There are lots of errors that can be made in equitation classes over fences, but there are a few that are bound to drop your scores significantly, so I think they’re worth noting. First, if you have a refusal (or “disobedience”) at a fence, you’ve committed a grave error, for anything that spells danger is going to be heavily penalized. Just the fact that the horse was disobedient—unwilling to do what you asked—is a problem; but add to that the possibility of the rider being thrown when a horse shuts off at a fence makes it one of the worst errors a horse can commit. (Historically, it was also deemed a very bad error because a horse that wouldn’t jump a fence in the hunt field was going to be left behind, with the rider desperately figuring another way to get home safely, since he would quickly lose sight of the other horses in hot pursuit of a fox.) If your horse refuses a fence, make sure you get over it the second time. I often see riders making half-hearted, short approaches to the fence the second time, with so little impulsion that it is easy for the horse to stop again. Remember that you are constantly training your horse, whether you mean to or not. If you allow refusals to be the norm, then you’ll successfully train your horse to be a “stopper.” When a horse has a single refusal in the show ring, the score is normally 45, which would be an “F” in academic terms.
Another frequent error in classes over fences is the horse not being on the proper lead on the corners of the ring. Having the wrong lead or being on a cross-canter (with the front legs on one lead and the hind legs on the other) are severely penalized because they jeopardize the horse’s balance on corners. Anything considered unsafe is heavily penalized, so when a rider risks his safety by allowing the horse to be off balance on a corner, the judge makes a large deduction on his card. For a cross canter that lasts for one step, it could be a 5-point deduction; and for a cross canter or wrong lead that goes on for a long time, it could be a 20-point deduction or more.
Breaking gait is another major fault on course. It shows that the horse is not “in front of the rider’s leg.” The horse’s unwillingness to go forward at the proper pace can affect the animal’s jumping effort and may lead to the horse refusing fences, which is just a more severe demonstration of being behind the rider’s legs. When a horse breaks from a canter to a trot on course, the typical score for the course is 60, which is the academic equivalent of a “D.”
A dangerous fence is also at the top of the list of severe errors. When a horse takes off from an overly-long spot and dives over a fence, the typical score for the course is 55, which is an academic “F.”
Adding a stride in an in-and-out is usually scored as 55, an “F,” because it shows that the horse lacks the proper pace and impulsion to safely jump the fences. Loss of a stirrup (that is, the rider’s foot slipping out of the stirrup on course) and the loss of reins (that is, the reins falling out of the rider’s hands) are usually scored 55, and “F,” because these two errors jeopardize the rider’s security and control of the horse, respectively.
Off course, 3 refusals, a fall of the rider and/or horse, or being off course result in elimination. It’s important to keep in mind these major errors and do everything in your power to avoid committing them.
Talk to you next week! — AJ