Riding: The importance of flatwork for showjumpers

Updated: Mar 4, 2019

Showjumping riders are becoming more and more aware of the importance of flatwork - or Showjumping Dressage - and in the ways it helps their horses to perform to the best of their ability.

Some of my friends who I studied with at college have very well paid and comfortable jobs as Flatwork riders for international Showjumpers - they go to all the top international shows, all over the world, Ride top quality horses every day, and are living their dream - all because they ride well on the flat!!!

One of my idols Earnest Dillion BHSI and showjumper and eventer to the highest levels states in his excellent book - The Complete Showjumper (a must read - excellent informative book!) that a showjumper cannot perform to the best of their ability without a strong foundation of correct work in basic ‘show jumping dressage’.

The showjumper must be able to:

• Perform at his peak for short periods

• Be instantly obedient to the rider’s aids

• Be Infinitely Adjustable – e.g. adjust the canter stride

• Alter the length and quickness of the stride

• Have the strength and flexibility to leave all the fences up in a quicker time than his rivals.

This is all achievable as a consequence of:

• Controlled forward propulsion

• Even rhythm throughout all gaits

• Absolute straightness

• Correct bend through every turn

• Perfect balance.

All of these things are achieved Whilst working on the flat! Peter Leone, an American Olympic showjumper quotes - “Jumping is flatwork with airborne moments”. Course designers nowadays rely heavily on technical challenges to sort through the field of high class horses competing. This means that horses must be adjustable (stride length) and obedient between fences. A well-schooled showjumper must be able to move laterally (sideways and forwards), turn and adjust their stride length quickly.

In classical dressage (flatwork) training horses are worked through a training scale known as the German Training Scale:

1. Rhythm

2. Suppleness

3. Contact

4. Impulsion

5. Straightness

6. Collection

Each step of the training scale encourages the correct development of muscles over the horse’s top line, back and hindquarters – power in these muscles are vital to showjumpers, needed to propel themselves upwards and over large (or small!) fences. By working horses in the correct frame and encouraging them to move laterally (sideways) off the riders leg e.g. working in leg yielding – will enhance the adjustability of the horse’s canter stride.

The importance for showjumpers to be able to lengthen and shorten their stride cannot be emphasised enough; many of the problems found on show jumping courses nowadays are not related to the height of the fence – but the distances between the fences. The rider must be able to lengthen or shorten his horses stride to enable him to arrive at the correct take off point. This can be easily achieved in the school at home - you can even use poles to help focus you and your horse.

The ability for the horse to turn comes higher up the levels of show jumping – this is the ability for the horse to sit on his hindquarters, lighten the forehand and turn – decreasing the amount of time spent turning in the jump off. In terms of flatwork this is achieved through movements such as turn on the hindquarters or haunches. This, in terms of the training scale is collection. The horse works in complete balance and harmony with the rider to step under himself more, carry more weight on his hindquarters and become lighter off his forehand.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and it has inspired you to work harder - or keep working on your Flatwork.

Kyle schooling on the flat for successful showjumping.

R Kyle Hayes is an instructor and runs Aldertree

#horseriding #showjumping #schooling #trainingtips #dressage


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