Jumping is an important part of learning to ride. Knowing how to jump makes you feel more confident, it helps when you ride outside the school and find small branches or ditches across your path and it’s almost always exciting.
How to sit
You need to learn the jumping position to help your pony keep his balance and to stay secure in the saddle. It is the same basic position as for galloping. Instead of sitting up straight, just lean forward, letting your heels and knees take your weight.
It is much easier to sit correctly if your stirrups are shorter. One or two holes are enough at first. Shorten your reins too, so that your hands are further forward up the pony’s neck. It’s important to feel comfortable in this position, so start by practising while your pony is standing still.
For your first proper jump it’s a good idea to hold on to the pony’s mane, or a neck strap, until you get used to the feel of the movement. This gives you an idea of where your hands should be as well not too far forward or you lose your balance when you let go! Remember to keep your back flat, not rounded, and look up and forward.
How a horse jumps
The best way to describe how a horse jumps is to imagine a big stride of canter.
Cantering is a series of small leaps forward. A bigger leap is all that is necessary to clear an obstacle. So if you can already ride well in canter you are more than halfway to jumping over a small fence.
Poles on the ground
Although you will probably be given an experienced jumping pony to begin with, ponies have to be taught to jump too, so take care to be patient and kind.
When you place a pole on the ground, prevent it from rolling about by wedging something underneath it – a few pebbles or tufts of grass. If your pony accidentally kicks or treads on a pole that isn’t secured, he could fall over as it rolls under his feet.
Start with one pole on the ground. Take the pony to the pole and let him look at it first. Then lead him over it. If you begin in this way, you will find out how much the pony already knows and how he is likely to behave when you ask him to jump.
Practise riding a good approach to a jump. In walk, aim straight for the middle of a single pole and ride straight on afterwards. When you can manage all this with one pole, place several out in a line, at about 1m (1yd) apart less if your pony is small. Now try walking over them.
After this, try putting several poles around the arena or field to practise riding turns and coming in straight. Get used to going into jumping position as you come up to and over each pole.
Attempt only one or two of these new exercises at the first lesson. Restrict the time you spend jumping to about 15 minutes, otherwise the pony may become tired and bored.
As you practise, vary the position of your poles and stop repeating an exercise once you have got it right. If your pony gets fed up he may start misbehaving by kicking the poles around or refusing -stopping or running past.
Your first practice session
1. When you are positioning poles on the ground, put them about 1m (1yd) apart, depending on the size of the pony.
2. Make sure you give your pony a good look at the poles so he knows what’s in store for him. Secure each pole by placing a few small stones underneath to stop it rolling if he misses his footing.
3. Lead the pony over the poles. He’ll soon learn what he’s mean to do and will pick up his feet to avoid the poles.
4. Aim for the middle of the poles and walk straight over them, look up and ahead. Do this exercise until you feel confident and the pony picks his feet up over every pole – but don’t let him get bored.
The aids for jumping
The aids for jumping are surprisingly simple. Think about them from the start, even though you are still working on the flat. You should use both legs together on the approach, pushing on a little for the last few strides. Always remember to look up and allow your pony to stretch his neck.
Consider the following points while you are walking over poles on the ground. By getting into good habits at this early stage, the correct jumping technique will come naturally when you tackle higher obstacles at a faster pace.
Make sure you ride straight don’t come in at an angle.
Use your legs in rhythm with the pony and avoid flapping and kicking when your pony is trying to concentrate.
Be careful not to hang on to the reins. This hurts the pony as it pulls his head up, hollows his back and makes him drop his hind-legs down on the jump.
After a jump (the follow through), look ahead and keep going! It sounds obvious, but many riders fail to get a clear round at the very last jump because they forget to ride on.
Remember that good jumping is always the result of careful preparation. A well-schooled pony, confidently and properly ridden, finds jumping easy and enjoyable.
The stages of a jump
A jump can be split into five phases. If you see exactly how a horse jumps you’ll understand how important it is not to upset his balance or impede his movements.
The approach – the pony lowers his head to judge the position and height of the jump.
Next comes the take off, when the front feet leave the ground and the horse raises his head. This occurs roughly the same distance from a jump as its height – for example, 60cm (2ft) away for a jump 60cm (2ft) high.
During time in the air the pony tucks up his feet, lowers his head, stretches his neck and rounds his back.
Then comes the landing, one front foot at a time, with the pony’s head coming up again.
Finally, there is the follow through as the pony takes his first stride away from the fence. This final stage becomes important when jumping a series of fences.
The jumping position
This is the best position to be in while jumping – the pony remains balanced, and you stay securely in the saddle.
Lean forward, with your weight resting on your lower leg. Move your hands up the reins a little, so your hands are further up the pony’s neck than usual.
Shorten your stirrups one or two notches. This makes it much easier to keep the correct position.
Don’t lean too far up the pony’s neck – this unbalances you both.
Don’t hang back on the reins. The pony won’t have the freedom to jump properly.