Winter Training Tips with Sally Cousins: Improving the Quality of the Jump

With the winter enveloping us, it’s the perfect time to sit back and contemplate how to achieve greater success in 2018 in our lives with horses. As riders, we never stop questing for improvement and learning how to be a better horseman is a lifelong journey. Sally Cousins has more experience in her little finger than many of us can hope to ever garner, and she’s delighted to be part of our Winter Training Tips series, hoping to inspire and educate with little nuggets of wisdom.

Sally Cousins and Tsunami at Rolex 2017. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

There are many different ways to produce a horse that is jumping well. Not all horses can be trained the same way, and not all horses can be ridden the same way. It’s very important for us as riders and trainers to work with the horse we have so that we can get the best performance out of that horse.

I believe that we can let the quality of the jump that we are getting be the judge as to whether or not we’re riding and training it properly. If the horse is jumping in a powerful and confident way we are probably riding it correctly. That is the ultimate goal that we’re all working towards.

I have decided over the years that I need to add a third qualifier: the type of jump also has to be sustainable. What I mean by that is, if the horse is going to the base of the jump and jumping higher and rounder with each jump, unless the horse is very brave and the rider is very accurate, the horse could find that it’s working too hard and start to stop. If the horse is being ridden on a very open stride to an open distance, that may produce one or two good jumps before the shape of the jump begins to suffer and the jump gets flat and weak. 

As riders we need to find the canter that is going to produce the jump we are looking for. I have a small thoroughbred who is a very careful jumper and I ride him in a very forward canter so he doesn’t hang up in the air too much. I also have a very large warmblood who already has an open canter so I ride him in collected canter to the base of the jump. These different rides produce amazing jumps from both of these horses. The big horse would not jump as well off that open forward stride and the smaller horse will eventually lose confidence going in a quiet canter to the base all the time. Both of these horses can be ridden in different canters to different distances though. Just not over and over again.

If your horse is only good out of one type of canter, to one distance, you’re not going to get very far. The whole point of course design is to test the ability of the horse out of a variety of distances that require a variety of canters. So if your horse can repeatedly come off the ground confidently and powerfully, you’re probably riding it just right. If the jumps are getting weak or the shape is getting flat we need to make sure we change the canter that we are using. One of my favorite Kim Severson quotes I hear her say often when she is teaching: “Does that canter give you choices?”

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