With the indoor show jumping season well under way, this is a great time to start on some grid work at home and improve your horses technique and way of going, and your confidence too. Having spent all summer jumping out on grass and having spacious flowing tracks, the change to jumping indoors in smaller tighter arenas can have some of us feeling a little work is required!
What is grid work?
Gridwork is a system of training using poles and fences set at measured distances. This can also be referred to as gymnastic jumping. Poles and fences are set at calculated distances so that the horse or pony takes a set number of strides and meets each fence at a good take off point. It can help with technique as well as rhythm and balance when jumping.
Working your horse over grids of poles and jumps will improve his suppleness too. It’s a great way to keep your horse fresh – both mentally and physically, as well as encouraging him to flex his joints and engage his core. It also helps you as a rider; working on balance, co-ordination, straightness and your reaction times.
Simple grids to start with
Start with poles on the ground and work up progressively. Pole work helps to regulate the stride length and maintain regularity within the pace. Build through trot and canter ground poles to then raising the poles in the trot and canter. This is a great way to ask for a little more engagement of the hind quarters from your horse and increase the range of motion in your horses joints.
Leaving the ground
You can then start to build some fences into the grid. Start by using the ground pole/s to a single fence, come off both reins and then once this is satisfactory, add in a second fence and progress. Add in a third, fourth and so on until you have built up your grid. Continuing to work off both reins in your approach. Cross poles are great to begin with as they can be confidence boosting to both horse and rider. Plus they can help to keep you central and straight as you ride for the cross in the centre of the fence. There are a variety of ways you can build through the grid, but starting with trot poles or a placing pole, will help to stop the horse from rushing and over jumping the first fence, as well encouraging the horse to lower his head and neck and make a smooth comfortable jump. Horses will naturally pick up pace working through the grid and can flatten, so placing poles between fences can help to sit them back on the hocks a little and maintain spring and energy in the right way!
Never over face the horse with these exercises, make sure you can build confidence and that the work you do is always progressive. Any height changes must also be gradual as you work through the grid and its elements.
You can build a variety of fences into the grid; bounce, oxer, upright, cross or spread. This variety can really keep both horse and rider brains sharp and focused. Always check your distances depending on the size of your horse or pony. Getting your distances wrong in a grid is dangerous. Using correct distances will teach a horse to jump well. This helpful chart from the Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship may assist you as it shows the measurements for strides.
Above all make sure you enjoy your jumping, so don’t set the bar too high. Just a note…It is really useful to have someone helping on the ground to build your grid and put your fences up. The last thing you want to be doing is jumping on and off your horse every time you need to make a change to the grid set up! Happy jumping!