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BLOG: Rowan Willis shares his tips for an accurate final SJ round

Andrew Nicholson said after Badminton Horse Trials that he just tries to do his best in the final SJ round, and lets the others make mistakes! But how do us ‘mere mortals’ keep our nerve in the showjumping? We asked showjumper Rowan Willis, who has recently won a clutch of Grand Prix showjumping classes internationally, for his tips.So, you’ve got a good dressage score, an excellent cross-country round, and now you just need that vital clear in the show jumping ring… but what can go wrong, and why?

Very often, after the mental agility needed in dressage, and the physical endurance of the XC course, some fatigue is likely to set in by the final phase, with the rider’s adrenaline still flowing, but the horse perhaps tiring a little. So it’s easy for riders to make a slight mistake that can make all the difference to the final result, especially with huge pressure playing a part. At this stage, poles will usually fall because of a too-tired horse, a poor take off point, an imbalanced canter, the wrong rhythm, the incorrect approach to a fence, drifting to the left or right, or the horse not listening. And of course, there’s always sheer bad luck!

Keeping your cool

Pressure is what you make it! You are your own biggest critic, and to learn to control your emotions may not be easy, but is essential for any competitive event rider. Whatever the competition, and whatever the level, you are entering an arena to jump a course of show jumps, and each scenario must be dealt with in the same way. If we simplify everything in our brains, rather than over-complicating matters, it can make our task clearer and easier to handle, whether it’s a mid-season event at Castle Rock, or the Grand Slam at Rolex!


Vee poles encourage a rounded jump


  1. Nothing will give you greater confidence than being prepared for the final round. If you feel that your take off point and rhythm is what is letting you down, try setting up three canter poles at home, approximately three and a half metres apart, in front of a jump.
  2. This will ensure you and your horse have an even canter stride and a good take off point, and this will also help ‘train your eye’.
  3. If you feel your horse is flat over the jumps, and is not using his shoulders, then bounce jumps will help – build up from one bounce to a series of four or five, e.g with no strides in between the fences.
    High cross poles are particularly good for straightness; be encouraged to mix and match uprights and cross poles. Approaching in trot usually works better, to allow your horse time to assess the task ahead, and to really use himself, and bascule.
  4. If you feel you want an exercise that can be used around a course, place Vee Poles on various fences at home or at your training venue, which will encourage a good rounded jump off the hocks.

Mental & physical fitness

Fitness is the fundamental backbone of eventing. Your aim is for you both to be able to enter the showjumping phase feeling as fresh and ready as you were in the first phase!

Ensuring you have a super fit horse, together with correct stable management and feeding program, gives you the best chance of a good performance. With a clear mind and positive thoughts, you will transmit the power to succeed to your horse.

Only focus on your own performance; watching others do well can put extra pressure on you, whilst, conversely, seeing others fail can cause a lack of confidence.

Rowan Willis is part of a dynamic showjumping couple with Austrian rider Aline Domaingo. They’re ambassador riders for Ozone Therapy UK, offering ozone sauna therapy for athletes at www.ozone-therapy.co.uk

Main image of Rowan Willis by Amanda Jane Smith Photography




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