Dress it for the Vertical by Aspire Equestrian

My dear dressage enthusiasts, I got to thinking, maybe you are not all blinkered and utterly obsessed with dressage – bit odd but might be true.  Vertical 2Maybe some of you, dare I say it, actually jump your horses over something more than a cavelleti.  Well, if this is the case and despite me knowing absolutely zilch about jumping, today I have a treat for you.

It is my absolute pleasure to introduce to you Wiola Grabowska.  Wiola is a freelance coach and founder of Aspire Equestrian Riding Academy which focuses on thorough rider education at grassroots levels of dressage, jumping and eventing.  I asked Wiola to do a guest post, for me focussing on how dressage training benefits the show jumper and to my delight she has given us 2 dressage exercises that will make a real difference to your jumping.

So, for those of you who actually ask your horse’s hind legs to leave the ground, here’s what she has to say.  Enjoy …

Dress it for the Vertical – Two dressage moves that every jumping rider needs to do very well

There are at least five things that matter to you when you turn around the corner in your lovely three beat canter and head straight for colourful vertical waiting for you across the long diagonal of the arena and these are:

  1. is my horse still in front of my leg (so I can add energy if I need to and take off at favourable distance)
  2. is my horse still soft in his mouth (so I can decrease energy if I need to and take off at favourable distance)
  3. where are my horse’s shoulders (so I control the line to the jump and leg he lands on afterwards)
  4. where are my horse’s hindquarters (so I control the impulsion and the leg he will land on afterwards)
  5. do I have the right amount of power in the canter in relation to the height of the vertical (no need of going in a hugely powerful canter to 1ft jump)

As we go around the course, those questions appear every several seconds and answers need amending depending on height, width and position of the jump. If we were to summarise the above we can pretty safely say, there is no good jumping (i.e. one where the rider uses the horse’s abilities efficiently, without asking him for dysfunctional movement and uncalled for acrobatics) without correct dressage pre-training.

With this in mind, it’s my pleasure to share with you some thoughts on two dressage exercises that can really make a difference to your jumping.

1. Shoulder fore and shoulder out

VerticalEvery sound horse, no matter what  its conformation and job is able to move in shoulder fore or shoulder out position with some schooling. Many jumping horses don’t receive enough suppleness and straightness focused training sessions which is a shame as whole body and shoulder gymnastics are every jumper’s best friend; the rider who controls the shoulders of their horse is able to straighten the horse by positioning his shoulders in front of his hindquarters and this straightness, as we know is a pre-requisite of impulsion. The latter we crave when coming to the jumps as it gives that wonderful, effortless feeling of being taken to the jump (do not confuse impulsion with being ran way with towards the jump 😉

Crookedness is one of the enemies of any jumping horse due to, not only the aforementioned and much desired impulsion that ‘leaks out’ of a crooked horse left, right and centre, but also due to uneven distribution of weight on take-off and landing. The forces acting on horse’s legs upon those two stages of a jump are significant therefore it’s important to manage them through even use of the body as much as possible. That’s when dressage training for symmetry in a jumping horse comes into play, but that’s a subject for another time.

Back to our shoulder fore and shoulder out. Being able to position your horse’s shoulder slightly to the outside in the last few strides on the approach to the jump allows you to shift his hindquarters to the inside ever so slightly. Most horses prefer landing on the lead corresponding to the side to which hindquarters lead. You might have seen top jumpers often approaching a jump at an angle or positioning the neck out a little – they are planning for efficient, quick turn afterwards and making sure they land on the lead of their choosing.

Even when not training for speed, teaching your jumping horse to land on both left and right leading leg in canter when you ask, develops him evenly and as such prolongs his soundness.

2. Circles in canter – from 20m to canter pirouette

When I was about 14 years old my jumping instructor at a riding camp showed us some dressage tests.  He put them on the table in order of difficulty and asked us if we knew what they were. Dressage tests of course!  No, he said, this is your jumpers’ flat work training plan from 80 cm classes to Grand Prix. I go back to that thought every now and then as over time and with more and more coaching and training experience, that conversation becomes more meaningful.

Here’s the thing. Every single approach to a jump is part of a circle. Some approaches at lowest levels are part of a 20m circle and some approaches at Olympic levels (during jump offs) are part of a larger canter pirouette. When I watch grassroots shows I see many riders riding very bad corners or turning into the jumps roughly with no regard for the horses’ balance i.e. their long term soundness.

Ability to ride good, balanced, straight (!) circles, especially in canter is what can delay degeneration of the joints in the working horse and keep the rider away from many ‘unlucky poles down’.  You might even say that there are no unlucky poles down, there are unlucky (unfocused, unplanned, unbalanced) turns to those poles.

To me, jumping is just a little more exciting dressage test where horses have a little more freedom to express themselves and where obstacles add some adrenaline. The jump is what makes it interesting but the dressage part is what makes it fascinating!

Flat work is where jumping stars are made and where every jump rider learns to do the smallest things very well.

Have a great ride!


Nicely put, Wiola.  As I suspected, you need to embrace the rudiments of dressage to jump well and keep your horse sound at the lower levels.  The higher you jump, the more dressage training you need!  What do you think?  Is dressage training essential for jumping?  What about jump training for the dressage horse?

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


8 Responses

  1. An interesting article and making a clear point to the rider understanding the level of communication and understanding if the way the horse and rider must work in harmony with good perpetration.
    I am a freelance dressage coach who finds that the show jumping fraternity even at the lower levels is understanding the need for greater flat work/ dressage training.
    The biggest gap to fill is always feel and this is where an educated trainer both to the knowledge of biomechanics and both horse and human psychology always has a full schedule.
    Encouraging to see a little more usable science and food for thought for many riders seeking knowledge. .

  2. Great blog Wiola and so so very true. I wish young riders realised how focusing on flatwork, as well as jumping would improve their riding and their horse, as well as adding some variety to their training and of course, add some hacking into the mix too.

  3. Hi, do you teach lessons, I see from your address micklewood lane penk, that you are not far from me in Shoal hill.

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