F & I Annual Course Jumping with Christopher Bartle FBHS

Day 1

During the initial warm-up when many horses came into the arena a little distracted and inattentive (especially the less experienced ones) Chris encourages riders to use plenty of counter flexion on straight lines to encourage horses to truly accept the outside rein and then to straighten and press them away from the inside leg in the corners to help aid true connection, straightness and balance.

Following on from this a sequence of 5 canter poles were laid out on a curving line, firstly, riders were asked to trot through this line to acclimatise their horses to the exercise building up to canter.  Chris stresses the importance of not looking down at the poles on the ground but looking up and ahead at the last pole and beyond, this especially helps for those on spooky horses (like my own!) who are suspicious of poles on the floor, which actually also relates to jumping a ditch or off a small step or bank for the first time on a youngster!

Next, the 3 middle poles were raised into 3 small cavaletti about 70cms, leaving two bounce placing poles either side, the exercise was approached from both reins in canter, working on the rhythm and balance, with the riders looking up and beyond the last pole and not to look for a stride but instead to concentrate on the quality of the canter and the line. When this was established smoothly on both reins, Chris raised the middle cavaletti about 2 or 3 holes, which made the horses react quickly, to snap up in front and therefore aid athleticism, finally a 10m circle around a jump after the curving line was added to help re-engage the canter after the bounces, keeping in mind the turning of the horses around this 10m circle using the outside aids to keep the horse straight and in-line whilst bending around the riders inside leg.  (Chris relates the balance and straightness of the horse on a circle to a train on its tracks with the carriages staying on-line and in-line around a curve).

A phrase which sticks firmly in my mind throughout the two days training with Chris was ‘Impulsion and balance give you options’ meaning with enough balanced impulsion you and your horse can afford to be a little bit close or a little bit off a fence because the canter has enough quality and power!

Chris has 5 basic rider positions:

  • Racing position – more applicable to cross country riding than show jumping
  • Preparation position in-between fences – half seat out of the saddle
  • Contact position in front of the fences – sitting in contact seat to balance and engage
  • Landing position – to land in balance in the stirrups with eyes up and a balanced secure lower leg
  • then lastly….. if needed, the ‘Oh Sxxx’! position – self preservation seat!

The next exercise, situated across the diagonal was to canter to a placing pole 3 yards to a small fence with a pole in between one non-jumping stride to an oxer followed by 4 even non-jumping strides to a vertical.  Once again Chris emphasises the importance of looking for the line early enough and once on-line to look beyond the combination at the last fence imagining it is 1m50 to take the riders eye level up which in turn aids the riders balance.

During this exercise, which gradually got built up as we worked through it, Chris had all sorts of excellent memorable catch phrases for example:-

‘Let the horse poke his nose’ to encourage riders to loosen the rein to allow the horse more freedom to bring his shoulders up and make a better bascule.      (To loosen the rein enables riders better use of their seat, in addition shorter reins make the horses neck tighter and restrict the horses ability to look over the fence)

‘Grow your legs long’  – (I really like this one), Chris likens this to the riders legs being the roots of the tree which supports the upper body being the main trunk of the tree which should stay up and strong!

Day 2

Course Jumping

On day 2 there was a full set of fences set up in the arena with various route options and rather than making each rider jump a set course, Chris gave ownership to each rider to devise their own short courses sticking to the principles laid out on the previous day.

Of course, each and every horse is different but the principles remain the same:-

  • Balance and Impulsion give you options
  • Riders to ride more towards a medium canter in-between the fences to keep the canter strong in a preparation half seat.
  • Find the fence, find the line then look ahead and the leg must be there to say ‘yes we can’ if needed.
  • Once on line in front of the fences to come into a contact seat to balance and engage the horse whilst keeping the horses on-line.
  • Chris trains riders to find a line just inside of the mid-line of the fences to stop any drifting and to stay disciplined and balanced throughout the course, he trains riders to line up something beyond fences, ie the audience, a flag or a sign.
  • Aim to keep the stride length even throughout the course
  • The riders body must react to the distance the horse has found rather than the rider going to their hand

As the session progressed riders were to devise several different courses and to incorporate more challenging tighter jump off turns using the techniques above and from this much improvement was shown throughout!

To conclude, a valuable 2 days training experience and a real privilege to be trained by Christopher Bartle.

Wishing everyone a very happy successful 2018!

Report by Joanna Shields BHSI