32 Faults in Position to Avoid While Jumping


Jane Marshall Dillon owned, directed, and taught riding at the Junior Equitation School in Vienna, Va. from the 1950's into the 1970's, where she taught the Forward Seat. In 1961 her wonderful book "Form Over Fences" was first published. This book is unique, it only deals with the jump, and has lots and lots of pictures to train the reader's eye, both of mistakes and of good form. Mrs. Dillon taught TWO USA Olympic Jumping Team riders, Kathy Kusner (Team, Silver, 1972), and Joe Fargis (Team, Gold, 1984) while they were children, those lucky, lucky kids! During High School I dreamt of getting lessons at Mrs. Dillon's school, but she had a waiting list, and, alas for me, my parents did not think that good riding lessons were important at all.

I assure you that I committed EVERY ONE of these faults when I tried to learn to jump decades ago. Many I never fully corrected. If and when I ever jump again, I guarantee you that this list will be somewhere in my head. I also gave my riding teacher a copy of this book just to be sure that she knows exactly what I want to be yelled at for!

These quotes and lists are from "Form Over Fences" by Jane Marshall Dillon (1961, 1972), pages 12-14 and 22-26.

First, the ideal.

"So here are your ten commandments of basic form, holding good on the flat and over fences....

1. Heads up--eyes up.
2. Shoulders open.
3. Arms hanging to elbow and bent at elbow.
4. Elbow to bit--straight line.
5. Body forward as close to the pommel of saddle as possible, with seat clearing the saddle during the jump. Be sure not to thrust your body too far forward on the horse's neck. An imaginary line drawn up from the stirrups should show your "rear" behind your feet, to act as a counter balance.
6. Torso inclined enough forward to keep you balanced over feet, always adjusting to the speed of the horse.
7. Inner surfaces of thigh, knee and upper calf in light frictional contact with the saddle (contact becomes muscular during the jump and usually on last few strides before it.)
8. Lower leg slanted back JUST enough to enable stirrup leather to hang straight down, and calves of your legs to close directly behind the girth.
9. Ankles bent so that the soles of your feet are visible to person standing on the ground. This point is much more important than you might think. This correct "break" at the ankle helps keep your knees rolled in, and your feet where they belong--against the inside bar of the stirrup.
10. Feet lying on the INSIDE OF YOUR IRONS, tread of the stirrup under (or slightly behind) the balls of your feet, heels down; your toes neither dead parallel to one another, not pointing East and West, but at just about the same angle they are when you walk.

Try to have this mental picture sink in until your eye not only takes in the overall design of another rider but so that you automatically distribute your own weight and arrange your body in the same way WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT. Only when good form becomes completely automatic will it do you any good."

Now the 32 faults according to Mrs. Dillon.

"Before starting on the list of "sins" there is a point which I suppose I hardly need to mention: even the most perfect styles will not make a "great rider". There is no substitute for good judgment, courage, timing, patience and relaxation. But perfect technique will always IMPROVE the rider that already has "the spark of genius"; the person who has no great natural flair for riding most assuredly WILL RIDE BETTER if he is willing to drill until good form becomes second nature. Bearing all this in mind, let us take a look at a few things which most assuredly will NOT enable you to ride better!

1. HEAD DUCKING, WITH THE RIDER LOOKING DOWN. (...almost always a number of other "sins" will go along with this one--frequently the back becomes rounded, legs lose their correct grip, etc., in addition to the fact that the rider lessens his ability to get ready for the next fence.)

2. HEAD DUCKING, TO THE SIDE. The other "sins" that go hand in hand,with this one are slightly different from those of number 1. The entire balance becomes "lopsided". On the other hand you may find a rider who has allowed his balance to become "lopsided" without looking down to the side, and that is another fault in itself.

3. ROUNDED BACK. This is a most common fault. Frequently, it is coupled with the rider looking down, with pivoting on the knees, and lower leg swinging back. The opposite dilemna in which the rider may find himself, relating to the back, is a general stiffness.

And now, in relation to hands and arms we find a multitude of possible pitfalls, as follows:

4. HANDS AND ARMS THAT DO NOT "GIVE" ENOUGH OVER THE FENCE, tying in the horse's head in such a way that he cannot use himself properly during the jump.

5. ARMS THAT "FLIP OUT" AT THE ELBOWS. When this occurs, it is unlikely that the rider will maintain a soft, direct line of contact with the horse's mouth.

