Caitlin Thorpe on Nugget
Sofija Dubianskaja on Jack
Really good exercise for both young/inexperienced and older, more experienced horses as well as riders learning to jump.
Benefits for the horse
improves athleticism & reaction time
encourages the flexion and “tucking in” of the pelvis to produce a better bascule over the jump over time
quickens reactions of “slow” horses
encourages thinking and focus in “quick” horses
Benefits for the rider
focuses the rider on straightness on the approach and in the grid
improves the jumping seat as it magnifies any issues like unstable lower leg, busy upper body, fixed hand, stiff knees, overall anxious behaviour between the jumps to name a few
teaches the rider to stay out of the way of the jumping horse
The set up
You’ll need three jumps of which the first and the last can be in form of cavaletti as they won’t be changing heights and should be kept low (60cm is plenty).
The distances between the jumps are bounce distances and need to again be adjusted to individual horse. I usually set mine at 3.5m.
In this exercise you don’t want to be increasing the distance but it can be beneficial to shorten it to encourage a more experienced horse to work harder.
The middle jump can be adjusted in height to suit the experience of the horse and rider but should be higher than the other two to create a “staircase” like effort. Or think of dolphins jumping in and out of the sea 😉
If you do go for a higher middle jump (like I set for Jack and Sofija) don’t additionally shorten the distances because a bigger jump produced by the horse will automatically land him closer to the next element.
For every horse, saddle type and rider there exist an optimum length of stirrups that brings the best out of the rider’s seat. For anyone who ever experimented with riding at various stirrup lengths will know that some options give better ability to follow movement, stay with it, stay secure, stay out of the horse’s way and let the horse do the job well.
Even for riders’ with zero interest in the biomechanics of the seat it will be clear when their reaction time is quicker, their back more supple, their joints more able to absorb movement, muscles more engaged where they need to be and more relaxed where they need to be.
Having said that, the below views on stirrups length are drawn from my own teaching of hundreds of riders according to my own preferred riding styles so it might not suit everyone 🙂
For relaxed, athletic experience, a jumping rider needs a decent range of motion in the seat. By that I mean:
conditions for a comfortable three point/full seat that is a little “lighter” than a full dressage seat but always able to have full influence on the horse’s balance (used when bringing the horse’s centre of gravity back in front of the jump for example)
conditions for a two point/light seat/”jumping position” – the seat where the rider is able to comfortably stay out of the saddle without compromising own balance and suppleness
conditions for supple, calm, balanced actual jump seat on take off, flight and landing that allows the horse to perform an uninterrupted jump
able to quickly yet calmly change between this three as and when needed
In the below video, which I put together for another post (you can read it HERE), you can see me riding an unknown horse over a few jumps from 1m to about 1m20/25. You can see that as I learn to find the right canter to each jump that will suit that horse our take off points change but I have enough security through my seat to be able to follow the horse reasonably well each time.
I often see riders riding quite long and struggling with effortless jump seat. If you are a Novice rider learning to jump, stirrups on a longer side, the length that you might hack in for example, are a good call. They give you a little more basic stability overall in case things don’t go to plan as you have “more of your legs” around the horse and you are only likely to be jumping small fences.
Shorter stirrups do come with more of an “eject” mode in case of trouble (as your legs come higher up and have less ability to hold) but to me, they are the preferred option for a more advanced rider. Shorter stirrup length helps close the hip and knee joints which can then open swiftly on the take off without unnecessary throwing of the upper body forwards (no leg work = upper body work to compensate). The “quieter” the seat, the better the jump.
I often hear riders saying about having an “unlucky pole down” but I was always taught that 99% of the time, there’s no such thing as an unlucky pole. Unless the jump wasn’t adjusted properly after another horse knocked it a bit or perhaps strong wind blew etc, there was something in the way the rider approached the jump or how the horse behaved in the air that threw that pole. The air time can be very much improved by the rider staying out of the horse’s part of the job.
Finding your own anatomically friendly “jumping angles” comes via trial and error. What might be visually correct, might not work in practice so it’s important to keep experimenting. Different shapes of the horse’s ribcage, different styles and shapes of the saddle and the size of the horse overall will all determine how to adjust the stirrup length.
To sum up, when assessing the rider’s stirrups length for jumping I look at:
their riding experience/skill
whether they can easily go into light seat and stay in it without problems in halt,walk,trot and canter for several minutes.
whether they can sit in the saddle in trot and canter and still have good command of the horse’s way of going (without unnecessary tension through their body)
whether they can happily change between the above seats every few strides when asked
Videos available on our Instagram, details at the bottom of the post
Set up a jump on centre line of your arena and start with poles on the ground. I prefer to keep all jumps small, cavaletti style so if the rider makes mistakes, the exercise can be repeated several times without overstraining the horse. Same goes for the horse – if you are working with a young or green horse, small jumps set him up to win rather than catch him up. Trot over the poles in a figure of eight on two 10m circles (or bigger if your horse struggles with balance on smaller circles) paying attention to change of direction over the poles: remember to keep your shoulders parallel to the horse’s shoulders and look to the side you are planning to turn to, turn with your outside rein close to the neck and inside rein acting as an opening rein (slightly away from the neck or further away if needed). Repeat until you feel a nice flow to the exercise with the horse understanding that change of your weight aids over the poles mean change of direction. Allow your weight to drop slightly onto the inside stirrup as you prepare the turn. This aid you will carry with you over to the next stages of the exercise.
