By Capt. Brian Cournane
Achieving straightness with your horse is paramount. Not only does straightness contribute to clear rounds, but it also improves your horse’s overall health and wellbeing, creating evenness so that one side is not overcompensating for another.
I practice straightness with my horses through the shoulder fore, which I demonstrate in my educational video series, “At Home with Capt. Brian Cournane.” I started this video series in 2020 while the sport was on hold, but it was something that was on my mind for quite some time. I remember when I was starting off in the sport of show jumping, it was all a bit mysterious as to how you prepared and trained for these big classes. I thought it would be nice for people in my situation back then to have something that they could look at and really learn and have as an online course of sorts. It’s great for people to get to see how top level horses train and look at how different riders approach their training techniques and get a little bit of a behind the scenes look at what goes on in professional yards (You can watch the series on YouTube by clicking here).
When it comes to practicing straightness through the shoulder fore, consider these tips:
Consider a horse’s anatomy when considering straightness. When you’re thinking about straightness, it’s important to remember that horses are naturally crooked. Their hindquarters are much wider than their shoulders, and they carry their haunches to the inside. Practicing a shoulder fore makes a horse straight; think of it as about 10 percent of shoulder-in. By controlling the shoulder, you engage the horse’s inside hind leg, which encourages the horse to take more weight on their hindquarters and lighten their front end, which makes them much lighter in the hand, improving ride-ability.
The outside rein is the straightening rein. Inside leg and outside rein are the dominant aids in the shoulder fore. Use them to position the shoulders in front of the haunches. Engage the horse with your inside leg to outside rein, slightly open the inside hand, and turn your shoulders slightly to the inside. The horse’s shoulder should follow. This can be done in all gaits but should be mastered progressively, first at the walk. In the early stages of practicing shoulder fore, use the rail/your track to guide you and gauge progression of the movement.
Repetition is key. Through repetition and as a horse gets stronger, the quality of a horse’s moments will improve. I always think about working the horses on the flat like I’d approach going to the gym myself—making myself stronger so that whatever I’m training, I get better at. It’s the same with horses. Proper flatwork exercises really enhance the horse’s jumping muscles and ultimately make the horses better.
Straightness translates. I always want to keep my flatwork as similar to when my horses are jumping in the show ring. When a horse is used to going straight, they come to the jump more balanced, resulting in a better jump.
About Capt. Brian Cournane
International Irish show jumper Capt. Brian Cournane developed the foundation for his riding career in the Army Equitation School of Ireland. In the military for more than a decade, he spent 12 years competing primarily in the sport of eventing, where he thrice competed at the World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion d’Angers (FRA), was shortlisted for the London Olympic Games and selected for the European Championships Fontainebleau, while also achieving Grand Prix wins at the national level of show jumping.
In 2016, Cournane relocated to Wellington, FL, in the U.S. and fully committed himself to the sport of show jumping. He quickly ascended the ranks and has become a fixture on the international show jumping circuit with a strong string of horses. Cournane and wife Jules now run their Glenbeigh Farm operation out of Wellington, and Cournane has become a regular member of Team Ireland’s jumping squad. With a great commitment to the sport, his horses, his family and his country, Cournane has his sights set firmly on show jumping’s major championships.