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As our sport has evolved over the past decade, the Showjumping phase has become increasingly important and influential on the final results. I have found pole exercises invaluable to train all levels of horses and I am continually amazed at how difficult one can make poles! 1) Cantering on the left rein around the full arena, begin with the 3 poles in a row spaced 20 and 16 paces apart. 2) Cantering on the right rein turn down the centreline to the 3 poles spaced 20 and 13 paces (on a curving line) apart – a regulation 5 and 3 strides.
Then come down the centreline on the left rein, maintaining the left lead in a mild counter-canter between the second and third poles. I find that coming out of a corner, the horse’s stride is a little shorter so I can more easily add strides but it is a little tougher riding the line in counter-canter.
3) Beginning on the horse’s easiest rein, I then ride the circle of poles aiming firstly to get to the middle of each pole in an even rhythm. 4) To finish the session, I may then link these exercises together into a course to challenge both the horse’s rideability and my ability to remember a course! 4) Continuing on the right rein, jump the small vertical in the other direction then canter to the pole then to the small oxer in either 4 and 4 strides or 5 and 5 strides. 5) Returning to the left rein, jump the small oxer from the opposite direction then canter to the pole then to the small vertical in the 4 and 4 strides. 6) Canter down centreline to the grid exercise (Diag 4 and 5) on either rein, alternating reins with each approach. The line of an oxer 5 regulation strides to a double of verticals 7 paces apart (Diag 6 and 7) is best ridden in a waiting 6 strides as the double is fairly short.
Everyone has different ways of getting their horses fit (and themselves for that matter) and people are often limited to what they can do by the available facilities they have at home or where they agist their horses, and time! So I’m going to try and give you some helpful hints on how to get you and your horse fit for the level you compete at. Legging up involves 3 to 5 weeks of hacking out, starting at the walk only, and with 20-minute rides, then slowly increasing the time and rides per week, and including trot. If he is likely to be too fresh to take out on the roads or in the paddock in the first week, you can just walk around the arena within the safety of the arena fence.
If he has had 3 to 4 weeks off you don’t need to spend as long legging up, maybe a week, but if he has had 6 months out, you will need to spend a good 5 to 6 weeks legging up. You need to use your precious time when riding to strengthen your horse and yourself, especially if you only ride one horse a day.
Also to be able to trot in a two point seat for say two to three minute intervals is actually very tiring on your whole leg and lower back.
For the horse competing up to Pony Club Grade 1 or Pre Novice level, you really don’t need any specific fitness program that includes “gallops” like you would if you were competing One Star or Novice and above.
Okay, there are seven days in a week and your horse will need at least one day off, and if it is a young horse, like a four year old, he will need two days. At introductory level you will get away with only four rides a week, but once you above that, you need to work you horse more if you intend on pushing your horse to get time on cross country or want to progress further. With green horses or riders I think they need to do some kind of jumping twice a week, one show jumping session using a lot of pole work and gymnastics and one cross country session, one hack (on hills if you can) and three dressage sessions. The cross country session does not need to be any longer than 1 hour and that includes walking from the stables (if you’re lucky enough to have a training course at home) or from the float, warming up, doing what you want to get done and cooling down, walking home. Most cross country courses have some kind of hills, so use the hill up to help build strength and it will get your horse’s heart rate up as well.
Jumping cross-country fences is also part of your cross-country schooling session but don’t thrash your horse by jumping 100 fences each session.
When I plan a jumping session at home, I use the warm up as another part dressage session, as your horse needs to be soft and on your aids before you start jumping. Your 30 to 40 minute hack session should be really casual and a bit of time out for you and your horse or if he is a bit fizzy in open spaces (like dressage warm up areas!) Use it as time to teach him that paddocks aren’t always for galloping sideways in and add a bit of schooling into the routine. If you are aiming for Pony Club Grade 1 or Pre Novice, you will need to use the cross-country session to get your horse’s heart rate up a bit and make him sweat.
Now that we no longer have the long format three-day event, the amount of fitness work I do on my top-level horses is definitely less. I still run the same kind of program as the younger horses, however the workload is more intense and I add ”gallop” days to the program. Then I want to school at least three days a week on the flat, jump once and do hills instead of just hacking out once. I use a heart rate monitor so I know I am getting their heart rate high enough to get them fit. As you can see there are no short cuts to preparing your horse and this has been a very brief overview. This entry was posted in Eventing and tagged Megan Jones, Training the event horse by The Horse Magazine. A large emphasis was placed on training exercises to improve the control of the ride after the jump.
Gillie explained why he uses the circle upon landing to assist in the horse being able to re-balance and return to a good canter pace without the interference of the rider’s hand.
