Improve Your Event Horse’s Adjustability
Adjustability to go from a ground-covering gallop to a shortened canter is one of the most important skills an event horse uses to tackle a technical course. With tighter turns and tougher questions, horses are continually asked to alter their stride, speed, and pace. “I feel like cross-country or show jumping these days is all about adjustability,” says trainer and three-star eventer Eliza Farren as she covers two exercises to practice adjustability at home. “It is a good idea to make horses have to stretch out their stride and then have to come back and be rideable and adjustable to do the accuracy questions.”
Add and Subtract
Start off by setting a line with two jumps between five and six strides apart (about 75′) to a one stride (around 24′). The in-between distance of the first two fences gives riders the option to take the line in five or six strides. Once your horse is in a forward rhythm—Farren suggests jumping single fences to warm up and get your horse in front of your leg—ride the line in six strides the first time through. “I like to do the six strides down to the one first and add the stride, not take away the stride,” says Farren, explaining that subtracting the stride first would encourage an already forward horse to accelerate more. “Most event horses know the game and are already forward, so I like adding before I take away.”
After successfully riding the line with the add stride, repeat the exercise, this time executing it in five strides, and then one last time in six strides. If your horse isn’t moving forward, Farren advises doing the exercise in a five, then six, then five again to encourage them to move forward and extend their stride. “After, I’ll reverse the exercise and do the one stride to the six and then come back around to do the five,” explains Farren. “Then I’d definitely come back and see that you can do the six again after you do the five so that they can do both well and carefully.”
In addition to focusing on committing to your number of strides within the line, Farren stresses the importance of keeping your horse straight to achieve the correct striding. “Stay super straight—really make sure your horse stays straight within their adjustability. You don’t want to lose the straightness when you lengthen or shorten. Because then you’re not on your line and you’re not riding that distance properly.”
Turn and Don’t Burn
The second exercise, an oxer on a bending line to a skinny, focuses on the rider’s ability to alter her horse’s pace within a line. The first fence is a galloping fence while the skinny requires the horse to collect on the landing and through the turn in order to not miss the fence.
“You want to think ‘cross-country’ even though you are in the show jumping ring. Think of your first fence as being your gallop fence and then being able to bend the line with your outside rein and leg and being careful, staying tall, and slowing with your body to jump that skinny,” advises Farren.
As with the first exercise, the striding between the two fences is relative. “You can play around with whether you want to add or subtract a stride, but I mainly work on their adjustability and their shape,” says Farren. “Make sure that they gallop and then come back, stay straight between your reins and your legs, then make the turn and be careful and balanced for the skinny. If you’re not, they’re either going to run by it or crash through it—either is not really good.”
As Farren noted, if you don’t execute the turn properly after the first fence, you’ll be headed to the wrong corner of the arena or running into the skinny. She suggests leaving the landing side of the first fence open and free of jumps, so the rider has to be sure to ride off the outside aids to make the turn. “The exercise is hard because the horses jump the first fence and they think ‘straight, open space,’ so you have to really be careful that you don’t yank on that inside rein and then lose your horse out the shoulder,” she explains. “It is super obvious if you forget to ride the turn, and I love this exercise for that reason.”