Gridwork is a great way to train a horse to be agile, accurate and athletic. It also gives the opportunity for a rider to improve style, position and balance over a fence. Gridwork makes jumping easy, it improves a rider’s sense of rhythm and helps to develop any eye for distances. The aim of gridwork is not to jump big fences, but to improve confidence and ability in both horse and rider.
What is Gridwork?
Gridwork is a training system using poles and fences set at measured distances, also referred to as Gymnastic Jumping. Set fences at calculated distances so that the horse takes a set number of strides and meets each fence at a good take-off point. This builds his confidence. The distance set between the fences and poles will vary according to the horse’s size and the length of stride. A grid may be as simple as poles on the ground or, for an experienced horse, a layout of quite challenging fences.
The distances used in gridwork exercises will often be slightly shorter than standard competition distances. This is to encourage the horse to take his time and jump in a more rounded way. Ultimately, this can improve jumping technique.
Make sure you undertake Gridwork with at least one other person. Whether a novice or an experienced rider, an assistant is essential for guidance. Having someone to help adjust heights and distances is needed for accurate riding.
Build Your First Grid
If a grid is built down the centre of the school, it can be approached from either direction. This allows the rider to practise turning and keeping balanced from both reins. The rider also has to decide whether to turn right or left after the grid, teaching them to regain control after the last fence and encouraging him to ‘feel’ which canter lead the horse has landed on.
Measure the grid accurately. Build the first fence with the placing pole. Measure out the remaining distances accurately. Keep the wings in place, but put the poles to one side. Remove cups.
The Placing Pole: This teaches the horse to organise his feet into pairs. To jump a fence, a horse transfers his weight to his hindquarters and pushes himself into the air to jump. The placing pole positions the horse at a good take-off point to jump the first fence. The rider must ensure the horse understands how to use this pole.
Early gridwork lessons should be from a trot approach as it is easier to keep control of the horse and maintain rhythm and balance. To begin, fences build small fences to ensure distances suit the horse. As soon as horse and rider are confident, add fences one at a time and build the same at the same height or gradually increase in size as you go.
Training should progress gradually. Increase heights and widths as the horse and rider gain confidence.
Once the rider is confident from a trot approach, grids can be built from a canter approach. Distances will be slightly different because the pace is stronger, so again it is important to have an experienced helper.
Grids can be varied by adding more strides between the fences. Place ground poles between fences to emphasise the feel of each stride, helping the rider feel the horse’s ‘rhythm’. Add trotting poles and canter poles before the placing pole to create a different challenge. Introduce bounce fences gradually. Poles on the ground can be used to practice lengthening a shortening the horse’s stride. THE LAYOUTS FOR BUILDING GRIDS ARE ENDLESS, WHICH IS WHAT MAKES GRIDWORK SUCH A WONDERFUL TRAINING SYSTEM.
Some Useful Notes
- Poles on the ground should be flat as they are less likely to cause injury.
- Cross poles encourage a horse to stay central and jump straight. The steeper the sides, the more accuracy is required. Straightness is very important when riding a show-jumping round or technical cross-country fences.
- Spread fences encourage the horse to stretch a little more and so encourage the rider to follow the stretch of the horse with his hands and elbows.
- Poles on the ground are for the benefit of the horse – look up and allow the horse learn.
- A good idea is to count strides out loud. Remember to start counting only when the horse takes the first full stride after a fence or pole.
Using Gridwork to Improve as a Rider
A rider’s body movement should be minimal, avoiding over-folding or abrupt body movements. The rider must ensure they allow the horse to use his head and neck to jump and not restrict him with the reins. Using a neckstrap can help a rider remain in balance.
As a rider becomes more confident, he can practise a light seat in the saddle, keeping his head up, sympathetic hands, soft elbows, strong stable legs and keeping weight well down into his heels, so developing a good strong jumping position over a fence.
NOTE: Horse and pony distances are given in the diagrams used to illustrate this article – these should be used as a guide only.
With thanks to Gridwork for Horses