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Musto on the front cover of Horse & Hound

Becky Parrott is wearing the ZP176 Training Jacket from Zara Phillips’ ZP176 range on the front cover of Horse & Hound magazine and featured in the cover story too, which we wanted to share with you below:

TRAINING SPECIAL: EARLY-SEASON SCHOOLING

With two months to go before the eventing season really kicks off, now’s the time to practise the questions that will arise with the help of BE coach Caroline Moore

Some riders see winter as a time to wind down, a difficult season full of reasons not to do things.  Not so for those who train with British Eventing (BE) accredited coach Caroline Moore.

For Caroline, the winter is a time for “reflection and new plans”; a time for riders to work with their trainers, assessing where they can improve their performance.

“While the ground is not suitable for cross-country training, it is an ideal opportunity to simulate some accuracy questions with angles and narrow fences that you are likely to meet the following season,” says Caroline.

For those who may have sat back a bit since September, we asked Caroline to share some of her distinctive training exercises to help get you into shape.

HOLDING A LINE

One of the first things I establish with any partnership is their ability to hold a line.  To do this exercise successfully involves straightness, landing in the corresponding spot from where you take off – not drifting left or right – and quick reactions from the rider to prevent an inexperienced horse going off line.

Position three upright on angles to each other (see diagram, bottom left) at about 30° to start with, building up to 40-45° with the more experienced combinations, I generally work with a distance of 22ft (6.7m and one non-jumping stride) between each rail from middle to middle down to a skinny on 45ft (13.7m and three non-jumping strides).
There should always be an obvious line through the centre, which I mark with flower boxes or blocks.  With an inexperienced combination, I use guiding poles on the approach, in between and on the getaway.

Start with the fences very small before building up, as there is a lot for the horse to take in.  The first time they do the exercise, they will often try to follow the angles of the rails, so the rider must be aware and ready to use their legs and reins to “channel or tunnel” the horse straight.

As you approach a line like this, an inexperienced horse will often back off, as he is “reading” the question.  It is the rider’s job to react to give confidence with the leg.

Only when the horse understands and is confident should you raise the height, take away the guiding poles or make the angle more severe.

NARROW FENCES OR SKINNIES

This is a great exercise for building up a partnership.  Teaching the horse and rider to develop their eye for and their confidence over narrow fences is absolutely essential.  You will find at least one, if not two narrow fences introduced from BE90 and by one-star this rises to around five of either single skinnies, combinations of skinnies, skinnies on angles, skinnies out of water and so on.

A horse almost has to look for flags and aim to go between them rather than around them, so it is important to establish that within its training.  I generally use telescopic wings with plastic clip-on flags, as I find them easy to move and adjust – they can take some serious hammering without being damaged – a tub of plastic flowers and short (90cm) poles.

The great thing about these fences is that they fit in my car and can be used at home on a surface or I take them with me cross-country schooling to use after drop fences or coming out of water.

Start with your horse walking quietly through the wings with no pole (1) to teach the concept of going through narrow wings.  Repeat this a few times in trot and canter with lots of praise.

Watch your rhythm, maintain the pace you are in and focus on your straightness before and after the wings, so the horse learns to stay straight.  Feel both reins and use your legs to provide a tramline for the horse.

When confident, add the tub of flowers (2) and then the pole (3) – with some guiding poles if your horse is very wobbly or inexperienced – and practise jumping in trot and canter from both reins and directions.

When horse and rider are confident, I will practise this fence on a curving line, on straight related distances, across a short line with limited approach strides, as the middle element of a combination or at the end of line of showjumps to test focus and straightness.

I would also make skinny fences a regular occurence when jumping so horses get used to reading them.

MOVING ON

I will occasionally use fences without flags to develop the rider’s skill in maintaining straightness in the air and on landing.

For this exercise I will set up some small, narrow fillers and ask riders to trot and pop them.  Initially the horse may try to look for a way around but if the rider holds their line on the take off, mid-flight and landing it soon becomes a fun exercise for all levels.

This is especially good for the rider that abandons their horse on the approach as they start to take more responsibility.

