‘It’s all in the preparation’ – a true-ism applicable to any number of endeavours, and most definitely to that of becoming a successful show jumper.
And they don’t come much more successful than Brook Dobbin. Brook has competed both as an individual and for the Australian team both here and overseas, achieving multiple World Cup and Grand Prix wins over the years. More recently, he was named Victorian Showjumping Rider of the Year (an award he’s received on many previous occasions), not to mention taking out four of the top six placings in the 2019 Flexible Fit Future Stars event at Boneo Park. He also has a Sam Williams Equestrian Grand Prix win under his belt, and let’s not forget that first place at the 2019 CSI1* Boneo Classic.
Along with partner Angela Dobbin – a successful showjumper in her own right – he owns and runs Glenwood Park. Located in the beautiful Yarra Valley, it’s become one of the most successful producers of show jumping horses in Australia. Additionally, because Brook rides for Mount View Sport Horses, the highly acclaimed New Zealand stud, he is able to source their horses from foals to World Cup level.
The couple also specialise, among other things, in jumping training and education, and for the past two years have coached Victorian State Junior and Young Riders. And with a heart to give back to their sport, they regularly offer their pupils, no matter what their age or level, the opportunity to travel with them to shows in order to help them gain experience and move closer to achieving their goals.
Be prepared: In Brook’s book, everyone from beginners to advanced riders should be using poles as part of their flat work preparation.
“Lay your poles on the ground set at the regulated show jump distances. This is a great way to get a better understanding of distance so that you learn to set the jump up and correctly position for take-off,” he says. “If your poles are set for cantering eight strides in between, and you find that you’re doing the distance in ten strides, you know that the length of your canter is off and that you need to train for the correct number of strides.”
And no, the size of your horse doesn’t matter. “You have to train it to conform to the course with a controlled stride between fences. The course won’t adapt to the horse, it’s has to be the other way around,” Brook explains.
According to Brook the benefits of pole work go way beyond the vital practice of correcting your horse’s stride.
“In many ways, flat work with poles takes the pressure off both horse and rider. You don’t wear your horse out and there’s no danger of crashing, with its associated danger of loss of confidence. Pole work also allows the rider to concentrate on riding a correct line and practising their body position so that they can maintain it at the point where it needs to be,” he says.
Moving on: Once you’ve trained over poles on the ground and you’re confident with your progress, it’s time to start introducing poles before fences.
“Again, you’re looking for a regulated stride. So set the pole up for a specific number of strides before the fence. As you canter over the pole, keeping to a regulated stride, you already know how many strides you need,” Brook explains. “This takes the pressure off placing the horse for take-off, plus the rider gets used to the feeling of the correct stride, and to achieving the correct distance for take-off at the fence.”
Brook’s three golden rules: No matter whether you’re training at home or you’re in the arena, Brook suggests that you keep the three main rules he coaches his pupils to remember, and that he himself rides by and loves, firmly in mind.
“Rule number one is to choose the canter that’s suitable for what you’re doing and where you are – and that can change depending upon factors such as whether it’s day one or four of a show, or whether the surface you’re riding on is sand or grass,” he says. “It’s up to the rider to choose a canter with the impulsion and rhythm that’s appropriate for that day, and to stay with it for the whole course. Inconsistency makes it difficult for the horse to settle and difficult for the rider to judge distances. In a perfect world, the canter though the start flags should be at the same stride as the canter at the finish flags. Although probably not possible, it’s what you should aim for.”
His second rule relates to the all-important body position: “Your upper body position at take-off is critical for protecting the front rail of your fence.,” he says. “You should be positioned so that you allow the horse to jump up. If you jump ahead and throw yourself at the jump, you teach the horse to jump quick and flat rather than up. By staying taller and stronger, you allow the horse to use their wither and shoulder in a better way, at the same time teaching them to gain more height and to respect the front rail more.”
And rule three? “Rule number three is to use your eyes. Even before you land, you should already be looking to the centre of the front rail of your next fence, so that you ride the correct line and position yourself properly for take-off,” he says.
Take on board this great advice from a show jumping legend, and you too can improve your performance in the arena – and remember, all it takes is preparation, preparation, and yet more preparation.
Contact Glenwood Park on 0418 682 435, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit glenwoodpark.com.au. Brook and Angela also specialise re-educating horses off the track for all disciplines, and general education for pony club and adult riding club horses. Brook is sponsored by Kentucky Equine Research, CWD Saddles, Freejump, Samshield Clothing, Equissage, and Martin Collins Arenas.