By: Tracy Hanes
Whether you or your horse are making your eventing debut at entry level or competing in the highest divisions, you’ll have to deal with brush jumps.
These consist of a solid base with brush (such as cedar or spruce boughs) on top, generally low enough for the horse to see over. At the higher levels, a brush fence (or bullfinch, with a solid base and several feet of brush protruding from the top) is meant for the horse to jump through flatly, skimming through the brush rather than arcing over it. Here is eventer Waylon Roberts’ advice for dealing with brush jumps.
“The brush jump is no different than any other solid obstacle at the lower levels, and you don’t have to brush through until you reach intermediate level. Brush jumps are usually a bigger deal for the rider because they look larger than they actually are, but they have a softer profile and are quite inviting to a horse.
The best way to prepare for brush jumps is to hack your horse through long grass or in the woods, where he gets used to branches and grass touching his belly and legs. If your horse is ticklish and doesn’t like things touching his underside, he may require desensitizing and the best way is by riding him where he’ll be exposed to those types of situations. If you can ride him through water (such as a pond or stream), do that too. Generally, a good water horse is going to be a good brush horse.
If he’s resisting or nervous about hacking through long grass or the woods or going into water, stay patient and keep asking the same question. Take a partner with you on another horse that is not bothered by those questions and can act as a lead-in. Don’t do things alone.
Basic cross-country riding is about keeping the rhythm going to a jump, not accelerating. Start your warm-up at home by getting your seat out of the tack and get a good gallop going.
Set up a five-stride line with two poles on the ground and canter through, seeing if you can keep every stride the same. Do five strides, then lengthen to see if you can do four strides or compress to six strides.
You can set up a brush jump at home (eg. put sticks or soft branches in a box under a pole between two standards). You may want to warm up over a couple of other fences first. Ride forward with the horse in front of your leg and take a straight approach to the brush fence. Try to keep every stride the same. Don’t focus on the distance; focus on the quality of the canter. Keep your leg on, heels down, and sit up. He may overjump, so be prepared.
At the lower levels, the brush fences are only difficult for the rider, not the horse. At the higher levels, your horse will have to brush through. He should skim across the brush with his cannon bones and feet; he shouldn’t be brushing above the knees or jumping over himself trying to clear it. My horse Paleface (2007 Pan Am Games partner) was a good brusher.
You can’t teach a horse how to brush. Initially, he may try to jump over the top rather than skimming through. With practice and repetition, he will start to skim through and soon learn that the most efficient way to deal with these jumps is to brush through them rather than leap over the top.”