Improving how you jump starts with the basics
Jumping is not for the faint of heart. In order to achieve success for both you and your horse, it is important to learn how to jump correctly in order to avoid confusing or throwing your horse off-balance. Additionally, for your own safety as a rider, learning a secure jumping position will help keep you safe even when things don’t always go as planned.
To allow for your horse to jump to their best potential, you must learn how to be the type of rider who stays out of their way and sets them up for the utmost success over fences. This all starts with awareness of your body and how your position can affect the horse.
Jumping definitely has a steep learning curve and it can seem like a lot to remember, but there are some simple ways you can break this down to make aspects of your jumping position easy to remember, and easy to practice, so that you and your horse can become jumping superstars!
Breaking Down the Proper Jumping Position
Head and Eyes
Most of us have heard “eyes up” time and time again in lessons. For jumping, this remark is really no different. You want to keep your head up and your eyes focused and aware of where you’re going.
It can be tempting to look down at your horse, the jump, or even the ground, but this can result in piloting errors due to not being focused on where you are headed.
Watching where you are going, and keeping your head up, will help your entire posture, as your shoulders tend to follow where your head goes. So, keep that head up and keep your eyes focused on where you are going and where you wish to direct your horse.
Body and Seat
The reason why riders come out of the saddle and into the “two point” position over fences is for aerodynamic purposes—to allow for the horse to jump as easily as possible without hindrance from the rider. Your position in the saddle is not only intended to help your horse out with their athletic potential and to clear the jump with ease, but also to keep you safe and in the tack without jumping too far ahead of, or behind, the motion. Either of which might cause you to lose your balance and fall.
Your seat should be up out of the saddle but with your center of balance still remaining over the saddle, with much of your weight and balance falling onto the balls of your feet and into your heels as an anchor.
Your torso can move forward and closer towards the horses’ neck in a folded position, with your pivot point being at your hips and waist. You want a straight back, flat shoulders and your eyes focused on what is in front of you: looking between the horse’s ears at the jump on your approach.
You want to support your own body without falling onto the horse’s neck. As such, there should be visible space between you and the horse’s neck. When you fold at your hips to go into two point, you do not want this to alter where your legs sit. This aspect of the jump position is solely focused on your body folding at the hips and while your legs remain connected with the horse.
Arms, Elbows, and Hands
Giving your horse a proper release over fences is important. There are different types of releases that can be used, but the most common, especially with new jumpers, is the crest release. This involves stretching your arms part way up the neck so you can follow the horse’s mouth while they jump and avoid catching them in the mouth.
If your elbows are too rigid and do not follow the motion of the horse, you may accidentally jar them in the mouth, which is confusing feedback for the horse, uncomfortable and makes it more likely that they will take a rail.
You want your elbows to be loose and follow the horse’s motion, but you don’t want to reach them so far up the neck that you throw yourself off balance and end up laying on the horse’s neck. When you fold at the hips to go into two point, you want to adjust your elbows slightly by moving them forward as your torso naturally moves forward with the motion of the horse’s jump.
You can allow the motion of the jump to help guide your elbows if you keep them loose and giving.
In the event that you are ever left behind, you can utilize your hands to “slip” the reins by loosening your grip and allowing them to run through your fingers so that the horse is not hitting the end of your contact.
This is an easy way of self correcting if you find yourself giving too short of a release or forgetting to release. It is an important skill to learn and remember in the event you ever get a bad distance or things on course don’t go as planned. It allows you to try to stay out of your horse’s way even when your position isn’t perfect.
Legs and Feet
Your legs and feet are what anchor and balance your position over fences. If your leg slips back too far, your center of gravity is thrown off and it is difficult to follow the horse’s motion as well and it also increases the likelihood of the rider being thrown off balance.
If your feet turn out to the side rather than facing mostly forward, almost parallel with the ribcage of the horse, this inadvertently takes your calf off of the side of the horse and causes you to pinch with your knees, making your leg much less supportive to both you and the horse.
