#MasterclassMonday is a collaboration between Horse Network and NOELLEFLOYD.com to empower equestrians. Every Monday we’ll bring you a new lesson from a leading trainer to help you troubleshoot your training, master your mindset and up your game. This month’s featured rider: Ian Millar.
This is a very simple gymnastic exercise that isolates many things you can work on: balance, straightness, rhythm, stride, feel, and body control.
For this exercise, set a rail on the ground nine feet to a small vertical, 10 feet to another rail, nine feet to the second vertical, 10 feet to a rail, nine feet to the third vertical, and 10 feet to a rail.
The jump height is not important here; begin with very small jumps or even cavaletti until you and your horse feel comfortable through the exercise. Later, you can increase the height, but these jumps should stay on the smaller side of what you and your horse jump.
Note: Setting a line is an opportunity to practice walking an accurate three-foot step. When I set jumps at home, I always walk the line first, then measure it pole end to pole end with a tape measure to ensure the distances are accurate and to check the accuracy of my step. This sharpens your walking skills as well as your riding skills!
Once you’ve warmed up the horse, canter a few ground poles, then a nine-foot rail to a small jump (this can even be a crossrail). If you can do it in a relaxed manner in both directions, you can proceed to the gymnastic.
What I’m looking for with this exercise are rhythm and straightness. I want to see the horse leave the ground halfway between the rail and the jump, and I want him to land halfway between the jump and the rail all the way through. If you set a metronome to the exercise, I want the gallop to stay rhythmic and perfectly consistent. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three into the jump. This ties back into feel and balance because in order for your horse to be straight, balanced, and on a consistent rhythm, you yourself must be balanced in the tack and effectively communicating with your horse.
If a horse drifts a little, say to the left, make the correction with a little left leg and a little right rein, and set about changing the habit. Straightness is critical for a hunter or jumper. They must go straight. Often we’ll use a guide rail at this point, a small pvc pipe, or a foam pool noodle. I don’t like to use a jump rail as a guide rail in a grid because if the horse steps on it, they risk injury.
It doesn’t matter whether you do it well or do it badly on the first go. It does matter that you observe and pay attention to what the horse is doing and adjust your technique and approach accordingly.
If the horse jumps past the arc, he’ll land closer to the rail. In this case, you want to slow and shorten the gallop on your next approach and stay back with your upper body a little bit in the air. You may use your hand and elbow to add a little pressure on the mouth (remember to go up and down the scale of pressure incrementally) to help control the shape of the arc as well.
If the horse lands shallow, he’ll land closer to the jump. In this case, you want to establish a more forward rhythm to the gallop before you approach the gymnastic and support the horse with the leg throughout without overriding the exercise.
Your goal should be to improve a little bit each time.
This is an excerpt from Ian Millar’s new Equestrian Masterclass on body control and feel. To access the course, as well as a full library of courses from the likes of Anne Kursinski, Martin Fuchs and more, go to equestrianmasterclass.com