Jump Single Fences Fear-Free

Use this great exercise from the book Build Confidence Over Fences for taking the fear out of jumping single fences. It'll also help develop your eye for a distance.

In this lesson, you’ll learn to jump a single fence, perfectly out of stride–just as you’d do on a hunter or jumper course. But rather than simply pointing your horse at a lone fence in the distance, I’m going to make it easy for you, to further build on your confidence.

You’ll start by jumping from big canter circles that alternate over tiny obstacles. Doing so will allow you to relax and notice how easily your horse does the exercise. As the diagram below shows, it’s really simple. You start with a circle that goes over a pole on the ground; then you add a circle over a flowerbox beside the pole, then a circle over a small crossrail or vertical (your choice). It’s not really a progression; you circle alternately among the three low obstacles.

Circles of Confidence | Illustration by Lauryl Eddlemon

The almost mesmerizing repetition and the simplicity of the obstacles are what make this exercise work. In the ring, many people are too nervous to think, so they have no technique. They see the jump, know they’re supposed to do it, then somehow they’re on the other side and all they know is how relieved they are.

But going over these tiny obstacles again and again lets you relax and become aware of what’s happening beneath you: your horse’s rhythm, the track he’s following, his straightness–the tools that produce a good jump.

What You’ll Need:

  • A work area with good footing and room for a comfortably large canter circle (about 60-foot in diameter at the minimum).
  • A ground pole.
  • Two 6-foot flowerboxes.
  • Two standards and three (for a vertical) or four (for a crossrail) rails; a longe line and longe whip.

Circles of Confidence
Place a pole on the ground across the track. In line with the pole, as the diagram at right shows, put a couple of 6-foot flowerboxes end to end (or a railroad tie or log). Just beyond the flowerboxes, set a very low jump with ground lines on both sides.

Begin by longeing your horse over the two lowest obstacles (but only if you both are proficient in the art of longeing; if not, skip to the riding part of this exercise). Why? So you can watch him doing the exercise on his own–and see how easily he does it. Tack him up in a saddle and bridle, but run up the stirrups so they won’t bang on his sides, and loop your reins under the stirrups to keep them from flopping.

Get him going on the longe in a nice rhythmic working canter, on whichever lead is easier for him, and guide him so he goes over the center of the pole. Watch and you’ll see that all he needs to meet the pole comfortably is to be on track to its center in a rhythmic stride, with freedom to use his head and neck.

When he’s meeting the pole comfortably every time, take a few steps toward the flowerbox so you can longe him over its center. The tiny additional height may let you see more easily whether he’s meeting the flowerbox at a perfect takeoff spot, or 6 inches long, or 6 inches short.

More importantly, you’ll also see that he adjusts on his own to make it work, without changing his rhythm. Watch how comfortably he meets it. He’ll do the same when you start riding him over these obstacles, as long as you maintain his rhythm and track.

When he’s longeing smoothly over the pole and flowerbox, begin the under-saddle part of the exercise. Mount up, then walk and trot for a few minutes to warm yourself up.

| Photos by Mandy Lorraine

1. Now establish that same rhythmic canter your horse had on the longe, on his “easy” lead, and maintain it around the circle.

2. Be peripherally aware that the pole is there, but don’t try to do anything about it–keep your eyes up and on a focal point ahead. Let him find the distance on his own–you’ve seen that he can.

3. If he goes long or steps all over the pole, you’re probably leaning forward as this rider is here, or otherwise interfering. Instead, sit up, sit still and concentrate on keeping the rhythm, maintaining the lead and letting your horse do the rest while you take note of how you’re meeting the pole.

4. When you’re comfortably cantering over the pole, adjust your circle to canter over the flowerbox. Do that a couple of times, then circle over the pole again. Then alternate between the two. If you can, recruit a friend to help, by calling out, “Pole, flowerbox, flowerbox again, pole….”

Keep your position the same, so that if I blocked out my view of the horse and just watched you, I couldn’t tell whether you were going over the pole or the flowerbox.

5. When you’re comfortable with the flowerbox, move your circle to go over your little jump in that same rhythmic canter. Do that a couple of times; then do the pole–it’ll be easier than ever–and the flowerbox.

Coming back repeatedly to the simplest version of the exercise is key to making it work. Continue repeating and alternating, solidifying that rhythmic feeling and storing it in your memory.

For variety, you can make the circle larger or smaller. When you feel really solid on your horse’s easier lead, repeat the whole process on the harder lead. Keep coming back to the pole until your inner self says you don’t need to any more.

With time and repetition, you’ll begin to develop an “eye” and a sense of whether you’re going to be a little long or a little tight. Then–calmly and deliberately, your fear of jumping single fences gone-you’ll learn to influence your horse’s canter to adjust for the distance. (I’ll give you specifics for how to do so in Lesson 11: Adjustability in the book.)

If your horse should fall in or out of the circle, or speed up or slow down, refer back to Lesson 5: Pole Power, “Cantering Poles On A Circle,” in the book for trouble-shooting tips.

Holly Hugo-Vidal is one of the top hunter-jumper trainers in the U.S. Her approach to training reflects the influence of the legends with whom she’s been associated, which include former husband, Victor Hugo-Vidal, with whom she ran the successful show barn Cedar Lodge Farm, in Stamford, Conn., George Morris and Rodney Jenkins.

Build Confidence Over Fences dispenses practical, step-by-step advice on conquering your fear of jumping. To order, call 1-800-952-5813 or visit www.EquineNetworkStore.com.

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