Show jumper David Collett helps one rider and her young off-the-track thoroughbred as they begin jump training
Thanks to NZ Horse & Pony Magazine for this article
Words Helen Firth Photos Trish Dunell
David Collett is a full-time show jumper and instructor based at Albany, north Auckland. David (26) started his career riding on the A&P circuit, in both flat classes and round-the-ring, but his passion has always been show jumping. David is currently competing at Pro-Am (1.20m – 1.30m) level. His top horses are Lingo and SSS Bold Prinz, and he also rides several horses for owners at shows. He trains regularly with Des Lowe and is an instructor for the Helensville Adult Ride.
Helensville-based Janine Taylor bought her six-year-old 16hh thoroughbred Darcy (by Zeno Rob Roy) about six months ago and they have only very recently started jumping. Janine (43) works in administration and has a six- year-old daughter, Brooke. She previously competed at Novice-level eventing, but has had a long break from serious competition. She purchased Darcy with the goal of doing a bit of everything – dressage, show jumping and the odd one-day event. Although Darcy is generally quiet at home, Janine has recently found he’s been a bit hot (which she attributes in part to his rapid weight gain on her former dairy pasture!) and also tends to be reactive and fizzy in new places with other horses working around him.
“At home he is level-headed and I really enjoy riding him, although he is still a bit stiff and I am working on him taking the contact and coming through properly. In our jumping, he is very quick over the fence and we are trying to lessen this. The quickness is not so much at the jump, but over the jump. My focus at the moment is to try and get him to soften and also to get him used to going out and about with other horses working alongside him.”
Janine had had a few group lessons with David through the Helensville Adult Ride and has found him encouraging and helpful as she gets back into jumping again. David also babysat Darcy for Janine during her recent overseas holiday, so knows how tricky he can be under saddle.
1 Carry the hands - Working on softness
LIKE A LOT of ex-racehorses, Darcy didn’t really have much idea about the contact when Janine got him and still goes through periods of resist- ing. He can also be quite hot when he’s in a new environment, but he is actually looking really calm and cooperative today.
David wants Janine to concentrate on carrying her hands. Although they are fine where they are here (above), David doesn’t want Janine to pull her hands down when Darcy goes to hollow or play up. Instead, she should carry her hands higher during those moments of tension. “When the horse resists, the instant reaction for a lot of riders is to pull the head down by lowering their hands. It’s actually better to have more leg on and take the hands higher. The horse works out quite quickly they can’t get their head any higher than the hands, and that there is no point in fighting,” he explains.
Moving into canter, David reminds Janine to ask for the transition very quietly, as Darcy leaps into it. By carrying her hands and riding him more forward, when she asks a second time, the reaction is a lot less. David tells Janine it’s fine for Darcy to poke his nose out a little bit if he wants to, and is happy to see him cantering around quietly, just like this (above).
2 Halts, halts and more halts - encouraging straightness
DAVID’S FIRST exercise of the day for Darcy is a little grid. First of all though, he gets Janine to halt parallel to the grid, with her shoulder on the line (below). From here, Janine opens her inside rein to turn Darcy, picks up trot on the straight line and trots down to the grid.
Halting and turning like this helps ensure the horse is straight and encourages correct bend and flexion, rather than falling in through the shoulder on the turn, explains David.
David also tells Janine to halt at the end of the arena when she’s completed the grid. She then turns and walks to the long side, halting again, before turning and picking up canter and cantering down the long side before halting again at the end.
David incorporates lots of halts throughout the lesson. They stop the horse from anticipating the turns, so they are important for straightness as well as obedience, which is all part of the flatwork, he says. Each exercise is repeated three times on one rein and three times on the other, and as the lesson progresses Darcy begins to automatically land on the correct canter lead every time.
3 Waiting with the body - discouraging quickness
THE FIRST jumping exercise of the day consists of two little crosses, 18’ apart, which equates to one stride (below). However, because Janine is just warming up, David tells her to trot in and let Darcy figure it out on his own, rather than consciously trying to make the one stride happen. He wants her to encourage him to go forward, but says the horse is allowed to look.
Darcy is extremely enthusiastic right) and David tells Janine to hold her body very still and upright on the approach. If Darcy decides to go from the long one, that’s his decision, but she certainly shouldn’t encourage it by throwing her upper body forward to tell him to jump, says David. The first few times through the grid, there is a bit of exuberant leaping and bounding afterwards (above). David gets Janine to circle in canter a few times to get the softness back, before carrying on down the long side of the arena and halting. “Just ignore him playing up. Carry your hands and keep your inside leg on,” advises David.
4 Allowing the stride to happen - slowly opening the canter
AFTER THE GRID, David has built another fence
five strides away. It’s a normal five-stride line, but the first time through Darcy gets a quiet seven strides. David discourages Janine from gunning forward to make the five strides straight away, but as Darcy starts to settle down in the grid (below) she is able to land and soften instead of steadying, and allow him to bowl down the line a bit more.The seven strides quickly decrease to six, and soon they are easily making the five strides with a much better distance to the fence. At first Darcy gets a long spot every time, but by the lesson’s end he is jumping from a much better distance (below).
“Part of this exercise is to allow the stride to hap- pen,” explains David. “We’ve gradually opened him up and that’s why when they’re warming up I like to just let them land and see what they do, instead of the rider chasing them down the line. The big problem is when riders tell their horses to go.”
