Very often problems on approach are caused by rider involvement in the wrong areas and an incorrect focus. The rider’s focus should be on trying to keep a nice regular and balanced approach, while staying within a rhythm, not the take off distance from the fence.
It is vitally important for the horse to maintain rhythm and balance and to be on a direct not a wavering approach. He needs to be straight because sometimes you might want to take a fence on an angle. In show jumping you always want to get the best line.
When using poles on the ground such as canter poles I always use a square pole. I do this because if a horse steps on a pole it will not roll away and is therefore safer. You can also use flat planks painted white as an alternative.
Backing off (lacking impulsion)
A horse that backs off tends to be quite pessimistic. The rider may be over riding so that the horse is very cautious about what the rider is asking him to do. It is almost as if you are forcing the horse to the fence. This has an adverse reaction from the horse; instead of going forward he drops his contact and goes behind the leg in the point of balance and comes negatively to the fence, invariably putting an extra stride in .There is then the situation of both horse and rider lacking any forward movement. This can also show a lack of confidence in the rider.
Three Stride Placing Pole
Here is an exercise to help with proper approach and to avoid the horse backing off.
1. Place a pole on the ground approximately 13.5m away from a small fence.
2. Ride over the pole and then ride three level strides to the fence - count them out in your head.
3. As the horse starts to back off gently apply your leg. Do not over ride at this point.
4. If the horse puts an extra stride in, come round again and this time apply your leg a little bit earlier and a little bit more firmly i.e. on the first stride as you go over the pole. If the horse still backs off tap behind the girth with your stick just to reinforce the leg. The horse will actually respond to your leg and get there on three and he will start to think 1 —2 — 3, which will improve his confidence. With more consistency on your approach you will be achieving a good take off distance.
This exercise is only to be done over a small fence well within the horse's comfort zone. Increase the height only as the horse starts to stay more normal in the approach. Do not start off too big because it is a lack of confidence in the rider's instructions that causes the horse to back off. The deceleration makes it harder work for the horse.
Another reason for a horse to back off is spooking or a lack of confidence in that type of fence. Again use this exercise until confidence is restored.