Jumping – 10 FAQ’s
Jumping - 10 Frequently Asked Questions
1. I’m not a beginner any more, why do I need to do poles instead of ‘real’ jumps?
Just as a piano player needs to practice scales regularly in order to be good at playing a piece of music, so do riders and horses need to practice poles. Poles help with balance, position, controlling speed, keeping the horse straight over fences, making the hindleg more active, and improving the horse’s co-ordination and ability to learn. A key advantage of poles is that they can be done many times without adding wear and tear to the horse’s legs, whereas large jumps need to be jumped less frequently to prevent damage. If you can’t canter properly around a course of poles on the ground, then you won’t be able to do so over a course of higher jumps.
2. I only want to do jumping, so I don’t have to worry about that dressage stuff do I?
During a showjumping round only about 10% (or less) of the time is spent actually jumping over the fences, and the rest of the time is spent getting between them in a balanced and controlled manner that will optimise the quality of the next jump. The proportion of time spent jumping cross-country fences is even less! I.e. a lot of the success of jumping either showjumps or cross-country depends on schooling the horse to be responsive, supple, and powerful, which is what dressage means. Dressage is only another name for ‘training’ and a dressage test is only a measure of how well you have trained your horse. So yes, training is crucial to jumping.
3. I don’t have any control when doing cross-country. He usually jumps clear, but I would like to go a bit slower at times. What sort of bit should I use?
Although a stronger bit may be needed sometimes, it is better to avoid doing cross country until the horse has been trained enough so that you stay in control i.e. it is the basic schooling that is the problem here, not the bit. Doing cross-country without control is a bit like driving a car without brakes (and sometimes without much steering too!). You may get away with it at the lower levels, but if you want to do bigger fences then the horse needs to be responsive. It is very important to remember that the horse has not walked the course and so relies on the rider to tell it if a jump needs to be taken slowly for some reason (e.g. drop fences, jumps into water, tight combinations), as jumping too fast can cause accidents for both the horse and rider.
4. I want to jump every day, but I read somewhere that this can make a horse sour. Is this true?
This can certainly be true in many circumstances. Over-jumping a horse can cause damage to the horse’s limbs, as well as cause back problems due to strains; however, this is usually when the jumps are high and/or the ground surface is poor. Popping over a few small jumps every day (height would depend on horse or pony) would be very unlikely to make a horse sour and many horses seem to benefit from the variety. A horse in the wild that had to jump, say, a small log or ditch every day to reach water would not become sour just because it did the same thing every day. Likewise, many horses and ponies in riding schools will jump a few jumps each day during lessons without any problems. Repeatedly jumping the same jump over and over again though, can readily make the horse bored and if it is also an effort for the horse (due to height or width) then they may start refusing.
5. Someone said I lean too far forward when I jump, but I thought we were meant to lean forward to help the horse?
Ideally, you need to stay in balance with the horse while it is jumping, and this will involve taking your weight forward a little bit. However, if you lean too far forward then you overload the horse’s forehand. If you do this before the horse has taken off, then he might find it hard to lift his front end off the ground properly and can refuse or knock a pole down with his front legs. If you suddenly shift your weight forward after he has taken off, then that too can upset his balance and cause him to knock the fence. Leaning too far forward may also mean that your lower leg goes too far back, into his flanks, which is not comfortable for the horse.
Consider jumping a fence in the same way that you would go up or down hills. If you are going up a very steep hill, then you need to lean a long way forward to keep in balance with the horse and allow him to use his hindquarters, but if you are only going up a slight slope then you don’t need to lean forward very much at all. So, if you are only jumping small fences then you do not need to lean very far forward. It can be hard to tell how much is too much when you are riding, but if you need to balance your hands on his neck or if your legs go back then you may be leaning too far forward. Jumping small jumps without stirrups is a good way to check that you are in balance with the horse.
6. I don’t like jumping spread fences; is it okay to just jump uprights?
It is important for the horse’s jumping style and training to jump both uprights and spread fences. Jumping spread fences encourages the horse to use his back more over a fence i.e. ‘bascule’ (the natural arc formed as the horse jumps). When practising, at least 50% of the fences should be spread fences, even if this means you have fewer fences to jump.
7. What is grid work and why do people do it?
Grid work involves jumping a series of fences close together, using either placing fences or poles to help the horse meet each fence correctly. Grids can be very good for developing a horse’s confidence and jumping style. However, although basic grids are useful for many horses, some expertise is needed to select the correct distances and jump types when they get more complex. Overuse or incorrect use of grids can have the opposite effects to those intended and if the horse is not jumping easily through the grid, with a steady pace and good position then something needs adjusting.
8. What sort of things should I look out for when walking the course?
Walking the course has two main purposes; the first is to learn what order the jumps need to be jumped in, so you should memorise these as you walk around. Some people do this by turns (e.g. jump three fences on the left rein then turn to the left, then two fences on the right rein etc.) while others go by colours (e.g. jump the yellow then the red then the…) or patterns. The second purpose is to plan the ideal route to ensure your horse jumps to the best of its ability. This could include things like deciding how far away from a jump your horse needs to turn, whether you need to make sure the horse isn’t pointing toward the gate after a fence, and what speed you need to take a corner and approach a spooky fence.
9. What do I do if my horse refuses at a jump when I am practising?
Horses can refuse for many reasons and it is important to try to work out why, as most horses enjoy jumping unless there is a specific problem. Although not all of the reasons and solutions can be given here, these are some common ones: If it was the riders fault (e.g. loss of balance, a sudden pull in the mouth) then re-presenting the horse at the fence correctly will usually result in a successful jump. The same thing applies if the horse was surprised by the fence i.e. the turn before it was too sharp or off-balance and the horse didn’t really focus on the fence until the last moment.
If the horse has lost its confidence and/or been over-faced (jump is too big for its ability) or finds the jump scary, then lowering the fence will normally result in the horse jumping again. The poles may need to be dropped back down to ground level to help the horse regain its confidence i.e. you may need to go back to basics for a while (this can vary from a few jumps to many weeks/months of training).
If the horse is in pain for any reason then it must not be jumped until it is pain-free.
10. Do I need a proper jumping saddle in order to jump?
A jumping saddle is normally ‘forward-cut’ to allow the rider to shorten the stirrups and still have their knee on the saddle. The shorter stirrups helps the rider to keep their balance and move with the horse as it jumps. However, a specialised jumping saddle is not necessary for jumping until the jumps become quite large (over around 1.20m), and a ‘general purpose’ saddle is perfectly adequate. It is also possible to do trotting poles and small jumps (e.g. cavaletti-type fences) by shortening your stirrups in a dressage saddle (although it can be uncomfortable) but it becomes quite difficult to keep a good leg position and maintain balance with the horse once the jumps get above around 70cm.
Photo: flat-seat jumping saddle. The flatter cantle allows the rider’s seat to move backwards as the horse jumps, whereas a deep seat and high cantle would push the rider too far forward. This becomes very important over large fences, particularly for cross country where large ‘drop-fences’ are involved or the rider needs to adopt a safety seat (sit a little behind the movement for safety, due to the speed and type of jump).