The Benefits of Choosing Your Track Wisely

The one thing that drives me crazy when I’m teaching is to see my students create this outstanding partnership with their horse during our flat warm up, and then completely forget about it as soon as  I put a jump in front of them.

Since I’ve already written about the importance of flatwork for every aspect of your riding, I want to talk about how to ride a course with a technical lens.

Question: What do you do when you first look to learn your course?

I want you to take a moment to consider how you approach learning a new course. 

Do you;

  • Memorize the order of the jumps?
  • Plan your entry and exit from the ring (opening and closing circles)?
  • Memorize the order of the jumps and then review it while looking into the arena?
  • Do you plan your track?

Today, I want to focus on that last point; do you plan your track?

While all of the other elements are needed, I find the track to be most commonly overlooked. There are two ways to think about your track:

  • Consider the actual footing
  • Determine what you will have to do to ride the course as it’s designed.

The individuals who end up in the winner’s circle aren’t there because of luck; they are there because they met the technical challenges that the course designer presented. Whether you ride to win or you ride for personal improvement, you always need to consider the technical aspects of any given course.

One of those technical challenges is determining what track to ride to which jumps. As a hunter or equitation rider, you want to choose a track that:

  • Helps your horse land the correct lead
  • Sets you up well for your next fence
  • Allows for a consistent rhythm and smooth jump

For jumpers, you need to consider two things: time and accuracy. Choosing the correct track is the difference between making the inside turn or missing your next fence. A good plan means you’ll have a more balanced horse landing from each jump resulting in fewer, or no, knocked rails.

In addition to the track you ride, I also mentioned the track you’re riding on; footing. I made a mistake a few years ago at the NCHJA Annual Horse Show of taking a tight inside turn off of an oxer in our jump off. While Honey was happy to do it, and probably would have chosen that route without me, the footing was shallow and slippery. She lost her grip, and her hind end slid out from under her. Thankfully, she’s a talented horse and got herself out of the slide gracefully. However, that planning mistake cost me the rest of the weekend and resulted in a mystery lameness that was later remedied by my chiropractor (Read the Full Story).

In our most recent video, Honey and I demonstrate how riding the right track can make the difference when navigating inside turns and sometimes riding blind. While the jumps are small, the concepts remain the same. Below, you can see our first course. I designed it to challenge our ability to stay balanced and calm enough to take the shortest distance between each fence.

Look at the course and figure out what your plan would be; How would you ride this course?

Instructional-Video-003-Course

Horseshoe_72dpi_RGB (1)Get the printable pdf copy of this course!

Now, let’s review!

Jump 1

This jump should be fluid, out of hand, and your only concern is to ask your horse to land that right lead. Since it’s part of a line, be sure your horse knows that you’re turning into the center instead of heading straight up the long side.

Jump 2

Oxer-to-vertical-rollback
Just looking for your next jump can change your weight distribution & communicate the turn to your horse.

This is an oxer coming out of a slower turn, so you’ll need to get your horse’s eye on the jump and support with your leg. If you look beyond jump two to jump three, you’ll see that there’s a pretty tight roll back. To give yourself the most amount of room for that inside turn, I recommend jumping the oxer left-to-right, looking in the air for your next fence, and asking for the left lead.

 

Jump 3

Riding an oxer naturally lengthens your horse, and we’ve just forced the tighter roll back turn to jump three. Follow and allow your horse to move up to this next fence, so you get down the line early and have a quiet jump for fence four.

Jump 4

Here you have another tight rollback turn, but this time, you’re jumping a vertical to an oxer, making it a little easier. While you want to get down the line from three to four, you don’t want to take the inside track because you’re going to want to consider jumping this fence a little right to left. Get down the line with a forward jump in, so you can shape and back-off for a quiet jump four. In the air, look for your next fence and guide your horse around the inside rollback turn.

Jump 5

You’re jumping this oxer into a blind turn to jump six, so set your horse up to make the immediate right turn by jumping in left-to-right. This will require you to balance your horse and keep them from bulging towards the barn, all while riding your chosen track.

