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James Sommerville: Finding your Jumping Rhythm

Trainer: James Sommerville

International event rider and British Horse Feeds sponsored rider, James has had a fantastic season so far completing Badminton on his top ride, Talent, and being selected for his first Nations Cup over in Poland. James also recently finished as the top Yorkshire man in the CIC3* at Bramham International Horse Trials riding Altaskin Jack, a horse new to this level.

Rider: Alison Dalby


British Horse Feeds competition winner and her 11-year-old cob, Tom. Alison had originally bought Tom to produce for the show ring but found he didn’t enjoy it and would become tense and hard to settle in the ring. Being out of a Clover Hill mare, Tom has certainly showed his love for jumping but can be a bit hot and excitable. Alison would like to compete in a range of activities from One Day Events and showjumping to BE80 and really wanted to work on finding a consistent rhythm when jumping.

Exercise 1: Trotting poles


After a thorough warm up for Alison and Tom, James set up four trotting poles in the arena for Alison to work over. On first attempt it was evident that Tom changed his rhythm over the poles and rushed away.

James got Alison to bring him around again in a more positive forward-going trot, over the poles and then halt at the end of the arena before turning away.

Said James: “Keeping a good rhythm is important no matter how high you are jumping. The approach must be positive and straight. Then staying straight after the poles and halting discourages the horse from rushing away and encourages him to listen to the rein aids as well.”

“Teaching a horse to keep a good rhythm takes repetition until he understands what you are asking of him and until he gets it correct.”

Alison did the same on the other rein before James developed the exercise further by raising a couple of the poles on alternating sides. This encouraged Tom to really pick his feet up and bounce over the poles engaging his concentration whilst working on keeping the same rhythm.

Exercise 2: Cross pole with ground poles

Moving on to canter and a small fence, James asked Alison to pop Tom over a simple cross pole to start with to see if he would keep an even rhythm.

James asked them to come again this time with a more positive canter. The positive canter allowed Tom to travel to the fence keeping a good rhythm and jump it well allowing him to make a better shape over the fence.

Said James: “Whatever exercise you are working on it is always important to do the same on both reins and repeat the same number of times if possible.”

A ground pole in front of the fence and after the fence was then introduced. This helps the horse and rider keep the rhythm before and after the fence and also help the horse set himself up with a good stride to the fence.

There was still a focus on using the corners of the arena to approach straight and then pull up at the end of the arena after the fence. This is also great if you have a horse that doesn’t get the correct lead after a fence; you can then move on and ask for the correct canter lead.

Exercise 3: Small course of fences


After introducing a couple of different fences; including oxers, bright fillers, planks and a related distance, one at a time on their own so the horse has chance to look, the aim is to try and keep that same rhythm over a number of fences linked together.

Said James: “If you find that your horse is a little spooky make sure you take him round the jumps that he will look at before you start jumping. On approaching the fence give them plenty of room, keep your legs on and sit up and back slightly, only moving the upper body forwards once the horse starts to pick their front legs up. This will prevent you from dropping your hands and allowing them chance to refuse.”

Starting with a small course so that Alison and Tom could concentrate on the key points, James encouraged them to keep straight, keep a forward positive canter, stay straight after the fence and then look on for the next fence to get a good straight approach.

Maintaining a forward positive canter is key to keep a good rhythm and if you feel that your horse isn’t listening and feels like he is rushing, go back to using some of the exercises that you have done previously such as pulling up after the fence or using ground poles.

Said Alison after her lesson: “That was fantastic, thank you so much to James and British Horse Feeds. Tom really started to listen and really enjoyed jumping. His rhythm over the fence and around a course has really improved and he’s showing just how much he loves to jump. James made it seem so simple completing the exercises and we really got Tom listening to my aids.”