Have you ever experienced popping over a jump with your horse, when he suddenly realises he needs a little 'more' if he is going to clear the jump? He stretches, or pushes, a little farther than you expected and suddenly you find yourself very much behind the movement and bracing for the inevitable 'thud' that your backside connecting with the saddle will create on landing!
Or perhaps your horse has a frustrating habit of hanging a hoof here and there over fences, which leads to poles on the floor and a less ribbons than you would like hanging on your wall!
You can listen to this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast HERE >>
Developing both you and your horse's physical strength is essential for successful, safe and injury free jumping. But doing so without 'jumping the legs off' your horse is often a challenge for many riders. This is where incorporating a simple bounce or two into your schooling, initially as ground poles and later as actual jumping obstacles, can help you both become stronger and more in control of your body over jumps and fences.
For many riders, the thoughts of riding a horse into a bounce is a daunting one. However, it need not be and in fact, will help you not only become stronger, but also give you a greater understanding of how your horse uses his body both before, during and after a fence, and how you must move to stay in sync with him throughout the effort
A bounce, simply put, is when a horse lands from one jump (or canter stride) and as he touches down, immediately takes off again over a second jump or ground pole. There are no 'non jumping strides' between the two obstacles; the front feet will touch down and then as the back feet near landing, the front feet will pick up again to jump the second jump.
Successfully navigating a bounce requires quite a bit of athleticism from your horse, as well as quick thinking. They are a super way of teaching horses to 'snap up' their front legs and also, to use their hind quarters over a fence and on landing to propel them forward again.
For the rider, the bounce requires balance and micro adjustments throughout the body in order to stay with the horse, poised over the saddle, rather than getting too far ahead of the movement, or being left behind.
It also helps riders to react quicker to what is happening underneath them as the horse is continually having to shift the weight between back and front throughout the sequence
Riding through a grid containing more than one bounce also requires the rider to understand impulsion and how the horse's energy must be controlled. If the horse is 'chased' through the fences, he will not have time to make the necessary adjustments to successfully clear the obstacles. Similarly, if the riders fails to create enough impulsion or energy, the horse will be unable to make it through the line without having poles down along the way.
Before you begin introducing your horse to a bounce, it is important that he is confident jumping both individual fences and also related fences, such as doubles with one or two non jumping strides in between. The rider must also be able to stay with the horse over fences and have a secure and balanced jumping position when jumping related distances.
Start by placing a single pole on the ground and cantering over it. Feel how your horse moves over the pole, and also, how you remain balanced, while getting off his back, as he canters over the pole. Once you are both comfortable with this, you can then add a second pole between 3m and 3.7m or 10' and 12' away from the first. Canter your horse over the poles and make adjustments to the distance as necessary.
Work over the poles on both reins, approaching from different directions. Working over the bounce when still only ground poles is a great way to test your horse's rhythm and balance.
See if you can maintain a consistent rhythm before, during and after the poles
This is also a great opportunity to see how well you can follow your horse before increasing the difficulty. I suggest keeping the weight dropped into your heels, your back straight, your shoulders open across your chest and your seat moving with your horse and 'hovering' when actually moving over the poles, in a light seat. You can also use this exercise to assess your hands and shoulders. Are they 'following' your horse's mouth, continuing to maintain a consistent contact with your horse at all times?
It is tempting to try avoid landing heavily on your horse's back, or catching him in the mouth by 'over preparing' yourself for the jump. Over preparing will result in you getting into your jumping position too early, and will see you leaning on your horse's neck and shoulders for support. Use your practice over the ground poles in order work on this, rather than when there are actual jumps involved, as it will make it much more difficult for your horse to lift his shoulders and perform a clean jumping effort.
Remember to wait for your horse to begin over the pole, and then follow his lead
Also notice how centered your horse is over the poles. Later, when you are both comfortable popping through the bounce, you can begin to build cross poles, which will help keep your horse centered through the line. But for now, notice if there is a tendency to drift one way or the other.
Keep in mind that your horse is always influenced by your position in the saddle, so make sure you are riding in a balanced way through the line yourself
It is common for riders to 'duck' one side or the other of the horse's neck over fences... Not a good habit to cultivate, so if it is there, nip it in the bud now! Think about keeping your chin centered over your horse's neck or mane as you move with your horse through the bounce.
Once you are both comfortable riding through a single bounce of ground poles, you can begin to add more poles to the line. Continue to assess the distance and adjust it to suit your horse's comfort levels. Later, as you both become stronger, you can then begin asking more difficult questions of your horse by asking him to adjust to set distances, but to begin with, build his confidence levels by building the lines for him and his preferred lengths.
You then begin to build actual jumps where the poles are. Depending on the height of the jumps, you may have to adjust the distances again for your horse, and always move through the line from both directions to help keep your horse fresh.
Keep in mind that riding a bounce takes concentration and strength from your horse; therefore riding a line of bounces is quite taxing. Don't over do it, rather work through it and then leave it for a while, to return later when your horse is fresher. Working your horse through this when he is tired, either physically or mentally, will only lead to mistakes and injuries.