International show jumper Sarah Lewis shares some tips on how to get the best out of your show jumping horse in different situations.

Q: When schooling on the flat is there an exercise you always do with jumping in mind?A: I always do a lot of transitions within the canter, medium canter, either down the long side, or on a circle, back to working canter, more collection to collected canter and mix them up, this helps to ensure the horse is very responsive to the leg, moving forward as soon as asked and then shortens when asked as well. Also I do a lot of shoulder in, again making the horse responsive to the leg, and checking that he is properly secure in the contact on both reins.

Q: Is there anything beneficial you do when out hacking?

A: We hop over little logs, banks, streams and ditches, especially on the younger horses, so they know they have to go wherever they’re asked.  We  make sure that we don’t ask unreasonable questions so we build up our trust. I try to differentiate between the school and the hack.  The hack is a time to relax.

Q: When you are jumping – what little trick helps you – it might be something that keeps you in rhythm or on the right line…?

A: I try to be very disciplined about making square corners and being super straight to the fence.  The square corner helps set up the canter without pulling and it’s amazing how much it helps you find a good distance.

Q: When you are competing what helps you get in the zone?

A: I get very nervous, and I really beat myself up if I let the horse down, so I try to keep my warm-up very disciplined and the same every time. I get on in good time. I give myself time for the warm up. I don’t  jump huge, just up to the size of the first couple of fences, and one full size vertical before I go in.  It’s more important to jump smaller fences correctly, confidently and calmly than to scare yourself and your horse jumping huge oxers. Do your thing, don’t worry what others are doing. I’m ready before my time.  In the ring I walk round, make sure the horse has seen the first fence, make sure I’ve heard the bell (look at the timing monitor to check), pop into canter and give yourself plenty of time to make a good approach to the first fence.  45 seconds is longer than you think!

Q: Are there other areas you might have tips or ideas about, such as grooming, handling your horses (especially if fresh!) And finally any little tips for travelling. A: I ride a lot of mares and they tend to have opinions on everything!  We try to keep everything the same, and keep very calm. Always leave plenty of time for everything – it’s hard to be calm in a hurry.

Q:For Travelling:  

A: I do have a good layer of shavings in the lorry so that the horses can stale, we keep small haylage bales for shows, a bit of a treat so the horses are happy when their friends are off the lorry, and we offer them water frequently. It’s important to teach them to drink at shows.  We tend to either leave back boots off, or use bandages behind for travelling – hind boots are quite stiff and uncomfortable if they slip down. For longer journeys we try to work out who likes to be next to who and travel them the way they like.