If you’re anything like me then you love to jump. . .and so does your horse. The problem is, when you don’t have a covered arena, the winter season can get you out of shape and out of practice. Not only does your horse need to regain lost strength and stamina but so do you! Not to mention, as the rider you are the “driver”. This is my slow and steady workout to get my mare, Honey, back in show jumping shape.
Week 1: Do It Without the Jumps
At the start of any conditioning series you really want to get a good feel for where you and your horse are as a team. The first few rides of week one I use to feel my mare out with flatwork. It’s important to have your horse listening to your aid, moving off your leg, balanced, and adjustable on the flat before you think about adding obstacles into the mix. If you have all of these flatwork elements, “checked off”, then you’re good to go with week one! My rides always start with about 10-15 minutes of flatwork focusing on transition as well as lengthening and shortening. Transitions, especially when done correctly ensuring your horse is using their hind ends and not falling forward, are excellent practices to building muscle and increasing responsiveness. After you’ve warmed up with some flatwork, add some trot poles into your workout. These are great for getting your horse to really use their muscles to pick up their feet. If you’re more advanced, raise the trot poles for an added challenge for your horse. Just be careful, I have a hot horse and we have to walk through raised trot poles before attempting to trot them because she thinks that she’s supposed to jump them. Always be listening to your horse and supporting them.
Now, the trot poles are for the horse but the canter poles are for you. Canter poles are great because they’ll help you regain your eye for distances once you start jumping but they’re easy on your horse’s legs. The exercise below will help with your eye but more so help with your seat, your position, and how much you’re supporting and helping to balance your horse. If you’re just working on you eye, I suggest single canter poles or canter pole lines, etc.
Week 2: Hot to Trot
Keep the fences low, either small x-rails or low verticals and keep it simple with single fences. You should still start your workout with good flatwork exercises focusing on elements of balance and adjustment that you feel is needed for you and your horse to improve. I know, I know, we all hate trot jumps but they’re actually super helpful for two reasons:
- They’re great for building muscle in your horse’s hind end because they force your horse to rock back and use their haunches to jump. Remember not to let them rush the trot jumps so this can happen!
- They force us, the rider, to really keep our upper body back and let the horse jump up to us instead of us jumping ahead of the horse.
Week 3: Exercises
This is the time to think about all the courses you’ve jumped in the past and dissect them element by element. Keep the fences at a low height (but slightly higher than your trot jumps) and practice the course elements you set up. For me, I make sure to set up long straight lines, rollbacks, long approaches to single fences, skinnies on the short end of the arena, bending or broken lines, and even some fences set up on a serpentine. While you can’t do all of these at once you can do at least half of them and only have to set up four (4) jumps in the ring so don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, the idea here is to keep the fences low and work on the technique and execution of riding each element individually. We’re NOT putting them into a full course just yet but rather practicing so that when we do, both rider and horse are confident and ready to ride.
*Note: I never jump every day of the week. Even when practicing exercises over low fences, I’ll only do three (3) days a week of jump work with one (1) day off and three (3) days of complementary flat work.
Week 4: Set the Course
Now it’s time to put all the exercises we worked on in week three into a full course. My suggestion for you is to have the jumps set so you can ride a more simple, hunter-like, course for your first course and if all goes well, add some equitation-like elements to make it more challenging. It depends on your horse, so be sure to be listening to them, but I usually raise the jumps to a low schooling height for our full course with some trot jumps as my warm-up. For example, my mare and I show at 3’6″-3’9″ so our height for this week in our training will be 3′-3″ if she feels good over the 3′-fences. I always jump a few single fences at this height before asking her to do a full course to get a feel for how she’s jumping. Also make note of your horse’s breathing and give them plenty of breaks to stretch out and walk if they’re sounding like a freight train. Pushing them is good to an extent but I always ere on the side of caution if my mare is telling me she’s had enough.
After week four I play it by ear but if you’re curious, this is what my horse’s weekly workout schedule looks like:
Tuesday: No Stirrups Flatwork
Wednesday: Trot Jumps
Friday: Low/Medium Exercises
Saturday: Full Course/Trail Ride
Sunday: Light Flatwork/Trail Ride