Two jumping exercises to help dressage horses with the winter blues: Dickie Waygood and Laura Collett demo at London

  • Dickie Waygood offered some jumping exercises “you can do with dressage horses to beat the winter blues” at the London Horse Show today, with Olympic gold medal-winning eventer Laura Collett as demo rider on the eight-year-old Outback.

    The session started with cantering over a fan of three poles, with the horse bouncing in between the poles without taking a stride. The middle pole was then raised to be a small jump.

    “This is a great exercise for suppleness, strength and conditioning work for horses, and helps get the horse and rider’s eye in,” said Dickie.

    “There’s something here for everyone – the inside line demands a slightly more collected canter, the outside line a bigger canter. The rider’s work is done at the preparation point [a few strides before the poles].”

    Dickie said riders needs to ask themselves three simple questions when riding such exercises:

    • Am I in balance?
    • Do I have the correct way of going for the question in hand?
    • Am I providing the right line?

    “All these questions have sub-paragraphs – for example, sitting in balance includes having your weight through the heel, contact with the leg, contact with the rein,” he said.

    Dickie also encouraged Laura to look where she was going and to see the poles in her peripheral vision as she was going over them.

    “Then you can concentrate on riding the racing line,” he said. “If you drop your head on the approach to a fence, you’ve suddenly put 100% of your weight over the front end of the horse.”

    The trio then moved on to work over four small fences which were arranged so they could be jumped on a circle. Initially Laura put Outback over each one and then turned to make a circle outwards before approaching the next jump.

    “The circles improve rideability – you can make them 10m, 8m, 15m,” said Dickie. “This is a great exercise to keep horses fresh.”

    Laura then moved on to jump the two fences on opposite sides of the circle consecutively and finally jumped right round over all four fences with two strides between each jump.

    “Don’t be obsessed with distances – sit in balance, have the correct line, the correct canter,” said Dickie. “You can play with the exercise – if your arena is only 20m wide, you can close the fences right in. It’s a fun exercise for horses and works their power muscles.”

    Laura Collett commented that this exercise demonstrated at the London Horse Show highlighted that Outback is more supple and rideable on one rein than the other and on his worse rein she had to be aware that he didn’t fall in or bulge out.

    Finally, Dickie asked Laura to ride down the centre line, through two pairs of poles on the floor with a block to jump between each pair – the only exercise demonstrated which he said he wouldn’t necessarily suggest for dressage horses.

    He explained: “It’s the horse’s job to avoid the fence and the back legs need to follow the front legs. If the back legs don’t follow the front legs [and the horse’s shoulder wavers], the horse loses the ability to lengthen and shorten,  so the only way to avoid a fence is to glance past it, but if the back legs follow the front, the horse has the ability to shuffle or put in a short one, but stay straight on railway tracks.”

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