Using Grid Work for Success at Every Level, by Carol Mailer, hardcover, 230pp. RRP £19.99. J.A. Allen.

June 29, 2008

Anyone into jumping - be it at novice grade or to the highest international level - wants to improve their performance.

Carol Mailer, in her 230-page book, "Better Jumping", sets out in detail the strategies all jumpers, regardless of ability, can use to keep improving.

Mailer says the way to better jumping is the use of grids, establishing the building blocks that will allow horse and rider to make step-by-step improvements.

The use of grids effectively involves the laying out of a series of jumps or obstacles that enable the horse and rider to establish the key rhythms needed for jumping. The nature and complexity of the grids change as the horse and rider improve.

She sets out her views and strategies for improvement, from a novice setting up their first grid with seven poles on the ground, to a top jumper.

She lays out a plan for improvement and says if you don't go as well as you hoped at any level, simply move back a stage or two and go from there. One of the keys to success is knowing when to consolidate your work and when to move on.

Her book is a blueprint, if you will, for the path to better jumping. It's very well illustrated and Mailer has made a point of keeping it simple. There is no room for confusion. She knows the path to improvement: it's up to the rider to follow her strategies.

She says of the grid system, which will be new to novices: "There is no other system that is more successful for starting off a complete beginner, and this methodical and logical approach to jumping should ensure that the novice rider doesn't lose any confidence.

"Although the rate of progression is necessarily slow, it will be completely reliable as long as you do the right exercises in the right order."

Mailer is clear that she has no magical formula that can provide startling improvement.

What she does guarantee is that methodical and progressive use of grid work will help horse and rider get results - the rate at which these improvements occur will very much depend on the individual horse and rider.

Mailer drops in questions-and-answer panels in her book - particularly in the novice section - to help riders get their head around the concepts and answer some basic questions.

She adds extra interest to her book by introducing case studies, where the issues facing real people and their horses are explored and remedied.

Safety is important, and Mailer lays out the essentials in this regard early on, including the need to have a responsible person nearby when working.

She then explores grids for novice riders before moving on to the roller-coaster grid, the stay-straight grid, the fan grid and figure-eight exercises. She explores the use of canter poles and devotes a chapter to issues specific to pony showjumpers.

There's advice about practice before shows, preparation for such events, and good manners.

The extensive use of photographs and diagrams makes this book a comfortable read and the pictures really do help understand the issues and techniques Mailer is explaining.

Her practical advice will reward the patient and disciplined rider prepared to build a steady improvement. If you have visions of a meteoritic rise in the sport, it's not a book you need, but a miracle.

Mailer is well qualified to write on jumps training.

"From the time I took my very first jump I knew I wanted to be a show jumper," she says.

From 1966 to the early 70s she competed in eventing but concentrated on show jumping after her marriage in 1975. They developed their first four-acre property - installing an arena, a small cross-country circuit and show jumps - enough to begin holding small shows.

She said she was fortunate to be trained by the late Margaret Clarke, of Cambridge, who had an extensive knowledge of grid training. She supervised a veterinary hospital for 10 years and when her husband retired in 1988 they built an equine centre which she ran as a competition, training and livery yard.

They have since moved to a smaller property to enjoy a quieter life.

"I love training and find it so rewarding," she says. "I am very fortunate to have an instinctive feel for what needs to be done to improve the jumping of an individual horse or rider, or the horse and rider as a team.

"Anyone," she says," can be helped to jump better, from a complete beginner to an advanced eventer."