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Jump 6

This jump is awkward and a little blind. Ideally, you’ll want to jump this left-to-right to create a shape in-between your last two fences. Since this jump is set on the centerline and the barn is to the right, many horses will have a tendency to land right and drift towards home. Plan for this and guide your horse over fence five so they know where they’re going next.

Jump 7

Once you’ve balanced your horse; support with your leg and enjoy that final jump of the course. Allow your horse to relax a bit and take the jump in stride.

The Jump Off

Take a minute to look at the jump-off course and figure out what technical challenges are presented.

Instructional-Video-003-JumpOff-Course

Horseshoe_72dpi_RGB (1) Get the printable pdf of this jump off!

Jump 1

The first two fences pose the greatest challenge. This is both a tight and blind rollback turn, so a quiet jump one is key. Jumping in right-to-left will also give you some extra space to get your horse’s eye on jump two.

Jump 2

Jumping an oxer out of a blind, short turn is never an easy feat. Remember to support with leg and keep from bulging by using a direct outside leg and rein. Allow jump two with a nice release and re-balance as you canter away.

Jump 3

This oxer to oxer line rides nicely as long as you get up and go after jump two. Allow this line to flow but be aware that you’re going to need to “whoa” right after.

Jump 4

This fence is jumped towards home, in a straight line. Any horse is going to want to pick up momentum, and with my fiery jumper, that was one thing I had to account for. If you have a hot horse, intentionally jumping in slow here will save you a lot of knocked rails.

Jumps 5A 5B 5C

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This combination rides as a bounce to one stride. With elements like these at the end of a course, it tests your ability to regulate throughout the entire ride. If you just “gun it,” you risk plowing through the whole combination and knocking every rail along the way. Instead, back your horse off on the approach so you can allow the combination to come naturally with your horse’s stride.


If you’re a visual learner like I am, check out my Training Video 003: Choosing Your Track and Inside Turns, and watch (with commentary) as Honey, and I ride through the two courses discussed above. You’ll be able to see the mistakes I made, and how I corrected [most of] them on our second ride through. 

Remember, we are never done learning, and there’s always something to be improved upon.

What to Wear to Your Riding Lessons

*affiliate links may be included in this post to give you an idea of my recommendations and what brands/types of apparel items are a good start to creating your equestrian wardrobe.

As an instructor, first-time equestrian parents frequently ask me what their children should wear to their riding lessons. While many facilities don’t have a dress code, there is some merit to dressing appropriately for your lessons.

There are four main elements to an appropriate riding outfit. While equestrian apparel has influenced fashion on the runways of Milan, Paris, and New York, the clothing we’re talking about today is also functional for both the rider and trainer.


Breeches

I currently live in North Carolina; a state that remains 90 degrees (F) or above for 70% of the year. I understand why many riders come to the barn in shorts and tank tops. However, I also have scars up and down the inside of my legs from not wearing proper pants for my riding lessons. What you don’t realize, until it’s too late, is that the leather from the saddle can cause rubs and blisters.

Thankfully, there are a lot of options for breeches:

  • Real breeches, either high or low-rise.
  • Riding tights.
  • Jeans

Breeches

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As both a trainer and a rider, I will only ride in breeches unless I’m unexpectedly getting on a horse and only have jeans in my car. The problem with riding tights is that they can be slippery and are generally deemed, “unprofessional.” While jeans are more acceptable than tights, the fabric is coarse and can damage the leather of your saddle over time. 

Benefits of Breeches for the Rider

Breeches are designed for riding in an English saddle, so they provide extra grip for your leg and are sewn without irritating seams to account for the regular pressure, friction, and position while riding. Breeches also come in a variety of styles depending on what discipline you’re in, and there are a variety of colors that you can choose from.

Benefits of Breeches for the Trainer

As a coach, I need to be able to see your position while riding. Breeches are fitted and provide a middle seam in the back so that I can see where your hips and seat-bones are in the saddle.

If you are planning on competing, you will be required to wear breeches. In my experience, competition brings out nerves and anxiety that students don’t realize is there. Getting used to dressing appropriately and wearing breeches in your lessons alleviates a lot of stress in a competition. More than that, they make riding a little bit easier, and it helps your trainer give more accurate instruction.

