Your First Course

After working on a line of fences and building up confidence by doing plenty of gridwork, it’s time to move on to a basic jumping course. A course gives you the chance to put your gridwork exercises into practice and to learn how to ride and turn between jumps.

The right approach

The main difference between gridwork and riding a course is that you now need to change directions (change rein) as well as keep your rhythm and balance. This should not present any problems: the aids are the same as for turning left or right on the flat.

So, before you try your first course, take time to think about all you have learned so far. Your approach to a fence is critical. There is no excuse for ‘cutting corners’: aim for straight lines before and after the fence. Your gridwork helps With this but it’s easy to get excited and forget everything you’ve been practising when the crunch comes!

Forward planning

Start by warming up on the flat, then practise over one fence or combination before putting them together as a course. This gives you time to make sure that the pony is moving well – obedient to your aids – and to get yourself settled and ‘in the mood’ for jumping.

When the course is built, the fences will be much the same as you have used in your gridwork and no more than about 60cm (2ft) high and 90cm (3ft) wide. Take a good look at the jumps and check which are uprights and which are spreads. In a trotting exercise, the instructor may make things easier by putting a placing pole 2.5-3m (8-9ft) in front of upright jumps so the pony arrives correctly. (Placing poles are not used when jumping out of canter.) Otherwise, don’t worry too much about the distances between each fence. Instead, concentrate on the course itself the changes of rein and position of the jumps. You can then think about how to ride them.

Spread fences, with height and width, may look daunting but are usually quite straightforward. They may be ‘ascending oxers’ – double or triple bars which are lower at the front‘ than the back; ‘oxers’ (true parallels); or, perhaps, descending oxers which help the horse to land well clear of the fence.

An ascending spread fence is probably the most inviting for a horse, especially if arranged as ascending cross-poles. These not only make the horse go straight but also encourage him to pick his feet up. Remember to keep the rhythm and balance, to ride the horse straight and to look beyond the fence.

If you try to rush things, the horse will either get too close and not be able to gain enough height, or he may take off too early and make a huge jump which is unnecessary -and uncomfortable for you! Just stay with the horse and let him reach forward and down with his head and neck.

Be ready to take up the reins again on landing and to help the horse keep his balance so he can make a good approach to the next fence.

Upright fences need a careful approach. The horse has to stand off so that he can drive forward and up off his hocks. For fences no more than about 60cm (2ft) high, keep your legs close to the horse to encourage forward movement and hold him straight. He can then take the jumps in his stride. Typical uprights are made of poles with ‘fillers’ such as straw bales or greenery; gates; walls and planks. A single pole can also be filled in with diagonal poles to make it more solid.

Keeping control

All too often riders are so relieved to have jumped a fence that they collapse in a heap on the other side, allowing the horse to stop completely or wobble off track. Now that you are on a proper course, you must think about the next fence and not look back to see whether you have cleared the last one.

Do not be tempted to sit like too much of a passenger the pony may simply refuse or run out. This is particularly important when you have a double combination fence. You must gather your reins up quickly on landing from the first part, then sit up and kick on. If you are not riding forward, many horses run out of steam and, if you are not riding straight, the pony will almost certainly run out at the second part. A steady rhythm is important too: if a horse rushes his fences, he will flatten over the jump and may knock it down.

Finally – and very important – remember to give your pony a big thank you when he’s jumped well.

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