Gemma Tattersall: how to make skinnies easy

  • Not a big fan of narrow fences? This season you are unlikely to walk a cross-country track without at least one skinny to negotiate, and accuracy questions are becoming increasingly challenging.

    British Europeans squad contender Gemma Tattersall regularly practises skinnies as part of her regular routine. She says that doing your homework makes these questions straightforward, and just because it’s the off-season doesn’t mean you should stop training for them.

    “These days everything is jumped to a skinny or corner and horses have to be ready for anything,” says Gemma, who introduces each of her horses to narrow fences early in their education.

    “If they see small skinnies from an early stage they become the norm.”

    2 Skinnies on a curve distance not walked

    The following exercise is easy to do at home:

    • Gemma places two narrow fences on a curving line down the middle of her arena (pictured above). She positions a third skinny on the outside track.
    • “I haven’t walked the distance,” says Gemma. “When you’re riding cross-country you don’t always get to a fence on what you’re expecting and you have to ride what you feel. It’s good to practise that at home.”
    • A curving line is particularly useful in training.
    • It makes the horse question what is coming next,” adds Gemma, as she walks her horse, six-year-old Dooneen Gold (“Jim”), past the colourful blocks and lets him look at them. She pats him to give him confidence.
    • The two skinnies on a curving line are no problem for Jim. As he turns back to the third, though, a small spook causes him to wobble, but Gemma’s leg is on and he goes.
    • She comes around to them again and this time Jim stays straight.
    • “When I’m training, especially over skinnies, I’m very quick to correct the horse and praise them when they get it right. That way they understand what I want from them,” says Gemma.
    • Yesterday Jim ran out at this skinny. “He ran out once, so I asked him to jump it a second time, which he did. Then I patted him and put him away. Today he’s come straight out and cleared it, which tells me he’s learned from the mistake.”
    • Correct training is all about being consistent. “You can’t tell a horse off for something one day and not the next. Repetition and consistency is how horses learn,” explains Gemma. “If a young horse has an issue with something, I will repeat it several days in a row, but each session will be short. So the second and third day I might only be in here for 10min, and then we’ll go for a hack. I repeat the exercise until they get it, but I’m careful not to over-face them.”


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