What's Your Horse-Showing Strategy?

Walk through an equitation over fences pattern with AQHA Professional Horseman Clay Farrell.

To former Team Wrangler member Clay Farrell of Venice, Florida, the words “organized” and “efficient” are hallmarks of a great equitation over fences ride.

“The judges are looking for riders who can execute a course efficiently and cleanly,” Clay says. “Equitation is a preparation for executing a jumper course correctly – it takes good flat work and precise jumping.”

The Journal met up with Clay at the Fox Lea Farm Circuit in Venice, Florida. Preparing his riders for the youth and amateur equitation over fences classes, Clay let us listen in on a coaching session and a walk-through.

“Be efficient. Be organized,” he said, and here’s how he helped them plan to do just that.

Jump Squarely

You must jump the jumps as squarely as possible, approaching them perpendicularly whenever possible, even if it’s a curve. Getting into a line precisely is really important.

Horses jump best when they jump a jump squarely. A major faux pas is lead-swapping at the base of the jump. Jumping squarely reduces the likelihood of that happening, and it makes for a better opportunity for a good jump.

More advanced riders may jump slanted, but there is more risk involved because the distances can change and things can happen. I’ve seen really good riders and great horses in big horse shows in situations where bad things happened because they didn’t jump squarely. If you come to the jump straight, you reduce the likeliness of there being an issue.

It’s especially important in equitation over fences because the judges are looking at things like that. You can be more precise if you’re straight.

Eyes Up

Keeping your eyes up and your heels down helps everything else take care of itself. Constantly refocus on keeping your eyes up and dropping your weight into your heel at the base of the jump.

Many people don’t use their eyes effectively. As you go over a jump, you should immediatelybe looking for where you go next. You can’t be efficient if you’re not looking where you’re going.

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Watch out for Dings

Rubs on the front end are usually caused by a little bit of hand, or "ding," on the up part of the jump. Rubs behind are usually caused by a little bit of hand coming down the jump.

Don’t “ding” your horse off the ground. After the horse starts to finish the bascule of the jump, you’ve got to be sure that you stay soft long enough so he keeps his legs up tighter, long enough.

Doing that in the jumper ring means a better payday – if you leave more poles up, you make more money.

At a typical horse show, if you can go around and not touch the jumps and find eight distances and get your lead changes at the end of the ring, you’ll have a good chance at being a winner. The judges are waiting for someone to go around just like that.

Practice Organized Momentum

You can’t do homework too much. On off show days, I sometimes set up a gymnastic in the schooling arena and run through some exercises with my riders.

For example, I’ll set a gymnastic that could include: a trot jump, one stride, a vertical, one stride and an oxer. Then I’ll have a vertical about seven strides from there on a bend. Then I’ll have three jumps right across the middle of the ring, perpendicular to the gymnastic.

Then we ride it in different ways. We’ll go down the gymnastic a few times, and then I’ll raise it up. Then we’ll go down the gymnastic and do the line to the bending jump in seven strides. Then do it again but this time gallop it in six strides for a change in gears, moving and lengthening the horse up.

You want to work on organized momentum. You want to keep your horse between your hands and ahead of your legs all the time. That’s what we school and practice all the time: how to have that organized ride with enough forward impulsion to be able to have good jumps.

The Pattern


I would have my rider come into the ring and pick up a posting trot on the left diagonal. Trot a nice big circle in front of the jumps. I’m not a big fan of going on a tour into the jumps. I think it’s irritating to the judges; it’s time-consuming. Once again – you want to be efficient.

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No. 1: Wishing Well

One quarter of the way around your circle pick up the canter and establish a really good pace. That’s what the circles are for, to establish a good pace.

Come out of it with a good, engaged canter, looking for jump No. 1. And be very, very straight to it.

A more advanced rider could come into the ring, pick up a right lead canter and go straight to the first jump. It shows how effective a rider you can be.

There are times when that kind of approach is just not the right thing to do. But on this pattern there’s enough room and distance to establish a good pace.

No. 2: Gate

I’m not a big fan of fading over, because it causes problems; don’t go over and make a bubble and come back. Things go wrong, leads are lost, etc. Go straight to the jump.

No. 3: Oxer

I would hold whatever lead I landed on (after the gate). Do that entire line and hold that lead and find the right distance to the oxer.

It is a slight counter-bend. If you had a drastic bend from No. 2 to No. 3, then you’d need to change your lead, but not with a fading bend like this.

If you did change leads, if you can do it with no loss of rhythm, you’re not going to get penalized for doing it. But you do want to stay organized. It’s more important to concentrate on finding the right distance to that jump.

No. 4: Trot Jump

Come through here and make this turn as quickly as possible, because we’re looking for it to be expeditious and efficient. Give yourself enough room and time to organize your trot. Go through your turn before you break to the trot.

No. 5, 6, 7: The Line

Re-establish a good, engaged canter early. Then make your corner square and deep to the line. Making your corner square and deep gets you lined up and straight for all three jumps.

If you're interested in improving your riding skills and are looking for articles about jumping more correctly, then The American Quarter Horse Journal is for you. Packed full of helpful articles and hints to improve your horsemanship skills, the Journal is sure to be a great addition to any magazine collection!


Then break down to the trot and circle. I’m not a big advocate of everyone doing a dramatic sitting trot out of the arena. If you can do a sitting trot well and it will add to your performance, then do

it; if you can’t, then don’t.

It’s about jumping the jumps correctly and being accurate. It’s not about doing a sitting trot at the end of your round.

I like to see riders come to a nice positing trot, finish their circle, come to a walk and then leave the arena.

Jump Definitions

Wishing well: A jump with two standards made to look like wishing wells and will have jump poles between the two standards.

Gate: A jump that looks similar to a gate, and often the

standards will be wider than regular standards.

Oxer: A type of jump made with two jumps. The rails may be set even or uneven. There is usually some distance between the two sets of jumps.

Trot Jump: A jump that is taken at the trot, to show control and maneuverability of the horse.

Jump Line: Refers to a number of jumps set up in a line, usually two or three jumps with a specific number of strides in between each jump.

Watch this video of the 2012 AQHA world championship-winning run in amateur equitation over fences.