If you, like me, subscribe to Practical Horseman magazine, odds are you might also be a devotee of George Morris' monthly column called Jumping Clinic. Each month, readers faithfully turn the pages to see which four riders he picks and what he has to say about their equitation, their horse's jumping ability, and their turnout.
Just about every month one finds George bemoaning the prevalent habit today's riders have of jumping ahead of their horses. Come to think of it, the great eventer Denny Emerson recently did a column devoted to this topic in an issue of the Chronicle of the Horse. I've been told the thinking behind this trend is that throwing one's hands up by your mount's ears and flopping down on it's neck indicates to the judge that your horse has such a superlative jump you were jumped out of the tack, and that he's such a solid citizen you can throw the reins at him and still have a great round.
George (and others) tells us every month that this way of riding is a BAD HABIT, and UNSAFE, and A VERY BAD THING to boot. Not only does the weight of your body on the neck impede your horse's jumping effort, you potentially run the risk of serious injury as you can become a victim of momentum and are hurled, sans equine partner, over the fence. Basically, you become a human shot put. It ain't pretty, and can be downright painful. At it's worst, it can be catastrophic.
I am offering my recent experience as a Public Service Announcement to all who may have this habit. During a recent show, after two successful clean rounds and jump offs, I experience an unplanned dismount in my third class. Basically, I jumped the first fence OK, but lost momentum coming into the second fence, an oxer. We managed to scramble over that, and headed off to the next element with no discernible increase in pace. A long distance showed up, and I asked my mare to take off.
The horse knew she did not have enough pace and was too far away to navigate the jump successfully, so she wisely put down on me and added a stride before then attempting the jump. We might have gotten over it successfully, had I not been perched up by her ears. You see, I got out of the saddle when I thought we were jumping, instead of waiting for her effort to throw me out of the tack. She did her best to try and get us over the fence, but couldn't, as she had an extra 140+ lbs of excess baggage on her neck.
So, I did my best impersonation of a lawn dart. Flung head first into the dirt, I had a unique opportunity to test the footing at that venue first-hand. Personally, I prefer a sand/textile blend to stone dust. It just tastes better, and the finer grit leaves less road rash.
Maybe you should try to ride with your mouth closed.
Thanks, Sug. Adding to the indignity of dirt consumption was the fact that I was wearing my sunglasses, and had that instantaneous moment of panic, that reversion back to childhood where I thought, "Oh no, I broke my glasses!" Not, "I've broken my fool neck!" For a moment I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Luckily the glasses were okay. (Thank God I was wearing them or I'd have no doubt scraped up my corneas pretty well.)
About this time, approximately 2 seconds after impact, I noticed Sug's bridle hit the dust in front of us, and Sug decided to hop on over to my side of the fence to inquire as to my health. She clambered over very carefully as not to disturb me and stood next to me, waiting for my trainer to come and clear up the carnage.
You looked as though you might be meditating. I didn't wish to interrupt.
Thank you, Sug. Anyway, my trainer came over, and while she was getting Sug's bridle back on we did a quick status check and determined I had all my teeth (although they were black with grit) and that I knew what year it was and who the President was. Thankfully no one asked me to name a Cabinet member, as I don't think I've ever been able to do that. On our way out of the ring, I did a quick Ta-Da to acknowledge the support from the folks clapping at ringside, accepted an ice bag and a Popsicle from the medics, and got Sug back to the trailer.
I was lucky this time, but you can be darn sure we'll be going back to the drawing board and working on eradicating that bad habit of jumping ahead. Am guessing I've got lots more no stirrup work -- which is going to be good for that fitness challenge I gave myself.
Oh yeah, and darn good thing I had my helmet on. The brim and front part of the helmet absorbed some of the impact and prevented my face from hitting the ground harder than it did, and the back padding that covers the nape of the neck prevented my head from snapping back as far as it could have.
If you want a good giggle, my stellar dismount was caught on film. I think it deserves a 10!