You want your leg to fall just behind the girth, with your toes forward and your calf making even contact with the body of your horse. The leg position over fences does not change from what the ideal position is on the flat, it is just your upper body that moves to follow the motion of the jump.
Your weight can fall into your heels, but be careful not to hyperextend your heels as this will render them ineffective as the anchor of your body. Heels down serves the functional purpose of helping you balance by anchoring your weight.
Jumping Position Tips
Look where you want to go.
Eyes up! Any time you look down, you’re not watching where you are going and this can result in you going off course or making additional errors.
Let the horse jump up to you.
Try not to throw yourself forward with the horse as this can cause you to jump too far ahead of the motion and can be a difficult habit to fix. Try to naturally allow the motion of the jump to bring your body forward into two point.
Practice, practice, practice.
Practice riding in a half seat and two point on the flat so that you can develop the strength to have a strong jumping position over fences. Practice makes perfect! The more time you focus on strengthening your body to make this easier for yourself, the more easily jumping will come to you.
Build confidence over ground poles.
Set up ground poles courses and you can do them as canter poles—practicing your position and working on counting your strides and helping your horse become more adjustable to fences. This way, when the jumps go up, you will be more confident and more prepared.
Make sure your stirrup length works.
Generally speaking, jumpers will shorten their stirrups a hole or two from their flat length. Make sure your stirrups are not too long or too short as this can make it more difficult for you to work on your jumping position and get it right.
Gymnastics help you get it right.
After making sure your trainer agrees you’re ready, gymnastic grids can be an excellent tool to help you learn timing and body awareness— without having to worry about setting your horse up for the distances in the same way you may have to do on course. Grid work allows you to ride your horse through sets of poles or jumps and this helps you develop awareness of your position as a rider so you can get a feel for when you have it right.
Jumping is just flatwork with obstacles.
You do not need to jump all of the time to improve! Lots of flatwork to target your balance and your equitation on the flat will transfer into your skills over fences. Never underestimate the importance of flat work and trust that you are improving as a rider even if your trainer is focusing on the flat a lot.
Flat work is what makes a good jumper. For both horse and rider, it is absolutely crucial. You do not only need to jump to improve your position!
Practice over low fences.
When developing your position, keeping things easy is often the way to go. Don’t rush your way up to high fences. Stick to low stuff and work on the foundation: your position. Once you have it down, you can put the fences up, no problem. Don’t rush it! Taking the time you need to be successful is what makes a good rider.
No stirrup work helps.
If you are struggling with a weak leg over fences or on the flat, doing work with no stirrups can really help strengthen your leg. Start off small and gradually extend how much you do. Even doing no stirrups down one long side or short side is a start!
Strengthening your muscular structures that you need to develop a good, strong jumping position will help make getting it right much easier. You can also work on these muscle groups with at-home exercises that do not require a horse.
Being nervous is okay!
If you find yourself losing confidence, it is okay to take a step back and slow down. Advocate for yourself and tell your trainer when you’re really struggling with something or having a difficult time. It is totally normal to struggle when learning new concepts, don’t be embarrassed by this and just remember that it is all a part of the journey.
Learning to jump can seem like a huge undertaking and may even be a bit scary. While there is lots to learn, it is definitely doable and you can learn all of these things within your comfort zone, at your own pace, one step at a time.
A portion of allowing yourself to become the excellent jumper rider you’re destined to be, is focusing on the foundational parts of that, and you can start that by focusing on minor positional improvements that will add up overtime until you’re suddenly the rider you had only dreamed of being.
Remember, every rider has their own individual weaknesses and struggles, so certain aspects of your jump position may be harder for you than they are for others, but those are just your individual struggles and this is all part of your learning! Even the best riders in the world had to start at the beginning once.
When learning new things, try to keep it light hearted and fun and don’t compare yourself to others. Try to beat the rider you were yesterday and focus on continued personal improvement. That is all anyone can ask for, and that is how you become an accomplished rider.
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