LOCKING ON TO MORE THAN ONE FENCE

It’s important that you educate the younger horse to read two or three cross-country fences at once.  The less-experienced horse will need an extra “thinking” stride when there is more than one fence to negotiate.  This is a great exercise for practising this.

Start with two sets of rails offset across a diagonal line with 23ft (7m) (one slightly longer non-jumping stride) between them (see diagram, bottom right).  Keep them quite small until your confidence and understanding is establilshed and then progress to brushes.  Walk the exercise initially as it gives you a feel for the turn on the approach.

I insist that riders find at least three straight strides in front of a fence as it often takes a horse three strides to lock on, work out what it is they have to jump and feel their stride pattern.

I always educate the rider to have a focal point for this exercise as if the rider holds a line with their eye, the horse will also stay straight.  I often ask the inexperienced rider to shout acknowledgement when the horse locks on so they get to recognise it.

THINK AHEAD

There are two exercises that I like to use to coach riders to think ahead.

The course-designer will often design fences that are affected by the previous fence – for example, a serpentine line or a distance followed by a turn to a skinny.  Experienced riders are used to thinking and planning ahead and will do it naturally, but the less-experienced need to train to plan ahead.

1. I like using an exercise of a vertical to an oxer on 24yd (21.9m) followed by a fence around a right-angled turn (normally a skinny).  This exercise makes the rider consider how they jump the fence before the turn (oxer).
The distance between the upright and the oxer (pic 1a) would lead you to ride the oxer on an open five strides, which will make the turn to the skinny (pic 1b) really difficult.  I leave it up to the rider to work out a way of making it easier.
Some will ride the distance on a shorter six strides, as they will then have a more controlled jump at the oxer.  Others will ride the first part of the distance more forward so they can sit up and be deeper at the oxer and therefore have a more controlled jump.

I encourage the rider to use the first fence to set up the second, to set up the third.  The exercise also teaches the rider not to “waste” any landing strides as they have to sit up and ride the turn immediately (1c), rather than collapse for a couple of strides.  This is very common with less-experienced riders.

2. The other exercise particularly teaches the rider to be thoughtful of the landing – it is fences on a serpentine line.  Again, I would use narrow fences as it is more appropriate.  This exercise is all about having the horse balanced to the new direction before take-off.

If the rider doesn’t think ahead, the horse will often land on its inside shoulder, making the next turn difficult and leaving the horse out of balance.

However, if the rider rides straight and uses the new inside leg more firmly on the approach, it will encourage the horse to land on the correct lead, in balance and looking for the next fence.

DEVELOPING THE HORSE’S EYE

As riders we get the chance to walk the course as many times as we want to see exactly what eaach fence consists of, horses have often only a few seconds to read and assess what they have to do.

As a horse becomes more experienced and moves up through the grades they develop their eye to judge lines and types of fences very quickly.  But at the early stages of training this needs to be done slowly, carefully and without too much interference from the rider.

Tips to help develop a younger horse’s eye:

Give the horse enough distance to see what he has to do. This should be at least three straight strides especially if there is more than one fence
Give him time to assess. Don’t hurry the last two strides
Don’t interfere. Be soft enough with the rein so he can read the fence and adjust if necessary
Remember… It is the rider’s responsibility to make a good approach and the horse’s responsibility to read, assess and jump.

DEVELOPING THE CANTER

It’s vital to develop a feel for jumping out of the three different canters that you use cross-country.  Again, for the experienced rider, this will come naturally.  However, for the less-experienced rider, it needs to be practised, along with the “gear changes” that are regularly required on today’s courses.

THE GEARS

1st gear… trot. Occasionally used for the leafpit type of fence, ditches, steps and water with young horses.

2nd gear… coffin canter. A short-stepping, high-powered canter often used for fences where there is a surprise for the horse on landing, such as a ditch or water, and the horse may need an extra stride to read the question.  This canter needs to be taught and practised – you will often see a rider just use the hand without the leg and kill the canter’s power.  This results in the horse’s head going up too high, which takes away his line of sight and a poor jump.

3rd gear… showjump-type canter. More step than the coffin canter.  Needed for vertical rails or fences that are related to each other with a distance.  The importance of this canter is that it is forward, well balanced and the rider has a soft hand.

