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Introducing the Horse to a Gonda Betrix By Gonda Betrix

The horse competing at this level has already started his training by jumping water trays at home and in the ring. If you

have trouble when starting over water trays, expect trouble at a water jump! Fortunately, there is nearly always an option to a water jump in 1.20 classes. Water can cause terrible problems so make SURE that you have taught the horse how to jump water before tackling it at a show.

When I was still competing, if I were to find myself at a show where I was expected to jump water, I wouldn’t dream of jumping it unless the horse was fully prepared. In fact, if I were presented with a water jump on an unprepared horse, I would rather retire than risk shaking the horse’s confidence. It is worth remembering that the majority of real water stoppers are difficult to cure.

The Introduction Follow the Steps 1 to 5 described below, ONLY for a horse that is obviously nervous or frightened of the water jump OR perhaps for a horse that has had a bad experience at water. For the horse that shows little concern for a water jump, start your training from Step 5. 1. Put a pair of showjumping uprights at each of the front corners (left and right) of the water jump, with a single pole slanting at a 40 degree angle to the ground, thus creating a tunnel entrance to the water jump. See diagram A. 2. Empty the jump of water and coax the horse to walk through the centre of it in both directions. 3. After some time of practice doing this, put water in the jump and walk the horse through the filled water jump, in both directions. Remember to change the wings to the opposite side when you change direction. 4. I find that after you have done this a few times, you will be able to turn the horse sideways (which allows you more room to prevent him from moving out of the water) and let the horse stand calmly in the middle of the water jump. If the horse wants to stretch his head down and put his mouth in the water, allow him to do so. NB: To avoid confusing the horse, always leave the water jump in the direction you were initially going in.


5. Now you are ready to take the horse over the water jump, behind a reliable and more experienced horse, at a strong, positive canter. Do not expect an easy ride the first time. As a precaution, pop the reliable horse over the jump before trying to follow it on the inexperienced horse. The last thing you want is for the “reliable lead” to put in a stop and set a bad example to the young horse! 6. Follow the lead over the water jump about three times before asking the young horse to jump the water on his own another three times. 7. Build a 60 cm brush box – or use a plank – in front of the water jump and take a lead over the jump again. Jump it a few times in both directions until the horse is happy. Don’t overdo the first session and make the horse too tired to jump anything, let alone a “never seen before” water jump.

At a Later Stage

Water Jump

Jump up - right

Maximum 3m Jump up - right

Later in the horse’s career, if you find that the horse is not getting enough height over the water jump, build an upright – just one pole about a quarter of the way in over the water at between 90 cm and 1 m – and this will encourage him jump higher. Height over the water jump (as long as it is not exaggerated) plays a big part in clearing this obstacle.


Diagram A


Course designers may build a fence over the water so it is important that you practise such an opsticle. Remember to have a good, strong, balanced gallop (in full control!) on your approach. DO NOT be tempted to push your hands up your horse’s neck or lose contact as this either flattens the horse or gives him the opportunity to run out. Teach your horse on landing to come back to a controlled, balanced canter as soon as possible. Expose your horse to water jumps at as many different venues as possible. Don’t think when you’ve jumped water at home once, that’s it. It’s not! Before every show where he’s expected to jump water, give the horse a reminder by practising at home. Don’t go into the ring cold and unprepared. Finally, never try to beat or drag a horse through the water. I have seen these methods ruin several good horses. Although you must be firm, DO NOT resort to drastic measures – they don’t work!

Gonda Betrix and Pharaoh Diadem


Some of the jumping exercises I use Work Over Poles on the Ground Work over poles on the ground might sound boring and unnecessary but it is useful for horses, from the novice up to those jumping 1.50m. Pole exercises are used extensively by many top riders in Europe, the UK and the USA. Do a lot of training over poles on the ground. A jump is, after all, just an elevated canter stride.

Exercise One – see Figure 1



I do not walk the distances here but just put the poles down, as I do not treat this as a jumping exercise. The approximate distance between pole numbers 1 and 2 and 8 and 9 is five or six canter strides. The approximate distance between pole numbers 3 and 4 is three or four canter strides.


The objective of this exercise is to keep the most even possible canter on both a short or longer stride; that is, a balanced, obedient rhythm with effortless flying changes of leg when changing direction is maintained.


The canter stride into, over and after each pole should be the same size. Using the shorter canter will require a lot more collection than the longer striding canter. This must be ridden with exactly the same goal in mind but with a little more pace. DO NOT treat the poles as a jump, remain in the saddle as you would when working on the flat.



Make sure that: • You keep the straightest line possible over and from pole to pole • When you negotiate the corners, do not allow your horse to fall in or drift out.



If your horse does not automatically change his leading leg over the pole to the new direction, try to bring him back as soon as possible to a one-step trot change BEFORE negotiating the turn to the next pole. An experienced and well-balanced horse should produce the flying change with just a slight shift of the rider’s weight to the new direction. This transfer of rider’s weight should be virtually invisible from a spectator’s point of view.


5 Figure 1

Exercise Two – see Figure 2 When I was in Europe at Paul Schockemöhle’s stables, I noticed that one of the popular exercises was five single pole verticals, each 3m apart, negotiated in a very collected canter, with the rider’s position remaining almost upright through the exercise. The height of the verticals was anything from 1m to 1.20/1.30 m. This is a very demanding exercise for horses! I have modified this exercise to three, single pole verticals, each 3m apart, with a jump on each end. Build a vertical on one end of the bounce verticals and an oxer on the other, each to be 14 walking paces (three strides) from the last bounce vertical. This exercise asks for control and balance with no change of rhythm throughout. I expect the horse and rider to come to a halt, in a straight line, after jumping through the execise. I often extend this exercise even further by asking for a half turn to the right and a half turn to the left on both ends, thus exiting and returning over different fences into and out of the pops. Vary your approaches. See the dotted line track on Fgure 2.

14 walking paces 3 Canter Strides

7 walking paces 1 Canter Strides

Figure 2 6 walking paces 1 Canter Strides 3 and a half walking paces Pop 2 and a half walking paces Trot

Figure 3

Exercise Three Another type of gymnastic exercise I find useful can be seen in Figure 3. Enter the exercise at trot.


Exercise Four - see Figure 4 This is a very useful exercise for teaching a horse and rider to approach a fence at an angle while still keeping a dead straight line across the middle of the jump. This exercise helps get the rider’s eye focused on the centre of the fence and the horse on a straight and level stride over the poles lying on the ground.. The rider must approach the pole on the ground in the centre. Do not allow the horse to shift to the left or the right on either take-off or landing over the jump. Keep the loops returning to the exercise the same diameter on each side.

NB: All the exercises described here should start off small, building up slowly to the height you and your horse are comfortable with.

Figure 4


Gonda Betrix and Channel Isles

Sporting Horse_Introducing the Horse to a Water Jump_July 2010