Practicing the Bent Line
A favorite trick of the course designer is to set up a bent line in the middle of an otherwise predictable course. Many horses and riders become so used to the straight lines that they are not prepared for the change of direction mid-line and the horse refuses the second jump.
To practice riding bent lines set up your arena as follows:
If you have the materials to set up six jumps, build three four-stride lines of jumps through the middle of your arena. One should be down the center line, and the others should be along each diagonal.
If you only have enough materials to build three jumps, place one jump on the center line at one end of the arena, and the other two jumps on the diagonal near the far end of the arena. There should be 60’ between the jump on the center line and the jumps on the diagonal (measuring from center to center).
All of the jumps should be built so that they can be safely jumped from either direction. Choose a height that both you and your horse are comfortable with. This exercise is for building confidence and experience, so height is not important.
Start out by introducing your horse to all of the jumps in the arena as straight lines or singles. This way he will be confident with them, and will not refuse the jumps because he is startled by them.
Now, starting with one of the jumps on the center line, plan a bent line to one of the two facing diagonal jumps. All of the distances should be set as 4 stride lines, so as long as you ride from the center of one jump to the center of the next, you should have four strides to work with.
There are two ways to ride a bent line. You can deliberately take the first jump on an angle so that you straighten the line between the jumps, but ask your horse to jump from an indirect approach. This is not always possible on a course, and can confuse an inexperienced horse, making him refuse the first jump in the line.
The second method is to ride the first jump as usual, then bend your horse to the second fence. This way he approaches both fences with a direct approach. To get this bend, you need to plan ahead. Many horses will simply continue to travel straight ahead, assuming that they are expected to jump the jump ahead of them. You need to show your horse that you are the one in charge, and let him know that you expect him to approach a different jump.
As you come to the first jump in your bent line, look ahead to the jump you intend to take you horse to. As soon as you land, ask your horse to bend towards the jump on the diagonal. He will likely take a stride or two straight ahead, but should soon turn so that he is heading directly towards the jump on the diagonal.
Continue to practice bending your horse to one of the diagonal jumps, changing the direction to which you bend so that he does not learn to anticipate. If you are using six jumps, be sure to ask your horse to take the straight line on occasion so that he learns that he must listen to you and be prepared for whatever comes his way. When using six jumps, don’t forget to alternate which direction you approach the jumps, making full use of both center line starting jumps.
Once your horse is confident with the bent lines, try adding more challenge by starting out with one of the diagonal jumps and bending to the jump on the center line. Horses who start out on a diagonal naturally expect to continue on that diagonal, so this is more difficult that the center line to diagonal bent line.
Finally, if you are doing very well, you can try a bent line from one diagonal fence to the facing diagonal fence. This requires a bit more planning as you will need to make an arc from one fence to the other, rather than merely bending the line.
Don’t forget that this is a big exercise and should be spread over a few sessions. Don’t over jump or overtire your horse. The six jump set-up is an excellent practice course and can be used for many different exercises. Be creative and adjust the heights and styles of the jumps to add more challenge as you progress.