Mov­ing up a level

It can be all too easy to let your progress stag­nate over the win­ter months, so Polly Bryan asks three top train­ers to share their strat­egy for mov­ing up a level as the nights draw in, what­ever your dis­ci­pline

Horse & Hound - - Contents - H&H

We ask top train­ers their best strat­egy for im­prov­ing as the nights draw in


The height and width of fences in­creases — the max­i­mum cross-coun­try height is 1m, while up to two showjump­ing fences can be 1.05m. The op­ti­mum speed across coun­try in­creases from 450 to 475 mpm. Dres­sage tests fea­ture smaller cir­cles and more tran­si­tions.


If you’ve been out and suc­cess­fully com­pleted at least three or four BE90 com­pe­ti­tions, and you and your horse are con­sis­tently com­ing home con­fi­dent and with­out cross-coun­try faults, you are ready to think about mov­ing up a level.


As­sess which el­e­ment needs the most work: dres­sage, cross-coun­try or showjump­ing, and ob­tain tu­ition in that area. Use the first month to com­pete at a cou­ple of dres­sage or showjump­ing com­pe­ti­tions, stay­ing in your com­fort zone, as a marker of where you are.

At home, in­tro­duce novice-level dres­sage move­ments into your school­ing, such as leg-yield­ing, either from the three-quar­ter line or on a cir­cle. Even though many of th­ese move­ments don’t fea­ture in BE100 tests, it is handy to be work­ing at a level above the one at which you are com­pet­ing. Think about

‘Be pedan­tic about ac­cu­racy’

sup­ple­ness, and trav­el­ling for­wards and prac­tise gear changes within the pace.

Use this time to be­come fa­mil­iar with the ex­act po­si­tion of the move­ments, for ex­am­ple, where to ride a 20m cir­cle in the mid­dle of the arena. Know how many me­tres from the end of the arena the quar­ter mark­ers are. Be aware, and pedan­tic, about the place­ment of move­ments as this will help im­prove ac­cu­racy, and that means marks.

Cross-coun­try and showjump­ing cour­ses will be­come more tech­ni­cal at BE100, so start prac­tis­ing re­lated dis­tances and curv­ing lines. Rather than jump­ing your horse ev­ery day, cre­ate a short course of poles on the floor, and prac­tise rid­ing dis­tances, first adding a stride be­tween poles, then tak­ing one away.


Riders of­ten for­get that fences will be slightly wider at BE100, as well as higher. Cre­ate a com­bi­na­tion fin­ish­ing with an oxer, which you can grad­u­ally widen. The com­bi­na­tion will help to main­tain the power and en­ergy in the can­ter — es­sen­tial when the fences get big­ger.

Prac­tise rid­ing off­set fences, ap­proach­ing them on an an­gle, and then link a cou­ple to­gether. Try to cre­ate a skinny fence to prac­tise — bro­ken poles are use­ful for mak­ing th­ese, and add guide poles at first. You don’t need the best equip­ment to prac­tise dif­fer­ent types of fences at home — get cre­ative.

Try not to stress about get­ting the per­fect stride ev­ery time, too, and prac­tise var­i­ous dis­tances in your re­lated lines. There will al­ways come a time across coun­try where you don’t meet a fence on a per­fect stride, and riders at all lev­els need to be able to ac­com­mo­date a dif­fi­cult dis­tance.

Speed be­comes sec­ondary when you are con­fi­dent, but do make sure you are up­ping the fit­ness work at this stage — in­cor­po­rat­ing more can­ter work and get­ting your horse’s heart rate up for longer.

WEEKS 9-12

The fi­nal four weeks are all about con­sol­i­dat­ing your work and build­ing con­fi­dence. If ever it be­gins to go wrong, ask your­self three ques­tions: What do I want?

How do I go about it? Am I do­ing that? Keep ev­ery­thing sim­ple — go back to ba­sics.

Now is the time to get out cross-coun­try school­ing, ideally, but if the weather is bad try to make use of venues with all-weather cross-coun­try ar­eas, or those that run arena cross-coun­try.

