If your horse is safe and balanced on the lunge, introducing jumps into the mix can really benefit his work!
Try this simple lunge-based exercise –
Place a single pole in the arena where you are lungeing, so it lays across the track. Lungeing the horse normally over the pole will encourage him to relax and lower the head and neck; poles also help to improve the paces and bring extra variety to the work. It is often useful to place the pole at the end of the school at A or C, so the fence can help ‘guide you in’.
Lead the horse over the pole initially, so he knows what you are asking him to do.
Then add two more poles, around 9-12 feet apart, so you have three poles in a fan shape, with the middle one at A or C – depending on your combined expertise, you will be able to walk, trot or canter over these, obtaining around one canter stride, two trot strides and three walk strides, depending on your horse‘s gaits. (Obviously it is safer to aim for the wider end to canter over, and only try this version is you’re very confident that your striding is good.)
Bear in mind that it is tricky to get the distances accurate on a circle, and that you may not be able to ‘place’ the horse at the centre of the poles when lungeing. If the distance is too long between the poles, the horse will lose his rhythm, raise his head and stiffen his back. If the distance is too short, he may stumble. If he gets too close to the centre of the fan, the narrow end, it can become dangerous.
You will ideally need an assistant on the ground to move the poles and get them accurately placed, or re-position them if the horse knocks them.
Lunge the horse in walk and trot over the three poles, working on establishing an even rhythm.
When the horse is happy over the three ground poles, alternate ends can be lifted onto blocks, which will help the horse’s stride and encourage more flexion in the joints.
Once the horse is happy lungeing over the raised poles, if you’re confident that the exercise can be safely completed, you can introduce a small cross pole jump (on blocks instead of tall wings) where your middle pole is and remove the blocks supporting the ends of the poles.
(See diagram below).
It may be safer to REMOVE the third pole COMPLETELY from the exercise, if the horse or pony is forward-going!
Once the horse has jumped, if he’s getting excited or too fast, lunge him away so that your next circuit will NOT take him over the jumps – return him to a circle to gain control and rhythm. Then re-approach the jump every two or three circles. The aim is for the horse to jump the fence without getting super-excited or adapting his rhythm.
Bear in mind that you will need to move around the arena a lot – don’t worry about staying on a specifically-size circle.
Make sure you work as evenly as possible on both reins. Don’t use any gadgets, lunge aids or side reins, for safety!
Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a luxury equestrian riding holiday venue in the heart of Ireland. Visit www.castleleslie.com and read her blog HERE.