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How the Course Falls Apart

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  • How the Course Falls Apart

    This may be a long and detailed and complicated question, so please bear with me.

    I feel that for me, there's one thing that sets off a bad course and it just gets worse from there. For my personal horse, he drops his inside shoulder and leans through the turns (my fault I know) and as a result that messes up the pace/straightness to the first jump, which screws up the distance, which makes it hard to organize and get the lead change on the other side, which makes it hard to prepare for the next fence, etc. It's all turned into a bit of a vicious cycle. If anyone has any feedback, tips for any one or all of these issues, or simply some advice, it would be much appreciated.

  • #2
    First fence woes.

    If your horse is sluggish, gallop your opening circle. You'd be amazed at what a little extra pace can often do for straightness. And make your circle b-i-g!

    If your horse gets quick, be conservative on your opening circle but have the pace you'll want the rest of the course. Focus on fixing the straightness, and not so much on "getting a perfect first fence".

    Don't overthink. Fix the problem, and move on. If you have a bad first fence, fix the problem in the next corner and move on. You have at least three or four more attempts to get it right. (And then many more after that in other classes.) Don't dwell. Dwelling on the past rarely gets anyone anywhere. Using the past as a method of evaluating your next plan of attack is much more useful.

    Happens to everyone.


    • #3
      What helped me when I was jumping was showing dressage, actually.

      Because you get a score sheet back, and you can see in one glance that a mistake early in the test does not ruin the entire test. You can also see how quickly you can recover from a mistake -- a 4 on one movement can turn into a 6 in the next movement.

      Once that idea clicked in the dressage ring, I was able to start sorting it out in the hunter ring -- mistakes didn't rattle me as much and when they happened, I fixed them more quickly and more confidently.

      If you can, go to a dressage schooling show or two and ride a couple training level tests. You can ride in your H/J tack. At training level, you don't need to change how you're riding and be more "dressagy." Just go in and ride how you normally do. TL is w/t/c; there's nothing in it that will overface you or your horse.

      Seriously. The goal isn't to turn your horse into a dressage horse or change anything about the way you ride -- but the whole "fix it and forget it" idea was a lot easier for me to understand after riding some dressage tests and looking at the score sheets.


      • #4
        Don't forget your flat work when you are doing a course. Practice at home over poles on the ground. Practice keeping your horse straight and at a consistent pace. Don't worry about finding a distance or getting a lead change. Don't let horse fall in through the corners. Once you can master a course of poles, put up crossrails and then when you master that, move up to verticals. Think about pace and straightness. It sounds like you worry a lot when you are on course about being perfect. Focus on pace and being straight and everything else will fall into place.


        • #5
          A wise instructor once told me that if I eff up a fence, so what? There are still at least eight more. Not every fence is going to be perfect. If you fudge one up, you still have plenty of time to try and fix the problem.

          However I do understand where you're coming from. When on course I will often over analyze and fixate on what I'm doing wrong as opposed to just getting out of my head and riding the freaking horse I have. But, this is why I take lessons consistently, to have someone yelling and me and hopefully installing the right stuff when everything goes to crap!


          • Original Poster

            Thanks! Anyone else?


            • #7
              i always found that if i focused on the one problem, I usually DID end up making that mistake (say, worrying about chipping fence #1, etc.) ....Now, i ride the horse that comes out that day. If he's fresh, i have to adjust my ride.

              I think, with a horse like yours, the key really is flat work.. Forget about riding to the jumps. Ride the flatwork in between the jumps. My horse does exactly what you are describing. We, however, have not graduated to jumping courses yet. You need to correct that hip/shoulder dropping problem before you every get to jump 1, 2, 3 etc. Practice "jumping" courses of poles. Really concentrate on riding the space between..ride the corners etc. The posters on the dressage forum gave me some really good advice...RIDE EVERY STEP.


              • #8
                Besides more flatwork at home, assuming you have a show soon...

