The key to jumping well is to keep working on the basics. Lunging, bareback riding and jumping with no hands or no stirrups all help to improve your technique and style.
Position and style
When you practise your ‘flat’ work, think of the jumping course as a dressage test with obstacles. Your ability to push forward and to ride straight and in rhythm is the foundation for successful jumping.
Try to have an instructor there. An extra pair of eyes can be invaluable in pointing out problems and noting any ways in which your style can be improved. This way, you can correct small faults before they become bad habits.
You should also ‘feel’ what is going on underneath you, so go back on the lunge from time to time. You can concentrate on establishing a good position while your instructor assesses you both.
Remember to sit into the horse and to use your back and seat as well as legs. This helps the pony to bring his hocks underneath him and so propel himself forward both on the flat and over jumps.
At one with the horse
Intersperse general sessions with exercises geared specifically toward jumping improvements. The closest contact you can have with a horse is to ride without a saddle. Practise riding around the field bare-back. It does wonders for your position and your sensitivity.
Try rising to the trot without saddle or stirrups. Then just let your legs grow as long as they can. Allow your lower back to absorb the energy coming up from the horse.
Avoid the temptation to grip. Aim to sit in balance with your weight coming down through your seat bones and you’re on the way to that all-important independent seat!
Look no hands! Jumping a low grid of fences without stirrups and with your arms folded is an excellent exercise to improve balance and suppleness.
Again, you’ll need guidance from someone watching on the ground. When you feel confident, you can go on to an even better test. Try holding a cup of water (without spilling a drop) when you jump… then you’ll really see how good your balance is!
Remember, much as you may love jumping, to restrict your practice sessions in time (up to 45 minutes), number (twice a week) and height (up to 1m/ about 3ft). Straying from this rule and trying to do too much only makes both horse and rider stale and so creates more rather than less problems.
There are bound to be times when you fall off the pony, particularly when jumping. But you can take steps to avoid it. If you ride the same pony regularly, learn to tune into his moods so you know when he is feeling tense and liable to ‘shy‘ at a fence. Aim to be as supple and fit as possible so that your balance is good – lungeing helps a lot.
If you do fall you should, of course, be wearing a hard hat to protect your head. Try to remember to curl into a ball. This lessens the impact and keeps you out of the way of the pony’s hoofs.
Most of the pony’s faults are man-made – novice horses and novice riders are not a good mix. You can improve your skills by having some lessons on an experienced jumping horse. This teaches you what it feels like to jump correctly. Provided you have the horse straight and balanced on a short, bouncy stride and you are sitting quietly and independently, ready to go with the horse, you can leave it up to him. Presenting the horse correctly is all you need to do.