In the words of Tim Stockdale, there are three ways to get the right jump over a fence: canter, rhythm and line. It is very important that all three of these elements are improved individually so that you give your horse the best chance of clearing the fence. If any one of these ingredients is not right, there is a high likelihood that you will not clear the fence.
Improving the canter:
Canter is very important in all three phases. It is important that your horse is straight, balanced and maintains impulsion (not speed) into the jumps. Much of improving the canter comes down to the flatwork. To ensure your horse is straight, you should do lots of lateral work – one of my favourite exercises for this is spiralling circles, where you leg yield into the centre of the circle and then back out again. This should improve your turns because it ensures your horse moves off your leg aids without relying on your hands. Balance is something that develops by itself, but you can improve this by ensuring you are balanced in yourself (check you are sitting straight) and strong in your core – Pilates, as demonstrated by Agi, another Eqclusive blogger, from @equipilates on Instagram is a great example of this! Impulsion is also something that develops in a more advanced horse as it requires a strong horse working correctly to generate power from behind, but you can use exercises like raised poles in trot and direct transitions to improve this.
Photo credit Spidge Event Photography www.spidge.co.uk
Rhythm can be dramatically improved by gridwork – it encourages the horse to maintain an even pace and rhythm and jump out of a comfortable stride. Horses may lose rhythm when they rush to a fence or slow down on the approach – this can be caused by imbalance, lack of confidence or poor riding. Make sure you have a good instructor to pin point the cause of your rhythm loss. Even if you are in a rhythm, make sure it is the correct one for the fence you are riding – don’t go too fast or too slow or your horse will make a poor shape over the jump.
Straightness is improved by lateral work and turning off the aids – leg yielding or small 5m circles are especially useful for getting the horse off your leg. Furthermore, if your horse drifts or falls out one way over a jump (e.g: always drifting left), open your right hand (without pulling back) and use an increased amount of left leg. In training, you can always lean a pole up against the left hand side of the jump or make a “v pole” (two poles leaned up against the jump) to ensure your horse is straight.