There’s nothing that feels quite as disconcerting as a horse that’s unresponsive to your aids. I can recall several harrowing jump rounds where I felt my arms pulled out of their sockets, my seat unstable, my leg ineffective. It’s not a great feeling, especially when you know what your round was supposed to look like. My six-stride line was a five-and-a-half, my in-and-out was, well, long.
The truth is, I wasn’t applying my aids effectively and had not worked with my horse on responding to said aids enough. Adjustability at the canter is a necessity for any success in the jumping ring, but what if you just can’t seem to get over the hump at home?
International show jumper Kama Godek gave us some of her best advice for creating more adjustability at the canter. With a little practice as well as an understanding of what adjustability entails will help you and your horse have greater success in the show ring this year.
Day 1: Tune Up Your Aids Without Stirrups
“Adjustability starts with your aids. You have to have the horse sharp off your help. If I think forward, he has to move off my leg immediately. That reaction in a line is really important.
Working without stirrups will get you deeper in the tack and encourage you to apply leg correctly. To work on lengthening and shortening, don’t forget to practice at each gait - not just the canter. I work on lengthening in the trot a lot. I will also go on trail rides or in the field and work on collecting going down a hill. Getting a horse on its hind end going downhill is hard - practice this at the walk and trot to really feel how that leg aid works for collection.
To sharpen the leg, riders may use a ‘backup’ enforcement such as praise, a little pat on the withers. For me, the reward is just as, or more, important as any reprimand. Horses seek the positive. Always pat with the inside hand to enforce a proper response to your aid.”
Day 2: Pole on the Ground
“Ideally, you’ll have a cavaletti that can be raised to different levels; the horses tend to respect this more and you get a better shape instead of just a step over a pole. Start with a single pole on the ground and begin to play with the stride approaching it.
Alter your approaches - start with the pole on a straight line, then approach it off a longer turn and a shorter turn. In each approach, practice counting from six or seven strides away. This will help your eye become more practiced but also will allow your eye and your body to sync up, with your leg applying more impulsion or a half-halt depending on what your eye is seeing.”
Day 3: Narrow Jump
“I use a lot of skinny or narrow jumps because they are very unforgiving. We’ll jump over a single barrel or a single box because you have to keep the horse straight and there is no margin for error.
A lot of people will go straight to bending lines or zig-zags to achieve adjustability, but I like to work narrow jumps first. You have to keep your leg on properly to create a ‘chute’ to direct the horse through. With no margin for error, your aids must be used in the right way and the horse must be responsive enough to them to be considered adjustable.
Start on the quarter line of your arena (your varied approaches to your single pole can help you prepare for this!) and focus on having the horse straight through the turn. You cannot pull a horse over a jump, they must be coming from behind. If you kick too much, you’re likely to have a drive-by. You have to have the horse actually lengthening and shortening in order to get to the narrow on a good line.”
Day 4: Two Poles or Cavaletti
“This is a really common way to work on adjustability because you can vary the number of strides in between the poles. I would put these poles on the quarter line again to make the exercise more challenging in terms of straightness.
Set the poles six or seven strides apart and work on properly lengthening to take a stride a way or collecting to add one. What I see a lot in this exercise are riders who pull too much for the collected distance or who just chuck the reins and kick for lengthening. Remember: you’ve been practicing the right way to lengthen and shorten (and steer) up until today, so this is an opportunity to put those pieces together. The most important key to adjustability is the horse’s responsiveness to properly applied aids.”
Day 5: Bending Lines with Narrow Jumps
“Now let’s put it all together and bring back the narrow jumps. The shorter the distance, the harder it will be to adjust your stride. If the line is a bounce, you have zero margin for error. But make this attainable for you - set the boxes seven strides apart to begin with if you prefer.
You can also work on a bending line with poles or cavaletti first to get yourself comfortable. Work on adjusting the stride for the related distance - you can bow out wider to add a stride or carve a shorter inside line to take one away. But the most important thing to remember is the ‘chute’ concept of straightness as well as the horse’s response to your aid.
The moment you feel yourself get out of control or relying too much on your hand, go back a step and ensure that you’re solid before continuing on.”
Photo by Shannon Brinkman