Riding Tips

5 Trainer-Approved Horse Jumping Exercises for Beginners

beginner jumping exercises
Written by Shelby Dennis

Improving Your Jumping with Consistent Practice

Learning how to jump can seem like a daunting task due to the learning curve and how scary jumping can be while you are still building your confidence. Nonetheless, there are plenty of safe and easy exercises beginners can utilize to develop the skills that will help them to become better riders over fences.

There are many exercises to help target your areas of weakness in jumping, without overwhelming yourself or your horse. Because practice makes perfect, allow these exercises to help you focus on areas of improvement so you can be the best jumper you can be!

Building a foundation as a rider involves perfecting a lot of the more simplistic exercises while you develop your skill set. Therefore, if you lack the confidence to jump and want some exercises to help you progress, look no further. The following exercises will help beginners hone their skills and become stronger riders without overwhelming them.

Beginner Jumping Exercises

Bending Line

Setting up small fences in a bending line (slow curve to the other fence) with several strides in between can be an effective way for you, and your horse, to develop your steering skills on course and to help riders practice getting their horse straight to fences after a turn.

This is best done in lessons with your trainer so they can help you set the appropriate heights and distances.

You can even practice this with ground poles and then gradually progress to larger fence heights as you gain confidence.

The Serpentine

Set 3 jumps or poles in the middle of the arena with the jump standards all parallel to each other.

Initially place the jumps low, or even as ground poles—or consult your trainer about jump heights.

Ensure your arena is large enough that you can put the 3 jumps in the middle with enough space between them to do the sweeping loops of a serpentine over the fences. You’ll take straight lines before and after the fences and then make large sweeping turns to the next fence.

This is a really good approach to practice change of direction while keeping you and your horse together and on task through turns to fences. It’s also an awesome way to practice straightness coming out of a turn, but with more difficulty than a bending line. As you get more skilled, you can make sharper turns to practice for jump offs.

The Circle

This is the most difficult exercise of these three, typically. Start out on a large circle of at least 20m and to make it easiest, you can start out with 4 ground poles set at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock.

If you’re having difficulties, you can remove 2 poles/jumps and start off on the circle just doing two.

This exercise helps build your horse’s fitness and rhythm over fences as it requires you and your horse to stay on a bend and find your distances to numerous fences throughout a single circle. The smaller the circle, the less strides between the poles or fences and the more difficult it will be.

Ideally, you want the same number of strides between each fence and you can use this to practice adding and removing strides.

Once you’re ready to jump, starting out by raising 2 of the ground poles to small crossrails or 18”-24’’ fences is a great way to start learning this exercise and then once you’ve gone through it a few times, you could put the rest of the fences up.

Start small. Really! This exercise is not meant to be done with large fences as it’s all about building your skill and ability over fences on a circle, which is much more difficult for both you and your horse than riding on straight lines.

horse rookie guide to jumping

Gymnastic grids

Gymnastics are a powerful approach to develop and strengthen your position over fences without having to worry about distances as much due to them being set in a manner that allows your horse to easily find the right stride to the jumps.

Gymnastics refers to jumps set up in lines with the intention of improving the horse’s jump and helping to teach them to be more careful over fences as well as helping the rider develop their position.

You can even set these up with ground poles or trot poles to begin, and then gradually build into small jumps.

Beginning with some trot poles up to a singular jump can be a great way to start building the grid and then you can add canter poles or more fences as you gain confidence. For beginners, I wouldn’t make the grids much more complex than 3 jumps or canter poles with a jump or two.

Starting out, you’ll want at least 1 or 2 strides between the fences.

As riders get stronger, they can build “bounces” into their grids, which ask the horse to jump a jump and then prepare for a jump immediately after landing. This can help the rider better their balance between fences but is best done once you’ve gained some experience doing gymnastic grid work.

Pole Exercises

Trot or Canter Pole “Course”

Setting singular poles to ride over can assist to develop your eye to fences, making it easier to get correct distances and helping to teach you how to package together your horse’s gaits so they are responsive and listening as you approach fences, rather than bolting at the fence or possibly slowing down too much due to the lack of support from the rider before the fence.