Recommended Breeches:

Ariat Women's Prix Breeches
Ariat Women’s Prix Low Rise

Shop Ovation Kids Hunter Seat Breeches
Ovation Kids Hunter Star Breech

Boots

Sometimes my beginner students will come for lessons in rubber boots or sneakers. Though the only requirement for shoes is that they have a smooth sole with a slight heel, I’ve found that riders struggle to find the correct position when wearing non-equestrian footwear.

What many new riders don’t understand is that correct position isn’t meant to make you look pretty (though it does help), rather, it’s intended to keep you safe and allow both you and the horse to have a quality ride. The foundation of this correct position is in your heels.

Exercise Break! #squatchallenge

Take a minute and do a proper squat.

Your knees should be over your feet but not passing your toes, with your heels supporting the bulk of your weight allowing you to slightly lift and wiggle your toes. Your hips should be pressing back, engaging your quads while your core engages in supporting your lower back and opening your chest. If you’re at the bottom of your proper squat, with your weight in your heels and someone tries to push or pull you in one direction, you’re able to keep your balance and adjust your weight to keep from falling.

When your boots aren’t designed for riding, it inhibits your heel from stretching down far enough. This keeps you from creating your base and may even cause your foot to slide out of the stirrup.

My recommendation is to wear paddock boots to your lessons. If you are under the age of 13 and are jumping fences that are 2’3” or lower, you can wear paddock boots with your breeches. However, if you are 13+ years old OR are jumping fences higher than 2’3”, then you also need to wear half-chaps along with your paddock boots.

I recommend wearing half-chaps no matter what age or riding level because they provide added protection to your legs against any rubbing that may be caused by the stirrup leathers.

Recommended Boots:

Shop for the Ariat Scout Paddock Boot
Ariat Women’s Scout Zip Paddock – Black
Ariat Girls Scout Zip Paddock – Black

Shirt

Depending on your barn, you may already have a dress code requirement for lessons. Regarding rider benefits, the shirt you wear won’t matter to you, but it will affect your trainer’s ability to see your position and give you accurate feedback.

Always choose a fitted shirt, regardless of style. When you wear baggy shirts while you ride, the wind will pick it up and cause it to blow out behind you. This makes it nearly impossible for your trainer to see how you carry your shoulders and the curve of your spine.

As both a rider and trainer, my preference for shirts during lessons is either a polo shirt or a sun shirt. When I’m schooling on my own, a fitted t-shirt is ok, but I usually ride with a collared shirt regardless.

Ariat Women’s Team Sunstopper 1/4 Pullover
Ariat Women’s Women’s Sun Stopper 1/4 Zip Pullover (Solid)

When I was competing as a Junior (under 18 years old), my trainer required us to wear a collared shirt whenever ‘lessoning’ or schooling out of respect for her and the barn we represented.

My final note on shirt choice is to make sure you tuck it in and wear a belt. Tucking your shirt in ensures that it won’t be picked up by the wind and will create a finished, polished look.

Helmet

Helmets for Horseback Riding - Protect Your Noggin!

This is the most important item for a rider, and I’m surprised at how many parents will have their children wear school-owned helmets for years.

They are expensive. However, a helmet that doesn’t fit properly won’t necessarily provide the protection needed in the event of a fall.

Have someone at a tack shop help you pick out an appropriate helmet. When you try it on, make sure it fits snug with your hair in a low ponytail. You shouldn’t be able to move the helmet by shaking your head or looking in different directions.

When you put your helmet on for your lesson, make sure your hair is pulled back and out of your face. I was required to wear a hairnet for every lesson, and I still wear one every time I ride. While your hair doesn’t have to be up, under your helmet for lessons, the hairnet will keep any wisps of hair out of your face and protect your hair from breakage.


Part of your equestrian attire is about looking professional and ready to learn. However, a greater part of dressing for your lessons is about protecting your body and giving you the best chance to succeed.

The Best Jumping Advice You’re Not Taking

When I teach my students how to jump, we start with the basics:

  • Position
  • Flatwork
  • Rhythm

The jump should be a continuation of your horse’s canter. For that to happen, you need to do your flatwork and use your position to help balance your horse.

