena. Show him or her where they are; let him or her look at things and smell them.  Or if your horse is stiff to one side do some exercises that will help release this, like riding small circles.

4. Spend quiet time with your horse

Take a few minutes, either before or after your warm up, to spend some quiet time with your horse. This will give you a chance to breathe, relax and focus. The calmer you are, as the rider, the more at ease your horse will be.

5. Moral support

Our friends and families are often keen supporters of our riding. But make sure that the people around you on a show day are helping, and not hindering, your progress. Family, friends, even instructors can stress you out on the day. You can manage them by asking politely what you need from them and explaining that you need no more.

Stay focused, stay calm and good luck. Remember competition is about mental strength as well as ability.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Horse training: What do you need to do to train a young horse to jump?

There is nothing quite like a young horse learning to jump. You can feel them “finding their feet” underneath you. Sometimes they give much larger leaps than are necessary over tiny poles. Other times they don’t pick up their legs. It’s just all part of the learning process. As riders we have the responsibility to:

1 – Help the horse stay relaxed and balanced into, over and after the obstacle

2 – Develop its best shape over the obstacle

3 – Stay and/or become increasingly confident over different obstacles

4 – Stay injury free

Training a horse to jump, specifically a young horse, means that the horse rider needs to ride with correct technique and method. We can assist our horses by:

1 – Riding in balance

2 – Riding with confidence

3 – Maintaining rhythm before and after each obstacle

4 – Not over facing the horse – that is taking things slowly

5 – Exposing the horse to a variety of obstacles

6 – Incorporating obstacles as part of regular work

I regard obstacles as show jumping poles on the ground, elevated poles, logs, etc. Working over poles on the ground a few times every time you ride is excellent for horses and riders. Do not over jump your horse. This can make your horse stale and lead to injury.

As we build our blog we will provide more details on how to achieve these aims. They will also give specific exercises.

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

Five tips on how to be more confident with horses

I only started horseback riding at the age of 26. Although I was very passionate about horses, even before I started horseback riding, I was a very nervous rider.  Unlike a lot of people around me I didn’t grow up with horses. I also have existing injuries which I knew could be aggravated by a bad fall.

Here are some tips that helped me – and still do – overcome being a nervous horseback rider.

1.  Take horseback riding lessons

A good instructor will increase your confidence with horses. (See our post on tips for finding an instructor.) Horseback riding lessons will teach you many things about horses, including:

  • how to ride horses properly
  • proper balance, to avoid falling off and causing an injury
  • the correct way to get on and off your horse
  • the correct way to approach your horse
  • the correct way to tack up your horse

A good horseback riding school will make sure you are taught on a horse or pony that is suited to your ability. A good instructor will push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you without scaring you.

2.  Get to know your horse or pony

As you bond with your horse or pony over time you will learn what scares them and how they react. Knowing your horse well can make you more confident. There are various horse training skills you can use to make your horse more confident (see our post for making your horse more confident).  A brave and confident horse makes a confident rider.

3.  Time in the saddle

The best way become more confident with horses is to ride, ride and ride some more. The more time you spend in the saddle the more your skills will improve. As your skills improve so will your confidence.

4.  Ride as many horses as you possibly can

Once again, an equestrian riding school will be a great help with this. At a school you will have access to various horses and ponies. Different horses and ponies react differently to situations; they move differently; they have different personalities; they are afraid of different things. Different horses will teach you different things. Learn from them and improve your confidence.

5.  Setbacks are learning experiences

Horseback riding, like any sport, is largely a mental game. You will experience setbacks. Take these experiences and learn from them. Don’t let them overwhelm you. Start again slowly, you can always go back to basics and build up again.

The best way to overcome your fears is to face them. Once you’ve experienced a fearful situation you will be able to handle it more confidently the next time it happens. Horseback riding takes bravery. No matter what, be brave, be safe and always keep riding.


“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”

5 Horse training tips for your horse to be confident on trails

Some horses are naturally brave. Others can learn to be braver. So if you have a horse that is spooky and nervous on trails, don’t worry. With your help, patience and guidance, your horse will become a more confident and happier trail horse. Here are some methods I have successfully used on how to train your horse to be more confident on trails. Give them a try:

1.       Be confident yourself as the horse rider

Your horse will take its cue from you. If you are nervous it will wonder what there is to worry about and start looking for things to worry about.

Also remember that what concerns us usually doesn’t worry horses. Horses have horse brains, we have human brains. We do think differently!

2.       Ride with another confident horse and rider

Horses are herd animals and they get their confidence from the herd. If you ride out with another confident horse and rider, your horse will learn to relax and enjoy himself or herself. Keep the group small – to two or three horses, if your horse is very nervous, as a large group may overwhelm him or her.

Let the other more experience or confident horse lead your horse when you are experiencing a problem. For example, if your horse does not want to walk through a puddle, follow the other horse through the puddle.

3.       Walk on a loose rein

It’s always tempting to shorten one’s reins when a horse is tense or jogging. I’ve found that the sooner I lengthen my reins, the sooner my horses learn to stretch out and relax when on a trail. It’s almost as if I’m giving the message “don’t worry – there is nothing there, I’m not worried, and we are just having a quiet walk”. I also consciously relax my body. It does sound counter intuitive – especially if your horse is dancing around – and I have had a lot of that – but it does work.

4.       Give your horse constant praise

Each time your horse walks past the smallest thing that they normally would have spooked at and didn’t; or looked at and didn’t, really make a fuss – give them a pat and praise them. The more you do this, the more confident they will get. They will also feel more secure with YOU as their rider and protector.

If they won’t go past an object or are being spooky you need to assess if they need to be reassured to get them past, or if they need to be urged on more strongly with your voice, legs and maybe get a smack. This really depends on each horse’s temperament and their relationship with you. I have found that some horses respond well to strong urging once or twice, and then, once they realise they are safe with me, respond well to praise and don’t need strong urging again. Other horses will test me once in a while and need a stronger hand. While others want to be your friend from the beginning, try to please and respond very well to praise.

5.       Regular trail rides

It’s very important for you and your horse to go on regular trail rides in order for your horse to gain confidence. You should go at least once a week so that your horse sees it as “every day” work and not something out of the ordinary. Your horse should look forward to it and see it as a regular break from work in the equestrian school and his or her usual routine and training.

Wishing you and your horse happy trail riding!

“The blog is the personal opinion and views of the author. It contains general information and may contain inaccuracies. You should always seek the advice of a professional horse riding instructor on your own specific situation and circumstances.”