Today I would like to chat with you about jump training and describe some of my teaching methods.
Let’s start from watching this slow motion video showing a rider approaching and going over few different jumps at different take off points. The rider is myself and I put together the footage where take off spots vary from good one to much too long one.
BEFORE THE LAST THREE STRIDES
The story of a good canter starts in the moment of transition. Lazy, delayed, explosive, crooked etc transition determines how much effort during how many further strides the rider and the horse have to put in recovery and creation of a quality canter. That effort could have been saved for helping the horse with his balance and making further strides full of power and contained energy.
Once we are in canter, the next thing is our turn. Bad turn where rhythm of the canter is lost or where horse drops behind our leg or falls in or out through his shoulders or we check too much with the hand means troubles in the last three strides.
I like to teach the rider to appreciate the value of a quality canter before we start jumping and for this reason I love pole work and cavaletti work. It develops jumping skills almost as if by chance and is also wonderful for nervous riders or horses that lost confidence in jumping for whatever reason.
THREE STRIDES OUT & TAKE OFF
I don’t teach above 1.20m and feel the following rule works well up to that hight: limit your actions three strides out. The rider’s task is to create adequate power and speed then maintain it throughout the turn always feeling every stride being in front of the leg. Your turn makes your jump – it might not seem so but it does. If the canter is right and you don’t lose it in the turn, you will always be able to add a little length to the stride or shorten the canter a fraction to meet the best take off point. Ride a bad turn where you cut in or go too wide and your last three strides are asking for being a mess.
You can see on my video of the first jump that I held the horse with left hand on the third stride. This was a mistake as he lost that little bit of ground cover there that would have given us the perfect take off. Instead, he had to put more effort into the jump than necessary taking off too far for it to be an easy economical jump. I was lucky there that the oxer is small and narrow, otherwise I could have been in trouble.
Second and third jumps are fairly optimal and the horse finds the jumps easy.
Fourth one is the worse of all of them.
I should have kept the strides shorter and bouncier with my seat (and add a stride) while keeping my hands soft and bring him to the bottom of the jump instead of letting him stand off. He is a very brave little horse and again I was lucky as the jump was small. You get away with many things over smaller jumps but not without exposing your horse to potential micro injuries every time you ask for an unnecessary effort. I am not happy with that jump but included it as an example of bad practice. I also left few strides after so you can see how unimpressed he was with my riding there!
Here is another problematic jump. I lost my left stirrup on take off and you can see I am fighting to stay centred and not disturb the horse over the jump. His right ear tells me he knows very well I am gripping with my right knee and my right lower leg moved back. He knows something is off but his form is perfect and unlike me he is keeping his part of the deal without mistakes!
The above photo illustrates the importance of balance training that I put a lot of emphasis on. This includes riding and jumping without stirrups so when it happens that we lose one or both, we are still in a position to disturb as little as possible and let the horse land safely.
The end line on video shows a bad entry but immediate recovery, good rhythm and power and so the horse makes nothing of the exercise. Ideally I should have shortened my reins (after I let them slide through my fingers at the unbalanced entry).
WHERE TO LOOK
There is a forever debate as to where should the rider look to jump well. I personally teach two main behaviours:
1. If correcting rider’s upper body when they tend to go in front of the movement or lean excessively on the horse’s neck (very common especially among children who had been told to “fold” at take off by bringing their chest to horse’s neck) then I ask the rider to look up at a chosen point beyond the last jump and do plenty of gridwork.
2. If teaching to “see a stride” I ask the rider to look at the jump.
There’s been an interesting study done a couple of years ago where an advanced show-jumper Tim Stockdale’s eye movement was researched, have a look:
I like to do a series of off-horse exercises using various perception tasks which help the rider to understand that the control over their canter and the rhythm of it is a 99% of the “seeing a stride” learning process.
UPPER BODY ON TAKE OFF
With some very few exceptions I am generally against teaching “folding” in front of the jump. Even 7 and 8 year old children, as long as they can do a good, balanced rising trot, can feel the right moment of take off very well. If you sit with your body on or near vertical in the last second you give your horse freedom to transfer it’s weight onto the forehand and lift it as hind legs jump underneath him.
When you sit you feel the exact moment when you need to rise much better than if your seat is above the saddle and upper body leaning forward.
Over time I have learnt that my preferred way is to teach half-seat or two point for cantering/galloping in between the fences and sitting when coming into the turn to prepare the horse for the jump. If done well it suits most horses but might be adjusted with very hot ones. Horses that get too excited and become “too much in front of the leg” when in full seat will benefit from rider staying in two-point pretty much until the very end where rider can softly sink into the saddle to help the horse balance before take off.
ADD POWER DON’T KILL IT
The trickiest part in learning to collect the horse (prepare the horse) in front of the jump is to coordinate aids in such a way that the power is added not killed. There should always be some degree of preparation and gathering attention (that’s for the turns are for) but the hand should always seek to be soft and never strong unless absolutely necessary.
That’s when seat training in the rider comes in. If the rider can control the power of the canter with good seat and soft hands he/she will rarely have to be strong with the hand.
This is actually a lot of fun to learn on foot 😉
Ok, I better finish as this post is getting very long. I could probably go on and on about jumping forever but I would also love to hear from any jumpers out there. What techniques are you taught and what really helped you with your style, confidence and results?