Jumping ditches

Jumping ditches – By Castle Leslie Estate’s trainer, Jenny Richardson BHSAI

Welcome to our blog! Please do check out our series of informative articles. Today, we’re going to look at ditches – as we know that many guests come to us for help and tuition with their XC prowess!

If you are new to jumping ditches, or have a new or young horse, you may be concerned about this particular type of cross country jump, and how to tackle it. If I can offer three pieces of advice, they would be: slow down (while you’re honing your technique); look up, and maintain straightness!

XC ditches ask very different questions to any other type of jump, being holes in the ground, either filled with water or, more usually, dry. Inevitably, the horse has to look down at them to judge how to tackle the problem, and commonly will cat leap or over-jump, initially. It is a common mistake for the rider to look into the ditch, causing their head and shoulders to drop down, unbalancing both horse and rider, and putting the rider into a vulnerable position, should the horse stop! Train yourself to look just the other side of the ditch where you want to land, which will encourage the horse to get to that point, rather than in the ditch. It will also be much easier to keep your head and shoulders in the right position.

Preparation is key

Practise will help boost your confidence, where fitches are concerned. With a friend or trainer in your schooling area (whether on grass or in an arena), place two poles side by side, just touching, and accustom the horse to just popping over them; then each time round, they can be widened slightly – not using them as trotting poles, but encouraging the horse to jump them. If he is too laid back and not really jumping across them, add a third pole laid across them on a diagonal to give a little height, and ensure that he does actually jump. TOP TIP – use rustic poles if possible, not brightly coloured show jump poles!

Move on to inserting something resembling a water tray between the poles; a piece of tarpaulin is ideal, although even a dark folded rug will do. This will build up his confidence before meeting a real ditch! Be willing to start in trot, as it gives you both more time to assess the situation, and only move on to canter when all is going well. The next stage is to build your own ditch, or to hire a venue with ditches. The first time you go to a course, check whether there are rustic poles available, or take your training equipment described above with you, aiming to start with the lessons learned at home, and seamlessly moving on to a small ditch if the horse seems confident.

Going to an XC course with a friend riding an older, more experienced ditch jumper to give your horse a lead is the ideal aid to the novice horse! Be prepared to go to several different venues, in the company of a second horse and just with your horse, to build up confidence in both of you. If you have a particular competition in mind, ask if you are able to hire the venue beforehand.

As mentioned above, it’s advisable to start your ditch jumping slowly, so you can assess your horse’s reaction; but once you have practised sufficiently, you can develop a more forward-going pace, making sure it is bouncy and contained, rather than ‘long’.

At an XC competition

Before reaching the stage of a competition, you will be well rehearsed, but inevitably you may be nervous. You need to be able to channel your energy into all the positive training experiences you have had, making it much easier for your mind to project a successful experience where ditches are concerned! You must be able to now treat riding a ditch as a normal part of your XC course, and not treat it differently, or as a ‘bogey’ fence. This is the time to enjoy yourself, reaping the benefits of your hard work and correct approach to what is a tricky obstacle, for so many riders!

Read more at Horse & Rider online…