#SundaySchool: How do I stop my horse getting too close to a fence?

  • Showjumper David Simpson (pictured) has represented Ireland in pony, junior, young rider and senior teams. He is based in West Sussex at DLS Showjumping, which he runs with his wife Louise. In 2016 David won both The Queen’s Cup and the Derby trial at Hickstead, as well as the Oliva Nova grand prix. 2019 was a phenomenal year for David, winning the Queen Elizbeth II Cup for the second time, representing Team Ireland in five-star Nations Cup teams and World Cup competitions, and claiming top spot at Horse of the Year Show in the Leading Showjumper of the Year.

    Training the stars

    When I took on the ride of Team 55’s Jenson I used this exercise to help form a great partnership with him in a short space of time. I find it keeps his stride level and stops him rushing at his fences — it’s made a big difference.

    Striding is one of the basic elements of showjumping and it is something that a lot of people struggle with. No two horses are the same, but I find this exercise can improve the issue in most situations, and it is very straightforward to do. I use it with all our horses, from the green four-year-olds up to grand prix.

    Tackling the problem

    1. Build a vertical fence in the middle of your arena, then place a pole three-and-a-half steps away on each side, and a cavaletti fence 16 steps on from each of these. From either cavaletti to the first pole should be a normal four canter strides, so adjust the distance if you need to. I would start with the vertical in the centre at about 80cm but with very green horses just place a pole on the ground.

    2. Ride over the first cavaletti and pole and halt your horse before the vertical, rein him back and give him a pat, then ride away and do the exercise again. Do this so your horse learns to respect your aids and doesn’t charge at what’s in front of him.

    3. Once you get the feeling that the horse is waiting for you, carry on down the line and proceed over the vertical and the final cavaletti.

    4. Similar to the four strides on your approach, your four strides to the final cavaletti are important, and you need to get the same feeling of control. If you need to, stop and rein back in this section also. After doing this, I let them walk for a moment to catch their breath and take in what you’re telling them.

    5. Once you feel completely in control you can make the vertical bigger, or change it to an oxer. I wouldn’t go bigger than 1.30m, as they are working harder than you think.

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    Consider this…

    • Always put your leg on over the pole before the fence, because this trains your horse to put effort into take-off without rushing.
    • The most important thing when doing any exercise is to stay relaxed. Horses will make mistakes, so try not to get annoyed, just keep repeating it until they understand what you’re asking them.
    • I build this exercise in the centre of the school so it can be done off both reins and in both directions. Horses are stronger on one side, so keep it equal and do it the same amount on both reins.

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