Horses are an alluring creature. Many people fall in love with the grace and elegance of horses from afar. When people are lucky enough to see horses perform the skills that come naturally to them, such as cross-country jumping or stadium jumping.
So how do you start? First things first, you’ll need proper attire, boots, a riding helmet, and saddle. Whether you ride Western for leisure, you’ll still need an English saddle for jumping competitions.
Once you’ve been riding and feel very secure on a horse, having developed a secure seat – being able to properly balance yourself in all gaits and small jumps. You’ll need to learn to be completely comfortable in all positions, leaning forward and raising up from the saddle and balancing in the stirrups.
A quality instructor cannot be under-emphasized here. They have a sharp eye and can see what you are doing and help guide you to better positions and teach you how to think and gear-up just prior to a jump.They see every small detail and can refine you, starting with very low jumps.
A great bit of advice is to not compare yourself to other riders. Go at a pace you feel comfortable at and allow yourself to get comfortable when it feels right to you. Remember that if you are not happy, the horse will know it too. They sense your fear and this doesn’t typically bode well for cooperation.
You should start with one pole and your instructor will teach you how to ride at a walk over the pole. You’ll begin to trot over the pole and you’ll learn how to do a two-point seat trot over the pole, as well as a posting trot. Adding more poles is the next step.
When you have gotten to master these steps to that point, you’ll be ready to start to canter over the poles. Spacing and timing begin to become more critical and difficult. This is where having a great instructor pays off. They will help you learn how to accomplish speed and timing, while you also remain safe, along with the horse.
From the poles that are literally on the ground, you’ll move to poles that are raised just a few inches. This is called ‘cavaletti’ and you will do these until you are secure in these tiny jumps.
These small jumps are just high enough to begin to encourage your horse to begin jumping over the poles, rather than just stepping over them as before. When you feel well-seated and secure with this step, your instructor will likely move you to cross rail.
Now, you are going to really be jumping. Your instructor will teach you about head position. Don’t ever look down, it throws your horse off balance. Your trainer will also help you gauge where to take off from, exactly when and how to ask your horse to jump. It’s typically about the same distance from the jump as the jump is high. You’ll learn to gauge it in seconds, with practice.
When your horse begins to leave the ground on his forequarters, you’ll use your two point stance to lift yourself at the same time and raise your hands in the air and forward to the horse’s neck. This movement is called the ‘release’ because you are giving him free reign. He needs to stretch his neck out to perform a jump. You want to give him all the room he needs to do so.
Your trainer will work with you on your form here. You’ll want to be sitting in much the same position that you’d be if you were simply riding on the flats. Form is extremely important as it impacts the horses balance a great deal.
Once you’ve mastered these small jumps to the point that you can do them in your sleep, you’ll gradually increase the height of the jumps. You’ll learn to jump two railed jumps called oxers. You’ll even move on to the three-railed oxers. Only when you are ready, will you move on.
In time, you’ll learn to do these jumps with distractions and you’ll learn how to do solid jumps that don’t fall if your horse bumps them. You and your horse will develop technique together and confidence together.