Grid work is essential for young or inexperienced horses because it encourages them to take off and land in the same place, and make a perfect arch over the fence. When riding a youngster through a grid, the rider’s job is to establish a balanced, rhythmical canter and approach the grid on a straight line. The horse can then concentrate on the fences.
Three top tips-
- Look up, maintain a good rhythm and don’t think ‘jump’ – just focus on your stride and the fences, as you build them, will ‘come to you’.
- Always remember when coming out of the grid to go into the three-point contact (your normal riding position) and make a check of pace before you turn the corner – eg, sit up and slow down if you need to!
- Never use the corner after the grid to slow you down, as this will break the rhythm of the canter.
Start your grid with a few simple trotting poles. Lay out at least three poles (because horses may try and jump two poles together), one horse’s stride apart (approximately 9-12 feet) in a straight line down the side of the school or manege. Five poles work well, as you can then easily add fences into the grid, and we have based this exercise on five poles. Ask an assistant to help you with keeping the poles aligned if the horse knocks them, and building the poles into fences.
Initially, work in trot and concentrate on straightness. The rider must take responsibility for keeping the horse on a straight line, from the middle of the first pole to the middle of the last pole. As the horse reaches the poles, go into a half seat, so you are slightly off the horse’s back. The rider should also remember to look up and forwards – never look down at the poles. To prepare your horse for jumping a fence, add a set of wings on either side of the middle pole (eg number three, if you have five poles laid out).
Cross pole jumps are an ideal way of introducing fences, as they encourage the horse to focus on the middle of the jump. Build a small cross pole jump at pole three, where your wings are. You now have a formation of: pole, pole, jump, pole, pole. The rider’s job is to ride centrally and encourage the horse forward without ‘nagging’ him. Also, remember to look ahead, not at the bottom of the fence. If at any stage the horse loses confidence and stops or refuses, don’t get into a battle. Instead, go back a stage to where the horse is confident and comfortable – in this case, the simple pole work. When you have trotted over the cross pole on both reins, leave pole four on the ground, and place a second cross pole fence where your fifth pole was. You now have a formation of: pole, pole, jump, pole, jump. Ride the line several times again, letting your horse work out his balance and speed.
The next stage is to introduce a small vertical, by simply putting up the final cross pole. As the horse has already been down the grid several times, the vertical should not be a surprise to him. It’s important to make the turn early to the grid, so you can approach on a straight line. Concentrate on keeping the horse straight and jumping in the centre of the cross pole and the vertical. Repeat the grid from the other direction, and start on the new rein with a formation of: pole, pole, jump, pole, pole. Once you are confidently riding this grid, the last pole can go back up to a vertical, eg. pole, pole, jump, pole, jump.
GOOD LUCK with your jumping goals