Session 3 – Give Your Horse the Best chance to Jump Clear
Luis Alvarez Cervera

On February 6th, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 International Eventing Forum at Hartpury College (UK), where the theme was “Focus on Success”.

Here are my notes from the third part of the clinic, given by Luis Alvarez Cervera, who is the Show Jumping coach of the New Zealand Olympic Team and has competed at Olympic level in both Show Jumping and Eventing. You can read Part 1 and 2 by following this link ->2012 International Eventing Forum

Notes from Luis Alvarez Cervera: “Jumping Clear – Give your horse the best chance of jumping a clear round.”

Guinea Pig Riders:  Caroline Powell, Tanaka Toshiyuki and Lucy Jackson

He first used Caroline’s position at halt as an example: not too much pressure in stirrups, verticality, not stiff in wrists or shoulders, leathers short enough (stand up in stirrups to check).

Start trotting a big circle to establish the rhythm, from lower leg to hand.

“Relaxation is the first step to get flexibility. It is very difficult to get the horse flexible if it is a little bit excited or not relaxed.” The rhythm makes them relaxed, it’s the main thing to establish at the beginning of the exercise.

Then, start small flexions, lateral flexions, to get the back swinging. The principle of this exercise is to get them very flexible and very obedient to the orders of the rider.

The flatwork is absolutely necessary for the modern type of show-jumping courses – very technical, related distances, short, long, and also a lot of turns that are quite difficult for the horses. The horses have to be able to do flying changes, and to be collected in a forward stride, because of the time limit.

Next, a few strides of shoulder-in on the circle, then a few strides of quarters in, then outside bend on the circle, and repeat, varying between sitting and rising trot.

Major emphasis on the relaxation of the horses, and that the horses feel comfortable. These exercises would be a pattern of warming up your horse efficiently, helping to shorten how long you need to warm up before SJ at a 3-day.

“I find sometimes it is very difficult to spend a long time warming them up after xc, because your horses have only so much time, so much energy left, you want to have a pattern of warming them up that really gets them flexible, gets them back under the orders of the rider, and gets them on the round stride, and not rushing into the fences. So with this pattern of work, in maybe 10 minutes you’d have them ready to start jumping.”

In the canter, he had the riders changing their position, doing a few strides in the semi-forward position. The horse should not alter his stride, just get rounder under the rider, then the rider gently resumes the seat again, and then again semi-forward position.

“Keep the horse round and your forearm relaxed, allow your horse express himself a little bit, don’t try to control with strength. Control is a word that immediately makes one think of dominance, it’s one thing to control without dominating the horse too much. The horse has to be flexible, has to be happy with the orders and directions given, has to be receptive, without the rider having to use strength.”

“What we want is that the horses become very very receptive to our aids, for shortening as well as for lengthening because that is going to allow us to alter the stride when it is needed. In modern courses you have to be very very accurate, so changing the stride forwards and backwards is very needed, and the more you do these exercises the easier it becomes for the horses to do it, because the aids mustn’t be noticeable, they are hidden and soft.”

Next, they worked on lengthening the canter, first with true bend and then with outside bend – the horse must take the outside rein and lengthen – then back to true bend and shorten (using the outside rein) on a smaller circle. “Keep asking for more, cantering shorter and shorter on a small circle, make him work, and then forward again, trot, relax the horse.”

“Really working on the small circle gives the horse a lot of power, so you work on the strength, work on this sort of thing every day so that it doesn’t alter their character, their temperament, when you are asking them to do something that is difficult.”

Luis-Alvarez-Cervera

First jumping exercise: to get them jumping and landing on the lead they need for the next corner.

On a 20m circle, slightly angled pole on the ground (following arc of circle) between the wings, pole about 3 yards from it on either side. The exercise was: “come round the circle in a shortened canter, look for your distance, and then move up to the fence.” This tests the discipline of really looking at your fence, from the right distance, and having the right type of canter and the right type of altering the distance. “Release over the pole is important.”

Next, he had them doing a flying change over the third pole if they were on the wrong leg (so, just after the landing stride), and he rolled both poles about 6” towards the landing side before putting the upright at about 1’9” high. “Remember that the arms must be elastic, don’t worry too much about the situation of the head of the horse, just keep it soft in the mouth.”

Next exercise – cantering over an S of 5 single pole uprights about 1’ high, set up down the whole school (more or less 1 at D, P, X, S, G), meeting them all perfectly straight, keeping the rhythm, and then to a bigger track, all on slightly short or perfect distances.

Then, that same exercise of small fences followed by a course of bigger fences: upright, curve on 7 strides to a parallel, turn left to a line of one of the small fences from the S exercise, 4 shortish even strides to parallel, 2 strides to upright.

He stressed that fiddling with the reins/mouth on the way to the fence = fiddling with the horse’s CONCENTRATION into the fence.“If the canter is underpowered, too slow, you must create more canter early, not in the last two strides.”

Create STRENGTH in the canter. “If the horse is underpaced, it will have to make more effort, and will lose confidence, so increase the tempo.”

Enough pace & power = increase in confidence. “The horses get more confident every time because of the repetition of good riding.”

The exercise of jumping the very small upright, then the 4 stride distance (he said this was set at 15m) to the biggish parallel, makes the rider WAIT.

Control is NOT domination, not oppressive. Have control, but using the horse’s freedom, balance and willingness to go forward.”

The ideal: a light seat but with the weight all down in the heels. Sit deep but LIGHT, upright, with the centre of gravity as low as possible.

Q&A

Warming up – just before going in, he’ll jump either a smallish parallel, or a biggish upright with a ground line. He will not try to trick the horse into having a pole, it is all about confidence.

When asked, he said he often likes to work with a selection of small and big fences set up together, as in this demo, and to mix up the sizes of fences in a course. It was noticeable that after the horses had jumped the bigger fences mixed in with the small fences a few times, they were in fact more careful about the S-exercise over the small single poles, rather than becoming blasé – the variety of sizes and technicality really concentrated the horses’ & riders’ minds, and their confidence grew.

The two photos clearly show the huge difference in the size of the fences being jumped in the same course.

Thanks to Kerry Weisellberg and www.horsejunkiesunited.com