Trainer Tuesday: When a horse, rider, or both rush down a line, how do you help them?

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Welcome to Trainer Tuesday! Each week we ask trainers a question and gather their answers for you. These trainers have a range of experience, backgrounds, and focus points of their programs, so the answers have as much variation as you would expect and also probably much more similarity. 

This week’s question posed is: When either a horse or rider or both want to rush down a line (say 5 strides), how do you train them for success?

Here are their answers: 

“When it comes to running down a line, I love to utilize bounce poles. A bounce pole after jump 1, and right before and after jump 2 can help the horse and rider pay attention to their track and be a bit more careful. For some horse/rider combos, if we are working with a longer line (more than 5 strides), I also like to add a downward transition to walk after jump 1 then continue back to canter jump 2 a couple times before jumping it again as one fluid line.” -Ali Calcagni

“Rushing down a line of two jumps in a related distance can be very dangerous. To help correct and solve this problem it will require that you do your homework and be patient.

I like to keep the horse and rider thinking so with this situation I will have the riders canter into a line and trot out (this will only be done over small jumps). Once the pair is comfortable with that I might have them trot in and canter out, this may be on the same day or may take several sessions.

After these two exercises are done well then incorporate cantering the line at a low height adding one or two strides until the pair is comfortable. Continue to build on these exercises until the horse and rider can canter the line without rushing, at any time you may have to take steps back to go forward. Always listen to your horse.”
-Troy Hendricks
Listen to Troy on the Plaidcast here.

“For other riders, counting backwards as you jump into a line can also slow down an anxious mind. Instead of counting, ‘land, one, two, three, four, five,’ try reversing it. ‘Land, five, four, three, two, one.’ This is particularly useful if someone feels rushed to get out of the lines. You always want your horse to take his time jumping the oxer out of the line. But a rider’s busy mind can result in a horse rushing out of the line—getting a little flat and just skimming over the oxer.

Doing the correct number of strides and finding the distance are only the basics of jumping. At the next level in your riding, it’s about how well you did all those things. Counting backwards is one of our favorite ways to get riders to slow down their minds while cantering down the lines.” -Traci and Carleton Brooks
Listen to Traci and Caleton’s book With Purpose: The Balmoral Standard.

“One of the techniques I use is jumping in at a canter and smoothly halting before the ‘out’ of a 5 stride line. If you are riding a hot horse, that might get them bouncing a little bit so it would be better to come back to a walk or to jump in, circle in between the 2 jumps, and either jump out at a trot or an organized canter.

Another thing to be mindful of is if your horse is rushing in the line, you don’t want to encourage rushing by coming in too slow because then you’ll have to pick up the pace. Make sure to jump in with enough and then you can be thinking ‘slow down a little’ as you’re approaching the 2nd jump of the line.” -Julie Pickering
Read about Julie Pickering here.

“To address the urge to rush down a line, we implement a three-part strategy at our summer camp. Firstly, we emphasize walking the lines, discussing striding and distances, grounding abstract concepts into tangible experiences. Next, we transition to riding ground lines set at specific distances, where riders learn to count backwards and make real-time adjustments. Finally, we introduce actual jumping, incorporating engaging activities like red light, green light. Through this approach, we nurture patience and strategy, teaching riders to navigate the course with confidence and precision, ultimately fostering skills that extend beyond the arena and into the development of the teenage prefrontal cortex and all that it has to offer.” -MaryPaige Kowalski

“I distinctly remember one lesson when I was a kid where we worked on this exact issue. It was one of the Windcrest Farm famous Wednesday night lessons. I still remember who the pony was that I was riding and I remember just how fast we were going coming out of the corner and down the outside line in our not so big indoor ring. My trainer was very clear with her instructions, if they want to rush, let them.

Stay out of the way. Don’t pull, don’t brace, don’t grab. That’s probably the hardest thing to do right there; don’t brace and don’t grab. And once you can force yourself to truly just stay out of the way, they really do sort it out and get better. But I think it’s important to go a bit further than that in most cases. Going back to basics and having strong transitional work is really important as well as working on suppleness.