6. HANDS THAT TEND TO "BALL UP INTO TIGHT LITTLE FISTS" thus losing their softness.

7. HANDS THAT ARE TOO HIGH, breaking the soft straight line of action to the horse's mouth and displacing the bit in the horse's mouth in a way that the rider doesn't intend. This is often a relatively minor "sin"....It becomes a major "sin" when the hands fly up in such a way that the rider finds himself swinging on the horse's mouth.

8. HANDS TOO LOW, breaking the straight line of action to the horse's mouth in a downward direction. Unintentionally, the rider is putting pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth and disturbing the direct line of communication with the mouth.

9. HANDS THAT "BREAK" BACKWARDS AT THE WRIST, thus robbing the rider of any possible elasticity in their use.

10. HANDS THAT "BREAK" THE STRAIGHT LINE OF ACTION TO THE HORSE'S MOUTH BY ROUNDING OF THE WRISTS. In this instance, the hands hang over like a puppy begging for bones....This fault appears less frequently in jumping than on the flat.... Hands that "break" in this direction generally are soft hands, but tend to lose contact with the horse's mouth.

11. CURB REIN TOO TIGHT. The feel of the horse's mouth over a fence should always be from the snaffle rein--never the curb rein. Remember the curb rein is attached to the shank of the bit, and serves as a lever to cause pressure on the bars of the horse's mouth. Allowing this rein to tighten almost certainly will make the horse fearful of reaching out the head and neck as he must to use his body well over the fence.

12. FINGERS THAT SPREAD OUT DURING THE JUMP--this often goes along with very soft use of the hands too, but it is not desirable as it is an excellent way to sprain or break a finger or two! In addition, most of the time this position of the fingers makes it impossible to maintain contact.

N--O--T--E

Before concluding the faults occurring with the hands, the reader should remember that at a certain stage of the game (the early stage,) the rider MUST break the straight line of action during the jump, and catch the horse's mane, allowing the reins to be slack--or else he will abuse the horse's mouth. While this should be considered a fault when the rider has reached an advanced stage (although an infinitely lesser one than catching the horse in the mouth) it cannot be considered a fault at all in the elementary jump rider. Similarly, at the intermediate level, we may find some slack in the reins and the rider taking support from the horse's neck. It should be noted, but must be expected at the intermediate level.

And now, let us take a look at the rider's seat--and here I am referring to the "seat" literally, not to the overall style of riding.

13. SEAT TOO FAR OUT OF THE SADDLE. Usually this will go with a leg that is too straight. Ideally, the seat should remain CLOSE TO but clearing the saddle during the jump. Thus it is possible to retain the angles of the leg, utilizing their "springs". In addition, it will enable the rider to remain in a more secure position thtoughout the jump. Normally, during the jump, the rider's shoulders should remain a little higher than his seat. The only exception to this general rule occurs on the high jump, where the rider actually flattens out on the horse. On the average hunter height jump this is totally unnecessary.

14. SEAT THAT DOES NOT "CLEAR THE SADDLE" DURING THE JUMP, but continues to sit. Along with this "sitting", most of the time, although not always, you will find that the rider's lower legs come loose from insufficient weight dropped through the heels into the irons. The legs generally swing either backward or forward.

Now we'll give the legs their working over! When we get to the point, it becomes even more difficult to seperate and "pigeon-hole" many of the faults of technique since almost always one involves others previously discussed. In other words, you will have to expect "overlapping" in the following analysis.

15. LEGS THAT SWING FORWARD--thus destroying the base of support. Almost always the rider who is "left behind" when the horse jumps will find his legs out in front of him.

16. LEGS THAT SWING BACK. The rider is much less secure in this position than he is when his feet and legs are firmly under him. In addition, he is totally unable to close his legs. He has a tendency to "pivot on his knees" in such a way that the lower legs have no real stability. During the landing he is likely to crash down on the horse's back.

17. "FLOATING LOWER LEG". Here the leg may be swinging neither forward nor back, but simply angled out from the knees in such a way that, again, the rider sacrifices security. The rider is also in a less favorable position to use his legs as aids.

18. KNEES OUT--away from the horse's sides. This tendency creates an ineffective leg and usually is accompanied by heels rolled into the horse's sides.

