The vertical-to-vertical combination—it sounds like a simple exercise.
But, as a training tool, it is actually quite complicated, says US team veteran and EquestrianCoach.com founder, Bernie Traurig.
“It’s the study of the horse, its stride—it may have a shorter stride or a longer stride. You have to judge the horse and adjust the combination to it,” he explains.
Used correctly—with the strategic placement of ground lines and appropriate variations in distances—the vertical-to-vertical combination will enhance a horse’s jumping technique and its ability to negotiate an in-and-out.
“This exercise worked super for me on Jet Run. He was a very special horse and had unimaginable scope. But he was not very good at backing up in the combinations. This exercise really taught him a lot,” says Traurig.
“[My horse] The Cardinal was the opposite. His problem was the ‘A’ element [of the combination]. I used the same exercise with him. But adjusted the focus.”
Here Traurig shows you how to use the vertical-to-vertical combination to make the horse comfortable, make the horse jump better, and teach it to back up before the jump.
Step 1: Introduce the combination
The focus of this first exercise is the out jump. Set a one-stride combination with a trot pole to a cross rail to a vertical in the center of the ring.
“Ideally, you want to be able to approach it off the left and right leads,” says Traurig. “Use a tape measure to set the combination. You want exact distances.”
Trot the combination focusing on straightness.
“Depending on the horse’s stride, you may need to move the approach rail out six inches (to nine feet). You want a normal trot in, so the horse has to back up in the combination. If the trot rail is too close, the horse will slow at element A and the combination will be too easy,” he explains.
Once you’ve gauged the appropriate distances for the horse, raise the cross rail a few holes and move the ground line out 2.5 feet from the vertical. Trot the exercise again.
“The horse should study the ground line,” he says.
Step 2: Build a canter combination
Once the horse is comfortable with the exercise at the trot, convert the combination to canter distances. “Set a cavaletti 40 feet from the first element—that is an easy three stride. Make the first jump a vertical and lengthen the distance between the fences to 21 feet,” says Traurig.
“The cavaletti sets up the take-off distance, so you can focus on teaching the horse to back up in the combination,” explains Traurig. “The one stride should be comfortably snug with normal ground lines—about six inches from the jump—to start. The ‘out’ jump should be slightly higher than the ‘in’ jump.”
Canter the combination on a normal stride. “The horse should come in exactly on stride. If you find he has to work to shorten his stride before the first element, you may need to move the cavaletti out a few feet—41 or 42 feet.
“Again, you want him to do the work in the combination, not before,” emphasizes Traurig.
Step 4: Adjust the ground line
Raise the jumps one or two holes and lengthen the line six inches to 21.5 feet.
“You want a normal, inviting ground line at A and a longer ground line at B—about 2.5 feet from the jump,” he continues.
“The horse should study the ground line and back up slightly in the combination. Do not try to help. The ground line ensures us of a good jump. Let it do the work.”
Step 5: Introduce variations
Make the exercise more challenging by introducing variations.
“You can set the cavaletti to four or five strides (add 12 or 24 feet, respectively) and raise the height of the jumps. You can also lengthen the ground line at B by three inches to try to shorten the step slightly more,” he continues.
“If you come in more forward, it could get very tight. I would tweak the distance. It should be at least 23 or 24 feet before galloping the combination.”
Step 6: Shift the focus
To work on the “in” jump, repeat steps one through five, but switch the focus to the A element.
“Make the ground line normal at B. Set the ‘out’ jump lower than the ‘in’ jump and lengthen the distance between the jumps to 22.5 feet. You want the distance in the one stride to be comfortable,” explains Traurig.
“Start with a normal ground line at A. Canter the combination and say ‘Whoa’ on the take off.”
If the horse is comfortable with the distances to and within the combination, introduce the 2.5 foot ground line at A and follow the same protocol (ie, normal canter in. Say ‘Whoa’ in front of the first jump). As you raise the jumps, you may have to lengthen the line to 23, 23.5, or 24 feet.
Step 7: Use guide rails as needed
If you have a horse that drifts, introduce guide rails to the exercise.
“I like to start with them on the outside standard, then move them to the inside of the standard, before placing them on the top pole. I never put them more than one third of the way in and no more than a few inches higher than the rail. You want it to be safe,” says Traurig.
When it comes to training a double vertical combination, focus on the needs of the individual horse, he emphasizes.
“There isn’t a formula for jumping the vertical-to-vertical combination,” concludes Traurig. “It varies from horse to horse. You want to learn to be an artist with the ground rail.”
For video footage of this exercise, see Vertical Vertical Combination at equestriancoach.com.