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Conquer Corner Fences on Cross Country with Amy Tryon

Olympian Amy Tryon's system will introduce your horse to corners while developing your skills to ride accurately and forward.

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A rider in any jumping discipline can teach herself and her horse straightness and accuracy by learning to jump corner fences in the ring. After starting low and narrow, you can work up to a corner like this one, the equivalent of a Preliminary cross-country question in eventing. Photos © Amy K. Dragoo | Practical Horseman

Corner jumps are everywhere! We're seeing them more frequently on cross-country now because they reward accurate, forward riding. They also punish horse-and-rider mistakes with 20 penalties for a glance-off or refusal—rather than with a fall. The major test a corner poses at any level: Can you put your horse between your hand and leg and ride him in a straight line?

What it is: The term "corner jump" sounds self-explanatory, but all corners are not alike. At lower levels, you're asked to jump across the narrow end of a fence shaped like a skimpy wedge of pie. Some Training Level corners are scarcely more than a vertical with a bit of width. At the other extreme, corners at four-star events like Badminton and Burghley are greater than a 90-degree angle, making the spread at the corner's "point" a real challenge.

Like a corner's width, its height is determined by the level of competition. The highest corner you'll see at Training is 3-foot-3. That height grows to 3-foot-11 at the four-star level. And whereas it used to be that riders could generally plan to approach a corner by drawing an imaginary straight line through the fence (see diagram below) and staying on that line, course designers have gotten very clever with the use of shrubbery and other elements at the upper levels. These additions often force riders to approach the corner on a more difficult angle than is ideal, opening the door for a run-out. At the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, last year, for instance, the fastest route at the corner forced riders to jump its front at more of an angle than they normally would have been comfortable doing. This is one of the ways in which a corner question differs from an arrowhead or chevron, which can typically be jumped quite straight.

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Terrain—particularly ground that slopes downhill away from the point of the corner—can also increase the difficulty, because the slope's downhill pull on the horse can drag him off the line he needs to jump. The toughest courses also use related fences—a big, wide table with a bending line to a corner, for instance—to make corners more difficult.

Straight and Forward on the Flat
The first step toward jumping a successful corner fence is to be able to ride your horse straight and forward. Practice putting him between your hand and leg and riding him in a straight line on the flat. You and your horse both need to understand that when you close your hand and your leg, he goes straight and forward. The key to achieving this is throughness.

Your horse is through when you feel that within a stride or two, you can lengthen or shorten his stride, elevate his forehand or bend him—all while maintaining a consistent and elastic contact with the bit, without his either dropping it or running through it. When you can ride your horse forward into the contact with your hand, you can ride him straight and ahead of your leg.

Exercises such as lateral movements and upward and downward transitions between the gaits and within each gait contribute to throughness. I tell my students, "Whatever your horse is offering you, ask him to do the opposite." If he is very forward, practice downward transitions. If he wants to be straight and stiff, do lateral work and circles.

Once you can ride your horse between your hand and your leg, you can progress to jumping single verticals and oxers on an angle, which is what you'll be doing over a corner jump. Be very precise about exactly where you jump the fence and the line you want your horse to follow, angling left or right. When angling regular fences feels comfortable and consistent, it's time to introduce actual corners.

You can build simple training fences anywhere—in the ring or in a field. To create a corner question like the one in these photos, you'll need two jump standards, two rails, two ground poles and a plastic barrel. Start by building a "skimpy pie slice" corner. The jump standards are about 4 feet apart and the rails come to a point at the barrel, which, on its side, is about 2-foot-6. The ground poles under the rails give my horse, Walk on the Moon (Danny), a clear idea of the shape of the fence. Now review the photos above to see how I introduce corners at home.

Amy Tryon rose to eventing's top ranks while working full time as a firefighter for 13 years until 2006 when she retired to focus full time on training horses and teaching students. With her ex-racehorse Poggio II, she won team bronze at the 2004 Olympics and team gold and individual bronze at the 2002 and 2006 World Equestrian Games, respectively. She again represented the United States riding Poggio II at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong. In addition to her other ­Advanced-level mounts, Woodstock and Le ­Samurai, she is competing two 6-year-old ex-racehorses, Leyland and Coal Creek. Amy unexpectedly passed away in April 2012 at age 42. She is survived by her husband, Greg.

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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