Hunter, jumper and equitation courses often include bending lines between jumps because they test the accuracy and partnership of the rider and horse. It takes good balance, impulsion, accuracy and planning ahead to ride bending lines successfully and smoothly. And, the rider must ride the whole horse in order to take the best track and maintain the right pace to get the right distance and desired number of strides between the jumps.
Any loss of balance, direction, rhythm or communication will make it difficult to recover between jumps, resulting in an awkward take-off or leaving out or adding in a stride.
Before riding bending lines, you must be able to use your hands, legs and seat independently of one another, canter a designated track without significantly drifting right or left, and be able to adjust your horse’s canter stride. You need to be comfortable riding lines set on standard 12-foot-stride distances, as well as slightly shorter and longer distances. (See “How to Find a Jumping Distance” in the May/June 2014 issue of Horse-Canada).
To improve these skills, practice riding jumps on a circle. Because you don’t need to change direction, bend or lead, you can focus on maintaining your balance, canter rhythm and fine tuning the track to adjust the striding. Keep this exercise simple by starting with two poles at first then replacing each with a jump as your comfort and confidence improve.
The set up
Place two jumps 60 feet apart (standard four-stride distance based on a 12’-stride), measured on a curved line between the centres of both jumps. Place ground poles on both sides of the jumps so you can approach from either direction.
Plan your path
Start in the direction that is easiest for your horse to pick up a balanced, working canter. Visualize the track you will take being drawn in the ground from the centre of the first fence to the centre of the second fence. Your horse should be perpendicular to the fence when he takes off – straight and not jumping on an angle. Keep your eyes up and looking forward to the next jump. Adjust the track so that it is appropriate for your horse’s stride. Before you get to the second jump, decide if you will land on a straight line to end the round, or continue on the circle back to jump one to repeat the exercise.
Establish the bend
Keep your horse bent correctly around your inside leg and support him with your outside rein so that his bend matches the arc of the track. In the air over the first jump, look towards the centre of the next jump. Open your inside rein slightly. Close your inside leg at the girth to prevent your horse from drifting to the inside. Keep contact with your outside leg and rein to prevent him from drifting out of the track. In this way, you are keeping your horse between your legs and your reins.
Keep a consistent rhythm
Ride with a steady pace into, between and away from both jumps so your horse neither rushes nor slows down. Begin with getting a steady five strides between the fences and then reduce it to four strides by adjusting the arc of the track between the fences – making it bigger to add a stride and smaller to take out a stride.
Land on the correct lead
Your horse will be more balanced and your ride will be more fluid if your horse lands on the correct lead after each jump. In the air, look in the direction you will be going on the landing side of the jump. Open your inside rein slightly while maintaining contact on the outside rein. Ask for the lead with your outside leg while holding the bend with your inside leg.
Balance between the jumps
Between the jumps, keep your upper body tall and guide your horse around the track by keeping him between both your legs and reins. If your horse lands on the wrong lead or cross canters between the jumps, focus on keeping him balanced and your canter rhythm steady. Allow your horse to figure out the exercise. After a few repetitions, and as long as you stay balanced on the approach in the air and on the landing, your horse should land on the correct lead because he will also be more balanced. If you feel too unbalanced to safely take the next jump, just ride out of the circle, get re-organized and start again.
Once you and your horse are comfortable and confident with this exercise, you can increase the challenge by adding a third fence to the circle or setting two jumps so that you approach on one bend and exit on the opposite one.