Combination fences are two or more jumps at related distances. This means the horse has to take a set number of strides between the jumps to arrive at the correct take-off point. If there are no strides, or only one or two, between fences then these are jumped ‘in combination’.
Judging the distance
All except very novice competitions use combinations as a test of ability of both horse and rider, so training at home is vital to success.
If you have never jumped a combination before, keep it simple and straightforward at first. There is nothing to be gained from pushing yourself so hard that you force an error. Jumping is challenging but must never be frightening or off-putting for the pony. Later on, you may wish to jump a line of six fences, but start with two!
Using two pairs of stands to build two simple uprights, position them for one ‘non-jumping’ stride between the two elements. This varies from pony to pony but as a rough guide, for a forward-going mount, allow 2.44-2.74m (8-9ft) for a 12-hand pony, 2.74-3.05m (9-10ft) for a 13-hand pony, and 3.05-3.35m (10-11ft) for a 14-hand pony.
This is the distance between landing and take off. While your jumps are small, the total distance between the elements is about 4.27-4.88m (14-16ft) for a 12-hand pony, 4.57-5.49m (15-18ft) for a 13-hand pony, and 4.88-6.10m (16-20ft) for a 14-hand pony.
It is important to get the distance as comfortable as possible for both of you, so think about the following points. Is your pony lazy or forward going? Does he have short or long strides? Is the going heavy? If so, this shortens his stride. Has he jumped a double before? If so, he may jump on a longer stride.
Your first double
When you’ve thought it all out and you think you have worked out the best distance, place the poles on the ground between the stands. Remember to remove the jump cups.
Take your pony over the poles in a steady, active canter. Ride the approach exactly as you would for a simple jump, placing him as well as you can at the first. Even a pole on the ground gives you the feel of jumping. Count to yourself – jump, stride, jump! If it feels smooth, your distance is right and you can start to build a real jump.
Raise the second pole first, about 30-45cm (12-18in). Your pony should quickly settle into a rhythm and jump better as he gains in confidence. Ride forward on the stride between the poles.
When you feel ready, raise the first pole to the same height and you have your first combination! If at any stage the distance feels wrong, then change it straight away.
Most ponies jump on a longer stride as they loosen up and gain experience. Always raise the height of the second element before you alter the first, because this encourages your pony to use himself correctly and not to ‘dive’ over the jumps.
Improving your riding
Riding combinations gives you a good opportunity to improve your own balance and position. Once you have placed your pony at the first part, he places himself at the second, as long as you keep to a straight line from your approach. With experience you get to know exactly when he is going to take off.
Make sure you are allowing the pony complete freedom in his head and neck, and that your lower leg position is secure. If you build a line of three or four low fences into a ‘jumping lane’ (preferably against the side of an arena) you may feel brave enough to let go of the reins completely.
Jumping with total freedom gives your pony a perfect opportunity to develop his ability. It may be a shock to you the first time the pony really lowers his head and lifts his back in a correct bascule. The feeling is a little like riding a headless pony, but you soon get used to it with practice!
Placing poles are normally used in trot, when it is easier to judge a pony’s stride, rather than in canter. But if you have difficulty in ‘seeing’ a stride, position a pole on the ground on the last stride before take off.
By now, you should have a better idea of the length of your pony’s stride. This is the distance you should place the pole from the base of the jump. So if your pony’s canter stride is about 3m (10ft) long, then put the placing pole 3m (10ft) from the jump. Approach in an active, bouncy canter and ride forward to meet the pole. This should give you a perfect take off and help you to overcome any problems of placing for the jump.