Are you a jumping enthusiast that needs to hone their position? Then read on! The first thing to remember is that the correct jumping position should be comfortable for both you and your horse. You need to go with the motion of your horse over a fence, and not be ahead or behind in the movement. Ahead of the movement would interfere with his action, distract him and would often result in you being thrown backwards in the saddle. Behind the movement, and you are likely not to give with your hands, resulting in his head being jerked up, producing a poor jump or cat-leap that prevents him travelling forwards over his fence.
Your stirrups need to be short enough so that you can comfortably get your seat out of the saddle, allowing your horse to bascule (create an arc) through your legs. Your heels must stay down, and you need to have a bend in the knee, keeping your lower leg position the same and not allowing it to drift backwards. You should lean forwards, look ahead to where you are going, and move your hands a little up the horse’s neck to allow him freedom. He will be unable to jump correctly if you hinder him by not giving enough with your hands, or get out of balance with him over a fence. When your jump is complete, you need to be able to get back into the normal riding position easily.
1. Practise your position:
Because we use our jumping position for only a few seconds at a time, it can be difficult to master. Familiarise yourself by practising without jumps – get it right whilst in halt in front of an arena mirror or with a friend to monitor you, learning to hold the position for a while and maintain your balance until it is comfortable, and you can move fluently into and out of the exercise. Next, progress to doing the exercise in walk, again holding the position for a few strides. Repeat in trot and canter until your horse is familiar with your movements, and does not change his rhythm. A common mistake is to allow your lower leg to swing too far back, inadvertently encouraging your horse to speed up and/or rush. Keeping the weight into your stirrups with your heels well down should prevent this happening. It is important to maintain straightness in your position, not leaning right or left, as this would unbalance your horse’s movement.
To avoid taking up the jumping position too early, or too late, learn to count your strides into each fence, so you are able to go with your horse at the right time, every time. It is important not to “miss” the stride, or allow him to put in a half-stride, as this will produce a poor, ill-judged jump. A good exercise to help with this is to place three canter poles in front of a small fence, (approx 3.6m for horses, 3.4m for ponies, but this will vary for different animals), and count the strides over each pole out loud, which will give you a perfect take off point and help you get the timing spot on. Do ride the canter poles prior to adding the fence, to ensure that the distances are right for you.
Another good exercise to allow you to keep your position for longer whilst jumping is to set up a series of small bounce fences, where the horse will not put any strides between each jump, and you must maintain your jumping position throughout the grid. There is no time for you regain your flatwork position between the fences! Start by setting out canter poles and if the distance is correct for you, it will be about the same for bounce jumps. Always start with two fences, and more can be added as desired. A common error here is to look down at the jumps, which must be avoided – look up!
4. Stringing the fences together
Once you are accustomed to the right feel over one fence and/or bounces, the next step is to do gridwork and/or doubles. Gridwork is a line of fences which can be a mixture of bounces, one stride and two stride distances between each jump. Always place your bounce fences (if you are using them) at the beginning of a grid. A double is two fences with one or two non jumping strides between them. One non-jumping stride is approx 7.5m, and two non-jumping strides approx 10.7m, but this is totally variable depending on the horse in question. With this exercise, if you are not regaining your flatwork position quickly enough on landing, it will become obvious as you will lose balance and struggle to get the next fence right; you should try to sit up a little earlier.
5. A full course
A full course of jumps will usually include single fences, both uprights and spreads and at least one double. There can be distances and dog legs. A distance is two fences in a straight line with three to six canter strides between them. A dog leg is two fences in a curved line with three to six canter strides between them. Island fences have more than six strides before them. The ultimate aim in getting your jumping position right is to be able to use it correctly over a series of fences built to test you. If you are getting your timing right and your position stays true over each obstacle, you are more likely to produce a good round, well ridden. For competition riding, practise and homework will stand you in good stead to create the perfect team of horse and rider.