Whether you event or do show jumping, narrow-faced jumps are the wave of the future in course design. The ability to train your horse, and yourself, to negotiate these fences has become a necessity for modern riders at many levels.
So, when do you introduce the question of skinnies’ The answer: As soon as possible. But the horse must be responsive to your leg aids and be able to ”steer from the leg and the seat” before you begin introducing the concept. You should be able to feel when your horse isn’t straight in his body and to correct that crookedness from your leg.
Start small. A small flower box, of the type used as ground lines for larger fences (about 4 feet wide and about 8 inches high) is ideal. Start by walking over the box in both directions. Keep your eyes up and focused on riding your line, not on the box. (This is true of every type of skinny fence.) If the horse bulges his shoulders as he attempts to understand how to fit over the box, correct the straightness from your legs and continue to encourage the horse forward. Once he’s walking confidently back and forth, try it at the trot and then the canter.
A great next step — if you have the equipment — is to place a pair of panels side by side, or slightly overlapping, so as to make a fence with a six- to eight- foot face. Use jump standards on either side to help horse and rider focus.
Trot and canter back and forth over the panel, moving the two sides together a little bit at a time, until you’ve decreased the jump face to 4 or 5 feet in width. Once you’re managing it with ease, take the standards away, one at a time.
We prefer not schooling skinnies using rails on the ground or on the fence to funnel the horse in — because the horse, the rider or both begin to rely on the rails. They never learn how to adjust their focus and use their eyes, and skinnies become an issue that comes back to haunt them.
If your horse runs out or skips over one corner of the skinny, the best way to re-establish focus is to ride the horse up to a halt in front of the jump. This technique requires a clear understanding from the rider about the concept of the ”forward halt.” Don’t stop by pulling the horse backward into a halt and distracting his focus from the jump. Instead, ride the horse forwardly up to the base of the fence, keeping his and your focus strongly forward. Resist just enough with your ”whoa” aids to get the horse to stop straight and forward directly in front of, and at the base of, the skinny.
Make sure your horse has acknowledged the jump and has focused forward with all of his attention. It may take halting appropriately in front of the jump several times to get the right focus on the fence. But once you feel that, then the next time keep your leg on all the way to the base, keeping your leg strong to help the horse into the air.