Trainer Tuesday: How would you handle a horse jumping diagonally across the jump rather than straight through the middle?

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: How would you handle a horse jumping diagonally across the jump rather than straight through the middle?

Here are their answers: 

“I like to use guide rails front and back to teach them, or remind them, to jump through the center and carry a straight trajectory away from the jump. Foam rails work nicely for this, so if they make an error, they aren’t landing on a wood pole and potentially injuring themselves. When they are new to this, I start with just the chute on the front and set it fairly wide. When they are comfortable, I add the chute on the backside wide and then gradually reduce the width of both chutes.” -Vanessa Brown

Read the “It Happens” article featuring Vanessa here.

“The cause of this problem is because the horse is not straight and therefore the hindquarters do not carry the weight evenly in the take-off phase: it is of the result of the rider collapsing one hip as they jump – a common fault.

Tips: 

  • Check and correct your seat over a jump. Always stay centered on the horse – the weight you feel in each foot should be equal.
  • Try to improve your horse’s straightness on the flat
  • With a horse that always jumps to the left, approach on a left circle and jump the fence at an almost 45 degree angle, positioning the horse away from the direction he would jump towards. If he jumps to the right, approach on the right rein. 
  • Do not make the angle too sharp because it could encourage the horse to run out to the opposite side. 
  • In some cases, it can prove successful to raise the height of a cross-pole on one side only or to add a pole which is put up on just one side. 
  • It often helps to lay a guide pole in front and on top of the middle of the jump.”  -Excerpt from Dressage Tips and Training Solutions
    Read the full book here.

“The first thing I would do depending on the severity would be to have the vet come out and look at the horse. Oftentimes, horses get crooked off the ground because one hind limb is weaker than the either, OR they’re avoiding landing on a front foot that may be sore. If the vet gives you the green light, I would use straightening rails on takeoff and landing. Place those rails perpendicular to the jump, and about 5-6 feet apart (not too narrow, you don’t want the horse to feel like it’s a trap).

Remember that horses are creatures of habit – the more they do something, the better they get at it. Keep the jumps small, because the challenge is in the straightness and not the obstacle. The goal is to build confidence, and not scare them with a big jump. Repeat often to build confidence for both the horse and rider!” -Ruth Nicodemus, Serenity Show Stables
Find Serenity Show Stables in The Plaid Horse June 2024 issue here.

“The first thing I evaluate on a horse jumping to one side is soundness, because most issues like one-sidedness can be solved with some understanding of why they are one sided and how to help them be more balanced, like body work or vet care. If the issue is being addressed physically, then I move to the next step of rider imbalance or riders that may twist or lean and create a drift/diagonal jump and work with them on the flat and over poles to save the horses legs while addressing the issue.

The last thing I will work with is the jump itself, if all other aspects are assessed and the horse now has a habit of pushing more to one side or jumping across one side of the jump. I’ll start with small fences usually smaller Swedish oxers and taller x’s to encourage straightness as well as guide rails on the ground (not too narrow for safety) on the takeoff and landing side to create the habit of straightness.” -Brittany Massey

Read Brittany’s The Plaid Horse Questionnaire here.

“I would handle a horse jumping diagonally by adding lanes! Like bowling, we sometimes need help keeping straight – lanes and alley ways help!” -Jane Ehrhardt

Read about Jane in The Plaid Horse here.

“First, I would assess why is the horse jumping with a right or left drift. Make sure it is a rider error and not a soundness issue. Is your horse equally balanced on the left and right and are both lead changes symmetric? To start, I like to place a ground pole behind a small vertical, perpendicular to the jump on the side the horse tends to drift to. I like to use a foam pole so if the horse accidentally steps on it, it remains very safe. Start off with the pole at least 4 or 5 steps away and lined up behind the standard.

If needed, the pole can be placed a little closer and rolled in towards the middle being careful not to confuse the horse or asking too much too soon. Gradually, you can place guide rails behind a small course of 8 to 10 jumps. Being consistent with these exercises is important so the horse always learns to jump in a straight line. And don’t over jump – a little and often is the most effective so the horse has time to soak it all in.” – Patrick Seaton

Read about Patrick in The Plaid Horse here.

“First, I would evaluate the probable cause. Is it rider imbalance, lack of ability, fitness, athletic ability, discomfort or pain, trainability or some combination of issues?  My next approach would be based off the above answers, but if pain and rider interference could be ruled out, I would start with cross-rail exercises with guide rails on the front and backside. If a habit has been formed, starting over with basics to break the ‘bad’ habit and create a healthier happy horse is the key to long term success. -Courtney Hayden-Fromm

Listen to Courtney on the Plaidcast here.

“Poles and cones!” -Victoria Charmoli

Read about Victoria in The Plaid Horse here.

“There could be many reasons why your horse is jumping diagonally. Is this something new they started doing or has this been going on for awhile? First and foremost, I would want to rule out that there weren’t any soundness issues for the horse. Many horses that are compensating or uncomfortable somewhere in their body will try to elevate discomfort by landing on what feels best. Many green horses when figuring out their jumping style will tend to jump better one way versus the other too.

What about the rider? Are they straight in their position or leaning to one side? A crooked rider makes a crooked horse! It’s important to always set the horse up for success in exercises that can strengthen their jump and also in ways that encourage them to be straight across the entire jump. I love using V poles along with two guide rails on the landing side of the fence perpendicularly. Even adding more guide rails three to four strides before and after the fence can encourage straightness.” -Heather Terdan

“First, I would make sure the horse is sound and doesn’t need any vet maintenance before moving forward. Once the vet has given the go ahead, I like to start them over a low cross rail at a trot. Then, I will gradually raise the cross rail until they are at the top of the standards. When you have a horse jump a large cross rail at the trot, it requires the horse to take its time, load the hind end evenly and stay in the middle. You can also add a vertical in between the cross rails so you can add some height to it as well as. If you have a horse that isn’t too impressed with jumps, you can take two poles and put them on top of a vertical in a ‘v’ shape. This helps the horse zero in on the middle of the jump while also making them a bit more careful. Depending on the braveness of the horse, you can jump bigger oxers and verticals with the v. You do need to be careful about doing this to a horse that is a bit more timid with jumps – you can make them over careful and scare themselves.” -Lindsay Anderson

Read about Lindsay in The Plaid Horse here.