In the show-jumping ring there may be a few obstacles where riders will approach from an angle but most require the horse to be straight to keep balance and have more success in keeping the poles in their cups.
Not only for balance, straightness is extremely important to ensure your horse maintains power on take-off to clear the fence and prepare for the next.
A common reason for horses to drift on an approach to a fence could be down to the rider’s balance. They could have more strength in one leg or even be stronger or weaker on one rein; similarly the horse could also have a weaker rein.
To combat this issue, schooling at home is a great way to perfect your straightness. Even certain flat work exercises can aid in improving balance like leg yielding. This move is good in highlighting which side is weaker.
Also riding straight lines up the three-quarter line and not sticking to the track along the fence is good practice.
When wanting to incorporate a jump into your schooling, the most common exercise used for straight lines is where the poles are placed to form a ‘V’ which guides the horse to the centre and makes the horse use his shoulders.
It is best to start with the poles forming the ‘V’ to be quite wide as you don’t want to worry your horse first time around, especially with training a young horse. Once they become familiar with the exercise, make the poles narrower.
Another tip which is heard in lessons with most instructors because we are all guilty of it sometimes is ‘Look up at where you are going’. If you are focused on what is straight ahead of you, you are more likely to stay balanced.
There are also exercises riders can do out of the saddle to help. Core stability is important because it allows you to be in control of your balance and help with communication to your horse.
Basic core exercises are extremely effective like the plank and more and more people are doing yoga and pilates which is great for strength.