Six Steps to Jumping Better

Successful jumping has four basic components: confidence, relaxation, forwardness (or impulsion), and correct rider position. If you’re showing in the hunter division, you also have to have a certain style, but this article isn’t about that.

That doesn’t mean, though, that position isn’t important. You can’t jump well if you aren’t balanced, with a strong base of support in your lower legs, and aren’t in rhythm with your horse — and those three qualities are a function of position. The primary purpose of these exercises isn’t to work on your position, but they’ll certainly help it and will certainly increase the effectiveness of your aids between the jumps.

1) Two jumps on a 20-meter circle. This is simple to set up: Place two small verticals or two cavalettis on opposite sides of an approximately 20-meter circle. (The Klimke cavaletti we reviewed in March are perfect for this.) Then canter over them on the circle.

Doing this correctly is much harder to do than you might think. You want continue to describe a round circle (as we discussed in our April column), while keeping the horse continuously bent throughout the circle. And you want to keep an even, steady rhythm. A good test of your rhythm and your geometry is to count the strides between the jumps — they should be the same every time.

A word of warning — this exercise is physically taxing to your horse, so don’t just keep going around and around. Do three or four circles and then give him a walk break.

2) Footwork. On either the quarterline or along the rail, set up this gymnastic line: a rail on the ground, 9 feet to a crossrail (2’3” to 2’9”, depending on the horse’s and rider’s experience), 18 feet to a vertical (2’6” to 3’), 18 feet to a square oxer (2’6” to 3’), 30 feet (two strides) to another square oxer (2’6” to 3’).

And on the other quarterline or along the rail, place a cavaletti 10 feet in front of a square oxer (2’3” to 3’).

Start over the cavaletti and the oxer at a forward but not fast canter, making sure to allow the exercise to influence your horse’s jumping effort. Don’t ”help” him. Just keep your legs in contact with his sides, stay loose in your hips and back, quiet with your hands, and let him jump the jump.

Do the same with the gymnastic line — let him jump and stay loose and elastic.

Put the two exercises together, either by cantering he cavaletti/oxer exercise and then trotting the line, or the other way around.

This exercise will develop your horse’s sense of his feet and balance, and your balance and confidence in his ability to take care of himself. To increase the footwork, add poles on the ground between the crossrail and the vertical and the vertical and the first oxer. They should be placed halfway between the jumps (9’).

3) Advanced footwork.On either the quarterline or along the rail, place a rail on the ground; set another rail 15 feet from it and a vertical (2’3” to 2’9”) 9 feet from it. Then go 18 feet to a slightly ascending oxer (back rail at 2’3” to 2’9”, spread of 2 to 3 feet), then 9 feet to a cavaletti (20 to 22 inches high), 15 feet to a rail, and 9 feet to another oxer (back rail 2’3” to 2’9”).

How will you ride this exercise designed to further develop the horse’s sense of his feet and his and your balance and suppleness’

Approach the first rail in a forward, balanced, steady canter, and the horse will take one stride between the first two rails. He’ll then bounce to the vertical, take one stride to the oxer, bounce the cavaletti, take one stride to the rail and bounce the oxer.

Remember, you don’t have to jump the entire line at first asking. You or someone helping you can add fences one at a time.

On the other quarterline or along the rail, place a rail, 30 feet to an oxer (2’3” to 3’3”) and other 30 feet to a rail. Approach it in a forward, balanced canter and put two longish strides or three shorter strides between the rails and the oxer. The number of strides will depend on your horse’s stride and issues: If he tends to get quick, try for three strides; if he dawdles to his fences, ride forward for two strides.

Now, do the two exercises consecutively, without stopping between them, urging you and your horse to look ahead for the next challenge.

4) Three-loop serpentine with cavaletti or low verticals. Place the jumps on the centerline, with one dead center and the other two approximately 20 meters away, as with Exercise No. 1.

This is ”dressage over fences,” and its purpose is to develop balance and attention to your aids. For young horses use cavaletti on their highest setting (the Ingrid Klimke cavaletti we reviewed in March are perfect for this), and for more experienced horses and riders use verticals of 2’6” to 3 feet.

Ride the serpentine, concentrating on the quality of the canter (forward, balanced, bending through the turns, keeping the rhythm) and on landing on the new lead. Keep riding the serpentine, up and down the arena, thinking about riding the canter, not the jumps.

5) The Zigzag Line. International course designer Linda Allen’s fabulous book 101 Jumping Exercises for Horse and Rider describes this exercise, designed to develop rhythm and the horse’s obedience to your aids as you develop the effectiveness and smoothness of those aids.

Set up five verticals (2’ to 3’3”), with groundlines on each side, in a Z or zigzag pattern. The jumps should be set on right angles to each other, with the standards forming a corner.

Jump the first jump off the left lead, make left-handed circle to ”roll back” to the second jump, make a right-handed circle to roll back to the third, and keep going. Come back the other way.

It’s a very effective exercise that doesn’t require much equipment. Again, you could use cavalettis and trot the jumps with young horses or inexperienced riders to help develop the skills described above.

6) The Joe Fargis X. This exercise is also from Linda Allen’s excellent book, and its purpose is to develop the horse’s straightness and the rider’s use of their eyes and other aids to keep that straightness, with rhythm and balance.

This exercise also uses just five fences, one set in the dead center of the ring and the other four set in a rectangle surrounding it. The fences on each outside line should be 60 feet (four strides) apart, and they should overlap about a quarter of the center jump. The height can be anywhere between 2’3” and 3’3” (or higher).

On a steady, forward canter, jump the middle jump, turn either direction at the end of the ring and jump a diagonal line across the three jumps, with two steady strides between each fence. Continue around the end of the ring and jump the line down the side in four more open strides. Continue around the end and jump the other diagonal in two steadier strides. Finally, continue around the end and jump the two outside jumps in four more open strides.

Repeat the pattern by turning in the opposite direction after jumping the center jump. You can make this exercise more difficult by raising the jumps.

John Strassburger
Performance Editor

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