By Liz Clark
With anywhere from four to six months of winter here in Canada, many riders are left with a short, intense show season and little time to prepare. Given the months of schooling and conditioning required to excel, riders are challenged to maintain a base level of strength and fitness. Some even dare to hope to further their technical skills throughout the winter months.
With Foshay International in just 212 days, developing fitness throughout the winter is key! With temperatures approaching -20°C, we are often faced with the decision to stay warm or to persevere! It’s days like these, I have been told, inspired the Foshay South Eventing classic: The Seven Minute Jump School (#7MJS) for frigid winter conditions.
The philosophy of the 7MJS is to keep event horses (and riders) happy and fit despite cold weather. The basic requirement is an arena with decent footing and a clear sense of purpose before starting each ride. The jump pattern can vary, but here is one option to condition and strengthen your horse, while providing a definite technical challenge.
The premise is simple… it’s too cold to walk. This requires some planning, and you need to know your horse. The pattern needs to be set and I usually set the jumps at a conservative height.
We want to get the horses out of their stalls and let them play over the jumps.
Have your tack and clothing adjusted before you head to the arena. Like most people in Canada, I have a good sense for what I will wear at a given temperature, and I am always on the lookout for better cold weather riding gear.
Essentially you get on and pick up the trot.
Trot a 20 metre circle in each direction and on to the canter. Canter with simple or flying change depending on the horse.
This flows to jumps on the circle – two to three times one way, a short break and two to three time the other way.
This leads to the lines and eventually to the course. I’ll sometimes just jump the jumps one way, take a quick walk break and then jump it in reverse.
In a way, this simulates a warm-up at a show. As well, there’s motivation to find the balance in the canter and the distance to the jumps, and the strides in the line on the first attempt.
The distances in the lines are set conservatively to reflect that we are jumping indoors, often with fairly tight turns at the ends of the ring.
Notably, I do use circles between the lines to establish pace and balance before the next line.
The horses seem to enjoy these brief schools. It keeps them entertained through six months of arena work. As the schools are relatively brief, we tend to jump more often. This seems to help with finding the balance and the ride ability. It’s tough on event horses to only jump once every week or two – often they are so fresh when the weathers this cold that they simply are not manageable to do anything productive, and sometimes at the risk of exuberance related injury.
So we have evolved. Winter seems to come every year. We do what we can to keep progressing through the winter months to have horses ready to go in the spring. And though you can’t prepare an event horse in an indoor arena, you can work on skills and fitness that will carry over to preparation for competition.
The 7MJS breaks the monotony of winter and helps build strength and fitness. As a set pattern of jumps, it also simulates a competitive jumping round. The rider is challenged to “get it right the first time”, to find good distances, leads, and striding. In short, the 7MJS provides ample opportunity to persevere, despite the cold, and to keep jumping until the snow melts.
Stay tuned for our next exercise in this series!
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