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?


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

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.


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

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 3.21.44 PM

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.


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