Here's the scenario: You're going around a course and your horse gets stronger and faster after every fence. Instead of jumping up and around each obstacle, his jumps get flatter, and the rails start dropping. Here's an easy exercise I use to help back off a horse who rushes.
Jump a Single Fence and Halt in a Straight Line
Set up a small jump and place ground poles 9 feet from both the takeoff and landing sides. This puts your horse in a good takeoff spot for the fence and encourages him--as he lands inside the second pole--to round himself over the jump instead of jumping flat.
1. Delancey Street is cantering nicely over the takeoff pole to the jump. I'm in my two-point with equal pressure in both reins and both legs. As he canters over the pole, I relax my arms and follow his mouth with my arms and my upper body. I'm conscious of staying over his center of gravity and not getting ahead of him.
2. Over the jump, I'm still in balance with Delancey Street, right in his center with my eyes up. As we land inside the second ground pole, he is looking down at the pole--which is the whole objective. Notice that I still have a soft loop in my reins.
3. In this first "getaway" stride over the pole on the landing side, I start to open my upper body and take more of a feel on the reins to collect and balance Delancey Street. In the next few strides, I'll sink into the saddle.
4. Coming down from the canter, I collect him and ask for the halt by opening my body, sinking into the saddle and closing my fingers on the reins to encourage him to come back from my hand into my seat.
It took four or five strides after the landing to get this halt. For a green horse or inexperienced rider, it could take from five to eight. I work with my students on getting their horses straight, collected and halted before the end of the ring--depending on how big the ring is. The goal is for the riders to learn to land and collect their horses within five or six strides. It might not happen the first time or two, but you have to close your fingers, bend your elbow, open your shoulders and step down in your heel--all at the same time--to balance your horse and ask him to halt without depending on your hand.
--Photos by Martha Fuller
Grand Prix rider Patty Stovel trained with George Morris as a junior and rode champion hunters for legendary horseman Otis Brown. She is based at Wyndsor Farm in Elverson, Pa. Delancey Street is an 8-year-old Thoroughbred owned by Jocelyn Jervis. He competes in the Pre-Green and Adult Hunters.
For more exercises to keep your horse from rushing the jumps, read Patty Stovel's "How to Slow a Rusher" in the March 2008 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.