Mastering the art of jumping narrow fences – Originally posted by Eventing Connect
Narrow or skinny fences are on every cross-country course at the Training level and above. If you want to be an eventer, you need to be able to make it between the flags even when they are only feet apart. Narrows often confuse horses because there isn’t much for the horse to focus on and making a detour around these jumps is mega easy. If you want to finish cross-country with consistent double clear rounds, then you need to become a master at getting your horse over narrows. Conquering narrows doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen the day of an event. You need to spend many jump schools training your horse to understand how to look for and jump narrows. Begin your quest for mastering the art of jumping narrows by following these six straightforward tips:
1) Start low and not so narrow: When you start introducing narrow fences to horses, always start at a height that your horse could jump from a literal standstill. You are not testing your horse’s scope here. Also, don’t begin with a super narrow fence. Standard show jumps are 12-feet wide and many cross-country jumps are even wider. Start with a jump that is around 6-feet wide; on a green horse, this will be trickier than you’ll anticipate. To get this perfect introduction fence, you could cut a show jump pole in half or find a small log and cut it to this size. Sometimes, show jump poles break in half from some schooling mishap, these make perfect narrow poles so keep them.
2) Increase narrowness, not height: Once your horse is comfortable jumping a 6-foot wide ‘narrow’, it’s time to make things skinnier not higher. If a horse understands it is supposed to jump between the flags no matter how narrow a jump is, the height will surprisingly be a non-issue. Again, you might have to get creative to find something narrow to jump. Some things I have used over the years to create narrow type fences are box jump fillers, plastic barrels, mounting blocks, broken rails, random logs and so on. Just make sure whatever you are using is safe.
3) Use some ‘training wheels’: To prevent your horse from learning that it is way easier to just scoot around narrows, put a pole on each side of the fence to make a chute. Also, use flags or standards on each side of the fence. This is important because you want to train your horse to look for flags and it helps you know whether your whole horse jumped the narrow. Use this pole chute tactic until your horse feels honest and confident about jumping the narrow. Then remove them and try to jump the narrow. Your horse likely won’t even notice they are gone.
4) Don’t override, correct (calmly): When you are schooling narrows at home, there is no big prize on the line so you don’t have to ride like your career depends on clearing the narrow. Overriding narrows at home will make it challenging at events because you will dull your horse to your extra reinforcements. Make your life easier by schooling narrows just like you would any other fence. If your horse gets confused and runs out, calmly halt, rein back so you are right in front of the jump then let your sniff and look at the jump. After it has acknowledged the jump by putting its nose on it, rein it back in a straight line far enough away from the fence that you can pick up a canter or trot and jump the fence immediately. I learned this narrow schooling method from Clayton Fredericks, and I find it works like a charm. It helps your horse understand what it is supposed to be jumping without becoming stressed.
5) Repeat, repeat, repeat: Training a horse how to jump narrows doesn’t happen in several jump schools. Make jumping narrows a regular part of your jumping training. Even if your horse has never had a runout at a narrow in its life, you should still school this type of fence on a regular basis. You are better to be safe than sorry.
6) Switch things up: If you seriously want to master narrows, you need to practice jumping as many types of these fences as you can dream up and create. You also need to play around with the types of line you jump the narrows on. At events, narrows can be on bending lines, straight lines, one-strides, in a water jump, after a down bank, on top of a mound, etc. Put on your course designer hat and get creative about how you jump narrows. Don’t assume jumping a narrow in your arena is the same as on hilly terrain. Have some fun with your narrow schooling and keep switching things up.
7) Ride like you mean it on show day: You shouldn’t override narrows at home, but at events, you don’t want to take anything for granted. I’m not suggesting you ride like a rabid squirrel and startle your horse making your job difficult. Ride an absolutely straight line to the narrow, setup and balance your horse’s canter at least eight strides before the narrow question, keep your hands wide to help guide your horse, and kick like snot if you feel your horse starting to back off. Remember, the way you train and the way you compete is not always the same.
Acknowledgment Eventing Connect: Mastering the art of jumping narrow fences – MD Barnmaster has partnered with the writers at Eventing Connect to share their expertise on a variety of horse subjects. Stay tuned for more valuable tips and insight from writers who are competitive riders.