For many riders, jumping provides the ultimate thrill in the saddle. Think of those who pursue a career with horses as show jumpers, event riders and jump jockeys. Most will admit that they love the adrenaline rush jumping a fence provides. But as with walk, trot and canter, you have to master the basics before you can progress out onto a cross-country course or a show jumping competition — be patient, those opportunities will come.
The safest place to learn how to jump your horse is in a school environment with a qualified instructor. They will know if you are ready to start jumping because there is no point leaving the ground on a horse before you are feeling confident and are proficient in walk, trot and canter.
So, when you are ready, what are the 10 things you need to know about starting to jump?
Practise trotting and cantering over poles on the ground before you jump. Keep the pace active but steady. Insist that your horse doesn’t rush.
Ask your trainer to recommend the right jumping length for you — but it will usually be a few holes shorter than for flatwork.
Ride in the same rhythmic, balanced way on the approach to a fence as you have over the trotting or canter poles. Just because you are riding towards a jump doesn’t mean that all that you have learned about riding on the flat should go out of the window.
Steer your horse towards the middle of the jump. If you don’t it’s much easier for him to run out.
It’s natural to be nervous as you approach a fence for the first time. If you can feel yourself tensing, don’t look at the fence at all. The horse will be able to work out the jump perfectly well on his own.
As the horse gets closer to the fence, sit deep into the saddle and close your legs around the his sides. Push down with your heels. Keep your shoulders forward.
You may need to keep a fairly firm hold on the reins to prevent the approach being too fast, but just before take-off ‘give’ with your hands so that the horse isn’t hampered by the reins. For your first few jumps, it is a good idea to hold onto a neckstrap so that if you are jerked out of the saddle you won’t jab the horse in the mouth. He should always be equipped with a neckstrap when you are jumping, even as you gain experience — it could also prevent a fall.
Resist the urge to ‘jump’, lean too far forward or push your hands high on the horse’s neck as he clears the fence. If you are in balance, provided you ‘give’ with your hands and grip with your knee and lower leg you don’t have to do anything else. Too many riders feel that they have to help the horse when he can negotiate a fence perfectly well unaided. In fact, the less you do the more freedom you will give him to jump athletically.
Remain in balance after the horse has jumped and keep your concentration. The horse can easily spook or turn sharply after a fence and if you are out of balance or have your mind on something else you could find yourself on the floor.
9, As with anything the key to getting better is practice. Do regular grid work. It will not only help your horse to become more agile, but you will be able to concentrate on perfecting your own position and your horse’s rhythm.
When you start jumping it may be tempting to get the fence raised higher and higher. Taking things slowly is the way to build confidence and a technique that will stay with you for the rest of your life.