How to introduce a young horse to skinny cross-country fences

  • Caroline Moore, former five-star eventer and British Eventing national under-18 coach and junior team coach, explains how to introduce a horse to skinny fences for the first time

    When introducing skinny fences, it is important to do it in a correct fashion, because this sets up the building blocks for the horse for the future.

    The aims of this exercise are:

    • To develop confidence with a narrow fence
    • To develop rider steering aids
    • Help to train the horse’s jumping technique
    • To improve the horse and rider partnership
    • To learn to hold a line

    Start in trot to make sure you have control and to give the horse confidence. Use a relatively narrow but very small obstacle and set out guide rails on the floor either side of the fence. Build two of these on a relative distance and trot down over both. Move to canter once your horse is confident.

    The next stage is to slightly narrow the fences further. It’s really important to still use the guide rails to help the horse remain confident. The rider must look ahead and also give the horse confidence with the line, keeping the leg to rein aid really secure.

    Once you are happy, you can remove the guide rails, but this makes it much easier for him to pop out the side of the fences. Therefore as a rider, you need to really apply the pressure between leg and rein to help keep the horse in its ‘tunnel’ and on its ‘railway lines’ to keep him straight. If you do that, the horse will get more and more confident holding that line.

    The next step is introducing flags and I do this in a way so that the horse is comfortable about walking in between them. Generally horses are rather claustrophobic when they walk between them to start with so it’s important to get them confident and relaxed. To do this, you need to walk the horse through them a fair few times.

    The next step is to walk and trot over a pole through the flags as this is their first jump through a narrow obstacle.

    Once they are confident doing this, you can put a jump in between the flags. It is important that this is an obstacle they have already jumped. As a rider, your driving and straightening aids are the most important here.

    Over a period of time you can then progress to another type of jump — I have used a soft brush for this horse, so that it doesn’t bother him if he slightly touches it.

    You can finish the exercise by putting the two fences with flags together. Always focus on the next fence so that you keep looking and driving forward in a straight line, encouraging the horse to take on the next fence.

    More expert training advice from Caroline:

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