The normal reaction is for the rider is to pull on the reins to slow – the horse resists and has no chance to re-balance itself in a natural manner. Work with individual exercises and then join them together so that you are piecing a course together.
Trot Poles in warm up used to get horses to bend knees, lift through shoulder and to encourage development of hindquarters.
To help the horse regain balance and correct the stride between fences without interference from the rider. On a curved line a rider always has a choice between cutting the corner a little to shorten the distance, or going a little wide to lengthen the distance.

The use of outside leg and hand in unison with the inside leg is important when riding the corner whilst maintaining the inside flexion.
This is all about practising moving quickly and effectively from the jumping position, back into the saddle and into the forward position again.
Throughout the bounce, you need to stay in the forward position – just your upper body should fold forwards. This is especially so at the Olympic Games where the new format (first used at the Athens Olympics in 2004) has an extra show jumping round to decide the individual medals. To start with, I am looking for a steady even canter rhythm between the poles and that the horse maintains their shape or frame to the pole.
At the end of the line before the corner, I will either make a transition back to trot or ride a flying change of lead depending on the training level of the horse. Again, when I have achieved an even rhythm and frame on both reins through these poles, I will vary the number of strides between as I did with the previous exercise. To further progress this exercise on the experienced horses, I then ride the exercise in counter-canter on both reins from the bottom of the arena and on the left rein in counter-canter from the top of the arena. I will then vary the number of strides between 4 and 7 strides in each quadrant – I find it easiest to slowly add one more stride per circuit or two then move up to do less strides again. I certainly found them challenging exercises to do at the clinic and have found with further practice that they have improved the suppleness of my horses over their fences.
Depending upon the experience and rideability of the horse, repeat the exercise riding the alternate stride distance, i.e. This exercise begins as a small cross loft to a small, rising oxer that is relatively wide for its height set 14 paces (2 paces short of a regulation 3 strides) to a vertical. It’s a question I get asked a lot as an instructor and when people ask me they are normally referring to their horse. If you work full time and keep you horse an hour from home and also have a spouse and kids you don’t have much time!!
If your horse has been totally turned out for a couple of months you will need to “leg him up” before you start too much schooling and jumping work. You also need to be riding fit, to do this you need to be able to multi task, and no this does not mean you need to master using a skipping rope while practicing rising trot. But it’s a very good exercise to build up some fitness for a five or six minute cross-country course. So you need to make a little plan of what type of work your horse needs to do each week to acquire a level of fitness that makes the competition fun for the horse and not totally exhausting. If it is really hard to get to a course then you should do some cross-country type exercises at home with show jumps and barrels.
Don’t forget to ride in two and light three point seat for some, if not all, your trotting. I like to use some cavaletti work in my schooling as this good for building strength and also gets the younger horses totally relaxed with poles and keeps the older ones interested. I still do the same amount of gallop work, just less of the long long trotting work I used to have to do to prepare for the kilometres of roads and tracks.
If I have a horse that is hard to get fit I will school for 40 minutes, then go and do hills as well. I like to get it over 165 and normally using my hill, it gets close to 200 when I get to the top. Make sure you don’t miss some heat or swelling in a leg and go ahead and gallop or even work your horse and make a small injury worse. I think the best plan is to write your program in your diary, so you don’t forget that Wednesday is cross-country day. As the degree of difficulty of height, lines and turns increases so too does the need for ride-ability. The riders were encouraged to sit straight and use their upper bodies – to sit deeper in the saddle and to use the inside leg more to outside rein on the circle to re-establish their canter. The placing pole between the two fences is set there to assist the horse to land and keep the stride short. Have you just completed jumping a fence before the corner or have you had more time to stabilise the canter and approach going into the corner? A rider also has to consider that most horses will be shortening their stride a little while turning. With the basics in place, you can build up your skills with confidence and progression comes more easily. The bounce leads on to one stride to a spread, so you have a lot to think about and do in quite a short space of time.
Then, as you land, from the bounce, you need to sit up and reposition for one stride folding and going forwards again. People who make a big change in position over a fence find their recovery is twice as hard and will often lose control when they land. I then ride the exercise from the top of the arena on the right rein with the curving line preceding the straight line. Again, the experienced horse can be challenged by maintaining counter-canter throughout the exercise or by changing between counter-canter and true canter in the different quadrants. Again, I am looking for my horse to maintain the right lead throughout to promote increased suppleness over the fence.
The aim of the exercise is to ask the horse to use its scope to bounce over the wide oxer then sit back and wait for the 3 strides to the vertical. Starting on the right rein, jump a vertical (previously the crossDiag 1) off the short approach, landing on the left lead.
