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MRC’s Insider Look: Penwick Jumping Bootcamps

"Jumping is 5% of the jumps and 95% everything else." -Chelsea Nix 

Manhattan Riding Club created a series of Bootcamps with Chelsea Nix, owner & head trainer at Penwick Sporthorses, to break down jumping into specific sessions that focus on different components of the discipline. These sessions build up riders' confidence and skill to take on a full jumping course. 

Session 1: Flatwork/Equitation for Jumping

Jumping is not actually about the fence, it is about having the right balance, pace and impulsion for the jump, terrain and conditions…more famously described as dressage/ flatwork with some jumps in between. All the times you struggle to “see a distance” or you jump to close aka chipping or alternatively leave from the dreaded long spot leaving you feeling unseated and unsafe. This is the lesson for you - learn how to balance yourself and your horse without jumps to always get that elusive correct distance and proper push from the hind end. We will also discuss the mechanics of the jump and how this all relates to balance and distance. 

Many problems over fences have their roots in the quality of flatwork that is undertaken. Some basic dressage exercises can actually improve a horse's performance over fences and riders learn how to channel the horses hind end which is required to jump well and safely. Working on transitions and lateral movements you can keep the horse obedient, attentive, responsive and flexible. Dressage will improve how the horse moves off your leg correctly which will help the horse approach the jumps at the right pace and straight in the shoulders. “Controlling the outside shoulder is key. If you can keep the shoulders straight and the horse moving forward you can avoid most problems” according to Chelsea.

Some transitional work includes: 

  • Transitions between and within the gaits
  • Shortening and lengthening the canter stride, the main gait needed for jumping
  • Lead changes (simple and flying)

Without working on rider equitation and technique, some of the following issues can arise:

  • Horse pulls on the reins (not riding from the leg, forward)
  • Refusals (not riding the horse forward and in balance for jump presented)
  • Run outs (not keeping shoulders straight)
  • Not able to make correct striding (lack of forward)
  • Adding or leaving out strides in front of fence (incorrect pace, balance or straightness)

Session 2: Lines & Girds AKA Gymnastics 

Lines are the most common way to set fences that have related distances (a set number of strides between them). This is what we will encounter when doing course work or at a horse show. Lines need to have at least two fences.

A single fence on its own is called “a single” the most common lines used are: 

  • Standard straight line
  • Bending line
  • Broken line
  • Angled line

Working with lines improves the riders ability to create a corridor with their legs and body to keep the horse straight and on track to jump what is in front of them. Think of your aids as barriers, stopping your horse from drifting to either side and channeling the power of the hind end into a quality, safe jump. 

Grids AKA gymnastics are multiple fences, anywhere from 2-5+, set at distances that are as close as no full strides (AKA bounce) to a maximum of two strides.  Sometimes we use poles on the ground before or after the fence to help with horses foot placement. They can be trotted or cantered into and can be set for all levels of riders and horses. 

Grid exercises help improve the horses form over a fence, use of their body and foot work while allowing the rider time to work on their equitation, ability to see and feel distances and learn to make small adjustments for a big impact on the quality of jump for the horse. Practicing these drills makes jumping easy as there is no variation in strides and these skills translate to riding in the show jumping ring or out in the open. 

We usually build up the grid gradually, starting with trot poles, then a small crossrail and finally adding a vertical and an oxer.  In this assessment we are not judging your horse’s jumping style. Instead we are looking at your position through the grid and your ability to set your horse up to jump it well.

Session 3: Using Poles for Rideability on the Flat

This is a great way to train for jumping, with the visual of an obstacle but not the height,  “Working on the jump, without the jump”. If you can’t smoothly canter a course of poles you will not be able to do it when they are jumps. So this is a great way to put together all the pieces when you are trying to put less wear and tear on the horses legs or have nerves about jumping. Poles can be used laying flat on the ground or elevated up to 18 inches. 

Because there is less room for error with ground poles, this session trains the rider on the importance of how the horse approaches, their pace and balance, the riders position to safely jump and set the horse up for their best jump. Riders need to maintain a light seat and forgiving hands to adapt to any changes that arise.  

Session 4: Course Jumping 

Session 1,2,3 work towards perfecting how to jump a full course. 

Previous sessions enable riders to approach a course with a strategy. With a strategy in place, a rider is prepared and has tools to problem solve throughout the course.

Different Types of Jumps

  • Oxers
  • Verticals
  • Crossrails
  • Walls
  • Combination (AKA grid)
  • Triple Bars
  • Liverpool (fake water) 

The session will start by learning how to walk a course on foot to learn the number of strides in the lines, where to turn for each fence and to make a plan before starting. We will then get on warm up and practice jumping the course. We will breakdown and master any parts of the course that are proving more challenging before riding a complete course again.

(Photo credit from FEI Dressage, PetPlan Equine, Eventing Nation)

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