Six simple steps to master the art of jumping angled fences
Angled fences show up on almost every upper-level cross country course around the world. Even if you are currently at the Novice level, it’s important to start introducing this concept to yourself and your horse so that you are comfortable with it in the future.
A few things to remember about angling fences—you don’t have to be a rider to realize these, you just have to think mathematically. First, when you angle a fence you make it wider. If the table is three feet wide when you jump it perpendicularly, then it may be four or five feet wide, depending on the severity of the angle at which at which you jump it. The main implication of this fact is that you must have more power to jump a wide fence at an angle. Second, angling fences is efficient. When the time is tight, you can take a clever route to save a few seconds, but you have to be very confident in your accuracy in order to do so.
So how should you start angling fences? Just follow these steps:
1) Start over show jumps: You’ll rarely see the requirement to jump fences at an angle in show jumping (eventers don’t jump off—although that could be fun!), but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t introduce the concept with jumps that fall down. Even better, start with poles on the ground.
2) Start with single poles, and then verticals: Make it really simple. Trot and canter over poles on the ground. Start with a ten-degree angle, and then increase it to twenty or thirty degrees. The trick here is to hone your eye—sometimes it feels different to see a distance to an angled fence. Then go to verticals—which have the advantage of no width, so are more forgiving of mistakes. Finally, move to oxers.
3) Make train tracks: At the age of eight or nine, I remember my instructor telling me to make train tracks with my legs and hands to get my reluctant, wiggly pony over a fence. Imagine the surge of energy from the horse’s hind end between your legs and up through the channel of your hands. If you’re confident about going straight, your horse won’t have to guess which way to go.
4) Be (even more) determined: If your horse has been taught since he was four years old to jump every fence perpendicularly, he’s going to have some questions about why you’re suddenly messing up his nice straight hunter-y lines. So you’ll have to make some particularly convincing train tracks to get the job done, which brings me to my next point:
5) Ride forward: The worst thing to do with angled fences is micro-manage and create a weak canter from which you can only find a long, weak distance. Get a good rhythm going in a medium canter to make the job clear to your horse.
6) Introduce difficulty slowly: We see a lot of angled one- and two-stride combinations on courses these days, and there’s a big temptation to start tackling these exercises early on. Please take the time to make sure your horse understands angled fences before landing him in the middle of a combination and writing the recipe for a runout or fall. Even experienced horses need a little refresher in angled fences at the beginning of their season. When you do incorporate lines into your angled work, start with six or more stride lines that give you lots of room and time to correct your mistakes. As you get more confident, do four stride lines, then three, and finally two and one.