Fillers are often used in showjumping and they can come in all shapes, sizes and colours. While they make fences more fun and brightly coloured, some ponies find them spooky to look at. This can cause refusals, run-outs or knocked poles – none of which are ideal if you’re after a rosette!
Often, it’s the rider’s reaction to the filler that causes the problem. Look up and focus on keeping an active canter with an accurate approach, and you’ll find it much easier to clear those scarier fences without a problem.
A canter with plenty of impulsion is key – this means that your pony’s moving forward and is responsive to your aids. His canter should feel bouncy, like a rubber ball, with plenty of energy that you contain through your legs, seat and hands.
Work on improving his canter as you warm up. Include exercises such as…
- transitions – these encourage your pony to stay focused on you. As well as trot to canter and canter to trot, try walk to canter and canter to walk. It’ll really test your pony’s impulsion and responsiveness.
- lengthen and shorten his canter stride – this gives you an adjustable canter. Push him on down the long sides of the arena and collect him up along the short sides. Remember to maintain impulsion when you ask him to lengthen – his strides should cover more ground but he shouldn’t just get faster.
- canter poles – setting up four canter poles along the long side lets you tell if his canter’s balanced and rhythmical, and is a good way to focus before you start jumping.
Before you get started with fillers, warm up over more inviting fences. Cross-poles are great to help you aim for the middle of the fence and ride an accurate approach.
Top tip – while you’re warming up, circle around the fences and ride past plenty of fillers. This lets you both look at them so you’ll feel more confident when it comes to jumping.
Improve your approach
It’s important to ride a good approach to a fence, especially if there’s a spooky filler hiding underneath. Approaching on a wonky line makes it much easier for your pony to run out, but ride a balanced turn and straight approach and you’re more likely to meet the fence well.
Remember to combine an accurate approach with the same bouncy, active canter you practised while warming up – this will give your pony the energy to clear the fence easily.
De-spook those fillers
Introduce fillers gradually. This builds your pony’s confidence as he learns through good experiences, rather than bad ones.
Remember, only move on to the next step when you’re both happy. You don’t have to complete it all in one session.
- Start with a simple fence keeping the fillers at the side.
- Move the fillers in part of the way, leaving the middle clear for your pony to jump confidently.
- Move the fillers completely under the fence
Top tip – keep the fence small as you build up confidence – only increase the height when you both feel happy and confident.
Your position has a big effect on how your pony jumps. Here’s how to nail it every time…
- sit up tall and roll your shoulders back – avoid tipping forward as this shifts your weight in the saddle
- wrap your legs around your pony’s sides to maintain a positive canter. Push your heels down to keep a strong position
- maintain an even contact across both reins to keep him straight and contain his energy. Don’t pull on the reins, though, as this will encourage him to slow down, hesitate or refuse
- look up and ahead. You’ll still be able to see the fence, but keep yourself from looking down at it or your pony might stop for a look, too!
- fold at the hips and allow your upper body to move forward
- push your hands forward to allow him to stretch out as he jumps
- keep your heels down to help your lower leg stay secure
- look up and over to the next fence
- look for the next fence – this keeps your head up as you bring your shoulders back and start to sit more upright in the saddle
- push your weight into your heels to keep your legs secure and your body upright. This puts you in a strong position to ride to the next fence, which is even more important if you have another filler fence coming up
Top tip – be prepared for your pony to jump bigger over spookier fences. Keeping your heels down and legs wrapped around his sides makes sure you’re secure and balanced in the saddle.
Remember, your pony doesn’t need to jump fillers differently to other fences, so ride positively and confidently and you shouldn’t have any problems. Introduce them gradually and try to jump as many different types of filler as possible in training. That way, they won’t be a problem when you see them at a competition.
A little bit of trust goes a long way – your pony needs to trust that you won’t ask him to jump anything that isn’t safe, and you need to trust him, too. You’ll both be flying fillers in no time at all!