I also get asked if I still do the same amount of fitness work on my top-level horses now that the CCI events are short format. And if you have had the break as well, you will feel stiff after your first ride, so you will understand the need to start slowly.

It means when you are warming up for jumping, or hacking out, you should use that time to work on your fitness by using a lot of two and light three point seat position especially while warming up over poles or using cavaletti.
Once you have the strength, the correct balance is easier to find and you won’t find it nearly so tiring on your body, but it does need continual work each week.
And the plan should be progressive in its education and intensity if you intend on continuing up the grades.
It is lots of walking on and off banks, into and out of water and over small shallow ditches.
This is great for getting both rider and horse balanced going downhill and strengthening the rider’s lower leg position.
Make apexes and arrow heads, funky angled lines, use black plastic to simulate a ditch and put a show jump over it, leave the hose on and make a large puddle and put a jump in front, in the middle or behind it like a little water jump… get imaginative.
The jumping sessions should be fun and relaxing for the horses not just jumping heaps of fences with no plan. Your hack can be down the road or I use my cross-country field as it has hills and is free from cars.
Doing some hill work is a much better way to get them fit as you can get the heart rate up easily without pounding their legs off on the flat hard ground. If I have a major Three-Day that I am going to, I would mark it in, then count back every fourth day from the cross country day of the event and those days are my gallop days. When I gallop, I use my hill – I generally trot up three times and canter three, the first time then increase the number of times I trot and canter every time. As the weeks go on, I like to work them at the higher heart rate for longer so I have to go a bit faster to do this.
Never wear gloves when you are grooming or tacking up, as you don’t get a good feel of your horse, and you might miss something. This not only ruins the horse’s mouth, but lets the horse know that when they jump the fence there is a good chance that they will get a pull on the mouth for their efforts. Gillie had riders dissect the ride in each exercise to include the preparation of the canter pace, approach, jump over, land and get away.
Designed to encourage the horses to develop strength in quarters and to lift the front end off the ground quickly with knees up, raising through the shoulder and encouraging the use of the wither.
Your eyes should always be on the fence that you are approaching, yet you need to be mindful of the line you are riding, making sure that you use every inch of room to ride deep into the corner.
I have been privileged to have been exposed to many great jumping coaches who have helped shape my training principles.
For the purpose of this training article, I will give an order for the exercises to be performed in though they can be performed in any variety of orders! Once I have the horse cantering down these poles in a consistent rhythm and shape on both left and right reins, I then look to vary the number of strides.
This can be difficult for horses which are one-sided as they often prefer not to land on one of their leads. Then come up the centreline to the oxer-vertical line (Diag 4 and 5), maintaining the left lead before turning back to the oxer to the double of verticals line (Diag 6 and 7).
This works your legs and helps stretch your calf muscles so you can get more weight into your heels.
As you will be jumping downhill when you compete it’s probably best you master the downhill balance at home. I mark these gallop days in the diary and I count back eight weeks like this, then I adjust it to fit around the events I would be doing as lead up events and use the cross country run as a gallop day. I go to the beach also to do some long slow canters every two gallops, just to cross train really. I always ice after my horses gallop or jump just as a precaution and they all get the Equissage on after work.
So please don’t just drag your horse from the paddock, and take it to an event, it’s not fair.
My current Showjumping coach, Jamie Coman has now challenged me further to keep my horses in a shape to the fence to produce a more supple, athletic jump.
As a progression, I then take away the cross in front of the oxer and just ride the oxer-vertical line in a waiting 3 strides.
I like to always start with trot poles and canter poles then some kind of exercise to keep them supple.
I ride on the hard wet sand, not the soft sand, I’m a little nervous of riding on any deep surface.
Both you and your horse need to be fit and ready, the last thing he needs is to be carrying a sack-of-potatoes rider around the last part of the cross country when he is tired too. 8 and 10) and take away strides (3 and 4 strides) and then as a further challenge add strides in one part and move back to regulation strides in the other and vice-versa to heighten the wait then go or forwards-back transitions, i.e. Your instructor will be able to help you with suitable exercises for your horse and your level. Nothing looks better than a fit horse being ridden in balance around a cross-country course. And before this 8-week program starts my horses are already quite fit from lots of schooling, show jumping shows and hill work.
I will alternate reins at varying points depending on which side the horse finds easier and will also ride (on the more highly trained horses!) the exercise in counter-canter on both reins to further challenge their balance and rideability. I always aim to keep the horse on the same lead throughout the exercise as this shows they have maintained their balance and that my distances have been regular.

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