The event rider’s simple test improves coordination, collection and sharpness in horses of all types and ages
I learned this versatile and useful exercise from [former eventing performance manager] Yogi Breisner.
I find it a great exercise to use between events for the older horses as it allows them to use all their muscles without overdoing the jumping.
It is important that the three elements of your obstacle line are built down the long centre of the school. This gives the horse and rider time to get straight and to assess the test.
Create your line by placing a trot pole to mark the start then, approximately 2.5m away, build a cross-pole, followed, roughly on a 6.5m distance, by an oxer. The size of the fences depends on the horse’s experience.
As this exercise asks the horse a variety of questions in a restricted space, it is excellent for reinforcing eye/foot coordination, agility, collection and then sharpness and dexterity as the horse opens up over the final oxer.
- Use the whole school and ride the turn to the fence line in a controlled, rhythmic trot, which is the tempo you need to maintain as you ride down to the first part of the exercise.
- The rider should sit up straight and soften their hand as the horse negotiates the pole and obstacles so that he can use his head, neck and body without restriction. Less is more from the rider — let the exercise work the horse.
- Ensure that you keep the horse straight on the approach and when he lands. Precision is the key.
- Each time I tackle this exercise I do so off alternate reins in a figure of eight. Provided the horse stays correct throughout, one approach on each rein is sufficient before the test is altered slightly, maybe by making the oxer larger or wider, or the cross pole a little higher.
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Tips and pitfalls
- Some horses drift sideways. You can add V poles and tramlines (parallel poles) on the ground to encourage the horse to stay straight.
- It’s important to maintain a collected trot over the trotting pole to the cross-pole.
- For horses that gain too much distance over a fence, put a landing pole after the cross-pole or oxer to encourage a more accurate landing.
After completing this exercise confidently, jump the oxer on an angle in canter without removing the cross-pole. Ride past the cross-pole close to the upright/wing to get to the oxer. Do this on both reins in a figure of eight. This exercise ensures the horse is coming up through his shoulder and is useful for cross-country riding.
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