You’ve just popped the fence and in your mind it was a success, mostly because you managed to stayed 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… You lower leg is coming up and back, your sure that you have just lost 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!!
This is a really common problem and one that often begins when we first begin jumping and the word ‘forward’ coupled with a really strong desire not to ‘catch your horse in the mouth’ result in 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!
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 are essential for you to efficiently pilot your horse over all the obstacles and achieve that all important clear round.
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 hind quarters, 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 knees should ideally ‘snap’ up to clear the fence.
His hind quarters will fold up underneath him and 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.
There are a number of different times when us riders have a great potential to get in the way and cause problems with our horses 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 horses neck on landing
- Tipping forward on the landing stride and continue to tip more forward with every stride there after
So in order to control our position after the fence, we need to first control our position in front the fence & wherever you previously used the word ‘Forward’; substitute it with ‘Back and Down’.
Next time you approach a pole or a fence, imagine trying to create an open space in front of you, from your chin to your horses withers. Focus on making this space as big and empty as possible. Open your chest wide from shoulder point to shoulder point, sit up through your waist (no creases in your tummy) and opening the angle between your thigh and your tummy as much as you can.
Then begin creating energy with your legs. Keep asking, but instead of letting the ‘energy’ run out the front end, imagine that energy coming from your horses back hoof in a line towards his ears and ‘filling’ that space up as 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…
The first thing I would suggest you do when working on improving your jumping technique, without having to actually jump at all, is pick different places around the arena and pretend there is a jump there. Myself and my sister done this for years when hacking out (on the trail), we used the posts from fences as ‘markers’ or the telephone poles, or trees, shadows, signposts, other jumps that we rode past. The list was and is endless. As you ride past it 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!)
Then shift into your jumping position over the ‘fence’ and then coming back into your normal, upright seat afterwards, 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!
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, which is REALLY difficult to get up out of after the jump when the horse is moving.
This causes the rider to squeeze with their knees, the lower leg pivots, the upper body comes more down, they lose the stirrups… And on, and on, and on :(
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, but at the beginning do a mental checklist that you are doing each of the above parts, start the same exercise in trot and, when that is good, move to canter.Then begin working over a pole on the ground… 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 :)
I have written more blog posts on this topic which you may be interested in reading:-
- Maintaining Balance Between the Jumps
- Building a Solid Foundation over Jumps
- Learning to Slow Down Over Fences