Walk this way

An often overlooked part of competition day, there’s no doubt that course walking is a real skill. However, you don’t have to jump as many rounds as a Whitaker to learn the tricks of the trade.

Finding your feet

Walking your course gives you a great opportunity to take a good look around the arena before you start focusing on what you’re jumping. It’s important to physically walk your course, rather than just point out the fences in order.

Work out any areas where you can save time – reducing the risk of time penalties, or handy in a timed section or jump-off – and spot places where you should take a wider turn to get the perfect line. Similarly, if your horse is green it’s handy to look out for any banners or particularly spooky fillers, as you may need to give him a little reassurance.

TOP TIP: Bear in mind that the more you worry about fillers, the more likely your horse is to have a look. Ride positively, but try not to panic on the approach.

When the going gets rough

While many venues are fortunate enough to have surfaced arenas to hold their jumping on, you won’t be so lucky everywhere you go. Walking the course gives you a super opportunity to get to grips with the ground and any undulations on course, so you’ll be prepared to adjust your horse’s canter where needed. Fences approached downhill will need a more contained canter than those ridden uphill, for example.

Where your round has been preceded by inclement British weather, you’ll likely find the going will get deep in places. You might need to take a different line, perhaps jumping slightly off centre, to avoid the mud. Walking the course is the prime opportunity to consider this.

TOP TIP: Set out two poles with three of your steps between them. If your horse canters through comfortably, this is the length of his stride. Play around with the distance between the poles until you find the perfect length for your horse so you’ll know how a distance will ride when you walk courses in future.

Double trouble

On course, a one-stride double will walk on eight of your strides, and a two stride should walk on 12. This accounts for two of your strides on both take-off and landing, too.

If the combination walks slightly shorter for your horse, you’ll need to ride a more contained canter to meet the second part in the right place. Equally, a short-striding horse may need some encouragement to move on over the ground. Consider the type of fences that make up the combination, too. An upright first element and an oxer out of the combination will require a contained canter in, then positive riding through the middle. However, the opposite will need a powerful, but not rushed, approach and for you to encourage your horse to shorten his stride to jump out clear over the upright.

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Mark it up!

Get to grips with your dressage test and give your marks a boost with our tips

This month, we help you find the key to riding a quality dressage test and giving your marks a leg up. Whatever’s giving you trouble, we’ll cover all angles to get a great dressage test out of you and your horse.

  1. Absolute accuracy

Many riders throw away marks by not being accurate, so ensuring you are is a great way to stand out and put yourself above the competition. Any movements performed at a marker should happen as your shoulder passes it. This might mean you need to start asking a little earlier if your horse is behind your leg, or half halt to balance him beforehand. Practise this by riding transitions at your markers until you can be sure your horse will respond as soon as you ask him a question, as this will help you ride exactly as the test dictates, gaining you those handy extra marks.

  1. Walk this way

A pace that’s often forgotten, your horse’s walk is still an important part of your dressage test. Encourage him to march on, taking the rein forward even when you’re warming up or cooling down, as this sets the precedent for all your work. With double marks available for the free rein walk, make sure you allow your hips to swing with your horse’s movement and gradually loosen the rein to push him forward and stretch down. If you drop the rein too quickly, you’ll find his stretch will be inconsistent, and he may throw his head up. Then, make sure you don’t lose any of that impulsion when you then pick him back up again. He should track up and seek the contact in all three of his paces, so be disciplined and maintain that dedication whatever the gait.

  1. Give and take

Introduced at even the lowest levels of dressage, a good give and retake can be a tough trick to tackle. Initially, you’ll only be required to give one rein, and you may find it easier to practise on the long side to start with. You could ride a 10m circle first to help him use his hocks and come off the forehand, then proceed up the long side and have a go at your give and retake. Get used to riding him off your leg and seat, alternately giving your reins at random during your schooling session. You’ll quickly learn when you need to put a little more leg on or stay a bit quieter in your seat to maintain that steady outline. Gradually build up to trying on a circle, ensuring that your horse can maintain the bend by himself using your inside leg. This will then ensure that your horse is between both your legs when you go on to give and retake both reins.

Practising at home and implementing this tips throughout your test are super ways to boost your marks this competition season. Discipline is key with whatever you’re doing, so get used to riding a quality walk and create those good habits now. There’s nothing worse than feeling unprepared by a brand new movement you haven’t seen before, so practise your give and retakes throughout your sessions so they become second nature.

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