Prepping for Prelim: Does Size Matter?

Amy Nelson and 2015 mount “River Clam” (Hummingbird’s River). Photo by Xpress Foto.

The 2018 eventing season is upon us and perhaps you are looking to move up a level this year. But as you go up the ladder it’s not always about the height of the jump, but rather the complicated combinations and the speed at which they appear to your horse. How do you prepare your horse for such a leap? By realizing that SIZE DOESN’T MATTER.

Amy Nelson and River over a mini “log,” two strides to a small drop.

In a recent Dom Schramm clinic at my farm Hummingbird Stables, we were setting jumps for the Training/Prelim group. I was riding my horse River and asked if he wanted us to set the jumps higher. His response: “Why is everything about size with you?” I knew what he was getting at but everything in my being had to bite my tongue, when the obvious joke popped into my mind.

The giggles from the crowd proved that I was not the only one who had this thought. But he had a point. Why is everything about size?

My 7-year-old Training level OTTB has a lot of qualities. “He’s so big!” — every girl at a horse show. “He’s got a HUGE scapula.” — my Devoucoux saddle fitter. “He’s a bit enthusiastic and a little too keen.” — every trainer and clinician. But no one ever mentions his “great brain” or “what a thinker.” So how can I prep this big dumb dinosaur (bless his heart, though) for higher levels, where the ability to think quickly is imperative?
Oftentimes at  upper levels it’s not the actual size of the jump that becomes a problem. It’s the rapid combinations and the spooky looking questions. The log, two strides, drop into water, bending line to jump out of the water, and two strides to another jump. Or it’s the massive Weldon’s Wall or scary looking trakehner where you need to find the correct distance — not just run at it and hope for the best.

Amy Nelson and River over a small ditch with adjustable Weldon’s Wall.

On one of the many bad-weather days recently I was watching a travel show called Expedition Unknown and the host went to Turkey.  They had an attraction with mini versions of all the tourist sites of Turkey … only tiny versions, almost like a mini-golf display where you could walk around like a giant and see everything Turkey had to offer in one spot. Surely you would feel powerful and strong, marching around a tiny display of the country’s best attractions. They called it Mini-a-Turk. I was inspired!  I have goals of taking my young Training Level horse “River” to Prelim this year.  But he would benefit from seeing all the combinations of Prelim only with scaled down versions of the jumps.

As we go up the levels we need to remember that it’s not about SIZE, but about the EXER-CISE.  We can build the horse’s confidence over smaller versions of trakehners and Weldon’s walls and coffins. Using jump standards, adjust the wall or pole over your ditch to bring it up three inches at a time, until before you know it you’re jumping Prelim height. Get your horse thinking quicker over smaller versions of ABCD elements involving water. Because then when they go to the level they know how to answer the question.  This process can begin with lower level, younger horses with crossrails set up next to the water complex, teenie tiny ditches and poles, etc. By the time they are ready for upper levels, the combos are no big deal.

When you’re prepping for Prelim: size doesn’t matter.

3 … 2 … 1 … have a mini ride.