‘There is only one way to jump a hedge and that is cleanly’, says Mike Felton, joint-master of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale. He tells Tessa Waugh how to make that happen
1. Know your obstacle. When you’re approaching a hedge there are three things to take into consideration: whether or not it has a ditch on the landing or take-off, the state of the ground, and whether it is clean, in other words, does it have wire in it or not?
2. It is a popularly held misconception that hedges should be jumped at speed, but if there is no wire and the going is relatively good, you can jump it like any other fence. You don’t need speed, you need impetus and impulsion. Think coiled springs and contained energy.
3. If you go too fast you will jump flatter, which is fine if the hedge is thin and wispy and you can brush through it, but not if it’s tall and thick.
4. If you go too fast and the going is heavy, the horse will struggle to get its feet out quick enough to take off and you have another ingredient for a crash.
5. Ditches in front of hedges again requires plenty of impulsion. Without it you will land in the ditch or fail to clear the hedge behind.
6. Ditches behind — less of a worry; if you and your horse have done the necessary to get over the hedge without incident, you will clear a ditch behind it too (as long as it doesn’t have a strand of wire in front of it).
7. Practise with your horse with a much smaller obstacle with a ditch towards, before putting them at a big obstacle with a ditch in front.
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8. Don’t ride for the weak bit of the hedge — aim for the stouter bit because your horse will jump it better.
9. Think of the farmer whose hedge you are jumping and use the gate if your horse won’t go. A small hole quickly becomes a motorway if everyone takes the easy option.
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