On Target – training the young horse to jump arrow head / skinny type fences

Joseph Murphy is one of Ireland’s most successful event riders and has trained many young horses to the highest level in this demanding sport.

With cross country courses becoming ever more technical, ‘arrow heads’ and ‘skinnies’ now feature at all levels, with varying degree of difficulty. It’s therefore crucial that horses are taught to jump such precise lines with confidence from early on in their training.

In this article, Joseph shares with us the techniques he uses to train horses and riders to negotiate skinny fences successfully during his popular two-day cross country training clinics.

Day 1

Begin with warming up your horse as you always would in preparation for jumping. Then start the jumping warm up over a straight forward vertical show jump.  I ask the rider to pick a point in the middle of the fence, for example a strip on a coloured pole or a spot on a plank, and use this as a focus for the rider and horse to ride accurately to it on a straight line.

Jumping a specific point of a vertical

This exercise is repeated until rider and horse are confident and have their ‘eye in’.

Now you can progress to a schooling arrow head. Here, guide or directional poles on the ground are used to introduce a young horse to a narrow fence. I also use either barrels or wings at the side of the fence initially, so the horse really focuses on the skinny and understands the question being asked of him or her. It’s also extremely important that the fence is flagged correctly as it is always good to train the horses to seek the flags and jump between them.

Using barrels or wings at the side of the fence initially helps the horse really focus on the skinny

It is important to have this set up from the beginning to ensure both horse and rider have a confidence building experience from the onset.

I like to let the horse walk up to the front of the fence and look at it, giving the horse time to assess the new type, structure and material of fence and give him or her a reassuring pat.

I also always carry a stick, which can be used to give an encouraging tap on the shoulder to maintain the horse’s focus and forward momentum on the way the fence, in addition to the rider’s leg and seat aid.
The aim is that the horse seeks the flags with pricked ears and jumps between them in a confident manner and has had an enjoyable experience.

When this result has been achieved may you then remove the barrels or wings ONLY and jump a few more times to finish the exercise.

Day 2

Now we can introduce a fence to arrow head.

After appropriate warm up, repeat the last part of day 1 by jumping the arrowhead with guide rails.

Jumping an arrowhead with guide rails

Then introduce a small fence (90cms) – either a showjump or portable cross country fence – 5 strides away from arrow head on a straight line. This gives the horse and rider enough time to gather their thoughts between the fences and be able to ride in a forward, controlled, positive manner to the arrow head.

Jumping a fence to a skinny

The next part of the process is to remove the guide rails. It may sound simple and it should be simple as if the above guidelines are followed in a systematic manner, then progress to a skinny without guide rails should be problem free!!

Here are some tips to remember:

Always have somebody on the ground to help with poles and flags should they fall.

Always take into account the horse’s experience, or lack off!!

Remember DON’T blame the horse!! It’s generally poor riding or training that cause problems and run outs for all level of riders!!

Don’t be afraid to seek advice if things aren’t going according to plan!!

Horses are slow to forget, so try to avoid causing unnecessary bad experiences for them.

It’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan. Don’t take YOUR frustrations out on the horse!!

A bad tradesman always blames their tools!!! Look to your riding first.

Clinic photos are courtesy of ‘Photos by Rosie McBride

In the below photo sequence we can see Joseph riding a horse at Badminton which he has trained from pre novice level.  The horse has ears pricked and seeking the red and white directional flags. That’s how it should be done!






Joseph is sponsored by Champion; ToggiMervue LaboratoriesBriovet.comAgnelli Motor ParkGain Horse FeedsBotanica InternationalBucasHerbst Machinery LtdHillview Animal beddingTredstep IrelandWaterboyBarclay CommunicationsFreejumpBerney BrosDubarry’sCambox ISIS and Lloyd’s.




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