If you mastered last week’s turning exercise over poles, kick it up a notch this week using a “Cross” jump to refine your accuracy. The cross is simple to make: two 12′ jumps set perpendicular at right angles to each other, one rail a hole higher than the other.
Start with the cross set very low (18″-2′), and approach each side from a trot until your horse feels comfortable and jumps straight. Want to work on your turns? Circle after each jump, using a simple cloverleaf pattern to turn back to the next. As with the George Morris pole exercise, make your circles as big or small as needed to provide sufficient challenge. The tight circles back on your tracks will help your horse balance and shorten his stride – particularly useful if your horse likes to get long, heavy, and strung out. The narrow 6ft face of the jump demands that you ride accurately and straight coming off of the circle.
When the skinnies are boring and easy, spice it up by jumping across the intersection of the X. It looks a little odd at first, so keep your leg on and be patient with your shoulders in case your horse needs extra help off the ground. The design of the cross works well to prevent your horse from drifting left or right, so it is a great exercise to improve straightness. It also introduces the concept of jumping at an angle, while funneling the horse straight and providing little opportunity to run out.
I might spend a day (or several days) just working on the Cross concepts until my horse is confident and steady. At that stage, I will add a few more related elements. I like to add jumps before and after on a bending line, building on the jump-and-turn idea. Creating an “S” curve adds difficulty, requiring a change of bend and change of lead while maintaining a consistent stride and straightness. If you’ve designed it right, you can also cut the corners to jump a straight, angled line down the middle of the Cross.
You’ll notice in the video I also have a straight line set up off to the side, at a shortened related distance. If your horse, like mine, tends to get excessively bold and a little quick in the turns or after the angles, it is helpful to go back to something simple – a straight line of two plain verticals – to test his responsiveness to wait and add a step. The horse in the video was a late 4-year-old and, as you can see, a bit green. This exercise was great for his education and helped make him more rideable.