In our program, we really focus on going back to basics with transitions, a solid understanding of the half-halt, and bending before adding in any jumps with one that wants to rush. As transitions get better, we start to add in a pole or a small jump, making sure to do a downward transition on the backside and mixing in some bending work, too. We calmly focus on doing intentional work on the backside where the horse has to focus on the rider and the instructions rather than the next object in front of them.

When they go over the pole or small jump and take a stride or two away, they either bend into a circle, a downward transition or even a halt. I personally like to set the poles or jumps off the rail so I can ask the horse to go left or right afterwards to avoid anticipating a specific direction. Once I feel like they are being respectful and are understanding the task, I’ll add in another pole or small jump 4, 5, 6 strides away and mix up the circles and downward transitions both in the line and out of the line, and sometimes create a figure eight over the poles as well as adding in some halts in various places. The process may be tedious and progress may be slow, but as they say, slow and steady wins the race.

When it comes to riders wanting to rush, there’s all kinds of things that I’m sure work great. However, the best solution I’ve found to date is going back to the rider’s position. It always comes back to position doesn’t it?! I think getting a rider to really focus on lengthening their leg, having core strength and learning to control their seat is really the best way to begin the process of getting a rider to stop trying to rush to a jump.

A sense of lack of control is likely the reason why most people start to rush or may be the reason why they end up making their horse rush. Having to learn about rhythm and using their body to control the horse’s step and rhythm is key to begin the process of getting a rider to stop rushing. Having them focus on lengthening and shortening exercises where they can only use leg, seat and core strength to adjust their horses step and or rhythm without using any hand, really helps them realize how much control they can have over their horse without bracing against them. This tends to boost the rider’s confidence, control and feel which then allows them to realize there’s no need to rush to the jump…..after all, it’s not like it’s going to get up and run away, so sit chilly, maintain and take your time!” -Brooke Farr
Read about Brooke here.

“If I have a rider or horse combo rushing down the line, I’m big on consistency and believing in the system. First I like to break it down to the basics and trot each element. That allows the rider and horse to take a breath and relax. Rushing comes from excitement and insecurity. Once they can trot each element I ask the combination to canter the line and count out loud.

It’s important to hear the rider’s tone as they count each number. Most of the time the last few numbers are louder and more high pitched. It’s important for a rider to be able to control their emotions. Horses are mirrors. Look at the riders to fix a horse’s issue.” -Allison Kroff
Read Allison’s response to It Happens! here.

“I set up three separate exercises or combine both of these depending on where the rider is in their riding.

I set up ground poles in lessons and practices. Ground poles and cavelettis are so beneficial in helping with improvement of the riders eye and their horses adjustability. I’ll set up a 60’ line as poles which on course would be 4 strides. Riders will need to pick up the canter step on a circle of what would make it down that line. Then I have them add one or two strides each direction once they have done that well. Then go back to the step that they started with.

Second exercise is I have them count 3 strides out before they go into the pole exercise. 1, 2, 3 pole. Land, 1, 2, 3 etc.

This gets the students getting in the habit of always counting and recognizing their horses step before the line, in the line and after the lines. I set up this exercise in different spots on the outside, down the diagonal, or at the end of the arena. This also helps them understand track and pace.

The third exercise as my students like to call it is the ‘circle of death’. It’s just a clock but they are a little dramatic.

It’s a circle with 4 jumps that they have to fit the same number of strides between. That’s the step up as jumps. I always start with poles then move up to 2 jumps then 4. Which can take some time for both horse and rider.” -Kamerra Brown
Read about Kamerra here.

“For horses that rush in lines my go to exercise is to jump into the line and make a circle or two in the middle of the line before heading to the second jump. Depending on the horse we may switch it up to circling and trotting out of the line until the horse seems to be waiting for direction instead of anticipating the line.

