Expert advice on introducing your horse to gridwork
Grids will help the horse’s athleticism and rhythm and teach the rider to adjust the stride length. Trainers have their favourite grids, each designed to work on different aspects of the horse’s jump. The golden rule is never to have the fences too big, as this will quickly sour a young horse.
“Stuffy” horses can be taught to move on by using slightly longer distances; on the other hand, horses which cover too much ground and get into trouble in doubles and combinations, can learn to shorten.
The poles are gradually brought closer together and negotiated with the rider containing the energy and holding the horse between hand and leg.
Most grids are approached in trot and for a young horse, this is easier than at canter, when there is a risk of arriving “wrong” at the first fence.
Indoors, a simple grid can be constructed with three trotting poles, followed by a cross pole at 9ft or so, then a vertical at 21ft. A placing pole on the ground halfway between the two fences will help to produce an even non-jumping stride.
Once the horse will tackle this confidently, you can add another small fencea further 33ft (two strides) away.
This third fence should be an ascending oxer, which is inviting and encourages a good shape. You will need to ride the grid slightly stronger, keeping your leg on and asking for two active non-jumping strides to the last fence.
The next step is to bring the third fence in to 24ft, which will produce one non-jumping stride between each obstacle. This is more difficult for the young horse, as it requires a concentrated effort.
Outside, the distances can be increased slightly but take care not to have the horse reaching for the fences.
There are many variations on grids. More advanced horses can tackle “bounce” combinations. The approach should still be made in trot, as canter can encourage an onward-going horse to think about tackling two fences together.
In order to negotiate a bounce grid successfully, the horse must be forward-going, but able to be compressed, so that he jumps from his hocks, rounds his back and maintains rhythm.
The use of placing poles on the floor between the fences can help to steady a horse which tends to get quicker through the grid. If you have a two or three-stride distance in your grid, these poles will make thehorse look down and also prevent him from lengthening and getting into trouble when he meets the next obstacle.
Placing poles on the corner of the arena can also help the horse which leaves the grid in a disunited canter or on the wrong lead.Sit calmly, and when you arrive at the pole on the ground, ask for a little “pop” over it.
Nine times out of 10, the horse will land on the correct lead and this is far better than having to pull back to trot.
Another useful exercise is toplace a spread fence at 17 to 24ft from the trotting poles, which allows one full non-jumping stride before take-off. If he approaches the fence in trot, the 17ft distance will give the horse a good trot stride, while 24ft provides for a canter stride.
Then add two small verticals at 45 degrees, so that you can continue on a circle, come back to trot and pop a fence on the diagonal before coming round to the poles again.This will help to keep the horse interested and avoids the temptation for both horse and rider to “switch off” once the grid has been negotiated.
Above all, gridwork is designed to improve the shape a horse makes. It also lightens the forehand and encourages him to think quickly. The rider must remain still and resist the temptation to push the horse on.
Young horses need to work out grids for themselves and for this reason, you should always build a grid up gradually, beginning with one, then two fences and so on.
A final word of warning about grids. Although they are very valuable, if their use is prolonged, a degree of dependency will develop. In the ring, the horse will have no placing poles to help him arrive at the correct take-off point, so you must prepare him for this shock.