Top tip: getting lead changes
If the horse gets the wrong canter lead on a circle, just ignore it and keep going, making it almost
uncomfortable for the horse. When you have done almost a complete circle, make a quick change of lead through trot and straight back to canter. “You’ll find that if you do that three times, the horse will learn which leg to canter on,” David explains
5 Introducing spooky fences
DAVID HAS a great way of introducing young horses to scary fill, such as these tyres (above). First of all he pulls the tyres apart and just gets Janine to walk and then quietly trot Darcy through them.
Then he starts to move them closer together (above). Finally, when Darcy is trotting quietly back and forth between them and to- tally unconcerned, he pulls them together to make a jump – and voila, Darcy quietly pops over without any fuss at all (below).
“Look how quiet he was – give him a big pat, Janine,” says David.
6 The circle- developing canter leads
AFTER JUMPING down the grid and five-stride line and halting again, Janine is asked to pick up canter and circle over a low rail (left), jumping it three or four times. This is repeated three times on each rein. This exercise helps with flexion and bend, and it also helps with lead changes, says David. ‘This circling will soon take the sting out of him – you watch!”
It’s quite a small circle, which is tricky for Darcy, and Janine finds it difficult to keep him turning as he tends to block against her inside rein (above ).
When they stop for a breather, Janine talks to David about how she should deal with this. “Do I need to use more leg and soften my rein?” she asks. “Because I find that I’m hanging on because he’s tanking off.”
David shows her how to open the rein and then let go, open and let go, rather than having a continuous pull (above ). “Horses know pressure and release. That’s how you’ll get him to soften up. Remember to keep your leg on, and don’t pull back – it’s an opening rein.
7 Straight line to straight line - riding a course
DAVID GIVES Janine and Darcy a chance to pop over the unfamiliar fences sin gly in the arena before putting everything together in a little course. Darcy finds a couple of jumps a little spooky the first time through, and David tells Janine to keep her leg on and cluck if she needs to. David really encourages Janine to ride ‘straight line to straight line’, basically making her turns right angles, instead of rounding them off, which keeps Darcy much straighter to the fence, and prevents him falling in on the corners.
On course, David constantly encourages Janine to have soft hands and look for her jump. “Don’t take your eyes off the fence,” he says. “You really have to think ahead of what’s happening, especially on a horse like this.”
All the preceding exercises have really helped settle Darcy’s brain, and by the final course he’s starting to look calm and confident, stretching and softening his neck before the fences instead of hollowing as he was at the start (above). As a result, his technique is much improved and Janine starts to feel that she can see a spot to the fences (above).
“Good job – really well done,” praises David. “You basically got every single distance spot on and you got all your lead changes – now you can go and do show hunter! That’s the ride I like, so that’s what we’re going to finish on.”
Darcy went so well today and Janine did a really good job, because he’s not easy. He has been tricky, but she’s getting somewhere with him and the lesson got better and better.
Janine is starting to get a ride now. Before, she had to canter down and take whatever was coming, but by the end she was able to come around the corner on a rhythm and see a distance. She was maintaining more rhythm and riding straighter lines. Towards the end of a lesson she looked like she was ready to go out and ride around a show.
Janine’s position is pretty good – she just needs to work on carrying her hands, especially when her horse fights her. But I was happy with her lower leg and her seat is pretty good.
For Darcy’s mileage at the moment, this height was perfect for him. He doesn’t need to go any higher, because we want to keep him nice and confident. At the end he was confident and taking Janine to the fence. By whacking them up, we’d probably just scare him.
Darcy’s technique needs work, but he’s got potential. Sometimes his form is okay. When his form doesn’t look so great is when he jumps off all four legs! Janine needs to keep it slow, stay consistent and do lots of grids and bounces.
The lesson was great – we made some real progress by the end. I was really pleased that Darcy started to soften and I could ride him to the fence. He felt rideable for the first time.
The main thing I took away from the lesson was that I need to soften, especially with my hands. Darcy was getting quite tanky and I was having problems steering, but as soon as David said ask for the turn, then soften and ask again, instead of just asking, I had a much happier horse! Darcy was quite strong to start with, but the exercise of going down the line, halting, turning and then cantering down the long side with a 20m circle really helped to bring him back and focus again.
I love my lessons with David. He is so positive and encouraging. I have been out of the game for such a long time and have a lot of bad habits, but David never makes me feel inadequate or that I can’t do it.
I would also like to extend a big thank you to the sponsor of this lesson, Bayer.
dealing with ex-racehorses
Softer is always better. As hot and as rattled as they can be, I like to be as soft as I possibly can, and basically just ride them forward and show them what I’m wanting. You always have to be consistent with the ride – don’t be inconsistent with what you’re asking.
You also have to keep your leg on. That’s really important with a hot horse. So many riders ride with no legs, but, the hotter the horse, generally the more leg you want on it.
Bounces from trot. These improve the horse’s balance and sharpen his mind. Start with two fences (one bounce) and then add one at a time.
Approach from canter. This grid will help improve your horse’s foreleg action.
Approach from trot. Bounce fences to an oxer. For the training level/young horse, set the bounces at 10 feet. For the more advanced horse, this can be shortened to 9 feet. With the advanced horse, the ground rail can be placed on the back side of the first fence; this creates a false groundline, which will get you nice and close to the first bounce.
Thanks to Horse & Pony for sharing this with us