100-Day Challenge

Day 77: Jumping Grids to Improve Balance

DAY 77. It seems the only video I get is of Solar jumping, but you must admit it’s fun to watch! In reality I only jump Solar once per week; though sometimes I’ll hop over a single fence at the end of a ride a few times. I don’t think “drilling” them to jump is a good approach, especially in an ex-racehorse who doesn’t have the needed muscles and balance to cope with a lot of coursework right away. Most of our work is on the flat or outings.

Grids are a great training tool. The fences will fall down if the horse makes a mistake. You can control and adjust factors like striding, height, and shape of the jumps to produce your horse’s highest quality jump form. And a little goes a long way.

The grid you see in the video is a bounce to a short one-stride–always starting from trot. The first two fences remained the same size throughout the session, and we progressively raised the final oxer (a jump that has width as well as height). This was the first ride in which we’ve done grids in over a month. The sequential nature of the grid helps hold Solar’s attention and the striding is set to encourage him to balance better (and therefore improve his form).

Solar jumping an oxerWe started with the back oxer at 2’6″ and ended at 3’3″ for the final jumps. This was the most height he has ever jumped under saddle. There’s not really a need to go higher at this point until he feels super strong through a variety of combinations over time. But needless to say I think he did great! He kept the back rail up the entire session. At this point in Solar’s training you’d have to bribe me to canter cold at a 3’3″ oxer because his adjustability in canter is minimal right now, but through the grid I can easily experiment with height and explore his scope–the grid’s structure supports Solar in doing it well.

Where to Improve?
You’ll note that Solar’s “weak spot” is still on the approach. He moves flat, and his first instinct is to get down in his shoulders to find balance, rather than sit up and back over his hindquarters like he’ll need to do to jump the best he can. However, even though we didn’t always jump in with the desired form, the way we set up the grid helped him rock on his hindend, allowing him to jump out of the grid with style. In hindsight I probably should have put a guidepole 10 feet in front of the first fence to better encourage him to get balanced. Also, in an ideal world I’d have an arena with more space, so that we could have more of an approach to the first jump out of the corner. And, personally it’s been a while since I’ve jumped seriously, so my eye and position isn’t as supportive as it could be. I really need to sit up, hold my own balance, and keep Solar in front of my leg so he can stay balanced for jumping correctly. More on that in a future post!

It’s important to pay attention to your horse during gridwork and adjust your method accordingly. Solar remained extremely relaxed and focused during this session. You’ll see there is no tension or rushing through the grid, and he lands softly in a controlled canter. He kept a steady rhythm. There’s no signs of tension (tail swishing, teeth grinding, etc.). So while this was physically challenging for him, mentally it was within his comfort zone. I want to produce a jumping horse that believes they can succeed. Not one who is nervous, hesitant, or unsure.

The canter poles you see in the start of the video are set on a 12-foot stride. This is a standard stride used on jump courses, so I wanted to demonstrate that he is capable of meeting it. That said, it would be more productive for his training right now to use a shorter stride–say, 10 foot–to keep him together and balanced back. Also, for every successful attempt through the poles there were about three attempts in which we missed the stride on the way in, either getting there too close or too far away from the first pole. That’s just where we are at right now: a bit out of practice! Once we can hold a balanced canter we’ll be able to tackle anything!

** Thanks Kelsy Smith for being our throw-down videographer. Thank you Barbara Cross and Kristy LeClair; we so appreciate your support!” **

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