Set up a small X-pole and proceed to canter. We are going to repeat the pattern again by riding a figure of eight. Approach on the left canter lead, land on the right and vice versa. Start on the rein on which your horse’s canter is a little weaker. This way, you are giving him an incentive to land on his preferred lead after the jump and since that is what we are after, we are creating the best situation for a successful outcome. Over the jump repeat exact same aids for change over that you used in trot: look precisely to your side, open the inside rein towards the new turn, shift slightly more weight into inside stirrup. Turn in the air, not upon landing as aiding on landing is too late. Prepare on take off, aid in the air. At first you might find yourself too late with your timings – keep practicing 🙂
Once the above flows well, you have a feeling of the horse always staying in front of your leg without rushing or slowing down and you are able to calmly navigate on a figure of eight, you can add more jumps that complement your choice of direction. Example of our set up below:
X-pole on the left lead, land right, continue right over a small upright, land right and continue on the right lead to the X-pole again, land left, continue left to a small upright/cavaletti on the left rein. I chose to have a smaller jump on the left as that is Boo’s weaker canter so again, the set up always is in horse’s favour so the rider can relax and learn.
When done well, loose jumping can be of great value to the overall training of both horse and rider.
I personally like if the horse lunges well and responds to body language of the handler without undue stress or worry. I like that the horse goes forwards when asked and slows down when asked and does so reliably as when jumps come into play the excitement can sometimes override training.
It’s a good practice to do 1-2 loose schooling sessions letting the horse trot and canter in the corridor (built alongside the wall with poles, stands, fillers) without anything in it yet to jump. The idea is to get the horse to travel in a calm manner through the corridor, maintaining rhythm and tempo.
If they tend to lose balance in the corners or go into them too deeply, it might help to put a pole on the ground across the corner to encourage smoother turns.
ONE JUMP CORRIDOR
For horses that never loose jumped or young horses learning to jump, I like the single jump in the middle of the corridor and oxer is often a good first choice as it invites the horse to jump out of the stride.
Watching young horses learn to set pace and distance to those jumps is fascinating and a great lesson for the rider who will ride the horse to the jump later.
For horses who have some experience loose jumping and for older horses with various undesirable jumping habits, well thought lines could be a super addition to their jump training.
I personally like the lines with bounces leading to oxers as they tend to teach focused, energetic entry into the line, quick front and back end action with a good weight shift from front legs to back legs and vice versa followed by an onwards, positive strides to the oxers. I have seen a very good results with those kind of lines in horses that tend to jump tight or hollow in the back or don’t open through the shoulders over the jumps.
By Wiola Grabowska (@aspireequestrian) 29 Maj, 2016 o 1:15 PDT
If video above doesn’t show, you can view it directly on Instagram HERE
My other favourite ones are those that correct possibly the most common habit in horses ridden by less experienced riders and that’s shortening of the stride on take off (chipping in). By clever placement of the ground poles and adjustment of the distances, the horse can build its own confidence in finding the optimal stride and the rider can watch the horse as it does so.
EXAMPLES OF BENEFITS TO HORSES AND RIDERS
great re-training tool for horses with difficult jumping habits (hollow back, dangling front leg(s), crooked jumping etc)
good introduction to jumping for young horses
develops a thinking, aware horse that learns to act on his tempo and adjust energy for efficient jumping efforts
re-establishing confidence in horse’s natural ability without influence of the rider
riders learn to “read” their horse’s movement on the approach, take off and landing which can improve harmony with the horse when mounted
riders learn to “read” the distance in relation to tempo by observing how the horse tackles different problems
riders learn to understand their own horse’s preferred jumping style which can help to decrease unnecessary interference
riders build own confidence in their horses’ ability to jump “by themselves” (especially good for riders who over-ride and try to “carry their horse over the jump”)
riders can observe and understand the biomechanics of the jumping horse, how they use their neck, back, shoulder so when mounted, the riders actions like sufficient give with the hand or not sitting down too early on landing, increase in meaning and importance.
Patricia over at The Dressage Tipster/The Crystal System invited me to guest blog for her fabulous blog so if you love jumping and would like to read a few of my thoughts on how useful dressage can be to avoid “unlucky poles down” or always landing on the wrong lead, read on: