I’m going to talk about a really novel theory here: better flatwork leads to better jumping.
ALERT THE MEDIA THIS IS AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT EVERYBODY IS NOW GASPING IN SHOCK.
I know, I know. We all know this. But I want to talk about it, so humor me.
More specifically, I want to talk about how hard we “push” on the flat and over fences, and how we can connect (or sometimes disconnect) the two.
I know for me- and I can’t be alone in this- my temptation is to push over fences. Jack ’em up, give us tighter turns, let’s giddyup and go. I don’t do this willy-nilly because I am not a total dumdum, but I love jumping and my drive to improve focuses on jumping.
But. Without dressage-ing my horse and building capabilities on the flat, I will eventually reach an ceiling of my horse’s abilities over fences. So I need to be pushing just as hard to extend our fitness and abilities on the flat if I expect to be pushing hard over fences.
This is why we’ve raised our expectations on the flat as we’ve raised the fences. Establishing balance around smaller circles = time saved by doing the inside turn in a jumpoff. Firmly installing lateral movements at all gaits = better control and precision on course. Maintaining a steady connection between the aids = the ability to adjust to the right spot, slice a jump without a runout, communicate more clearly. Not to mention the fact that all of this builds fitness and self-carriage.
This is why we do crap tons of lateral work and spend so much time “warming up” in our lessons. Frankie’s abilities over the small fences got 100x better as we improved our flatwork, and suddenly the bigger fences were coming up more smoothly.
So what would happen if we pushed to improve over fences without pushing to improve our dressage? What if there was a disconnect between the two?
Let’s assume that Frankie was in good fitness from hill work and regular exercise, but that we didn’t emphasize lateral work, collection/extension, things like that. Let’s assume that I hopped on him every day, WTC around for an hour, then hopped off. No pushing of technical skills on the flat.
I’d better hope I have the magic eye for distances >4 strides out, because we don’t have a ton of adjustability. I’ll need to shorten or lengthen much earlier because my horse won’t be tuned to that.
And I’ll need to hit the perfect take-off spot every time, because he will have a tough time getting a bouncy enough canter to handle a super short or long one.
Once we land, the turns better not be too sharp. We have a tough time connecting to the outside rein and moving off the inside leg, so we’re not super balanced as the turns get tighter.
We have a tough time moving our shoulders/haunches independently, so I’ll need to set my horse up very straight to each jump. Otherwise we risk a drive-by. I don’t have a lot of options with my turns since it’s limited to how quickly we can move his whole body.
And all this is assuming that my horse has developed the self-carriage to get a powerful enough stride to jump the bigger jumps. Which I find unlikely.
So yeah. If we were running into a problem with our lateral work or collection, it wouldn’t make sense to me for us to try to progress with bigger jumps or tighter turns. It would make sense to keep the jumps at a comfortable, manageable level while we improved our knowledge and abilities on the flat and only THEN ask harder questions over fences.
While I haven’t sat in a dressage saddle in at least 10 years, I take dressage-ing my horse extremely seriously. Of the 5-6 hours of work he does each week, 4.5-5.5 of those hours are spent on the flat developing strength and consistency, flexibility and adjustability. When he gets a pro ride, that’s usually heavily flatwork-focused. We know he can jump the jumps- developing his “buttons” on the flat is what gives him more tools to do that. Even when working over fences, we keep them under 3′ most of the time- there are so many skills we can practice without jumping his legs off.
Frankie definitely prefers to jump. No matter how lazy or bored he seems on the flat, he perks up and hunts down the fences as soon as they go up. He would probably be much happier if we jumped more and flatted less. But I strongly believe that this would be doing him a huge disservice and lead to holes in training/health problems down the road.
So there’s my soapbox for the day. I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, no novel new concepts, but I’m feeling pretty passionate about it these days. And if there’s anyone out there that I can rant to about the importance of developing a stronger shoulder-in, it’s all y’all crazies.