By: William Micklem
- I never cease to be amazed about the ‘S’ word. A word that is so very powerful and very important in all areas of training. A word that allows accelerated progress and increased safety. The word of course is SIMPLICITY…..and contrary to what many say it is not that difficult to achieve, at least to a large extent. Just reject the complicated, keep seeking to do less, use less equipment …..and run a mile from those who use the horse’s adaptability to construct a maze of weird and wonderful tricks and procedures, that may well achieve something worthwhile but will always restrict potential because they are too convoluted, difficult and time consuming. Many equestrian gurus build their reputation and career on such ‘unique’ but ultimately misleading training methods.
Let me give some simple examples related to jumping: Firstly the use of a placing plank when jumping fences out of trot. It is both safer and more simple to use than either a placing pole or trotting poles. The use of a placing plank instead of a placing pole is not universal but it is undoubtedly safer for the horse, who can severely injure a leg when standing on a pole that rolls – particularly if the ground is fairly smooth and fairly hard. In addition it leads to less odd jumps as the plank stays in position even if a horse treads all over it. I have used placing planks instead of placing poles for many years, especially in a Pony Club and group ride situation and am in no doubt of their effectiveness. At last years British Horse Society Coaches Conference international show jumping rider and coach Tim Stockdale said the same thing. It is a simple measure that can be used immediately with no extra training requirement for the coaches and no disadvantages beyond the slight additional weight of a plank.
It is obviously a standard procedure to trot to fences with young riders or young horses and at the start of many grids with all levels of horses. However, unless it is with more advanced riders or horses, this needs to be done with a placing plank so that the take off point can be almost guaranteed, making it so much easier for horse and rider. However I continually see riders trot to fences without a placing plank with the result that the horses take off point varies, making it difficult for the rider to ‘stay with’ their horse and avoid jabbing their horse in the mouth. This is not only counter productive for developing good jump technique but it leaves the rider in greater risk of a fall.
Trotting poles can be used instead of a placing plank, but the extra poles are more of a complication initially and delay the process. Trainers say that you need rotting poles to ensure the horse stays in trot but I have rarely failed to get a tense or unsettled horse to trot to a placing plank by circling (approx 10m) both left and right in trot or walk in front of the fence until the horse is solidly in trot as they face the fence.. In addition I have proved on film that continually using trotting poles is not helpful in getting the two hind legs together on take off, which is a top priority, whereas using a placing plank is magical for doing this. Initially I usually start with the placing plank 3m from the fence and then slightly shorten it gradually to approximately 2.5m, depending on the shape of fence.
HOLDING ON TO THE MANE
Another key simple technique for the rider is to hold on to the mane when jumping….as in the picture above. It is a simple and effective standard procedure with both beginner riders and with more advanced riders when jumping a fresh or young horse. Not only does this make the rider more secure but it stops the horse being jagged in the mouth. If continually jagged in the mouth most horses will end up refusing, or become hesitant on take off, both of which are so difficult for the rider to cope with and will leads to falls. The hands can be close to the mane about a third of the way up the neck over the fence, so it is actually easy to hold on without most people noticing. An alternative is to use a neck strap, but it is difficult to keep it far enough up the mane and to stop it spinning round the neck if the rider falls forward, so I prefer the mane…and once again it’s more simple.
So I start by getting my beginner students to initially practise holding on to the mane and letting go without any jumps. Then do it over planks on the ground and then when trotting into fences. A simple progression = safety. Onwards.