Riding Tips

3 Easy Tips: How to Approach a Horse Jump for Beginners

horse jumping fences black and white
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Written by Channing Seideman

When I was a young rider, I made every mistake imaginable. One of the most memorable “oops” moments was the time I attempted a rollback on course and ended up jumping an oxer backwards. #rookiemistake

Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot about jumping since those days. Surprisingly, the best advice I ever got wasn’t from a jumper at all — it was from a dressage clinician. He said:

The amount of time you spend on course jumping is literally seconds compared to the amount of time you spend on the ground.

In this article, I’ll share three flatwork tips that have made a world of difference when I approach jumps on my horse.

horse rookie's guide to show jumping

#1: Look Up

Trainers have been telling me to “look up” my entire riding life. But I never really “got it” until one of them had me do the craziest thing I’d ever been asked to do in the arena — or anywhere for that matter!

“Here’s what I want you to do,” my trainer said. “Approach that box jump, and when you’re four or five strides out, I want you to close your eyes.”

At first, I thought she was joking and I laughed. Except she wasn’t kidding…so I did it.

That’s when I learned that looking up is all about trusting the horse underneath you.

With my eyes closed, I was forced to feel my horse — whether we maintained a consistent pace as I counted in my head “one, two, one, two,” and whether there was a sideways drift in my horse’s step instead of a straight line to the base of the jump.

horse jumping black and white

Keeping your eyes up is a game changer!

The newfound benefits were huge! Suddenly, I knew where I was and where I was going. And, boy oh boy, is there value to that!

I could find the center of the jump — and I could look ahead toward the next jump. It was like I’d been blind and now I could finally see.

Plus, there was the effect looking up had on my body position. You know how trainers are always telling you that there should be a straight line from head to shoulder to elbow to hip to heel? Well, it’s physiologically impossible unless you’re looking up!

And the best benefit of all… I could feel my body waiting.

#2: Wait

Speaking of waiting, trainers have also told me I needed to wait countless times. Though I intellectually understood their request, it didn’t click until one of them said:

The rider does not jump the jump. The horse jumps the jump.

When I started thinking about waiting from this perspective, I realized I’d been trying to jump for my horse.

cantering horse

Patience is a virtue.

To control a horse’s tempo at the trot, we’re taught to adjust our posting so the horse matches our beat. It’s just the opposite when jumping.

When approaching a jump, we have to wait for the horse — not jump the gun.

The result is that we maintain a consistent tempo to the jump – horse and rider become one, in sync, a unit, a team.

Check out our 10 best stirrups for jumping clear and staying safe. 

horse rookie guide to jumping

#3: Be Balanced

The hardest lesson for me to learn, though, was to stay more balanced. When a trainer had me ride with one stirrup on and one stirrup off for an entire lesson, I noticed how off-balance I really was.

I slid off to one side and the other, then threw all my weight to the other side while hanging on for dear life.

The exercises made me understand and see how my horse feels when she’s off balance, yet I still expect her to jump well.

Finally, instead of compensating for being off balance, I was able to focus on setting myself up for what comes next: a lead change in the air, a tight turn in a jump off, or an important transition.

Remember, every step we take is in preparation for the next. Be intentional.

Set Up for Success

When you’re approaching a jump, whether you’re taking a straight-line approach or, like me when I was a rookie rider, taking a backwards approach (#facepalm), this mantra helps me jump my best:

Look up, wait, and be balanced!

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horse rookie guide to jumping
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About the author

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Channing Seideman

Channing Seideman is an advocate for quality of life for people with epilepsy. Channing is 26 and has lived with epilepsy – and ridden with epilepsy - since she was 9, refusing to let her condition define her life. When it threatened her goals as a competitive horse jumper, she wore an inflatable vest to protect her from falls due to seizures. And when it threatened to keep her from finding meaningful employment in the health industry, she became a medical transcriptionist. Now Channing works at the non-profit, May We Help.