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AskHQ: Straight approach

Q: How can I keep my horse straight over fences? Are there any exercises that help with this?

A: A straight approach to a fence is very important and the training for this begins on the flat. Until your horse moves evenly into both hands and pushes fairly equally with both hind legs, you’ll struggle to approach a fence straight.

A good way to get started is to practice plenty of transitions. Set out two to four poles in a tramline and perform transitions from walk to halt between them. Your horse should stop straight with an even feel in both your reins and without stepping out to the side or swinging the hindquarters. Similarly, when you ask for the walk, he should move forwards straight pushing equally with both hindlegs. You can practice these transitions and gradually increase the difficulty until you are cantering between the tramlines.

If your horse works straight on the flat but you are struggling with fences, you can set out tramlines as the approach to the grid or fence. The tramlines encourage your horse to travel straight, while allowing you to sit quietly and focus on your own riding. It may be that you are contributing to the straightness issue and this exercise will really help to both reveal that, and allow you to work on it. Another option, in a similar vein is to put V poles up in front of the fence to give your horse a visual guide for his straightness. This involves laying two poles in an inverted V shape on the fence, leaving a larger gap between them to start with until your horse feels confident with them.

Finally, if you feel your horse simply lacks straightness into the fence because he gets tense or overexcited during his approach, use circles to settle him and consider whether a longer or shorter approach would help to settle your horse more. In some instances taking a tighter line is more beneficial and gives your horse less time to get excitable, and in some cases it is best to give your horse a longer approach to allow him to get his eye in and relax.