                1. Gallop a giant opening circle- try to accelerate through at least the first 1/2 of the circle.

                2. Get straight to the fence way out. Don't cut your corner.

                3. Use your outside aids to turn the horse onto the straight line of the first fence. Using your inside rein to turn will make the horse fall onto the inside shoulder. If you can't turn off your outside leg- get practicing.

                4. Carry your stick in whichever hand will be your inside hand on the turn to the first fence. If your horse drops the shoulder, give him a little tap on the shoulder with the bat, and kick him forward off the leg on that side.


                • #9
                  This always helps me - ride your course as if it is a whole lot of singles thrown together. Think about straightness and a nice even pace and ride each jump as if it is a single. This way you don't get caught up in counting strides and worrying about your next fence. It's really just a little mind trick, but anticipation on your part or your horse's part is never good.
                  Southern Cross Guest Ranch
                  An All Inclusive Guest Ranch Vacation - Georgia


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by WingsOfAnAngel View Post
                    This may be a long and detailed and complicated question, so please bear with me.

                    I feel that for me, there's one thing that sets off a bad course and it just gets worse from there. For my personal horse, he drops his inside shoulder and leans through the turns (my fault I know) and as a result that messes up the pace/straightness to the first jump, which screws up the distance, which makes it hard to organize and get the lead change on the other side, which makes it hard to prepare for the next fence, etc. It's all turned into a bit of a vicious cycle. If anyone has any feedback, tips for any one or all of these issues, or simply some advice, it would be much appreciated.

                    I can soooo relate.. it was like I could NEVER get 8 decent fences in a course.....

                    Here's what has helped me:

                    1) Flat work. As much as I would rather be jumping, I know flat work is critical.
                    2) Dressage based flat work... getting your horse round, on the bit off your leg coming from the hind - most of my jumps are cruddy if my horse isn't coming from the hind with a light front end that is solid into my hand.
                    3) Knowing in my mind, my horses are trained - now I need to work daily training MYSELF to do what I need to. My horses listen quite well to proper riding.
                    4) "and very important" when riding the course; in between the jumps is just that same FLAT WORK.

                    Take each jump one at a time, slow your mind and tell yourself, you know how to ride flat and that's all it is in between those jumps.....

                    Edited to add: I have been riding bareback lately because of saddle issues and you know, it's really helping me realize how crooked I have been allowing my horse to approach the jump or after the jump... also a freshly harrowed arena watch the foot prints to see if you are staying straight before and after the jump.. I have found staying straight solves a lot of problems too.
                    Live in the sunshine.
                    Swim in the sea.
                    Drink the wild air.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by WingsOfAnAngel View Post
                      This may be a long and detailed and complicated question, so please bear with me.

                      I feel that for me, there's one thing that sets off a bad course and it just gets worse from there. For my personal horse, he drops his inside shoulder and leans through the turns (my fault I know) and as a result that messes up the pace/straightness to the first jump, which screws up the distance, which makes it hard to organize and get the lead change on the other side, which makes it hard to prepare for the next fence, etc. It's all turned into a bit of a vicious cycle. If anyone has any feedback, tips for any one or all of these issues, or simply some advice, it would be much appreciated.
                      My advice is to pick one thing to work on at a time, and concentrate on that throughout your course. If it's riding deep into the turns and keeping your horse on your outside rein so that he cannot drop his shoulder - then focus on maintaining that contact throughout your course, leaving other issues for later. (You might be amazed at how well the courses actually go when you discipline yourself to pay attention to that one thing and let the rest of the course just happen, BTW.)

                      If you are having trouble with distances, focus on learning what step works best for your horse and practice until you can reproduce it on demand, maintaining it all the way around your course. The only thing you care about then is maintaining that rhythm and pace... for a lot of people, counting 1-2 helps.

                      If you are having problems with straightness, work on finding focal points to ride to and then really discipline yourself to use your eyes early and well, creating a track for your horse to follow.

