How to improve your horse’s straightness with three jumps



How to improve your horse’s straightness with three jumps

Your horse has to be able to remain straight and controlled in its stride length if you want to be successful in show jumping and cross-country. A crooked horse can lead to rails and run outs, likewise, a horse who’s stride gets uncontrollably long will also cause poles to fall and stops or run outs. My first Eventing coach taught me my favourite exercise to train a horse to remain both straight and in the same stride length while jumping. Best of all, you only need four sets of standards and eight show jumping poles to set this exercise up. I call this exercise the X-oxer-X because that is essentially what it is. This exercise is excellent for training horses how to jump better through coffins and triple combinations, especially horses that have a tendency to rush. It is also a super exercise for riders who tend to get leaning too forward with their upper bodies.

How to set it up:

All you have to do is set up one X (crossrail), then a Swedish oxer 18 to 21 feet away on a straight line and another X after the Swedish oxer on the same distance. You will have to decide which distance will best suit your horse depending on its stride length. For example, if your horse has a massive stride set the distances at 21 feet or if your horse has a small stride set it at 18 feet.

This is roughly what the exercise will look like when you look at it straight on.

How to ride through the X-oxer-X exercise:

1) Approach the exercise in a collected but powerful canter and look for a deep distance. The striding is set short, so you want to set your horse up for success by riding to the exercise in the canter it will need to negotiate the fences. If you come flying in, your horse will have work VERY hard to shorten its stride before the Swedish oxer and unless you have a superstar mount, a bold ride in will result in a rail or stop. Think of riding in with the canter that would you tackle a coffin on cross-country.

2) Remain quiet in the saddle and let your horse sort things out once you jump into the exercise. After your horse leaves the ground over the first X, your work is ultimately done. Now your only job is to stay out of your horse’s way so it can use its body correctly to work through the exercise. Make sure you keep your upper body tall because leaning forward through this exercise will signal to your horse that the striding is long, you want to train your horse that when your upper body angle is open that the distance is waiting.

3) Halt in a straight line. Pat your horse. Turn around and approach the exercise off of the opposite lead. Keep repeating the exercise until you feel that your horse is staying straight, relaxed and jumping with a round bascule over the oxer.



How this exercise improves straightness
The shape of the tall X jumps and the Swedish oxer force your horse to stay straight throughout the exercise or else it will have to jump much higher and will likely hit a rail. The exercise acts as a funnel, making your job easier.

How this exercise trains your horse to remain in the same stride length

Some horses tend to get excited when they see an oxer, so they rush to the fence but the short striding after the first X, will train your horse that it has to wait. Many horses tend to land off of an oxer with excessively long and flat stride but the X afterwards will force your horse to maintain a short stride on landing. Since the exercise’s striding is set to teach your horse to maintain its stride length, you do not have to pull in-between the jumps, which will encourage your horse to use its head and neck to create a round shape over the jumps.

Trouble shooting:

Problem: “I’m having a hard time jumping into the exercise from a deep distance, in the right canter.”

Solution: Add placing poles 8 feet out from the X to take care of the distance for you. If that is still not enough, you can walk off three strides (48 feet, or less because that would be cantering on a 12-foot stride.) from these placing poles and set up three canter poles spaced 8 feet apart. This way you canter over the poles in a controlled canter, canter another three strides before the placing pole then you are jumping through the exercise. If you do not have enough rails to keep cantering back and forth over the exercise with all these canter poles, set the exercise up in the middle of your school and alternate the leads you approach the exercise one.


Problem: “My horse keeps rushing through the exercise and clearing all the jumps.”

Solution: Gradually increase the height of the oxer and Xs to encourage your horse to back off. Eventually, you will reach a height where your horse hits a rail if it continues rushing and this will likely train it to slow down.


Problem: “My horse drifts one way or another through the exercise”

Solution: Try making the Xs taller and difference between the high and low side of the Swedish oxer greater.

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