The three things peo­ple of­ten for­get to prac­tise are ditches, steps and wa­ter — re­peat, re­peat, re­peat un­til both you and your horse are happy and con­fi­dent. Cre­ate “wa­ter trays” at home us­ing pieces of plas­tic or tar­pau­lin weighed down. Re­as­sure the horse, don’t bully — horses are crea­tures of habit, so make it a non-is­sue for them.

Cre­ate a cor­ner fence us­ing three up­right stands and try jump­ing it in both di­rec­tions.

En­sure you en­ter your event in good time — by the bal­lot date, not the clos­ing date. Check your trans­port be­fore set­ting off and make sure your horse’s vac­ci­na­tions and registrations are up to date.


Ele­men­tary in­volves in­creased col­lec­tion, en­gage­ment and lat­eral work, with move­ments in­clud­ing leg-yield­ing, sim­ple changes, rein-back and four-loop ser­pen­tines.


Yes, if you are achiev­ing novice scores in the high 60s and your horse is cop­ing well with his en­vi­ron­ment. It helps if you are al­ready in­cor­po­rat­ing lat­eral work into your school­ing at home.


There is a lot you can do in walk to help your horse be­come more up­hill. Spend 15 min­utes in walk at the start of a ses­sion, prac­tis­ing your move-off from halt, leg-yield­ing, shoul­der-in and turns on the fore­hand.

Prac­tise leg-yield­ing from the cen­tre line. Let the horse know the di­rec­tion you are head­ing first by walk­ing a few strides to­wards the track, then in­tro­duce the yield. You don’t need very much bend in the body; you are teach­ing the horse to move away from the leg pres­sure, rather than to just ac­cel­er­ate.

Don’t ob­sess over stretch­ing — if the horse spends too long in an elon­gated frame, he can’t de­velop an up­hill way of go­ing.

Sim­ple changes re­quire a horse to sit and col­lect, so ad­dress the horse’s can­ter now.

Ride plenty of tran­si­tions both be­tween and within the paces to prac­tise ask­ing for shorter, neater, crisper strides, rather than slow­ing the rhythm — col­lec­tion should pro­vide sharper re­sponses.


The rein-back is in­tro­duced at ele­men­tary for a rea­son, as it in­di­cates whether the horse is sup­ple in his back.

Start work­ing on it in the sta­ble, us­ing a voice com­mand and your hand to push the horse back­wards gen­tly. Progress to do­ing it while on board, with some­body on the ground to use their hand or a stick on the horse’s chest or shoul­der. Ap­ply a re­stric­tion with the rein, but not a pull, oth­er­wise you risk the horse rush­ing back­wards and go­ing crooked. There is not a spe­cific num­ber of rein-back steps at ele­men­tary — con­cen­trate on the qual­ity and obe­di­ence of the steps.

Don’t worry if your horse doesn’t have a big medium trot at this stage — be clever enough to show a tran­si­tion and a clear change. The judge wants to see the horse grow­ing in front of them, not run­ning.

Prac­tise medium trot on a large cir­cle where there is no be­gin­ning or end. On the long di­ag­o­nal or long side, so many peo­ple tend to go like hell at the start, then lose en­ergy or bal­ance, and floun­der. Stick to short bursts: ride five or six strides for­ward, then bring the horse back, build­ing up slowly. Progress to short straight lines of medium trot, con­cen­trat­ing on bal­ance and rhythm.

WEEKS 9-12

The cen­tre line is of­ten over­looked but it’s dur­ing your last halt that the judges are start­ing to sum­marise their col­lec­tive marks. The most com­mon mis­take is com­ing in too fast and peo­ple slam­ming on the brakes, mak­ing the horse swing his quar­ters to the side. Main­tain the bal­ance, rhythm and en­gage­ment into the halt — it doesn’t mat­ter if you in­cor­po­rate a stride of walk at this level to keep it soft.

En­sure your horse is used to halt­ing squarely out of habit — they should be used to stand­ing square all the time, not just in a test. Use mir­rors, or a per­son on the ground at home to check and im­prove this.

