Let's spend some time developing the correct technique and right jumping habits from the very beginning...
When you are ready to start jumping your horse, the first thing you must do is work out a way of getting the him to the fence so that he can jump it correctly.
Presenting your horse appropriately is the only way to help the horse improve his jump.
I surprise you, having said in earlier posts that canter should be a horse’s preferred pace, but I aIways start off in trot — it’s a more manageable pace for the rider and young or inexperienced horses who are not balanced enough in their canter to be able to jump out of it well.
But this presents a problem for the horse because trot is a two-time movement. With the horse using his legs in diagonal pairs, this makes it very difficult for him to organise his legs to take off. So I use a simple plank (sometimes called a placing pole) in front of the jump to help him along.
As he trots to the plank he will do a ‘round’ stride over it. As he does this he will have two front feet together and two back feet together and so the next stride or jump will just be an exaggeration of the round stride over the plank. This simple combination is a great way to introduce the right technique to the horse - a nice round balanced ‘stride’ over the jump. The distance of the plank to the jump is 2.5 of my steps, or 2.3 metres.
I prefer to start all my horses off with a cross pole and you should do the same even if your horse has done some jumping. Using cross poles in your training sessions will help your horse to stay straight because he will naturally come into the centre of the jump. But better than that, cross poles encourage your horse to jump with more confidence — because a cross pole looks a lot bigger than it really is, he will try a bit harder and you will get a nice, soft rounded jump. When he lands he will think ‘that was easy, easier than I thought!’ A great confidence booster.
Developing the Bascule:
Show jumping is no different to any other skill. Developing a good technique and being consistent in training sessions means that it will become natural for your horse to jump in a nice soft rounded shape — no matter what height the fence.
The bascule or curl, is the shape that the horse makes over a fence and is another key skill for the successful show jumper. It’s quite easy for a horse to make this shape because all he has to do is lift his shoulders, lower his neck and he will make a nice curl over the fence. But, to help my horses develop their shape over a jump, I always place a plank 3.5 of my steps or about 3.1 5m metres after the jump. Try this and you will be surprised at the effect this has.
As the horse approaches the jump and goes to take off, he will naturally lower his head to look at the second plank and this will help him to develop a nice round curved shape or bascule as he goes over the jump. But better than that, he will also do a deliberate and round stride over the second plank.
This isn’t an accident. This simple combination allows the horse to give you a round stride over the first plank, an exaggerated round stride over the cross pole followed by another round stride over the second plank. A simple but effective way of creating the right technique.
Good technique isn't just about what the horse does over the jump.
Too many riders are told to come into the forward position, but for most people, this has the effect of throwing their weight and balance forward in direct contradiction to what we want to help our horses to do. To turn a creature that is designed to gallop into one that is designed to jump, you want him to make a little movement backwards onto his hocks so that he can push himself up, not just forward - something he can't easily do while you are throwing your weight into forward position!
I train all my riders to simply release their seat and keep their heads up - imagine just pushing your bottom backwards up out of the saddle. It allows a very small movement of the upper body, rather than the classical folding of the waist. Releasing your seat has the effect of putting weight down in your heels, it ensures that your lower leg is secure over the jump and it allows your horse to use his whole back.
Many riders talk about 'releasing' the contact over the fence, but all this does is make you throw your hands forward and you and the horse become unbalanced. It is vital that you keep your contact, albeit a light one as you go over the jump, keeping the contact soft and elastic all the time.
What to do upon landing? When you land, don't sit bolt upright. This will often have the effect of driving your horse on away from the fence too strongly. What you need to do is simply 'soak' or absorb the movement with your knee and ankle joints before you sit up and sit into the saddle.
Remember, Rosettes are made at home through correct training. You just collect them in the ring!