Ask the Ex­perts

Practical Horseman - - CONTENTS - SCOTT LENKART

Open up your horse's stride in com­bi­na­tions; Man­age your horse's wa­ter in­take

QMy horse has a shorter-than-av­er­age stride and some­times has trou­ble mak­ing the dis­tances in big com­bi­na­tions. If I try to help him by go­ing faster in the ap­proach, he gets too flat and knocks rails down. He’s a won­der­ful jumper other­wise and I’d hate to give up on him. What can I do to help him with these big com­bi­na­tions?

AThis is a fairly com­mon prob­lem that is solv­able in most cases. Horses tend to shorten their stride when they’re ner­vous—and they of­ten get ner­vous when you ask them to speed up. So push­ing your horse to go faster into big com­bi­na­tions is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. In­stead, the key is to learn how to help him re­lax into his most com­fort­able pace. Once he’s re­laxed, it’ll be eas­ier to en­cour­age him to stretch his stride out, bit by bit. This takes lots of prac­tice at home.

One ex­er­cise that you might find help­ful is a sim­ple grid con­sist­ing of a

small cross­rail, fol­lowed by a ground pole 9 feet away, then a one-stride inand-out four strides from the cross­rail (about 55 feet). Ini­tially, set the in-and­out at a com­fort­able dis­tance—about 21½ to 22 feet—to make it feel very doable for your horse. (For horses with a slightly big­ger stride, I’d open that dis­tance up some­what, to per­haps 23 feet.) By trot­ting into this ex­er­cise, you’ll re­move any con­cern about find­ing the right dis­tance to the jumps. The ground pole will en­cour­age your horse to land can­ter­ing af­ter the cross­rail, and the set dis­tance will bring you to a nice take­off spot for the “A” el­e­ment of the com­bi­na­tion. This is very im­por­tant, as one bad dis­tance to the “in” of an in-and-out can make any horse worry.

Build the in-and-out as ei­ther an oxer to a ver­ti­cal or a ver­ti­cal to an oxer, which­ever is more com­fort­able for you and your horse. Make both jumps fairly small at first and ramp the oxer (build the front rail lower than the back rail). Add a ground line in front of each jump to make it more invit­ing.

As you trot into the grid, fo­cus your eyes be­yond the “B” el­e­ment of the in-and-out. Stay in a light, for­ward seat, with your hands in front of your body. To avoid caus­ing your horse to knock down a rail on take­off, wait for him to leave the ground and then fol­low with your hand and up­per body. When you land from “A,” rock back into your two-point po­si­tion to make sure your leg is un­der­neath you and your eyes are look­ing ahead, then ride to “B” in the same light, for­ward po­si­tion. If the ini­tial dis­tances feel too long or short, ad­just them ac­cord­ingly to make them as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble for your horse.

When this is rid­ing well, widen the oxer a lit­tle bit. Al­ways widen the oxer

Scott Lenkart and his wife, Court­ney, own and op­er­ate South Haven Farm, in Bartonville, Texas. Fo­cus­ing on hunters, jumpers and eq­ui­tation, they coach a lim­ited num­ber of rid­ers, bring­ing them along from the be­gin­ner level to top plac­ings in the hunter and grand prix are­nas. Scott served as the USHJA Zone 7 team’s chef d’Žquipe at the North Amer­i­can Young Rider Show Jump­ing Team Cham­pi­onships in 2015. He and Court­ney also train and com­pete a se­lect group of horses through the high­est lev­els of the sport— Court­ney in hunters and Scott in jumpers. To date, Scott has won more than 45 grand prix events. They also buy horses in the U.S. and over­seas to de­velop and sell to suit­able rid­ers.

be­fore rais­ing it—and never do both at the same time. Then grad­u­ally in­crease the heights of the in-and-out fences. Keep the “out” jump smaller than the “in” jump, so it’s less in­tim­i­dat­ing. As your horse’s con­fi­dence grows, grad­u­ally lengthen the dis­tance in the four-stride line to about 60 feet and the dis­tance in the com­bi­na­tion to 24 feet, al­ways keep­ing the jumps very invit­ing, so he never feels threat­ened. So long as he stays re­laxed, he’ll be­gin stretch­ing his stride au­to­mat­i­cally. When that’s go­ing well, lower the jumps again and try the op­po­site con­fig­u­ra­tion (for ex­am­ple, oxer-to-ver­ti­cal if you started with ver­ti­cal-to-oxer).

To trans­fer these new skills to com­pe­ti­tions, be sure to min­i­mize any stress that might make you—and, thus, your horse—ner­vous. Al­low plenty of time to tack up and get to the ring so you’re not rushed. Warm up with lots of flat­work to loosen up, re­lax and stretch your horse, spend­ing more time in which­ever gait he finds most re­lax­ing. Use ground lines to help him ar­rive at good dis­tances. Build his con­fi­dence by work­ing your way up to a slightly wider (but not higher) oxer than you might see in the ring. Then fin­ish with a some­what smaller ver­ti­cal or rampy oxer—which­ever seems to suit your horse best—with a ground line.

On course, ap­proach com­bi­na­tions in a nor­mal can­ter. Stay in your for­ward seat and ride just the way you did at home. Re­mem­ber to be pa­tient on take­off, then fol­low your horse’s mo­tion with your hand and up­per body. If he feels a lit­tle sticky, en­cour­age him with a cluck.

Keep in mind, in­con­sis­tent rid­ing can make your horse ner­vous. If he knocks a rail down—ei­ther at home or at a show—don’t over­re­act. Just con­tinue prac­tic­ing and do­ing your home­work. As he be­gins to trust you and re­lax, he’ll learn to stretch his stride in the com­bi­na­tions as needed.

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