You’ve just popped the fence and, in your mind, it was a success. Mostly because you managed to stay on board for it! However, as soon as your horse lands, you are beginning to think that your ‘upright seat’ is becoming more and more of a fantasy…
In fact, every stride your horse takes is literally bumping you further and further onto his withers… Your lower leg is coming up and back. And you’re pretty sure that you’re on the verge of losing your stirrups.
Who knew that jumping meant such an up-close and personal view of your horse’s neck?! You glance up, and low and behold, you are approaching the corner; fast!!
Let’s Remove ‘Forward’ From Your Position!
This is a really common problem. And one that often begins when we first begin jumping and the word ‘forward’ is used to encourage the position. Couple this with a really strong desire not to ‘catch your horse in the mouth’…
The result is you diving forward, leaning on your horse’s neck with your hands (which are filled with as much mane as they can physically hold), and just being a heavy passenger both over and after the jump.
Jumping… It is really one of the most fun things to do on a horse, but if you are not in control on the ground, between the fences, things have a terrible habit of going from bad to worse very quickly!
Things Get Worse As Fences Get Higher!
What compounds the problem more is that, generally speaking, when we are jumping over smaller fences, this ‘technique’ works quite well. You manage to get from A to B. And your horse is in possession of all his back teeth at the end of the lesson.
However, the problems begin to show up when the jumps become a little higher. Or there are a few of them added together to form a track or course of fences.
Having an independent, balanced seat both over and after the fence is essential for you to efficiently pilot your horse over all the obstacles. And achieve that all important clear round.
What Your Horse Does When Jumping
I think the first part of either preventing this from becoming your jumping technique, or correcting an already formed habit, is to fully understand what happens to your horse when he jumps.
As he approaches the jump, your horse should begin to transfer his weight a little more back onto his hocks and hindquarters, rather than his shoulders. This is in preparation for lifting his shoulders and front end off the ground when beginning his jumping effort.
He will then, when at the fence, with his hind legs moving under him, lift his shoulders, head, and neck to begin his jumping effort. His hind legs will then come under him, push-off the ground, and ‘propel’ him on, up, and over the fence.
His head and neck will stretch out and down a little, his shoulders will pull his front legs up and his knees should ideally ‘snap’ up to clear the fence.
His hindquarters will fold up underneath him. There will be a point where he will be suspended in mid-air over the jump. Once he is ‘over’ the fence, he will get the landing gear out, so to speak. He will stretch out his front legs. And, to balance himself, raise his head and neck in anticipation for the first getaway stride after the fence.
With his head and neck raised, his front legs can touch down and then move forward again into the first stride leaving space for his hind legs to land. And then he will push-off again with the hind legs to continue cantering after the fence.
How We Can Interfere With Jumping
There are a number of different times when we riders have a great potential to get in the way. This can cause problems with our horse’s technique. Here are some of the more common mistakes we can be guilty of:-
- Getting ahead of the movement, to begin with on the approach
- Diving too early when we reach the jump, resulting in us ‘jumping before the horse’
- Using our horses head and neck over the fence for support and balance – leaning on our horse
- Collapsing on our horse’s neck on landing
- Tipping forward on the landing stride and continue to tip more forward with every stride thereafter
So in order to control our position after the fence, we need to first control our position in front the fence. I suggest that wherever you previously used the word ‘Forward’; substitute it with ‘Back and Down’.
Adjusting Your Jumping Position
Next time you approach a pole or a fence, imagine trying to create an open space in front of you. Think of from your chin to your horse’s withers. Focus on making this space as big and empty as possible.
Open your chest wide from the shoulder point to shoulder point. Sit up through your waist (no creases in your tummy). And, finally, open the angle between your thigh and your tummy as much as you can.
Then begin creating energy with your legs. Keep asking. However, instead of letting the ‘energy’ run out the front end, imagine that energy coming from your horse’s back hoof in a line towards his ears. It is ‘filling’ that space you created earlier in front of you. And as it does, you use your hands, and in particular, your outside rein, to contain it and direct it where you want it to go.
You will have to continuously check that you are carrying yourself and your hands in order for there to be enough ‘space’ for this energy to come up.
Keep this ‘space’ in mind as you approach your jump or pole or even better; Your marker…
Choose ‘Markers’ in Your Arena
The first thing I would suggest you do when working on improving your jumping technique does not involve jumping at all. Simply pick different places around the arena and pretend there is a jump there.
I and my sister done this for years when hacking out (on the trail). We used the posts from fences as ‘markers’. Alternatively, we used telephone poles, or trees, shadows, signposts, other jumps that we rode past. The list was and is endless.
As you ride past your marker each time, try to imagine where your horse would take off if that was an actual real jump.
Keep in mind that you will only then follow your horse after he has actually begun to lift off… Not throw yourself at the fence. It is often helpful to say, either in your head or out loud “Wait, Wait, Wait – Lift”. (I know you may feel a little silly, but it really does help!)
Practice Your ‘New’ Jumping Position
Then shift into your jumping position over the ‘fence’ (your marker). Work on coming back into your normal, upright seat afterward, just as quickly as you would if you were indeed jumping a fence.
Begin in walk… And really pay attention that when you are moving into your jumping position, it is a correct position.
- Weight into the heels
- Lift your bum a little out of the saddle
- Make sure your bum ‘reverses‘ – REALLY IMPORTANT!
- As your bum goes back, fold your hips bringing your upper body closer to the pommel of the saddle or withers
- Make sure your back is straight
- Keep your chest open – the point of each shoulder stretched away from each other across your chest
- Give with your arms and hand, through your shoulders
- Look up!
Carry Your Upper Body
What I often see happen is that although people get out of the saddle, heels down, etc, etc… Because they don’t support and carry their upper body (open the chest), they are leaning on the horse’s neck for support. This is REALLY difficult to get up out of after the jump when the horse is moving.
It also causes the rider to squeeze with their knees. From here, the lower leg pivots, the upper body comes more down, They usually lose the stirrups… And on, and on, and on :(
Put A Basic Position on Autopilot
Once you are getting in and out of your jumping position easily in walk and it should become something that you don’t have to think about. However, at the beginning of each session do a mental checklist that you are doing each of the above parts. Practice the exercise with no poles. Only your imaginary ‘markers’.
Work in walk, in trot and, when that is good, move to canter.
Then begin working over a pole on the ground… Use the same principle… And lastly, you will be well able to hold your own over a fence and support and balance yourself all the way.
The super thing about being able to do that is that your horse will also be able to jump better because you’re not shifting all your weight onto his shoulders :)
Additional Resources for Equestrians
- Maintaining Balance Between the Jumps
- Building a Solid Foundation over Jumps
- Learning to Slow Down Over Fences
- Online community for equestrians working on their mindset & fitness
- Online Community for equestrians focusing on re-schooling horses (and ex-racehorses)
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- Daily Strides Podcast on Google Play
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
- Join Connection; The Online Membership for Equestrians