Having spent almost two years in Europe working with some of the best young horse trainers in the world, I learned some great low-impact jumping exercises that I have adapted to utilize not only for my young horses but also for my Advanced partners. This Grid Pro Quo is all about practicing doing less with our hands, and more with our seat and legs!
Jay Duke believes that good horsemanship is good horsemanship. It doesn’t matter if a rider dons a hunt coat, a cross-country vest, or dressage coattails. A Canadian Show Jumping Team veteran, renowned clinician, and founder of the Jay Duke Equestrian Virtual Lesson Subscription Program, Duke has become a popular choice for eventers as well as show jumping athletes for his ability to bring out the best in horses and riders.
Young horses in particular will often come up to a long line of poles and get a little backed off, so it’s important to tackle these exercises while training at home so that when you get to a horse show, both you and your horse are confident in your abilities to sort out the questions ahead of you.
One of the easiest ways to get a free education in the horse world is to go to your local horse show and just watch. We’re very lucky that in the sport of eventing you will often find Olympians competing side-by-side with adult amateurs and pony clubbers.
Eventing has evolved over the years and the cross-country courses have become much more technical. Accuracy questions such as corners, skinnies, and angles have become increasingly difficult at the upper levels but have also become prevalent right down through the levels, with introductory accuracy questions being incorporated into Novice and even Beginner Novice courses.
While this jumping exercise doesn’t involve any actual jumps, I find that it is the perfect exercise to help my students and horses ride their courses better. I often find that once you start jumping a course, your horse can get on a roll and become a bit flat, which leads to their form dissipating a little bit.
I have been lucky enough to teach all over the country, which has been great for growing as an instructor. One of the best things you can do as a rider is watch as much as you can. Think about it: watching riders warm up at shows is free! Also, most clinics have a nominal auditing fee.
While I have a variety of exercises that I use to help teach my horses and students how to ride to a jump off of a turn, this is one of my favorite exercises for teaching horses and riders how to ride forward through a turn while also being able to hold the line to the fences. In this day and age, there are so many narrow fences and corners on cross-country courses that you need to be incredibly accurate to make it through a course cleanly.
If you ever come to our farm in California, it would not be surprising to find this exercise set up in one end of the outdoor arena. Over the years, I have found this exercise to be so helpful for such a wide variety of horses that it has become a staple of my program. I have found that it not only helps horses learn to move their feet quickly, but it also teaches them a lot about adjustability.
There comes a point in both a rider’s and a horse’s training when the cantering of grids should become part of the repertoire. Practicing the cantering of grids only makes sense as ultimately a grid is a combination, and we do not trot combinations in competition.
As eventers we live for the thrill of cross-country, and the same is true for most of our horses, but the gallop or canter (depending on the level) needed for cross-country is quite different than the canter needed in show jumping. When traveling at speed on cross-country, your horse may get a little long and flat, and I find that after an event or a cross-country school, my horses are a bit more keen and eager than what is needed in the show jumping arena.