The question of how to improve a jumping position has repeated itself in Aspire blog’s searches for the last few days so I thought I will share some generic ways to go about it. Please feel free to pick and mix the below suggestions to your liking and adjust them to your fitness level, your horse’s stamina and your general personal circumstances.
The first step would be to take a video of yourself cantering in light seat and jumping over a course of jumps. This will form the basis of your action plan for the next 3 months or so.
– your coordination,
– back and neck/head position,
– lower leg position,
– suppleness through ankles,
– knees and hips,
– independence of the hand,
– your natural reactions when things get difficult and
– overall ability to maintain your own centre of gravity over that of the horse.
If you are unsure as to how to evaluate all this, you can ask your instructor to help you. Don’t skip on this step because improving “something” equals improving nothing much at all…You want to end up with being somewhat clear on what you strengths and weaknesses are in this particular skill before you move on.
Get a knowledgeable instructor to guide you into the desired posture in jumping positions (remember there are three stages to the jump and therefore three different positions: take off-flight-landing) “in halt” so you can build your awareness as to where each part of your body needs to be at each stage of the jump. This will be your benchmark “feel” as you work on your exercises by yourself.
Second step would be to improve the way you ride your horse in canter. I like to think that, at lower levels up to some 1.10m, a jump is like a one, very round, very elevated canter stride 🙂 Keep working on various exercises in canter and you might be amazed at how this improves your dexterity, coordination and stability over the jumps. Below are some exercises that can be of help but it’s important to adjust them to your needs and your horses’ fitness:
– Transitions within canter with changes of seat
Establish a forward going stride with your horse staying in front of your leg. Next, choose certain distance (for example between quarter markers on a long side of the arena or from one tree to another some 25-30m apart) and ride in powerful, extended (but controlled) canter in two-point/light seat. At the marker (or at the tree) start sitting in the saddle and start collecting each stride so as your turn onto short side of the area (or field) you can ride the next 15m or so in collected canter. Do it couple of times on each rein. Aim at perfecting the way you come up from the saddle when you add power to the canter and the way you sit deep when you collect the strides. Remember to always maintain good quality canter i.e. your horse should not drop behind your leg when you sit to collect.
Once you are both familiar with the exercise start increasing the amount of transitions you do: ride 5-7 strides in medium canter/light seat and 3-4 in deep seat collected canter, then back to medium, then back to collected.
I use the word “collected” here loosely – just aim for a level of collection that your horse is ready for. You want a short stride with plenty of power, bounce and joy not a flat, pulled-in posture in a four beat caricature of a canter. Keep your horse happy 🙂
– Rising canter on the flat and over poles.
Great exercise to improve mobility of knees and hips as well as quickness of reactions, dexterity and joint suppleness. Start by establishing a good working canter around the arena and ride in “polo canter” for as long as you can. Aim to rise on every other stride as you would in rising trot. More on rising canter here.
Once you can do it well in working canter, add transitions within canter to it and maintain rises in “collected” strides and medium strides – it is a great exercise to practice in order to improve fluidity and feel for take off and landing.
Adding canter poles makes this exercise even more interesting. You can scatter poles around the arena in no particular order but so that you can canter patterns over them. Start in working canter and deep seat on the approach, canter rise for ONE stride as your horse canters over the pole, then slide gently back into the saddle and continue to the next pole. The key here is to try to rise for ONE stride only, then land lightly back into the saddle.
There are many exercises you can follow this up with, for example: build a line of canter poles where your gymnastic line would be later (build 2-3 bounce distances to 2-3 at one stride distances). Establish working canter that is suitable for your horse and approach the line in two-point/light seat. Over each pole canter-rise ONCE paying attention to you your lower leg position, suppleness and general sync with the horse’s stride. Repeat coming in deep seat and rising ONCE over each pole. Maintain rhythm and speed of the canter so that it doesn’t change whether you sit and rise.
Many riders do very well producing a nice, powerful canter in light seat but have problem maintaining it when sitting back in the saddle. If this too is your issue, observe whether you sit without holding the horse back through your seat bones. When you sit in the saddle, you should feel that your seat bones still maintain the diagonal weight shift needed for forward momentum and it is the positioning of your body, the incremental “hold” of your thighs and weight distribution through your back is what “brings the horse back”.
– Gymnastic lines
Jumping over gymnastic lines of fences that are on a bounce, one and two stride distance helps immensely with riders’ jumping position. The repetitiveness of the exercise allows the rider to focus on themselves and let the horse learn from the exercise too. The fences are usually low and coming quick after one another which teaches the rider to concentrate and relax through the joints – especially ankles and knees, which often want to hold on to the horse and prevent secure jumping position from developing.
STEP 3: Keep Reassessing
In most generic terms, spend as much time in canter as you can on as many different horses as possible. Change often between two-point (light) seat and three – point seat (dressage seat). Focus on developing fluidity and ease in those canter exercises. Work over the poles in light seat often, both in trot and in canter. Have eyes on the ground, a knowledgeable friend or your instructor to give you feedback on how you are doing – many a time what we feel is very different from how it is…
I hope these few tips were useful for some of you out there 🙂
Have a great day!