JENNI AUTRYJAN 18, 2018
This top eventer shares his four-step plan to safely and successfully introduce this cross-country obstacle to your horse.
When introducing corners, the key to remember is that jumping corners is all about progression. First you need to establish the correct canter on the flat and then work over a simulated corner in the arena before heading out to jump a corner on a cross-country course. Only then will your horse jump it as confidently as Sarah Hughes’ Alcatraz, a 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding, is jumping it here.
Corner fences are a common element seen on nearly every cross-country course in America. Starting at Training level, horses and riders need to be prepared to answer the corner. When introducing riders and young horses to corners, I use the same approach each time, starting by building a simulated corner in the arena to introduce the concept and then move to jumping an actual corner on a cross-country course.
Whether you are training for dressage, show jumping or cross country, there is always a progression. You start with the basics and gradually work your way up, and it is no different when jumping corners. First, you need to have the correct seat, leg and hand aids in place, which I describe in the next section. Then you build confidence by jumping a simulated corner in the arena using a barrel and two standards, which will set you up for success when you leave the comfort zone of the arena and jump a corner on the cross-country course.
Jumping corners confidently starts with having the right canter. A corner is an accuracy test, and for these types of questions I like to tone down the between-the-fences gallop to a slower speed in the approach. You still want a forward, positive canter, but approaching at a slower pace gives your horse more time to see the fence and understand the question. Before working on the corner in the arena, practice this canter, focusing on your aids. The combination of seat, leg and hand aids you use approaching the corner will give your horse every opportunity to confidently jump it
Develop the Correct Canter
You can practice developing the correct canter in the arena or wherever you do your gallops. I start by working in the between-the-fences pace I use while going cross country—galloping forward at a faster speed. You will be in two-point with your seat out of the saddle and your knee at a 110-degree angle. Be sure to shorten your stirrup leathers enough so you can keep your backside off the saddle in your two-point.
Now I start to bring my upper body back and slow Alcatraz from the gallop to a positive, forward canter. This is the canter I establish before a corner. To practice, pick a marker in your gallop field, like a tree or jump. Practice slowing from your gallop to your desired canter by the time you pass the marker. Depending on how quickly you are able to slow and balance your horse, you might need to start well back from the marker. The more you practice, the easier it will be to make that transition.
Then I sit firmly in the saddle in a defensive seat, bringing my upper body back so it is upright. My legs are in a steady, driving contact with Alcatraz’s sides—think Phillip Dutton and his vise-grip legs—which makes it clear to Alcatraz that I want him to go forward confidently. This is the position I use four to five strides in front of the corner.
As I bring my seat closer to the saddle, I move both of my hands several inches wider apart to create a channel for Alcatraz’s shoulders. This is the hand position I use in the approach to the corner to encourage him to hold his line. This hand position and driving leg aid will send him forward and make it very clear that you want him to jump
This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of Practical Horseman