Simulated cross-country gridwork: how to teach your horse to be as straight as a die

Caroline Moore, former four-star eventer and British Eventing national under-18 coach and junior team coach, explains how you can use this gridwork exercise to encourage your horse to become more straight and quick on his feet

This is a fairly advanced exercise, but you can build it in with young horses too.

The aims of the exercise are to:

  • Develop confidence with a narrow fence
  • Develop rider steering aids
  • Help to train horse’s jumping technique
  • Hold a line
  • Develop straightness

You jump into this exercise over an upright, followed by one non-jumping stride to a skinny. This teaches the horse to stay straight immediately. From that narrow fence we move onto a spread fence — I’m using an oxer that is square and encourages a good round shape. This is directly followed by another skinny on one stride to again establish straightness. The final element of this exercise is a bounce, which encourages the horse to read the pattern we’re asking him to negotiate and to improve their sharpness coming out of an exercise.

This is a multi-directional exercise, so we can use the bounce coming in to start instead. The important thing when riding this initially is that the rider keeps their eyesight looking straight ahead, and if the horse backs off, they ride really positively, with a secure lower leg so that you’re in a good posture to land and ride forward to come out of the exercise with plenty of confidence.

Riding a straight line through this exercise is imperative. As you come in, you must jump the first fence dead in the middle, keeping the inside leg very secure to maintain the line.

You can then add another fence on a turn from the final element and then jump it either way. This makes it quite an advanced exercise and if you are jumping the single fence first, it’s crucial to make a good turn onto the line of fences. You need to keep hold of your outside rein, always looking to the next fence and with the weight down your inside heel to help keep your horse balanced.

Once your horse has confidence jumping through this exercise at a small height, you can increase the size of the fences.

You need to really concentrate on thinking about your horse’s outside shoulder coming through the turn first.

Points to be aware of:

  • Losing balance and rhythm on the turn
  • Drifting at the first fence
  • Maintaining energy while jumping down the line
  • Praise and reward

More expert training advice from Caroline:

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine out every Thursday