Incorporating Flatwork into Your Show Jump Training

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Sometimes people assume that flatwork isn’t an important part of show jump training, but professional riders will know just how essential it is.

Many riders warm up their horses following a simple routine. They focus on jumping and cooling their horses down to finish the day. They work up their horses doing simple drills. Some coaches encourage this training style, and it’s common to see self-taught show jumpers do it. You don’t have to be Charlotte Dujardin, but you need a solid flatwork base to succeed in the sport.

This article will show you some exercises you can add to your training to take your show jumping to the next level.

Flatwork benefits for horses and riders

Good quality flatwork helps to make horses stronger and easier to collect and get behind the rein. It also improves their balance, rhythm, and muscular tone.

Besides, flatwork helps riders to have a better balance, aids use, and connect better with their horses, among many other things. Show jumping has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. Horses became lighter and more powerful, the courses became more technical, and fences got easier to be knocked down. Jumping on the high levels is not about having a powerful horse and lots of nerves anymore. Nowadays, more than ever, elite show jumpers must have a high degree of riding skills that guts and muscle can’t replace.

Although elite show jumping seems a different sport compared with amateur and lower classes, changes have reached all the levels of the discipline. Besides, like any other sport, it’s important to learn as much as possible and adopt good habits.

Many top riders and coaches say dressage is the foundation of showjumping and other equestrian activities. Some dare to say that showjumping is an art that requires 70% flatwork and 30% jumping skills. It makes perfect sense if you think about these statements for a second. For example, a dressage arena is 20×60 meters, and dressage is based on geometric figures. One of the most basic dressage figures is a circle with a diameter of 20 meters. If you look at a basic show jumping course design manual, you will see that the minimum diameter for a turn (excluding jump-offs and top-level classes) should be 20 meters at least. Coincidence or not?

Let’s see… A good approach is one of the most important things to achieve a great jump. For a good approach, it’s essential to have a regular rhythm, balance, and a great turn. Doing a 20-meter circle may sound easy, but it’s not as easy as it seems. 

Another important thing about flatwork is that it helps horses to work and develop important muscles. It also helps them to improve their resistance and their aerobic fitness.

Next, you will find some ideas to add some good quality flatwork for your show jump training.

Transitions

Keeping a constant rhythm is essential to go through a course, but there are times when you need to extend or shorten your canter. Horses rely on their hindquarters to advance and jump. That’s why it’s so important to have the horse’s hindquarters engaged.

An excellent way to engage the hindquarters is to practice smooth and high-quality transitions along a 20m circle. Start walking your horse and make a circle, starting with the easiest side for both. Once you are in a perfect circle, increase the pace and when you feel you are ready, do a gentle transition to trot. Once you find your horse balanced and achieve a good-quality trot, sit, use your aids, and do a trot, canter transition. Don’t rush; let your horse find its rhythm and control the speed with your outside rein and leg. 

Once your horse is balanced and you have achieved a high-quality canter, do a quick transition to trot without losing your reins’ contact. Stay in the circle, do a trot, walk transition, and keep walking the circle. After one or two laps, start over again; walk, trot, canter and canter, trot, walk.

Practice this exercise in the other direction. After you finish, extend your reins, do a full lap over the arena, and allow your horse to stretch its neck.

Balance

Do you feel your horse leans on the inside rein when cornering? Do you feel like he leans on its forehand as if you were riding a bike? Then it’s time to improve your horse’s balance.

Sometimes people tend to ride horses as if they were motorcycles. Of course, there is a big difference between horses and bikes: horses have four legs. This is why horses shouldn’t lean while turning. You need them to have their four legs on the ground to keep balance and to have all the potential from the hind quarters available at all times. 

Counter canter loops, while you keep inside flexion, are great for improving your horse’s balance. Start slow, with big full laps to the arena. Then start making big counter canter loops. To finish, go back to the arena and focus on keeping the inside flexion in every corner. 

With enough practice, you will feel your horse is more balanced in the corners. You will also feel your horse more stable when riding in counter canter. It will be hard to tell you are doing counter canter in a straight line.

Dressage training scale

The German cavalry invented the dressage training scale at the beginning of the 20th century to provide military equestrians with guidelines for training their horses. This guide, also known as the “Training Scale”, is used by riders and horse trainers worldwide.

The scale is useful for training any kind of horse. It goes from the basic to the difficult, and the final goal of the scale is collection. The main stages of the scale are Rhythm, Relaxation, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection.

It’s interesting to check the training scale and see which are the weak and strong points of your horse. It will help you to know your horse better to improve its show jump training and take it to the next level.

For more Equestrian tips and tricks, check out our training archives.

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