What’s In Your Ring? Staff Edition: Bounce All the Things!

This exercise is straight out of Jim Wofford’s “Modern Gymnastics: Systematic Training for Jumping Horses” and is shared here with permission from Jim and the publisher, Practical Horseman. This is exercise number five in the book and the first to introduce bounces.

“Bounce fences, sometimes referred to as a ‘no-stride,’ are a good agility exercise. Your horse will learn to keep his shoulder in front of him as he jumps and will improve his technique,” Jim says. “It is also a good exercise for horses that tend to ‘rush’…Train your horse to keep a steady rhythm in the approach, because when his rhythm is under control, his balance is under control.”

I love bounces because they are great strength training for the horses; it gets them rocking back and pushing well off their hindquarters while also tuning up their footwork and focus. For the rider, gridwork of any type is the perfect opportunity to work on the strength of your position while also getting comfortable allowing the horse to do the job and think for itself while you stay out of the way. Plus, grids are just plain fun.

This particular gymnastic “will improve your horse’s agility, self-carriage and ability to jump multiple efforts without losing his balance,” Jim says.

The grid starts with a placing rail, then a double bounce, one stride to a vertical, one stride to a double bounce, then finish over a placing rail. The grid is symmetrical, meaning it can be jumped from both directions. Jim recommends approaching towards the new part first (going backwards through the grid) any time you add another element so the horse immediately notices the change.


Why It’s In My Ring

There are several things I like about this specific grid. For one thing it can be jumped both ways. I can’t stand jumping an exercise off the same leg over and over, and sometimes the size of shape of your ring restricts your ability to turn to a grid from both directions.

The other thing I like about it is that it can be built up slowly and steadily over time as your horse gets stronger in his mind and body. The first time I set up this grid at home, it took two maybe three jumping sessions before it was built up completely. You want your horse to think through the exercise and use his body well, not feel overwhelmed by a sea of rails and lose confidence or get too tired and body sore (bounces are hard work!).

Also, the jumps don’t have to be big to make the exercise effective. Even on a more experienced horse, I rarely put the jumps higher than 2’3″ because I’m more interested in the strength training for myself and my mount than about proving how high we can jump.

This is also a very versatile set up. Once the standards are put down and the distances measured out, it is really easy to create new exercises by removing one or more jumping efforts. A single bounce, two strides to a vertical, two strides to a single bounce or a single bounce, three strides to another single bounce are among Jim’s suggestions for variation.

I also like to use this grid in combination with another single jump or two in the arena. For example, I’ll work through the grid and then try to maintain the active, engaged canter it helped create through a turn to a single oxer. This way the horses also don’t learn that they get to stop working the moment they complete the grid.

Getting Started

Build the exercise up slowly and simply. Start by trotting over the first rail and the first vertical with all the poles all the ground. Then build up the first vertical to 2′ and trot back and forth over both elements until the horse is comfortable. On a young horse, you may find it takes several tries until they are comfortable with this “bounce” introduction between the placing rail and the first vertical. Keep your leg on but insist they land between the two elements, not jump out over the placing rail.

Then, add the second vertical to create the first bounce and trot back and forth several times until the horse is comfortable. Do the same for the next vertical to create a double bounce and the next vertical to create a one-stride. With young or green horses, I’ll stop here on a good note and come back to complete the grid another day.

On the second school, it should take fewer repetitions for your horse to be comfortable with the double bounce and one-stride going both directions. For the next half of the grid (the second one-stride and double bounce), Jim recommends setting up the final three verticals all at once instead of in increments in order to reduce the number of repetitions. I’ll do this for an experienced horse, but for a young or green horse I’ll build it up incrementally to maintain their confidence, which is another great reason to build this grid up over multiple days.

In the video below, super pony Willow and I breeze through this bouncy exercise. You’ll notice we had removed the placing rails and cantered into the exercise, but only after we had practiced and become proficient at trotting in with placing rails and the pony knew what the question was in front of her.

This gymnastics was great for Willow, who is slightly downhill, because it built up the strength in her hindquarters and encouraged her to keep her shoulders up through the double bounces without falling on the forehand. She loved working out the puzzle of it too. It was fun for her! For me, it was beneficial because in order for her to keep her neck and shoulders up, I had to stay centered and not fall too far over her neck, which is easy to do on a pony!

Is there such a thing as the Perfect Pony Award? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve got the winner right here!

Posted by Leslie Threlkeld on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

You can order Jim Wofford’s Modern Gymnastics from the Equine Network store. From your horse’s first trot poles to solving specific problems over fences like drifting and knocking rails, Jim provides a wonderful progressive approach to jump training with detailed descriptions, instructions and useful photo series to accompany each exercise. Learn more about gymnastics through the Jim Wofford Jumping Academy at AIMEquineU.com. Right now you can use the code EVENTING40 for a 40% discount! Enroll in Jim Wofford’s Jumping Academy!