For riders, we spend a lot of time counting our rhythm on the flat and single jumps so when it comes time to count down lines my riders are more comfortable focusing on a good pace rather than worrying about racing down the line.” -Sammy Rothman

“Transitions! Trot in, trot out. Canter in, trot out. Mix it up, throw in a canter in, canter out when it feels right. I also love using poles set at each canter stride (with and without jumps) to work on maintaining rhythm.” -T’Neil Wise

“Jumping riders often associate issues with riding related distances to issues with the practice of jumping itself, but unless the issue is rooted in pain from the horse’s perspective or fear from the rider’s perspective, problems like “rushing” are unequivocally related to lack of education in the dressage work.

Dressage does not mean forcing horses into an unnatural frame or riding specific movements in competition— it means simply, training. Horses and riders which cannot maintain regular rhythm or precise tracks (without tension) will always show symptoms of this lack of education or practice at some point in their jumping experience. Teaching the basics of dressage in a systematic way is the necessary path to success for all jumping riders, regardless of chosen discipline.” -McKrell Baier
Read McKrell’s article here.

“The first thing I like to do is check for pain. There are times where the horse will rush before or after in anticipation of pain, especially on the landing. I ask myself ‘does the saddle fit well,’ ‘is there any sensitivity along their back,’ and so on. After checking those boxes and some body work, I look at what we can improve under saddle.

One of my favorite exercises I had a student run through recently was trot in, trot out with a cavaletti in the middle. You can have any number of trot poles before and after. The main goal is to have both the horse and rider thinking ahead. Next I make the gymnastic a trot in, canter out, still with several poles before and after the cavaletti. The more you can make everyone think the better!” -Payton Medford

“I will set a line, whatever fits in the ring. For a horse that rushes the jumps, 5 or more strides is better. If you’re working on a rider’s timing, and maybe they don’t see the jumps so far away, you can work with a 4 stride.

I set a rail 6 meters (18 feet) from the vertical. With good ground lines. I always put flower boxes  but never full boxes as I want the horses to study what comes next, which is usually a landing rail 3 meter (9 feet). I will then place a takeoff rail 3 meters (9 feet) in front of the oxer, followed by a landing rail that starts around 3 1/2 meter in distance but can go to 4 meter if necessary depending on how far the horse lands from the jump.

At my staring jump, I make an X with good ground line followed by a landing rail 3 meters (9 feet) behind. I begin by trotting the x to the landing rail until I have the horse waiting and coming around the jump, landing patiently and relaxed. Obviously you can go up in size as necessary, making sure you roll out the landing rail as you do so. If the horse begins to rush or you feel the inability to give, add a take off rail as well.

Once I’ve done my trot jump, I will canter off both leads, making a square turn behind the landing rail of the vertical in my line, and address the out of my line first. Allowing the horse to understand the take off and landing rail at the oxer, while presenting it patiently. If I canter left, I turn left. If I canter right, I turn right. Right left, left right for me makes you lose rideability on the back side of the jumps as they anticipate change of direction and naturally dive in. We always practice right to right and left to left.

Once the horse is familiar with the oxer, I will present the line. My 1 stride rail in front of the vertical allows me to present the entry of the line consistently while teaching the horse to look for and melt their last stride: the most important stride. They land, I count my pole as ‘one’, the rest of the strides, and my take off rail is the last stride again, as the space between it and the oxer are the take off. Once they master this, I will roll the take off rail at the oxer out to make it a one stride rail. So then your rail becomes your second to last stride and your last ride it a full stride between the rail and the jump.

Oddly enough, I’ve tried to do the one stride exercise before the take off rail exercise, and I find horses that rush seem to understand better to do the take off rail and then roll it out to the one stride rail. They seem to understand better  with identifying their take off spot first, before they are patient enough and focused enough to identify their last stride without rushing. The one stride rail at the entry works regardless.

As I do the exercise I never change the height or width of the oxer. I do not want the horses to see it getting bigger and wider , which will encourage them to gear up. I will raise the vertical, while giving them more room between the poles and more ground line as necessary. Verticals are a balance game, oxers are balance and impulsion. Once your horse is waiting, you’ll be able to ride up to the out of any size and width so there’s no need to practice that in this particular case!

Teach your riders the same way you teach the horses! Emphasis on the last stride and its quality, not the distance!” -Colin Savaria