I do gymnastics with horses if I think they have a problem in combinations. A lot of horses don’t jump verticals going into combinations well because they are a bit lacking in scope and they’re used to being pushed in the middle. Or, at the bigger events, the oxers are wide and they need leg in the combinations.

After a while, even an older horse will tend to not regard the vertical anymore in combinations and think more about the oxer, or a young horse will think it’s going to get kicked and not jump the vertical well.

In general, I would do a gymnastic where I trot-in over trot poles and then jump a small vertical, and then a very comfortable one-stride where the horse doesn’t have to speed up or slow down or back up or accelerate forward. Usually, for my horses, that’s around 5.6-6 meters in distance, but I will adjust that according to the horse.

My idea is that the horse will do a very comfortable one-stride, where it stays relaxed to jump the oxer easily. Then I would raise the vertical up going in and make the oxer wider, in general, but not too big.

The idea is never to build it so that I would have to press the horse or use leg. What is most important is that the fence creates the shape, so you ride in at a nice pace and a nice trot, not too fast, not too slow, and have a little contact to support the horse, but not distract the horse, and the horse can jump the combination on its own.

I will gradually make the combination bigger but not to the point that I would have to leg the horse. The same goes for increasing the length between fences, because part of the problem we often see in the ring, I think, is that horses so often are legged into a combination, and then don’t jump the vertical, or will learn not to over time. My principle is that it remains easy and that the horse learns to jump combinations with ease.

When the horse gets better and is confident, I would maybe add another oxer after the first and make the distance a little bit longer than the first, but again, so the horse has a normal stride and doesn’t have to back up or accelerate forward. You want the horse to learn to jump the oxer without the rider. It should be easy and comfortable.

The most important thing for me is that the oxer creates the shape of the horse and that the oxer does the work. This works really well for me with horses who get tense and nervous or even a little low in combinations, so that they gradually gain trust and can do them successfully.