Holding a straight line across country — the difference between success and failure

  • Caroline Moore, former five-star eventer and British Eventing national under-18 coach and junior team coach, explains how to teach a horse to hold a line over and in between fences

    Turning onto and holding a straight line is one of the most important things you need to do with your event horse at any level in dressage, showjumping and cross-country.

    This exercise will show you how to learn to hold a line to jump an angled and skinny rail on the floor.

    Aims of the exercise:

    • Teach a horse to jump across an angle
    • Take-off and land in the corresponding spot
    • Develop confidence with angles and corners

    To start, we have two narrow poles (90cm in length) on the floor. Horses naturally find these easier to go around rather than over, so this is where, if the horse goes to wobble, the rider creates a wall either side of the horse with their legs. This should be giving the feeling of leg to rein, creating a channel. As the horse gets used to trotting over the poles, the exercise becomes easier, so the rider can reduce the pressure a little bit. It’s a great exercise to help align the aids from the beginning.

    The most important thing for me here is that the rider continues riding straight after going over the poles.

    Then we can move on to using poles on an angle on the floor, which is more technical. Most horses will want to follow the angle of the pole or fence across, rather than slicing over the angle to remain straight. Riders have to be very, very reactive to prevent the horse from wobbling in the first place.

    As a rider you need to look straight ahead and react quickly to what is happening underneath you. The same applies when you move up to do this exercise in canter — stay straight no matter what is happening under you.

    Once your horse is confident, you can raise the poles into small jumps. As your horse should be happy with the poles on the floor, moving up to small jumps shouldn’t bother them, but always keep yourself in a good posture with good contact to help make sure they stay straight. Don’t allow the horse to drift across the line of the fence.

    If the horse is wobbling, I like to use flags in between the poles or jumps to help keep them straight — this gives the horse something to aim for and it is important to teach them to go through flags at an early age.

    If you find that you are having problems with this exercise, zig zag poles on the floor can help secure the horse’s straightness on a line.

    Points to be aware of:

    • Being reactive
    • Rider sighting next fence
    • Loss of rider balance
    • Horse falling onto shoulder in between fences
    • Praise and reward

    More expert training advice from Caroline:

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