Now is a good time to in­cor­po­rate pole­work, to fur­ther de­velop the horse’s elas­tic­ity and el­e­va­tion. Rid­ing over poles en­cour­ages them to lower the neck and use their back, as well as keep­ing the work in­ter­est­ing.

Set poles out on a cir­cle, rid­ing on the inside line to en­cour­age the horse to pick his legs up and shorten his stride, then use the out­side line to help him stretch and reach for the longer dis­tances (see di­a­gram, be­low left).


Whereas the max­i­mum height at dis­cov­ery is 1m (up to 1.10m in sec­ond rounds), new­com­ers classes will fea­ture fences of 1.10m, and 1.25m in sec­ond rounds. You should also be pre­pared for more com­bi­na­tions and re­lated dis­tances.


You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to be jump­ing clear ev­ery time at dis­cov­ery, but you should be feel­ing com­fort­able at the level, and jump­ing con­sis­tently be­fore think­ing about mov­ing up.


When the jumps get big­ger, you need a bet­ter qual­ity can­ter. So many peo­ple get drawn into just can­ter­ing around in cir­cles look­ing pretty, but rid­ing a showjump­ing course is all about al­ter­ing the can­ter and stride length. The horse must go for­ward from your leg straight away so, when school­ing on the flat, prac­tise push­ing on and bring­ing them back.

Use poles or flat planks on the ground to work on ad­just­ing the can­ter, by aim­ing for dif­fer­ent num­bers of strides in the dis­tance.

If you have a nat­u­rally short-strid­ing horse, set up a line of can­ter poles at a dis­tance that en­cour­ages them to stretch and lengthen. If your horse has a large stride, use shorter dis­tances to help him learn to shorten and bounce down the line of poles.


Progress to jump­ing com­bi­na­tions with a can­ter pole in front of the first fence, to en­sure you meet it on the cor­rect stride, there­fore build­ing con­fi­dence. This also en­ables you to keep rid­ing for­ward — es­sen­tial when the fences get big­ger.

Cre­ate a re­lated dis­tance, with a can­ter pole in front of each fence. The fi­nal stride be­fore a fence is the one that counts, and this pole helps the horse re­ally sit up and bounce off the floor.

In­tro­duce spook­ier fences, be­gin­ning with just a small filler, and us­ing can­ter poles to help you see a stride and main­tain con­fi­dence.

Don’t build a 1.10m course at home right away — start in­creas­ing the height slowly with a sin­gle fence, prefer­ably with a can­ter pole to help you meet it on the right stride.

WEEKS 9-12

Many riders get ner­vous on long runs be­tween fences — that is where so many peo­ple lose im­pul­sion in the can­ter and can’t re­gain it be­fore the fence. You must be able to al­ter­nate pace and shorter, jump­ing strides, so prac­tise up­ping the pace around a cor­ner, and then short­en­ing the horse up in front of a fence.

Bounce grids can be use­ful, though prac­tise th­ese with some­body help­ing you from the ground. Bounces help make horses more re­ac­tive and quicker off the floor — im­por­tant for more tech­ni­cal cour­ses.

At the com­pe­ti­tion, en­sure you jump in a dis­cov­ery class be­fore­hand, and only jump in the new­com­ers if it has gone well and you are feel­ing con­fi­dent. Make sure you keep to your own in­di­vid­ual warm-up rou­tine, too. Don’t get car­ried away warm­ing up with lots of peo­ple jump­ing much big­ger fences — jump as many small fences as you need to.

En­sure your horse is of ap­pro­pri­ate fit­ness be­fore and dur­ing th­ese train­ing pro­grammes

Ele­men­tary level re­quires horses to show higher lev­els of en­gage­ment and el­e­va­tion

Prac­tise dif­fer­ent types of fences and dis­tances at home, so you will be ready for BE100 cour­ses EvEnt­ing

Ge­off Luck­ett, pic­tured here on Brick­field Boy, em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of build­ing and main­tain­ing con­fi­dence when mov­ing through the lev­els

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