The greatest mistakes I see riders making are:

  1. Forgetting about flatwork around the turns, resulting in an unbalanced, confused horse with not enough track to find the jump.
  2. Having a weak position and either hitting their horse’s back with their bum or catching their horse in the mouth with their hands.

In a George Morris clinic, he explained the importance of having a strong 2-point position. He asked his rider to show the 2-point at the walk, trot, and canter, both with and without stirrups. When she began to fatigue, he told her to grab mane to help hold herself up and out of the tack.

Why is our position important over a jump? Continue reading “The Best Jumping Advice You’re Not Taking”

Forget the Jump, Think Ahead

My students love to jump.

When I first started working with them, they were still practicing your basic hunter course. Their focus was more on getting over the fence instead of riding the course. They have come a long way in the year and a half that I’ve been teaching them, and are now working on things like bending lines, roll backs, long approach single oxers, and serpentine lines. No matter what I throw at them, they take it on like champs. Despite the more challenging courses, I noticed my students were still riding each jump as a single instead of thinking ahead to land their leads and make the inside turns. Continue reading “Forget the Jump, Think Ahead”

Ethel Walker School Equestrians

I had a great time watching the Ethel Walker Equestrian Team riders compete at WEF for the 2017 show season! These are just a few shots I got while schooling and in the show ring.

Continue reading “Ethel Walker School Equestrians”

My Horse, My Shrink

Just A Girl and Her Horse

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I step out of my red Jeep liberty and the gravel crunches beneath my boot. As the breeze picks up, the scents of fresh hay and shavings are carried through the air. My horse begins to lift her head as I move towards her, crooning her name; and everything melts away. I am entirely in the present. As the day dissolves, along with every feeling I had been carrying from it, a smile begins to break across my face. When I finally reach the gate, Honey gives me a baritone nicker and searches my pockets until she finds the one with the peppermint treats. Continue reading “My Horse, My Shrink”

Teaching a horse to jump: From cross-rails to stone walls & more

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One of my students recently decided that it was time for her to invest in a horse of her own. She did her research and brought home a twelve-year-old OTTB that she hoped could be a pleasure horse for herself, and an equitation horse for her daughter. Standing between 16’2 and 17 hands, Baker is a handsome boy with the potential to become exactly what they’re looking for. Continue reading “Teaching a horse to jump: From cross-rails to stone walls & more”

Why we horse show

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When I was 12, I decided that I wanted to show. More specifically, I wanted to travel up and down the east coast, showing against the best there was. It was at this point that I learned what it took to be a show rider on a budget, and I spent every sequential weekend working at the barn to help offset the costs I incurred following my dream.

I did reach my goal, and competed in Florida, Atlanta, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. However, when I turned 17, I decided my priority should be my approaching college application process, and the dream was put on hold. Continue reading “Why we horse show”

Reflecting On A Month Without Stirrups

stirrupsNovember has been, most profoundly associated with men refusing to shave their faces for the whole month of November resulting in what may be, the largest number of somewhat irritated and unhappy women we have all year. Since I am not the sort to “join in” by refusing to shave my legs, I decided to jump into the equestrian trend of, “No Stirrups November”. While November is over, I think this post will give us something to both reflect on, and work towards.

My golden rule for a full month without stirrups:

Stirrups come completely off the saddle and stay in my apartment.

This may seem aggressive, however, if temptation is removed, the work begins. Continue reading “Reflecting On A Month Without Stirrups”

Why Won’t My Pony Listen – A Case Study

Ponies are very particular little creatures. When I was younger, and a bit smaller, I begged my mom for a pony. I mean, what little girl doesn’t?

Of course, she said, “no”, and when I asked, “why not”, she responded by telling me, “I don’t trust ponies”. This conversation led to me being the only little girl with pigtail braids and bows in short stirrup riding a 15 hand horse.

What I eventually came to understand was that, with a well-trained horse, it’s likely that even if everything doesn’t go according to plan, it won’t really phase or bother the horse too much. However, when it comes to ponies, especially if they’re younger ponies, they’re absolutely going to hold a grudge if something seems askew. Thus, the reason for this post! Continue reading “Why Won’t My Pony Listen – A Case Study”