Gemma Tattersall: how to perfect your showjumping warm-up when shows restart *H&H Plus*

  • Eventing world team gold medallist Gemma Tattersall advises on how to target your warm-up strategy once shows start again and explains how she adjusts her basic plan to suit different types of horse...

    Many riders gallop continuously around the showjumping collecting ring, jumping numerous fences, wearing out their horses and getting in everyone’s way. I feel strongly many competitors could improve their performance by planning their warm-up.

    Confidence is key. Don’t overpush yourself in the warm-up – you want to go in the ring feeling confident, not that the last fence was a bit big and you held your breath over it. When I help pupils, I rarely put them over a big fence in the warm-up; everyone needs to get their eye in, but the most important thing is to feel good over a couple of fences.

    The length of your flatwork warm-up at a one-day event will depend on the time since your dressage.

    If it’s been a couple of hours since your test and the horse has stood on the lorry, he will need five to 10 minutes of limbering up in trot and canter to get him loose and warm again.

    If, however, you have done your dressage test, changed your tack and headed to the showjumping, a little trot and canter on each rein is all that’s needed; there is no point in wasting the horse’s legs with unnecessary work.

    The aim of warming up is to get your own and your horse’s eye in and you should have done your homework at home. You have to use your common sense, but I always think that if I have to teach the horse in the warm-up, he is not ready for that event.

    I would pop a cross-pole, jump two or three verticals and then no more than three oxers, followed by one bigger vertical before going in.

    In general, I wouldn’t jump more than eight fences. If I felt the horse needed a couple more to build his confidence, for example if the ground was muddy, I might add two more ascending oxers which are not too big relative to the horse’s competition level.

    Create a good canter, but don’t do circuit after circuit in canter. Jump a fence, then come back to walk, pat the horse, wait while the fence is adjusted, perhaps let someone else jump, then pick up canter and jump again.

    It’s good to practise creating the right canter, and walk to canter can help make the horse sharp. Whether it’s from walk or trot, practise making a proper transition to canter – and back down from canter after jumping.

    Saving their jump

    I don’t jump my horses in the morning after the trot-up at a three-day event. A lot of riders do, but I wouldn’t jump a horse at a showjumping show before their third day jumping in a row, so I follow that principle.

    My horses often have a little stretch in trot and canter, either on the lunge or ridden before the trot-up, so they have already been exercised once and I want to save their jump for a clear in the afternoon, hopefully.

    I do more flatwork at a three-day than a one-day as the horses haven’t done dressage, but they have had the rigours of cross-country the day before so often feel tired in their bodies.

    Make sure the horse is supple with 10 to 15 minutes of stretching, but don’t do strenuous work. Ride big serpentines and changes of rein, staying light on his back. Transitions – trot to walk to trot, walk to canter – and leg-yielding will get the horse paying attention.

    The exact jumping warm-up depends on the horse, but I would try not to jump too many fences; save your jumps for the ring. Part of being a good horseperson is understanding how to get the best out of each horse.

    Confidence is key with Arctic Soul (Spike). I start his jumping warm-up over a 90cm vertical and then quickly build to a 1.20m or 1.25m vertical, using only three or four jumps to get there.

    I then go to an oxer and I don’t start off too tiny because he will only jump it three times. The first time it will be about 1m tall and square (front and back poles the same height), then we put it up two holes in front and three behind, so it becomes an ascending spread, and pull it out wider.

    We then put it up two holes in front and one behind to square it up again – it’s about 1.25m high by this point – and pull it out wider again. If Spike jumps it well, I pat him and leave it there; if I feel he needs to do it again, I jump it once more.

    I then find out how long I have before my round and do a bit of trot work while I wait. I am careful at the bigger events not to go near the arena too early. I keep Spike moving and trotting, paying attention to me and busy in his mind. If I walk around too much, he thinks too much and becomes worried about the crowds and the clapping. For the same reason, I always trot into the ring.

    I do one more tall upright before the round, but not bigger than 1.30m, probably 1.25m. I’m not looking to catch Spike out – I want him to go in feeling he’s the best jumper in the world, as then he goes clear. If he makes a mistake in the warm-up, he gets worried because he hates having fences down.

    ‘A big fence to wake her up’

    I aim to jump Santiago Bay (Kizzy) over quite a big fence before her round. She is very brave and careful, but she needs a big fence to wake her up and make her work. If I come to the first fence with no leg on, she’d quite likely spook and drop me at the bottom of it – which she has done at home!

    In the warm-up and in the ring, I almost pretend I’m doing a jump-off as the more I dare her and say, “Come on, let’s go,” the better she jumps. Being buzzy and excited is a good thing for her. Kizzy is hard to beat in the pure showjumping ring because she’s used to going fast and she can angle fences – she’s brave, scopey and careful.

    Johan-Some (YoYo) is a new ride for me – a lovely jumper and very careful. He won two BE100s this spring before the lockdown and both events were pretty muddy, so the key was to ensure he stayed confident. On both occasions, I had come straight from my dressage test, so I didn’t have to do much flatwork. After a quick canter round, I was ready to pop a cross-pole.

    I didn’t jump big at all in the warm-up or jump many fences – a maximum of seven. I rode really forward because of the holding ground and timed my warm-up so I could jump a fence and go straight into the ring with him feeling really confident.

    If the ground is bad in front of or behind the warm-up fences, it’s worth moving them if there’s space. Even if you can only shift them a yard to the left or right, the horses are jumping out of fresh turf and that gives them confidence.

    MGH Candy Girl (Candy) is an incredible jumper and throws a huge, scopey jump. She needs a few more fences than most before she goes in the ring – if I don’t do enough, she jumps sky high.

    I start over a tiny fence and build it up quite slowly, jumping five or six verticals up to about 1.30m – Candy is currently jumping 1.30m classes, aiming for seven-year-old classes at 1.30–1.35m level. Then I’ll do the same with an oxer.

    I then give her a breather, walking for a minute, before picking her up before I go into the ring. I go into sitting trot and push her sideways a couple of times to get her round my leg. I train all my jumpers the same way as event horses on the flat – they all go sideways and do proper transitions, within the pace as well as between paces.

    Then I jump a smaller fence – about 1m – as a sort of sweetener. I’ve found in the past few outings that this helps give Candy confidence and while she still jumps high, it’s a little less extravagant.

    I never need to catch this horse out or make her careful as she does that by herself. It’s just a case of persuading her that 4ft over the top of the fence is too much; 1ft is plenty!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 April 2020

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