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CONTROL WORDS Ashleigh Kendall IMAGES Show Circuit Magazine


Jacque McKinley is a full-time coach based in Auckland. She is an NZPCA National Coach, and is the Head Equestrian Coach at St Cuthbert’s College.

“Practice like you’ve never won. Perform like you’ve never lost.”


Sophia Hall, 14, and TCG Centadel (Jet) are a fairly new combination, having only been together for the last six months. Sophia and her parents, Fiona and Henry, imported Jet from Australia so Sophia could make the step up from 1.10m show jumping to Pony Grand Prix. Sophia is a student at St Cuthbert’s, and has been training with Jacque for the last five years.

“Always make your transitions forward, keep it simple and make a difference.”

“It’s important you keep him around your inside leg; keep him balanced and uphill as you prepare.”

Warming up To warm up, Sophia rides Jet in a nice forward rhythm in walk, trot and canter, getting him thinking and listening. Jacque encourages her to work her pony in a nice stretching outline and into a consistent contact, and to do plenty of transitions. She explains that transitions are a really good way for Sophia to get her pony listening and ready for her aids. They also keep him interested in what his rider is doing, as he never knows what she might ask for next. “I like the pony to stretch forward and down when he’s warming up, because it helps to open his trot stride and gets him more through over his back,” Jacque says. “When he first starts out, he tends to trot with a shorter stride, so by stretching him like this, Sophia can really open him right up.” Jacque also wants Sophia to start thinking about riding

warm up AB5O1876.JPG AB5O1541.JPG AB5O1502.JPG

some transitions within each pace, asking Jet forward to lengthen his stride, before making a transition back again. Adjusting the tempo gets her pony thinking forward, and fine-tunes him to Sophia’s aids. “Balance, regroup, then forward. Always make your transition forward,” Jacque reminds her rider. “Keep it simple and make a difference. If you get stuck in the same tempo all the time, Jet will get bored and it will be harder to get him to pay attention to your aids.” Throughout the warm-up, Jacque also makes corrections to Sophia’s position in order to improve her pony’s way of going. “Open your chest and square your shoulders to improve his balance and straightness,” she reminds her. “Being slightly off-centre makes a big difference. If you are leaning off to one side, even just a little bit, then he isn’t able to come through his body.”

Pat and reward While your pony is in motion, reach down lightly (but don’t lean too far forward, or you will change the pony’s balance), and pat to reward him. Keep holding the same rein length, no matter which pace you are working in, as you reward him with a kind pat on the neck.

“I’ve always found that giving a pat to reward your pony for trying is particularly important. There should be lots of pats on the neck during a training session.”

Using poles for straightness A useful exercise for jumpers is to set up two parallel poles, or ‘tram tracks’, on either side of a jump to direct the rider’s focus in their approach to the fence. “Preparation is key in this exercise. To ride it well, you must not only be focused on being straight to the fence, but more importantly, you must keep your focus on straightness after the fence as well, so you can ride a clean getaway onto the next one,” Jacque explains. “The poles are there to keep you focused on the straightness of your approach, and to keep you focused after the jump too. Look at your ‘getaway’ before the jump – tune it in, then look up, sit up and jump.” She also reminds Sophia to use half-halts to square her pony up, bringing him back to shift all his power onto his hind end so he can put maximum effort into each jump, and to maintain balance through the turns. “Don’t forget to use your outside rein to turn, not just your inside rein, or your pony will become unbalanced and you lose all your control out the shoulder. The inside rein should be elastic while the outside should be balancing.”

The circle exercise: Start by travelling over the poles in a straight line at trot. Once your horse feels comfortable and balanced, start introducing the circles. Trot over the first two poles, make a smooth 20m circle to the left before returning over the poles, then proceed to the next poles and repeat the exercise. Make sure to do it on both reins, and for added difficulty, give it a go in canter!

Four jump and cone exercise A great exercise which Jacque likes to use in her lessons is the four jump and cone exercise. Here, riders jump through four fences set up on a zig-zag, and the rider’s focus is on the getaway and the corners. It’s a tricky exercise to get through the cones cleanly. “To ride this exercise more professionally, you have to ride away from the fence just as well as you ride into it,” Jacque explains. “Focus on the getaway – on landing, look for the next set of cones.”

This is a helpful exercise to train riders to think ahead and make their turns, which is a very important way to cut down on time in show jumping. “If you don’t make the turn, then you won’t make the jump – that’s the whole idea of this exercise,” Jacque says. “When you haven’t got your canter leads right and you are disorganised, this exercise is really hard,” she tells Sophia. “But when you get yourself together, it really helps you to work on balance and turns.”

This exercise also challenges the rider to think about accuracy and landing on the correct canter lead.


Tackling combinations When jumping combination fences, Jacque says it is super important to be confident and set yourself up well to the fences, without interfering too much with your pony. “Remember that no matter what, when you get into a double combination, you can’t even think that you aren’t going to jump back out,” Jacque says. “The combination fences at shows are often the downfall for riders, so it is very important to practise these at home. Then you can go into the ring feeling confident and well-prepared.” Try this at home - Set up a grid in a straight line down the middle of your arena, with the fences at a height at which you and your pony are comfortable. Add ground lines on either side of each jump, but avoid using fill (walls, flower boxes, etc.). Use coloured rails, preferably with stripes, as they will help you to stay centred in the middle of each fence.

Grid exercise vertical

one stride

20’ (6m)



If your pony has never jumped a grid, start very simply and keep the fences low, or even as poles on the ground until they get the idea.

one stride

19’ (5.8m)




10’ (3m)

Why jump grids? • They encourage your pony to be more reactive off your aids and make a better shape over the fences

• Different fences and distances between fences teach your pony to lengthen and shorten his strides

• They improve his rhythm over fences

• They enable you to be more aware of your position

• They can improve straightness issues

• They help you to ride fences more accurately

• If your pony tends to be flat and careless, grids will help him to sharpen up in front, improving his jumping technique

• They increase your confidence when jumping

• They help you both to improve your balance

• They improve your pony’s bascule over fences.

• They improve the suppleness of you and your pony

“I don’t believe in jumping too many fences in one session. You want to be able to minimise concussion and have your pony’s legs fresh for competition day!” Scary fences Jumping a variety of fences is important in training at home, as you never know what you will get at a show. In show jumping, there will always be some scary fences to look at in the ring, so it is best to be prepared ahead of time. “The wall and liverpool are great to practice over,” Jacque says. “The wall is solid and the liverpool is different to any other fence on course, so jumping these at home helps your pony to get used to what he might see when he is out competing. “Don’t override – just be positive. Most fences we think are terrifying aren’t spooky to horses at all. Remember, they don’t see bright colours the way we do – bright orange is just grey to them. Horses are very sensitive to your tension, so don’t alert the horse to impending terror by approaching ‘all guns blazing’! Just keep calm and straight, have your leg on and deliver him to the fence in a normal, positive way.” C

Profile for Show Circuit Magazine

Show Circuit Magazine - Show Jumping Training 2019 with Jacque McKinley.  

Let’s Focus on Control Jacque is a full-time coach based in Auckland. She is an NZPCA National Coach and is the Head Equestrian Coach at St...

Show Circuit Magazine - Show Jumping Training 2019 with Jacque McKinley.  

Let’s Focus on Control Jacque is a full-time coach based in Auckland. She is an NZPCA National Coach and is the Head Equestrian Coach at St...