It’s probably fair to say that most horses “run out” or refuse narrow fences in the cross country phase because they catch the horses by surprise. The easiest way to fix this is to make narrow fences, or skinnies, a part of their normal schooling routine.
For a horse who frequently has issues with narrow fences (aka “skinnies”), it’s best to go back to basics. I like to use plastic barrels on their side and adapt them depending on the horse’s abilities. To start with, it’s a good idea to put the barrel underneath a pole, with full height wings either side, as well as guide rails in a “V” shape funnelling the horse towards the barrel. If the horse doesn’t have any issues, you can start by removing the pole, and then the wings, followed by the guide rails until you’re just left with the barrel on the floor. This might take a few sessions before your horse can accurately jump the barrel without issues.
For the more advanced horse, you need to incorporate narrow fences as part of combinations, in order to surprise them. Start with a “normal” fence with two or three strides to a skinny – this is a good test of whether the horse can stay on a straight line. Use a combination of skinnies on a curving line, or with an element or two before them (such as a ditch or step) in order to test if you can maintain your line.
It’s a great idea to make sure you can ride skinnies effectively because they are becoming increasingly common in cross country and arena eventing. The principles you learn from teaching your horse to jump skinnies can also be applied to other types of fences, such as corner jumps, triple brushes and combinations, which all require you to keep a straight line on the approach.
Do you have any other techniques for tackling technical XC fences? Let us know!