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#SundaySchool: how to keep your horse straight over a fence

The highlight of Oxfordshire-based Irish event rider Aoife Clark’s career to date is seventh at the 2012 Olympics with Master Crusoe. Aoife has won at Bramham and Blenheim, and has had two top-10 Badminton finishes. She competed a string of 10 horses this season and gave birth to baby Patrick in May 2019. Here she shares her advice on how to keep your horse straight over a fence.

How to keep your horse straight over a fence

I love this exercise and use it on my experienced horses, including Fernhill Adventure and Celus D Ermac Z, as well as the youngsters. I vary the intensity of it with the height of the fences and the size of the loops — not less than 20-30m for the youngsters or 15m for the advanced horses.

Falling out through the outside shoulder on a turn is a common problem and it can lead to issues in keeping straight to a fence. I use this simple gymnastic exercise because it helps to keep the shoulders straight, plus it is brilliant for improving rideability, suppleness and balance.

Tackling the issue

1. To warm up, place a few cross-poles along the centre line of your school (see diagram). How many you use will depend on the size of your school. Also place parallel feeder poles before and after each cross-pole, to encourage straightness.

2. With a young horse, ride through the serpentine in trot first to help him stay balanced. Concentrate on keeping straight through the feeder poles for at least a couple of strides after each obstacle. Then focus on trying to ride the turns square. Remember to use your outside aids to encourage your horse not to collapse in on the bend, which will lead to his shoulders falling out. This is the vital part of the exercise.

3. If the horse has understood the exercise, progress to tackling the serpentine in canter. If he lands on the wrong leg, bring him back to trot to change legs, but keep riding the square turns.

4. Concentrate on keeping your body upright in the saddle and make sure you look in the direction in which you are heading. If you collapse, so will the horse, and he will lose his balance on landing. Your position should encourage your horse to land on the correct leg for the turn while also maintaining straightness during landing.

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Things to consider

  • This can be a difficult exercise for younger horses who struggle with balance, so don’t overdo it initially.
  • Repetition and consistency is key, but if the horse doesn’t understand what to do, return to it another time.
  • For experienced horses, gradually increase the difficulty by raising the fences and removing the feeder poles to test straightness.

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