For many riders, verticals often seem less scary than a big oxer… Although oxers might pose more of a problem for the underconfident horse or rider, you’ll often see at the top levels that the verticals will contribute to more faults than oxers. So as the fences get bigger and the courses more technical, it’s actually the verticals (or uprights, as they’re known in some places) that test a horse and rider combination.
This is due to the shape of an oxer. An oxer naturally encourages the horse to create a good bascule. You’ll also find and feel that horses jump a little further away from an oxer than a vertical. They will tend to get up in the air more easily and will stretch over the fence, making a better shape. Verticals tend to draw horses in, so getting to the fence and keeping a good canter and rhythm to get off the ground and be quick with the front legs is often more difficult. As the verticals get bigger, you need to create space for your horse in the approach and take off. If you get too deep, you’re asking your horse to jump almost straight up in the air – which makes it very difficult to go clear.
You also want to have confidence that your horse can jump with agility and power in the steeper arc that the vertical demands in order to keep those poles up and get a clear round. This means that you need to have a shorter, bouncier canter to get a good distance to a vertical. So that makes them less forgiving than oxers. But, there are ways to improve your horse’s technique over verticals specifically.
Double of Verticals
It might seem weird if your horse struggles with verticals to add more of them and make them more challenging, but a really good exercise can be to ride a combination of verticals set with one stride between them.
This is especially helpful if your horse has problems with verticals coming from a lack of balance or a tendency to rush or get long in the frame. If you’re experienced enough, an even better exercise is two have two one-stride combinations with three strides between each combination.
So on a straight line you would canter to a double of verticals with a stride between the two fences, land and canter for three strides, and then jump another one-stride double of verticals.
But try your best to canter to the first fence, keep your body upright throughout the exercise, and let the horse make a mistake or two if needed.
If they have a pole, don’t stress about it, it is training. Just get it back up and do it again.
The exercise works because it teaches your horse to back himself off the verticals, shorten the stride, and create space for himself to jump.
Of course, it does require a horse who will make an effort to clear the jump after knocking it once or twice. If your horse thinks showjumping is no effort, and truly doesn’t mind demolishing fences, this might not be the right exercise.
Ground Poles and V-Poles
Sometimes, your horse just needs a bit of extra help to judge the fence properly and create the right shape. As we mentioned above, a vertical requires quite a short, bouncy, energetic canter.
Putting ground poles three strides from the fence can help to build confidence in your horse by setting him up right, especially if he is green or inexperienced. Although you can’t jump with them at shows, they do work in helping inexperienced combinations find the correct take off spot for a fence.
This is more about creating the right circumstances to produce a good jump each time, and can be beneficial as your horse gains strength and balance and learns to get more action into the canter.
V-poles can help both horse and rider by giving you a focal point, keeping the horse straight, and adding a visual element. This can encourage the horse to bring the hooves and front end up more up and stretch the neck down. Arguably even more importantly though, if the horse is dead straight to the fence, he can use his shoulders evenly and get off the ground much more quickly. V-poles should only be used by experienced riders or together with a trainer.
While trotting fences can be beneficial for many types of horses, it seems to work particularly well for horses who are scopey but lazy or not careful.
Trotting a vertical means that the horse can’t use momentum like in a canter. Instead, they have to actively push off the ground. Think about doing squats or lunges as a human. If you can use your momentum and speed, they’re not too hard. If you do them very slowly and purposefully, with control over every little movement, you really feel the effects. Trot jumping is like slow squats for horses!
If you’re trotting a fence, use a ground pole so that your horse will end up at the base of the fence and have to use his shoulders, neck, and back to come off the ground with power.
But the highest effect of this exercise is that you get a lot of benefits without jumping a huge fence. If you did the same exercise from canter on a scopey horse, they might only start putting in real effort at quite a sizeable jump – which means that you have to be quite careful about preserving their joints and can’t work on it too often. At trot though, because it’s so much harder for the horse and they can’t “cheat” like they can over small fences at the canter, you can develop a much more powerful and correct jump.
Source: FEI 2021