Take a giant leap forward with your jumping by following these tips...
A good jumping position goes a long way towards gaining success in the ring and helping you progress to jumping bigger and more technical fences. Unfortunately, the actual jump only lasts a split second so you don’t typically have much time to make corrections to your position like you could do on the flat.
Fear not though, these tips can help you get that textbook jumping position you’ve been dreaming of.
Of course, a good instructor is always recommended if you want to improve – they can see you in the moment and pinpoint exactly where your problems lie, but these exercises will give you something to work on in between lessons.
It’s also useful to observe how the pros do it, and the video below highlights Jumping starMeredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s excellent technique…
Get that perfect position with these pointers...
1 Lose your reins
Why? Jumping without reins helps to develop an independent seat, where you aren’t pulling on your reins to keep you balanced over the fences, so you’ll find yourself staying more over the horse’s centre of gravity and not overjumping. If your lower leg has a tendency to slip back, it could be because you throw your upper body over the horse as you jump, causing the momentum to slide your lower leg backwards.
Obviously, only drop your reins on a safe and established horse – it is not an exercise for young, fresh or difficult horses. You also only want to do this jumping down an easy grid which invites the horse to stay straight. For this exercise, you’ll need to keep the following in mind:
Build a grid with and ground lines along the side to discourage the horse from running out or ideally, make a chute similar to a free jumping lane to jump down
Knot your reins. If you just leave them dangling, your horse could catch his leg and send both of you tumbling to the ground
Trot in rather than canter – use three or four trotting placing poles before to make sure you take off at the correct spot
Keep the grid on a straight line, no curves or dog-legs
Stick to bounces, one-stride and two-stride efforts. Leaving space for three or more strides with no reins means your horse is more likely to get strung out and will mean you struggle to make the distances properly
2 Bounces, grids, more bounces and more grids
Bounces and grids are not just the ultimate cure-all for horses, but for their riders as well. Doing regular gymnastics and bounce exercises helps a horse to improve their style and form over a fence, and the same is true of the rider. You don’t have to worry about the approach, and the repetitive nature of the exercises also allow you to focus fully on yourself.
Generally, if you want to work solely on your own position it’s best to keep the fences low and in quick succession of one another.
The fact that the jumps come up quite quickly encourages riders to soften through the body, particularly the knees, ankles and upper thigh, the areas that often ‘grip’ and result in a jumping position which isn’t secure. Concentrating on your position over low, short grids helps the rider to develop a natural jumping position, one which is in balance and following the horse.
Having said that, grids are also a very easy way to gain confidence over bigger fences than usual, so if your position is ok over small jumps but falls apart at 1.20m, riding grids and gymnastics are also excellent at setting you up properly and giving you the freedom to work on your position without worrying about the canter and the approach over larger fences.
3 Spend more time in jumping position
Your two-point position doesn’t just have to be done over fences. Just spending more time in the correct jumping position will help you develop the right muscle memory and make you stronger and more balanced. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is!
Trot and canter around the school or on a hack in two-point – it’s harder in trot because your knees and ankles have to absorb the bouncing movement, but it will strengthen your calves and help you learn to stay in balance with the horse. You can even do it in walk!
The important thing is to make sure that you aren’t tipping forward or backwards, that you’re not pinching the saddle with your knee, and that your lower leg stays in contact with the horse – you can’t take your leg off on the approach or over the fence, and having your leg closed (not kicking, but draped) against the horse’s side gives you stability both on the flat and over fences.
The repetitive nature of the exercises also allow you to focus fully on yourself
Allow the horse to help you close your hip...
4 Allow the horse to help you fold
Learning to master the ‘fold’ is one of the hardest parts of jumping, and also one of the more important. If you throw yourself over the jump, your horse is more likely to knock, your leg is likely to slip back, and you’ll struggle to stay upright on landing. If you go to the other extreme and ride very defensively, you might get left behind and have a very awkward jump too.
Learning to fold correctly is really about allowing the horse to help you close your hip – not about your upper body. As the horse lifts his front legs on take off, his neck and back come up towards you. If you’re standing slightly in the stirrups with your hips, knees and ankles flexing, the horse’s jumping movement is what causes the hip to close up as the horse’s body comes towards you.
This is also why you tend to fold more and go into a more exaggerated position over bigger fences than smaller ones – the motion of the horse demands the hip angle to close more, thus creating more fold in your body.