Introducing the Up Bank
Start by following the lead horse in a medium walk, alternating your leg aids in rhythm with your horse’s steps to remind him to march forward with purpose. Follow about two horse lengths behind the lead horse on a straight path that will arrive exactly perpendicular to the base of the bank. Especially at the lower levels, it is very important to present your horse squarely to both up and down banks. If he’s crooked, there’s a danger of him hanging or leaving a leg over the bank and tipping off balance.
To help ensure this straightness, maintain steady contact on both reins. Check that there is a straight line from your elbow to your hands to your horse’s bit with no loop creeping into either rein. At the same time, keep the feeling in your hands forwardthinking, never pulling backward and causing him to shorten the length of his neck.
Meanwhile, focus your eyes on the helmet of the rider on
the lead horse. After she steps up the bank, keep your eyes on her while also watching the top edge of the bank in your peripheral vision. Continue applying your alternating leg aids until your horse’s chest is as close as possible to the bank (about 4 feet away).
Then close both legs on his sides to encourage him to step up it. Be careful not to do this too soon. If you close your legs when his nose nears the bank, his front legs will still be too far away to step easily up it. Asking him to jump too soon will risk tipping him onto his forehand. Don’t worry, he won’t let himself get too close to the bank to step up safely. His natural instinct will tell him when to snap up his legs.
Avoid the temptation to lean forward. If you get ahead of the motion, your horse will be less inclined to jump. If you’re like me and have a habit of darting your shoulders forward, imagine that you’re riding through water that slows down the movement of your head and shoulders.
Since this bank is small, most horses will simply step up, rather than jump. This smooth, slow motion will give you time to think.
As your horse steps up, think of your legs relying on two different forces: 60 percent gravity and 40 percent grip. Use gravity by dropping weight into your heels and keeping them aligned underneath your hips and helmet. This helps you maintain your balance. Produce the grip factor by squeezing your calves against your horse’s sides so he can’t slip between your legs like a bar of soap. This will ensure that your body stays with his center of gravity.
At the same time, imagine holding a tray of food in both hands and lifting it up to someone on top of the bank. This way your hands will follow your horse’s mouth. If you feel a little loose in the tack or worry that your horse might take a bigger hop than expected, grab mane. The last thing you want to do is punish
Good to the Core, nicknamed Simcoe, is a 5-year-old, off-thetrack Thoroughbred who is very green and has only schooled banks once in the past. So I ask Anne-Marie Duarte to give us a lead on Kelly Damp’s more experienced one-star eventer, Zephyr. Using...
With green horses, it’s always good to be prepared for the unexpected. Simcoe gives a little celebratory buck on top of the bank, so I’m glad I kept my legs snug on his sides with the weight in my heels and my center of gravity close to the saddle....
This time, the youngster works up the nerve to make a brave jump up the bank. I follow his mouth with both hands to be sure I don’t interfere with his effort in any way. 3
Even with this good role model, Simcoe balks at the bank and tries to run out to the left. So Anne-Marie circles around to give us another lead. 2
After jumping the up bank a few times from the walk without a lead, I approach it in sitting trot. He still overjumps it a bit, but his confidence is clearly growing. 5
Notice how much he’s using his head and neck here for balance. He’s already learning that he can trust me to give him as much rein freedom as he needs. 6