Working hunter specialist Rory Gilsenan (pictured) emphasises the importance of riding to a fence in a flowing, forward fashion, without interfering with the horse, to gain top style marks
Being a producer of working hunter horses and training a lot of younger jockeys from the working hunter pony world, I know how important it is to jump a clear round. However, unlike in showjumping, working hunter competitors have a valuable style mark to ride for. While with every pole down in the round you can lose 10 marks, style is marked out of 20 marks. Theoretically, it is possible to make up marks if the judge likes the flow of your round and jumping technique of your horse. This exercise is about training the eye, so you can travel to each fence with minimum adjustment while maintaining a forward rhythm.
1. Set up a small upright at the end of the arena. Put six poles placed four yards apart after the fence. At the end of the pole line, build an oxer.
2. Approach the upright in a forward, balanced canter. I usually ride five strides before the upright. Jump in, and let the poles do all the work. When riding the line, concentrate on the jump at the end and your position in the saddle. The poles should mean you can ride the line without having to kick or pull.
3. You can also put a V-pole on the oxer to make the horse jump in a rounder shape, helping him to be more careful with his front end.
4. Once mastered, try a single fence in the same forward rhythm. I always start the round by jumping the upright to poles to oxer line, then come to the single fence after.
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Tips and pitfalls
- Remember, if a horse touches one pole off behind, I would not be as harsh with the style marks as I would be if he crashes a pole out with his front leg — if this was done out hunting, you would have a bad fall. Judging a working hunter is about finding the most valuable hunter in the ring.
- Don’t add strides that aren’t there — if I saw someone add a stride down a related distance, I would deduct style marks as they clearly don’t trust the horse.
- It may be a simple exercise, but I find it helpful, both in my own training as well as during lessons.
- Using placing poles in such a way means you can be more mindful of your own position and how the horse is jumping.
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