Hi All,
I have an upper level dressage horse who is rising 12. I do a lot of hacking with him through the woods, and would also like to incorporate a bit of work/fun for him over fences. We are not used to jumping anything high, although we are both very enthusiastic about going over little (and by little, I mean TINY) fences. I'm not sure where to start, and I hope that 12 years old is not too old for his muscles to adapt to some jumping exercises now and then. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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I had some dressage students who were REALLY nervous about 'jumping' so I convinced them that going over small cross rails and verticals wasn't actually 'jumping' it was doing 'dressage cavaletti'. Taking the word JUMPING out soothed their nervousness and it was years later that they realized that they were one and the same!
A horse is never too old to have fun over small jumps (providing he is sound of course).
Since you are only doing small jumps, your dressage saddle will suffice provided that you can shorten your stirrups a couple of holes to allow you to get out of the saddle while in the air over a fence.
I recommend starting with a series of 3 or 4 trot poles spaced 4 - 5' apart where you can first practice your 'jumping' position in your shorter stirrup length to get used to the new balance required. Always remember that balance is a 'state' and not a position.
The jumping position is known generally as the 'two point position'. (The 'two points' of contact are your two legs.) Most riders think of only using their calf muscles when they think of using the leg in two point but it is important to keep your upper leg on too for a good base of support. Support leads to security (control) - control leads to confidence - and confidence leads to having FUN!
Next you need to be able to keep your seat bones out of the saddle over the fence so you don't get left behind. Sticking your butt back or out will help you to maintain your position over the fence and also helps to keep your heels down.
Unlike dressage where your elbows are at your side, in jumping, your elbows need to in front of your body to help maintain not only your balance but to be able to release properly so your horse can stretch his neck and back over the jump. For small jumps your hands should be in either a 'short' or 'medium' release over the jump. Divide your horses neck into two parts. The halfway point between poll and withers is were you would do a 'long' release, which is used for big jumps (generally 3' 3" + up). The 'short' release is just in front of the withers and is primarily used for small jumps or quick turns after a fence. Smack dab in between the short and long release is the 'medium' release which is the release favoured by most coaches because it provides the most secure balance point for a rider and there is less opportunity for catching a horse in the mouth if you get left behind. Press your KNUCKLES (never wrists) into the horses neck alongside the crest. (You can check the correct placement of your hands by touching your thumbtips together over top of your horses mane so that you will know exactly where your hand should go on either side.)
If your horse is very quiet up to a fence and won't run out, you can also use a 'mane' release which is, as it sounds - grabbing a bit of mane with your hands. (Note: try not to grab the mane with your hands one if front of the other as this can cause a horse to drift in the direction of your dominant hand.)
Once you can balance in your two point position with a medium crest or mane release you are ready to jump!
The important things to remember are:
Rhythm - in trot or canter to the jump
Pace control - not rushing, not lazy, good impulsion
Balance - horse AND rider
Straightness - to your fence
Set yourself up a small cross rail in the middle of the long side of your arena and pick up a nice steady posting trot towards it. Out of the corner you can look at the middle of the X that the cross rail makes, to help with your straight approach.
Keep your hand contact light and steady and bring your shoulders slightly ahead of the vertical on approach. About 3 strides out from the fence you can get into your two point positiion and take up your mane or crest release (providing your horse is NOT the type to duck out). At this height, you should 'lift your eye' from the fence to a focal point in the distance about 1 - 2 sstrides from the fence. When your horse's nose reaches the BASE of the jump (
Linda, this is just fantastic, thoughtful advice as always. I'll look for the poles this weekend. Hopefully they're not still in the field behind the sand paddocks!
Hey! It looks like some of my advice got 'cut off'...I will have to finish the information...
(the 'base' is the ground directly in front of the jump) close your leg a little to tell your horse to jump the fence and BREATHE out!
It should feel like your horse has just taken the first stride of canter over the jump and you should continue to canter upon landing. Stay in your two point position for 1 - 2 strides after the fence and then you can return to your 'normal' position. Ride to the end of your focal point.
Once you are comfortable in the trot approach you can try the jump from a canter. If you focus on keeping your rhythmical 3 beat canter to the fence you will not need to worry where your horse's take off point over the fence will be. Counting 1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3....with your horses strides will help you to keep your rhythm and stop you from rushing the fence to jump at the last moment. It doesn't matter 'where' in the 1, 2, 3 sequence that you jump - it could be on the 2 or the 3 count - it should feel like a canter stride over the jump!
This counting while staying in two point should help you to stay 'neutral' with your body and help you to 'not try to jump the fence for your horse', that's HIS job not yours.
After you have practiced this and are comfortable with jumping your horse we can progress to some additional jumping exercises to challenge both of you!
This is great! I was so happy with the first batch, I didn't event realize there should have been more.
Also, I can have my horse on a very light, medium, or very slightly stronger contact. Which should i use going into the fence? Thanks.
Medium contact for control until you figure out if he is going to 'play' quietly to and over the fence the first time or two. Then you can lighten up your contact when you are both more comfortable. Don't be afraid to use half halts to keep him round and pushing from his hind end. A little frame won't hurt at this level of jumping.
My best piece of advice? Always ride your horse between the aids and from leg/seat to hand no matter WHAT discipline you are doing!
Hi, I did some really low level eventing with my dressage horse, and some foxhunting. He loved it and it was a great break from the manege. I try and jump him at least once a week during summer when jumps are out, and alternate between really low (2feet or so, or even cross rails) gymnastics to build hind end strength, and teach pacing, and hiking a vertical up occasionally as high as he'll go for fun. I had to ease him into jumping, and it was good mental break to play around with using the opportunity to get him more used to 'funny' objects such as tarpaulins draped over jumps, jackets flapping in the wind on jump posts, plastic flowers...stuff that helps reduce his spook reflex in the dressage ring.
It's great to even get them used to trotting or jumping over some plastic flowers on the ground spread out like a pole. Once they get used to that they pretty much stop spooking at the flowers around the dressage ring at shows! (Of course I had one mare who used to snatch a mouthful of the REAL flowers and eat them during the test much to my horror! My husband always asked me "why did you LET her do that" after my test!
Hi All,

I'll be starting some jumping in a few weeks! One of the working students in our barn is also an eventer, so she will help me. I hope I can manage in dressage saddle, because that's all I have.
Thanks for your advice so far - I'm always happy to hear more!
As long as you shorten your stirrups a few holes and the jumps are not too big, you shouldn't have a problem. A couple of my ladies jump in their Passier dressage saddles and do quite fine at 2' - 2' 6". However, if your saddle has a very deep cantle it can cause you to bounce off the back of it, in which case you may want to borrow someone's jumping saddle!
Hi Barbara,
I agree with Linda - horses are never too old to cross train you will probably find your horse will love it - another great exercise that he will have no problem with as he is educated is to put cavalettis on a circle for example at B and E on a 20m circle you can do this exercies in trot and canter it is great for pracising keeping your rhythm and most importantly keeping your eyes up and to the next fence or in your case over trot poles or cavaletti. the horses soon understand what is coming and they settle really quickly into a good rhythm on the cirlce and you can slowly increase the height if you want I have done this exercise starting as a cross pole and ending up as a 3ft 6in vertical - you can do it at any level as easy to train. My biggest tips when teaching jumping is to have a secure lower leg - deep heal and calf at the girth your hands always in front of the shoulders - dont get in front of the movement - for your security and NO 1 tip is EYES UP AND ON THE ROAD AHEAD. As dressage riders we tend to concentrate on our horses as a jump rider you must look ahead.
good luck with your cross training - I think you will love it!
Michelle B


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