                      The idea is to create muscle memory that addresses any issues or problems in isolation so you can really focus on them. Once you have practiced that enough, your responses will become more automatic and you will be able to turn your attention to other issues, and things tend to improve quickly.
                      We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                      • #12
                        This is what really helped me out when I first started courses and competing: Ride dressage between your fences. It's not the fence itself that is what you're riding for, but the approach, which is, in essence, dressage! Dressage to your fence, few strides out prepare for fence and away you go
                        All that is gold does not glitter;
                        Not all those who wander are lost.
                        ~J.R.R. Tolkien


                        • #13
                          Like everyone else said... a jumping course is really at least 98% flat work. If your horse tends to lean into his shoulder you might try to think of riding from one rail all the way to the opposite rail. It will make you ride straight lines and balance your horse for the corners. It will also help you to keep your inside leg on.


                          • #14
                            My trainer is fond of telling me that a jumper course is typically 70% damage control.
                            Which is to say... that we're most often not going to have ~the perfect~ pace, ~the perfect~ distance, ~the perfect~ corner, ~the perfect~ balance, etc etc etc.
                            Sometimes, "not perfect" means we're a little long or a little short, and sometimes it means "hang on for dear life, because I'm not sure we're gonna make it over this puppy alive!"

                            She's also very fond of telling us that the HORSE doesn't care how he got over the jump, just that he got over the jump, and doesn't understand why you're upset or feel "icky" on landing if it wasn't perfect. As far as he's concerned, he made it over, and brought you with him, so it's All Good and Carry On. (which isn't to say we don't work on trying to be accurate, but she's of the mind that mistakes are gonna happen, so you may as well deal with them positively.)

                            It's hard to let go of a bad jump, but in any ring, you gotta - otherwise the course WILL fall apart. Positive Mental Attitude!

                            I'll echo everyone else though, in that flatwork and preparation are super important. You're probably going to be riding at 70%, maybe 80% if you're lucky, of your actual riding ability when you get to a horse show. Same thing with your horse. So, having a *strong* foundation of flatwork and muscle memory can go a long way. If your horse dives through the corners or is busy flinging himself about on the way to a jump, it really helps to have worked on those things a lot at home, so when you get to the show it's a) not as big of a problem and b) you know how to deal with it a lot better.


                            • #15
                              I agree with many of the other posters here. 90% of your success on course at the show is based on your flatwork preparation at home. The other 10%, is how well you and your horse can answer the specific questions asked by the course and control outside factors. If you know your propblems start when your horse drops his shoulder and leans, then I would work on flatwork exercises to help him square up his shoulder and lighten up.

                              Once on course at the show, I have found that the perfectionist in me works better if I make things less complicated and don't focus on our major weaknesses. If you have done your homework, I have found that most straightness/leaning issues can be fixed by setting a workmanlike pace with proper impulsion from the beginning.


                              • #16
                                Across Sicily - your trainer obviously has not met my little horse. He knows if the fence sucked, he blames me and feels that I ought to be punished if I do it to him too often.


                                • #17
                                  My trainer works with us a lot on providing the "tools" that we'll need for whatever is posed by the particular course. We have a toolbox, and we reach in there for whatever it is that will address the various problems.

                                  I too found that my horse was dropping a shoulder in the turn preceeding a jump and it would always throw off the distance. Through a ton of repetition (I'm slow...!) I finally grasped that the problem only occurred when turning right, not left. I already knew (from dressage work) that my horse is stiffer tracking right and that I need to allow more with my outside rein to enable him to bend. But it wasn't until we added the tool of my asking him to engage his hind end at the same time that the "problem" got resolved. In the end, I understood that the reason we always messed up the distance was because we lost pace and the reason we lost pace was because he dropped his shoulder and the reason for that was because he lost the engagement of the hind end. So finally, I know how to ride my horse through a right-hand turn to a fence... even more, I feel like I "own" how to do this correctly.

                                  Fixing this one thing certainly was a confidence booster... now it's on to the next! I highly endorse what Lucassb suggests -- really focussing on just one thing at a time. I think that by having that over-awareness of a single element, whether it's pace, straightness, whatever, allows you to assimilate how you need to ride to ensure it doesn't result in an on-course "problem" or an escalating series of problems as the O/P described.