There are some riders who, without a doubt, have natural talent and achieve success in show jumping even without having dressage instruction. However, I think that the natural talent of a rider can be greatly improved by proper systematic training on the flat.
When one sees the jumping courses built today it makes me realize even more how important it is to have a horse which is totally obedient and responsive to the aids of the rider throughout every second of the course, with a body as supple, fit, strong and athletic as possible. The horse has to turn right, turn left in a split second, open stride and go forwards, close stride and come back, all ideally with a minimum of effort on the part of the rider. There is no time to wait one second for the horse to respond. The horse has to have maximum suppleness through his whole body and to be conditioned like a true athlete. When the horse and rider get into the smaller indoor arenas of the winter season, the turns, for example, have to be even sharper. We see today placings in a show jumping class separated by 100th of a second so it is vital to get those good turns in!
This is where the word dressage comes in, or if it is preferred flatwork. Since starting to work with show jumpers I have been sometimes surprised how riders are able to jump courses on a horse which is stiff, not really straight and not using maximum pushing power of the hindquarters on the flat. So why should he be expected to use maximum power over the fences?
To improve a show jumper it can help to follow a systematic training routine. It should involve all the main principles of the training scale for training a dressage horse which must involve correct rhythm, balance, suppleness, impulsion, contact, straightness and later collection. Any rider should realise that clear rounds are more easily achieved when between the fences the horse is physically the best it can be. Plus, a horse which lacks strength, balance and suppleness increases the risk of wear and tear on his body, and on his mind. A horse who feels good in his body will be mentally relaxed, will enjoy his work and will therefore perform better.
Matt Williams and Leconte (AUS)
What then is dressage for show-jumpers? It is the gymnastic development of the natural ability of the horse and the obedience to the rider. This will therefore result in harmonious cooperation between the horse and rider. The flatwork should be carried out three to four times per week for between 45-60 minutes with intermittent stretching of the top line in rising trot, plus breaks of walk in between the exercises, which is the horse's best reward.
On days in between the dressage training the horse should be lunged or do some fittening work on a track (including hill work if possible). It is imperative that the horse be very fit. I remember well the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, where those horses had to perform many rounds, especially the last four riders whose horses performed clear round after clear round looking as fresh as they did on the first day of the event. The horse must also spend some of his working life being lunged to relax the back and stretch the top line by working long and low preferably in a Chambon. Plus of course he should have his time to feel like a horse and be put out daily in a paddock, preferably on grass ('Doctor Green').