Poles are easy to set up and are also yet another way to work on your two-point position.

You can start off with setting one pole on the long side off of the rail so you can go around it if need be. Get underway by trotting and adjusting your horse’s pace as they approach the pole as well as on landing.

To increase difficulty and practice adjusting your horse’s stride for coursework, you also can canter the poles. This helps teach horses to wait and to approach fences quietly, as well, so this is an extremely beneficial exercise for the horse as well. For the rider, it helps them learn how to support their horse up to fences and to adjust their stride as needed.

Once you have done singular poles, you can set up the poles like a normal jump course and practice going through it as if you are doing a course, just without real jumps.

This can help build confidence for riding courses, considering that most of what you’re doing and needed to practice is riding up to and away from the fences, so flat work is actually highly important to mastering jumping!

This is also an excellent way for riders to practice learning and memorizing courses.

You also can set up trot poles and increase the difficulty of this by raising some of the poles slightly as you and your horse improve. As you both improve, you also can add more poles to increase difficulty. Again, start small, with around 3 poles initially and then you can add to this as you get better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How should a beginner jump a horse?

Beginners should learn how to jump a horse under the supervision of a qualified trainer after demonstrating that they are a capable rider on the flat. Starting off small and building your foundation as a jumper is the way to go!

If you learn a strong foundation from the beginning, you will progress faster in the long run—even if it takes longer to initially hone your skills.

horse rookie guide to jumping

Q: How do you practice horse jumping?

You can practice jumping in lessons with your instructor using exercises, such as pole work or grid work, however, you can also use flat work rides to help develop skills that will make you a better jumper. Holding two-point for short periods of time during your rides can help do this. You also can exercise at home to target the muscle groups most used over fences.

Q: Is horse jumping hard?

Jumping can be hard to learn because there is a fairly steep learning curve and a lot of different ways of doing things. Even as you become strong enough to do course work, there is always more to learn and perfect as you move up the levels of jumping, but this is the fun of it.

If you get a solid education on the flat as a rider, jumping will become much easier for you. Flat work is the base of all jumping skills for both horse and rider!

Q: How do I become a better horse jumper?

Lots of practice, followed by even more practice, makes perfect. Also, getting physically strong enough to maintain the ideal jumping position is important and can take time to do. You can work on your physical strength both at the barn and at home.

Additionally, filming your rides whenever possible and watching them back so you can get a visual on anything your coach points out, is an excellent way to self improve over time and can help develop your eye for what you need to work on, as well as what you’re doing well.

Videos also are great because they give the rider a visual to demonstrate their improvement over a period of time, which can help improve morale if you ever feel stuck in a rut.

Q: What makes a good jumping horse?

A good jumping horse is a horse who is brave, agile, and careful. Typically, the more sporty breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods are the most common mounts seen in the jumper ring, however any horse with the right attitude and physical suitability can jump.

There are some things to consider in terms of conformation for the horse’s overall success as a jumper, especially if you’re looking to move up the levels, as well as considering the horse’s soundness for jumping as not all horses are suitable for more than low level jumping.

Parting Thoughts

Jumping can be scary and seem like a difficult skill to learn, however, with some dedication and practice anyone can become a jumper. It’s important to note that the height you jump says nothing about your skill as a rider, don’t try to compare yourselves to others or feel like you need to jump higher to be great at jumping.

Remember, flat work is the foundation of all jumping skills and even if you aren’t currently ready to jump, you are practicing your skills needed to excel at jumping just by riding on the flat. The better your foundation, the easier the rest of the skills will fall into place, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

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About the author

Shelby Dennis

Shelby Dennis is a well known YouTube equestrian vlogger and horse trainer. She has over 17 years of experience with horses. From the Arabian circuit to hunter/jumper and exercising race horses, Shelby’s experience with different kinds of horses makes her a well-rounded horsewoman. Shelby attributes her history with horses to shaping the hardworking, patient and driven individual she is today.

Learn more at milestoneequestrian.com.