4th gear… the gallop. This is the speed that most cross-country fences are jumped out of, including brushtops, rolltops, spreads, tables and so on.  This pace is NOT top speed, but should be balanced with power and the hocks put more underneath four or five strides out.

5th gear… top speed. Not generally jumped out of.  Once I have worked with a rider to develop the different canters and gallop, I use three different types of fences: an upright set of rails (to get the rider to imagine a ditch downhill on the landing), a double of skinnies and a triple bar in a big area such as a field, large surface (in the winter) or on the gallops.

I’ll set the horse and rider off generating a good fourth gear and practise over the triple bar, using their eye to read the stride pattern as far out as possible.  Then I get them to practise moving from fourth to third and second gear using all three fences.

This exercise trains the rider to find out how far away from the fence the horse needs balancing.  It helps develop a good partnership and enables the rider’s eye to develop.  This is also a great time to practise the gallop seat and develop a secure lower leg.

CONFIDENT CORNERS

It is so important that horses and riders are well trained over corner fences, introduced from BE90 onwards, otherwise confidence issues can result.

To start with, the horse must stay straight on a line and be confident over an angled rail.  The rider must be in control of the quality of the canter and the line.  There is a current trend for short back rails on corners – these need to be ridden very accurately.

Riders are inclined to allow their horses to drift in the air over a corner fence towards the apex.  It is important not to allow this by imagining that there is another fence directly after.

Using a corner coming out of a related distance or double will help the less-experienced rider to start with, as you will already by on a stride pattern.

Start with just the front rail (above) to emphasise to the horse that you are jumping between two flags.  Develop confidence and the line – remember to keep the withers between your hands – before adding the back rail (below) and then the width.

Once you can jump confidently across corners, use different approaches on different agnles – which is what you will come across in competition – instead of just at right angles.

Look out if your horse changes his canter lead on the approach, as this is a tell-tale sign that he is losing balance.  Always address this problem before making the corner challenge more difficult.

MOVING UP

Using corners on curving lines is a great way of teaching a rider to hold their line with their eye and not waste any landing strides.  It will also develop the rider’s feel for which direction the horse needs more help with.
Use short back rails in training, as there is then no room for error on the line and you will be encouraged to keep the line while in the air.  Keep the corner small at first, as sometimes the horse doesn’t always read and understand the question to start with.

WITH THANKS TO OUR GUINEA PIGS

  • NAME: Constance Copestake
  • AGE: 15
  • LEVEL: Novice/ one-star/ pony A squad
  • HORSE: Pebbly Paint Box (gelding)
  • AGE: 12yo
  • BREEDING: Irish
  • OWNED SINCE: 9yo
  • 2012 AMBITION: to prepare for final year on ponies and justify place on a squad
  • DREAM OLYMPIC RIDE: Lenamore
  • GUILTY PLEASURE AFTER TRAINING: a nice roast dinner
  • NAME: Becky Parrott
  • AGE: 31
  • LEVEL: one-star
  • HORSE: Athlone Dolly (mare)
  • AGE: 8yo
  • OWNED SINCE: 4yo
  • BREEDING: Irish
  • 2012 AMBITION: to ride two-star
  • DREAM OLYMPIC RIDE: Lenamore
  • GUILTY PLEASURE AFTER TRAINING: eating – Snickers or Mars bar, anyone?
  • NAME: Rosalind Canter
  • AGE: 25
  • LEVEL: two-star/ advanced
  • HORSE: Zenshera (gelding)
  • AGE: 8yo
  • BREEDING: bought from Holland but possibly by French sire Guidam
  • OWNED SINCE: 6yo
  • 2012 AMBITION: move him up to two-star; Ros has just set up her own yard and aims to get her own team going
  • DREAM OLYMPIC RIDE: Lenamore
  • GUILTY PLEASURE AFTER TRAINING: team sports

ABOUT CAROLINE

Caroline Moore is a Fellow of the British Horse Society and a British Eventing accredited coach.  She has ridden up to four-star level and has recently been appointed as the junior team coach and national under-18 coach.

“As a coach, I want the exercises to be fun for the horse and the rider, as well as challenging and educational,” she says.  “It’s really important to raise the boundaries in training without the partnership losing their confidence.”

(Originally published in Horse & Hound)

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