Young horse, 17 hands, learning his way around a course of jumps. He's always nice and round and uses his body well, but he's inconsistent and fairly sloppy with his front end. Should I address the issue with specific exercises or just expect him to sharpen up as the jumps get bigger?
In my opinion, you're going to have to wait until he's less green, so you don't scare him, and then think about trying to get him very sharp for the ring. Unfortunately with the bigger ones that's sometimes harder. But as you say, his form is generally good, he's just sloppy. There's enough height there that a greenish horse should make some effort, unless he's been bored by over-repetition. So just relying on him sharping up on his own as the jumps get bigger is probably not going to be enough. You can make some difference now by not overdoing the small jumps and making sure everything you jump is nice and solid, and of course some gymnastics won't hurt him, but when he is more made up then you can start to figure out what it takes to get him to be consistently sharp. Definitely much easier than fixing other form issues; you have a lot to work with .
You'll probably be ok with him the way he is for a while - He looks like he'll be able to fake it - puts his knees in the right general direction and if he has a good natural rhythm and lopes over the jump he'll still do well. I think he'll probably sharpen up some when the jumps get bigger. For now (and none of this too much) I would try doing some bounces, swedish oxers, and landing rails. Stick mostly to square oxers & verticles when schooling. You can also roll the ground line out some on the back side of an oxer to ask him to finish his jump when warming up for the ring.
He needs a bigger fence. Maybe today, maybe not today seeing as we do not know his age or greeness, but from a training standpoint he needs a bigger fence (preferably set in gymnastics) to teach him to use himself. The best thing that ever happened to my "lazy" 5 year old was a year spent in the 3'9" to 4'1" jumper ring with a trainer who specializes in talented youngsters. But I should point out that he was never jumped more than once a week and at a show he would do 2-3 classes over the whole week and then come home.
The horse has only been to a handful of horse shows in his life, and has been back in work only 6 weeks after eight months of turn-out after a minor pasture accident and since he would not.stop.growing.
He's now level in his topline, but still under-muscled, has a natural lead change which we never school, and is generally brave with the slightest peek and a teeny lack of confidence. I don't want to scare him, but I also don't want him to get in the habit of loping around and not using himself. He's not lazy and at this point he requires a steadying ride, as much to remind him to stay balanced since that back end is a LONG way from that front end.
Thanks for the advice so far.
"Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?" Sun Tzu, The Art of War Rainy Stash
I'm no pro but I'd just do a simple step rail (placement pole in front of a jump). Simple, not a long complicated gymnastic. Will get him rocking back and powering out of a deeper distance. My guy jumps great naturally but after a weak training program (weak for a large number of reasons) he got sloppy with his lower legs. The step rail really sharpens him up and gets him using his body well and snapping those legs up tight.
Not a pro either but I have seen a very simple gymnatic set-up to help with this problem - - a series of very steep cross-rails . . . the ends that go in the cups should be almost to the top of the standards (the crossed part that you jump will still be relatively low). You can start with one to get him used to the look of it & then work up to a series of up to 4 or 5 with one stride in between. It also improves hind end strength & is really fun.
She actually knows what she is talking about as family has been breeding, breaking, training and showing for many, many years.
Especially coming off a layoff, being big and young? I'd be careful not to scare him. Nice, solid jumps. Not too many, avoid drilling over small things and getting him bored...and, IMO, gymastics can be overused and actually discourage some horses that just are not ready for the excercises.
He is not that bad just looks young to me. Take it slow, keep it interesting for him...he'll be alright with some time.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
He's a nice young horse - give him time. It will take time to get him fit enough and strong enough. I'd help it out, by doing raised trot rails, and trotting lots of jumps - right to the base and get comfortable trotting as big as you are cantering. Make sure he lands both leads too.
My thought is flat work and maybe some ground poles. I have found doing more flat work and making sure the horse is moving forward from behind and actually working.... and round...
One of my horses in particular has now developed loin muscles and is jumping SO much better. It did take time like others have said.... he used to jump - - what I would call the superman.. his front legs out... all he needed was a cape instead of a rider....
Also, IMHO, rider should stay up over the fence with upper body... I feel, but maybe I am wrong, but the riders position changes how the horse jumps too.
He's really nice... have fun with him....
"Don't saw on your horses mouth it's not a piece of wood" ~ GM
Gymnastics and oxers set with the front rail slightly higher than the back rail. Also, setting a vertical with two rails forming a "V" will help him be a bit more tidy in front. You can make the V more and more narrow as he gets more confident.