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Showjumping exercises for the event horse

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what is in our latest issue, please click here.

Wendy Schaffer & Sun Showers

Wendy Schaeffer and Sun Showers.

© Jenelle Christopher 


By Wendy Schaeffer

As our sport has evolved over the past decade, the Showjumping phase has become increasingly important and influential on the final results. 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. A successful event horse must now be a careful jumper and a trained, rideable horse. I have been privileged to have been exposed to many great jumping coaches who have helped shape my training principles. 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. The following ‘courses’ comprise exercises I regularly use to train my own horses and teach others.



Showjumping Exercises pic1





















I have found pole exercises invaluable to train all levels of horses and I am continually amazed at how difficult one can make poles! The great thing though is that over poles, no-one gets hurt! This ‘course’ of poles represents some different pole exercises which then can be linked together. 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! I warm up my horses in walk, trot and canter before commencing the pole exercises and often allow a period of relative rest in a walk or trot in a long frame between the exercises as they are quite demanding of the horse to ‘sit’ on the back end.

1) Cantering on the left rein around the full arena, begin with the 3 poles in a row spaced 20 and 16 paces apart. 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. The distance of 20 and 16 paces between these poles represent a regulation 5 and 4 strides, (note I haven’t allowed any room for take-off or landing as I would when walking distances between fences); some horses will do the regulation distance most naturally while some may find that distance to be either short or long. 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. I look to both add (even up to double the number of strides, i.e. 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. 7 and 4 strides then 5 and 5 (or 6) strides. 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. 

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. 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.

Then come down the centreline on the left rein, maintaining the left lead in a mild counter-canter between the second and third poles. 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. I then ride the exercise from the top of the arena on the right rein with the curving line preceding the straight line.

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. 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.

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. 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. 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. To progress this exercise, the circle can be brought in to a smaller diameter.

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!



Showjumping Exercises pic2



I have taken these exercises and line directly from the last clinic I did with my showjumping coach, Jamie Coman and adapted them to my 60 x 20m arena. 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.

1) After warming-up, begin with jumping a cross pole off both reins from both a short and long corner approach. Diag 1 The short corner off the long side certainly challenges one to keep the horse around the inside leg! (Which is further challenged by the pole on the long side before the left-hand corner)

2) On the left rein, canter the pole 18 paces to the small vertical Diag 2 in either a steady 5 strides or a regulation 4 strides. Depending upon the experience and rideability of the horse, repeat the exercise riding the alternate stride distance, i.e. now wait for the 5 strides or move up for the 4 strides. I aim to have the horse stay on the left lead for this exercise, including landing.

3) On the right rein, canter the pole to the small oxer Diag 3 in a positive 4 strides. If deemed appropriate, then repeat exercise waiting for the steady 5 stride distance. Again, I am looking for my horse to maintain the right lead throughout to promote increased suppleness over the fence. This can be difficult for horses which are one-sided as they often prefer not to land on one of their leads.

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. Repeat exercise a few times, varying the number of strides taken if possible. Aim to keep the horse on the right rein throughout the exercise.

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. Repeat exercise in the 5 and 5 strides if possible. Aim to keep the horse on the left rein throughout the exercise.

6) Canter down centreline to the grid exercise (Diag 4 and 5) on either rein, alternating reins with each approach. 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. 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. I begin the exercise fairly small and progress the height of the fences according to the skill level of the horse/rider. 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.

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. I combine a few fences at this point in my training to make a course. Starting on the right rein, jump a vertical (previously the crossDiag 1) off the short approach, landing on the left lead. 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).

Wendy conducts clinics throughout Australia and Internationally using these exercises. For further information contact her on +614 1903 8867 or email wensbe1996@yahoo.com.au

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