Don't let winter weather get you down. Use the off season as an opportunity to fine tune your riding! In this winter weekly web series, we will revive past Grid Pro Quo articles from our magazine, Eventing USA, to help you brainstorm ways to keep you and your horse in tip-top shape even if you only have access to an indoor arena.
This is one of my favorite exercises because it is useful for many different horses of many different levels. Equally as important, it is a great exercise for riders to be able to really concentrate on their own body position.
Balance is the key to properly negotiating this exercise. Your horse will learn how to slow down in the middle of an exercise and keep a balanced canter throughout. This will come in handy when you are show jumping after cross-country because you will have the tools to keep the quality canter that will create clean stadium rounds.
I love this exercise for riders because it really helps them learn the value of rhythm and straightness and the importance of staying soft through your elbow. As I mentioned earlier, the repetitive nature of the bounces really allows the rider to concentrate on their own body position. More specifically, this particular exercise forces you to keep strict upper body control.
The final reason why I chose this as my favorite exercise is due to what it often teaches the riders about their horses. For a lazier type horse, this teaches a rider how to put their leg on through an entire exercise to help activate their horse’s feet. For a more aggressive type horse, this is a great exercise to teach a rider that they can soften their leg and use their upper body and core to control their horse.
Always start with rails on the ground regardless of the level of the horse or rider, and trot through them a few times from either direction. Technically, the rails are a foot too long for trotting, so you should be getting two steps between each set of rails. Keep trotting through until it is nice and smooth with no loss of rhythm. This may take you two turns through, it may take you 20; either way your goal remains the same—steady rhythm and straightness. Once you have done this, pick up your canter and keep the same goal in your head. Some young horses will not progress past the rails on the ground the first time through this exercise, and that is okay! I think that rails are highly overlooked in the education of young horses.
For a less experienced horse, I will start by putting the fourth rail up as a small vertical. This leaves you with three rails before the jump and one rail after. You should trot through a few times until it is easy and then canter through. Once your horse is successfully picking their way through the rails and one jump, you can raise the second rail into a small vertical. This creates a nice little one stride with rails before, after, and between. The next step will be to raise the third rail into a small vertical so that you have your first set of bounces. If your horse is happily bouncing through this, then go ahead and add in your final two verticals. If your horse was a little unsure of the first set of bounces, you can lower one side of each vertical to make it a little more inviting before putting them back up. At any point, if you feel that your horse has had enough, be sure to have one last positive ride through and then give them a pat and go for a hack. The point of this exercise is to build confidence, so it would be better to quit early than to push the envelope and risk denting their confidence.
For a more experienced horse, I will start by putting the second and fourth rails up as verticals for your easy one-stride. You should still trot in the first time or two through and then move on to the canter. You will find that your more experienced horse will figure this exercise out rather quickly and you can quickly add in your middle vertical for your first set of bounces and then your first and last verticals.
The challenge for the more experienced horses comes from playing with the heights of the verticals. The idea is to keep changing the heights so that each time they come through it is the same distances but different heights. This is a great balancing exercise that also teaches your horse the proper shape to their body for jumping. Be sure to always start by raising something they have jumped a few times. I will often start by raising the middle verticals so that the first and last are easy. Then you can try raising the first and last and leaving the rest low. The point is to keep changing it because as event horses, they always need to be ready for what is around the corner.
At most, the verticals would never get to over 3’6”, and that would only be one of the verticals, which is reserved for my upper level horses. Five bounces are a lot of work!
If you have a horse that tends to rush, this is a great exercise! Horses can rarely rush through this exercise without knocking a few rails, but if they are insistent on rushing, start by putting up the first and fifth verticals and halting in the middle. Or, if your horse tends to see the line of fences and take off, canter up to the bounces and halt before the first one. Either way, do your halt transition as many times as needed so that your horse is no longer anticipating and rushing at his fences.
Generally, you should not have a problem with a horse stopping in this exercise. The reason is because you should have built up the exercise piece-by-piece so that there is no reason for them to back off. If they are stalling out on you, you might have rushed through building the exercise, so just take a step back. If you build it up piece-by-piece, you are building on your previous successes. The successful training of a horse comes from building on something that they understand. So taking a little time in the beginning will reward you in spades at the end.
About Sharon White
Sharon is an accomplished International event rider and Level IV ICP Instructor based at her own Last Frontier Farm in Summit Point, West Virginia. She is consistently successful at all levels of eventing and emphasizes patience and empathy, along with discipline, in her training. She is known for her absolute dedication, perseverance, and cheerfulness in all circumstances, and most especially for her signature orange and white cross-country colors.