Use this simple jumping exercise to improve your reflexes
It is impossible to prepare yourself for every situation that you could possibly encounter when jumping a course. To be a successful rider you need to react quickly in the saddle.
There is one other exercise that I find very useful to engage the right side of my brain – Jumping on command with unknown striding between the jumps.
Ian Roberts, Canadian Olympian and one of my coaches taught me this exercise to establish better riding instinct for jumping. He found that my fixation with getting the ‘correct’ number of strides between jumps was hindering my riding. I was riding a number and not my horse. To help force me to ride what was happening underneath me and not a premade plan, Ian would implement this training technique in my lessons. To improve your reaction time, try it:
1) Set up a random course of jumps – Set six to twelve jumps anywhere in your arena and do not walk the distances between them. Try to set a variety of jumps that are jumpable from both directions by making sure there is a ground line on both sides. Avoid setting ascending oxers because they are only jumpable one way, square and Swedish oxers are better for this exercise. If you have barrels, you can set some up on their sides or upright for the height you are comfortable jumping. Set all the jumps lower than you usually jump, it is important that both you and your horse are plenty comfortable with the jump height.
2) Round up a helper – You will need a person on the ground or on a horse to tell you which jumps to jump. Bring your significant other, a parent, sibling, friend or a buddy who also wants to ride the exercise. Remember, this person does not have to have any horse knowledge; he/she simply needs to know the name of each jump so it is clear to you which one you are to tackle.
3) Name all the jumps – Quickly come up with a name for each jump that will be easy to remember and make sure your helper knows the names. The names must be unique (if you have several verticals set up and your ground person just shouts out “vertical” it will be unclear which one he/she is referring to). Therefore assign names such as “yellow vertical”, “narrow vertical”, “blue square oxer”, etc.
4) Warm up however you please – Fully warm up your horse and jump a few practice jumps to get in a nice rhythm before you start this exercise. You do not want to have to start jumping random fences before you and your horse feel ready. Jump every obstacle once before you begin the exercise, so you and your horse feel confident.
5) Start jumping on command – When you feel ready, give your ground person the okay to start calling out jumps. Your caller just has to shout out the name of the jump for you to aim for. No jumps are off limit. Let the caller have random control of the exercise. Only one fence at a time, they are cannot rhyme off a full course for you.
This exercise is surprisingly a challenge to ride. You and your horse will have to jump from all kinds of unconventional approaches; with no idea what fence you will be heading to next. You will have to ride a quality canter at all times because you may not have enough time to create one for the next jump. All you will be able to focus on is what is happening underneath you at the moment. You will not have to think about riding a course or the number of strides between jumps. The only way to ride this exercise successfully is on the right side of your brain, which is what makes it so brilliant.
For your next jump school, make sure you bring along a commander to help you improve your reaction times.