19. PIVOTING ON KNEES. The rider pinches with the inside of the knees, making no use of the rest of the legs, which may wander almost anywhere!

Feet can be the source of many troubles.

20. HEELS UP--this is, probably, the most obvious and one of the most common of all mistakes of correct form. As explained earlier, when the heels come up, the rider has no strong base of support from which to "step and spring".

21. FEET ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE STIRRUPS. When this occurs, the inside of the irons are in a position to hit the horse's sides needlessly. In addition, when the rider's feet are on the outside of the stirrups, there is a tendency to step on the outside of the feet, rolling the knees away from their normal position in light contact with the saddle. And as a result, the base of support becomes less strong and secure.

22. INSUFFICIENT BREAK INWARDS--TOWARDS THE HORSE--AT THE ANKLE. This is almost the same as the fault described in No. 21 and has most of the same bad effects.

23. FEET SHOT "HOME" (THROUGH TO THE INSTEP) IN THE STIRRUPS. While he may have complete security, the rider robs himself of his "spring and elasticity".

24. FEET HAVING TOES ONLY ON THE TREADS OF THE STIRRUPS. Now there will be lots of "spring and elasticity" but the stability of the lower leg is sacrificed.

25. FEET "EAST AND WEST". By this we mean that the rider's toes are pointing in opposite directions. This will move the knees out. Also, if the rider is wearing spurs, he will unintentionally gouge the horse in the sides.

Finally, we have a group of faults that cannot be considered to belong to any one part of the body, and which relate in general to the overall design; most have already been discussed in the integral parts.

26. RIDER TIPPED TOO FAR FORWARD. Every now and then we will find a rider who simply slants every part of himself too far forward....There are many variations of this, combining many individual faults.

27. RIDER TOO ERECT. Most of the time this results from the rider failing to step down and make the necessary thrust with his body as the speed of the forward movement is accelerated in the take-off of the jump. Generally, this fault will result in the rider being "left behind".

28. RIDER "BRACING" IN THE IRONS. This rider usually stiffens both the knee and the ankle joints, and because he is standing in his stirrups, loses his elasticity. In addition, he robs himself of the ability to close his legs.

29. RIDER CORRECT BUT STIFF OVERALL. The body may be properly arranged, but stiffness throughout robs it of the "fluid" quality which keeps the whole body soft and resilient. The stiff rider is likely to jar himself and bounce a little on landing. He will be less able to remain "all one piece" with the horse.

30. "LOPSIDED". Entire structure "tilts" to side, throwing everything off balance.

31. RIDER LYING DOWN ON HANDS. Catching the mane for support is permissible and desirable in some
cases, but this does not mean that the rider should grab the mane and push down or lie down on his hands. When he does this, he loosens his base of support in most cases; also he won't be abl to see where he is going!

32. LEFT BEHIND! This is the worst crime of all! By this, we mean that the rider fails to make the necessary thrust with his body as the horse takes off for his fence--or makes it too late or makes it too small. If the rider is quick enough, he will try to remedy the situation by letting the reins slide through his hands, or by catching the mane so that the end result is no worse than that the rider is bounced around, and perhaps bangs the horse's back. Or it may be considerably worse from the horse's point of view. If he does NOT manage to let the reins go, and lets his weight swing against the horse's mouth, his horse is going to develop and awfully sour attitude about jumping!"

End of the quotes.

I wish that every hunt seat and jumping teacher used this book. The quality of jumping would rise considerably.

Enjoy your ride!

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Comment by B. G. Hearns on October 2, 2015 at 5:47am

Thanks very much for this. It comes at a perfect time for me.

Comment by C.L. Michael on August 7, 2012 at 8:06pm

It truly was a gift that my parents gave me. 

Comment by Jackie Cochran on August 7, 2012 at 8:01pm

You are welcome C.L., I am glad you enjoyed my post!

I have always regreted that I never talked my parents into lessons, much less lessons with Jane Dillon.  At school I used to read School for Young Riders and envy Kathy Kusner, and all the other kids that got to learn proper horsemanship there.

You were SO LUCKY to get to go there!

Comment by C.L. Michael on August 7, 2012 at 7:46pm

I had the great pleasure of being a student at JES.  I rode there from '79 through '87.  It was an absolutely amazing experience and it makes me so sad that it is gone.  I know this is an old post but it sure was a treat today.  Thank you. :)

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