Developing Jumping Skills

However thrilled you are with jumping, and no matter how eager you are to move on to the next stage, remember that you must build up experience and skills gradually.

Establishing your position

If you have weekly lessons you may find that the jumping position takes a While to establish. Shorten your stirrups and ride jockey style While trotting or cantering round the arena.

This is an excellent exercise to help your jumping position, providing you maintain your own balance without using the pony’s mouth to keep you out of the saddle. It’s also a good warm-up exercise before any jumping session and is often used by experienced riders, either to get a stuffy horse going or to settle a ‘fizzy’ one.

Training over low fences

Your instructor is unlikely to make your fences too big at this stage. Bear this in mind if you are practising with a pony at home. Professional show jumpers practise over low fences, concentrating on perfecting their style. Style is much more important than height.

The best exercises are those which promote agility in the horse, developing activity in his quarters and books so that they act like coiled springs and push him upward at take-off. Over the fence he should stretch his head and neck forward and down, while rounding his back. This action can be obtained best with gridwork (going down a straight line of fences) and small parallels and not by increasing the jump size.

At this stage, the most important points are correct position and a light contact with the horse’s mouth.

The perfect approach

The way in which you arrive at a fence is probably more important than the jump itself. Trotting poles and gridwork teach you how to make a good approach followed by a straight and steady path over the obstacles.

Look for your line of approach from halfway down the previous long side of the school. When you turn into the approach and are straight, fix your eyes on some point in the distance and ride toward it. The fences will disappear beneath you.

Rhythm and stride

Notice that your instructor varies the distances of the poles and jumps, depending on what the exercise is and also on the length of stride of different ponies. Learn from this and try to build up an idea of what your horse is doing underneath you.

Just as you did when you first learnt the paces, think about the rhythm. Count the beats of the trot in your head ‘1 -2, 1 -2’ and check whether they have a regular beat. Every second heat is a complete stride.

This means you can practise counting the number of strides the pony is taking between the poles. As you get better at this you can begin to tell what the problem is if your pony trips over a pole -whether it’s because the distance is too long or too short for him.

Gridwork exercises

There is a variety of grid exercises to practise – starting with cross-poles, you can introduce a pole behind them to make a small spread or just put one of the cross-poles horizontal to make a small upright fence.

Gradually the trotting poles will be removed although the instructor may leave one as a placing pole to help the pony arrive correctly at the first fence. This may be about 2.4-2.7m (8-9ft) – no stride – or 5.4-6m (18-20ft) – one stride – in front of the fence, but the rider should continue to ride for the fence, not for the placing pole. It is not advisable to include such a placing pole in a canter exercise.

Eventually you will be popping down a grid, and will be ready to start thinking about combinations and different types of fences put together as a small course.

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