Getting over the course with no faults and creating a seamless and effortless looking ride is the ultimate goal of the show jumper. However, getting to this level of skill, balance and athletic ability for both horse and rider takes a lot of work, often years, especially when you are looking at national or international levels of competition.
While most riders and horses aren’t going to compete at these high levels, it is still essential to ensure that you have the best possible performance. All horses and riders can constantly work on balance, flexibility, suppleness, stride and gait as well as actual physical ability and jumping ability. Often horses that are trained just in the show jumping style without adding horse gymnastics reach a maximum level of ability and plateau. While all horses and riders will have an upper level of competitive ability it is still possible to continue to improve on technique and style, ensuring that you both keep getting better.
One key element to consider in show jumping training through the use of horse gymnastics is the automatic ability of the horse and rider to adjust to different gaits and moves. Although the course is set and you certainly can practice in advance there are always those little things that come up during the competition that need to be adjusted for right then and there. If the horse doesn’t have confidence in his or her rider and own ability and the rider doesn’t know how to communicate changes with the horse the result in s a less than perfect ride or even a full refusal. In worst case scenarios a fall or accident can also occur due to confusion between horse and rider.
Learning stride length and balance and how to control the horse up to and through the jump is really the most key element of jumping. Teaching this by simply jumping repeatedly will improve your horse’s skills, but not lead to a better ability to control and correctly position the horse to take the jump. While the horse may be the muscle behind the team the rider needs to be the brain, thinking ahead, adjusting stride and gait and even correcting for lead and balance dependent on what happened on the last jump or when rounding the end of the arena. Simple little teaching techniques such as half-halts and counter canters can make all the difference in allowing the rider to get the horse right where he or she needs to be to take that jump perfectly.
Of course this level of teamwork only comes from learning the basics and working up. Training using the trot poles and Cavalettis to get a feel for stride length and adjustments is essential. If you don’t use horse gymnastics training in this basic work you are really limiting how far you and your horse can go, regardless of his or her athletic ability. It is amazing how many riders and trainers don’t focus in on horse gymnastics training and end up staying at local competitive levels while the international trainers incorporate it as a basic warm-up even with their highest level competitive riders and horses.