The triple combination is probably the most challenging effort on any jumper course from children's jumpers to grand prix. Why? Because there's almost no room for error, time for recovery, or space to play catch-up inside a sequence of three jumps spaced one or two strides apart. On the other hand, once you master this obstacle, the other elements on the course will be that much easier for you.
I'll show you how to take the first step toward mastering the triple by working over a low-key little three-element crossrail gymnastic. It will allow you to catch the rhythm and feel of jumping three jumps in a row while you practice the four key skills you need to ride a triple. They are:
1. Finding your focal point. One of the first things we learn when we start jumping is to look beyond the fence, right? In fact, we're often told to "look up" at something all the way down at the other end of the arena, such as a telephone pole. But as the obstacles get bigger and wider and more technical, looking beyond can cost you rails--if, say, you judge the wrong distance, or you get left behind when your horse jumps and surprises you. So I'll tell you where and why to look, and when.
2. Timing your aids. When a distance rides long, you want to use your seat and legs to press your horse inside; when it rides tight, you want to take a feel on the reins to compress. But you have only a moment between elements when the aid to press or compress really works: the moment when his feet are on the ground. When he's in mid-stride off the ground, there's not much he can do to respond.
3. Sitting up, back and close to the tack. I've already told you that things come up fast in a triple combination. If you overbalance and throw yourself forward onto your horse's neck in the air, you can't recover quickly enough on landing to sit back, figure out when you need to do for the next jump and prepare by either pressing or compressing.
4. Raising your chin on landing. If you land keeping your head where it was over the top of the jump, you'll land looking down at the ground. By consciously raising your chin as your horse's forefeet touch down, you'll not only be looking at the next element, but you'll keep your center of balance more secure and you'll be less likely to get jumped out of your stirrups.
Ready? Here's the gymnastic. When you're feeling confident with it, you're ready to practice a triple combination.
Practice Your Skills Over the Gymnastic
Lay down a trot ground pole; 6 to 7 feet beyond that, build a low crossrail. Build a second crossrail 18 feet beyond the first one; 21 to 23 feet beyond that, build a crossrail oxer with about a 3-foot spread.
Photo 1. Sapphire's jumping the center of the first crossrail of my gymnastic, so my eyes are ahead on the next element. I have good depth in my heel and a short but not restrictive contact, with a nice straight line from my elbow to his mouth. I'm close to the tack, not overbalancing with a big release that would make my recovery on landing too hard and too time-consuming.
Photo 2. As Sapphire's forefeet touch down, I lift my chin. Doing so not only keeps my eye on the next element but makes my center of balance more secure--and I'm less likely to get jumped out of my stirrups over a bigger jump. Because of my short release, I'm still in control and communication with Sapphire; I won't have to waster precious time gathering my reins.
Photo 3. For the one stride to the second crossrail, I stay close to the tack and maintain contact with a nice straight line from my elbow to Sapphire's mouth. Because he's just about ready to leave the ground, I've moved my eye up to the front trail of the gymnastics last element, a little oxer.
Photo 4. Again I'm staying close and keeping a nice connection with his mouth, and I'm not overbalancing. I'm just staying over his center for balance.
Photo 5. Sapphire has landed--and, without letting my upper body get behind the motion, I've sunk back into my seat bones for the one stride. Because I've seen our takeoff point, I've raised my eyes to beyond the oxer.
Photo 6. Again, on landing, I've raised my chin and sunk my weight down into my heel--which has kept me centered and not popped out of the saddle despite Sapphire's having over-jumped this little oxer quite a bit. Even though the oxer is the last element of the gymnastic, we'd be ready to continue; I'm sitting up and back and close to the tack, so I'd be ready to press or compress as needed. I've already built up this oxer to have a vertical in back, but you should start--and stick with--a double crossrail oxer until you're completely comfortable with the exercise.
When the gymnastic exercise feels good, tackle a triple combination with my tips in the December 2005 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.
Mark Watring, now based in California, was born in Puerto Rico and has represented his birthplace in international competition for the past 23 years. With Sapphire, his partner in these photos, he won the individual gold medal at the 2002 Central America Games.
This article is excerpted from Mark's "Tame the Triple Combination" in the December 2005 issue of Practical Horseman.