Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Jumping Exercise

I recently had a conversation about jumping.  The person I was speaking to echoed many concerns that people have when learning how to do this.  Jumping can be nerve wracking and is often dangerous, but it is also a very enjoyable and sometimes necessary part of riding a horse.  Aside from competitions where jumping is the sole purpose, there are many occasions on a trail where it may be necessary to know how to jump.  Occasionally, your horse may need to jump over a small ditch, and often there are logs and other obstacles that horses will need to jump over in order to negotiate.  Personally, I am not a competition jumper, but I do believe that jumping is a skill that every horse and rider should keep in their back pocket.  Bottom line, it is better to know it and not need it, than to need it and not know it.

When I originally started to learn to jump, I learned the old fashioned way from a veteran pony club instructor.  She put out trot poles and had me trot over them in two point position, and eventually had the horse hop over an “X” until both the horse and I were confident about staying straight and centered.  Then she slowly started raising the poles until we were jumping a respectable height.  Over time, different jumps were added with combinations, oxers, boxes, logs, walls, and a variety of other stadium and cross country obstacles. 

This was a very successful and effective way to learn and I completed the course of instruction with flying colors.  I had an excellent teacher and all occurred with great safety and significant progress.

When the time came for me to start passing these skills to others, I noticed that it was very effective when teaching the young.  But for older more mature or adult riders, especially those coming into riding later in life, there were some problems.  First of all the reflexes of a child were much quicker and more reliable.  Secondly, their learning curve for physical activities was much steeper.  So in the split second that it took for a horse to clear a jump, the children had plenty of time in the air to practice their position and even make corrections in flight.

But alas, for an older crowd, a little more time was needed.  The trouble is that the horse has only a certain amount of time in the air and thus there was no way to increase the time.  Therein was the heart of the problem.  If only there was a way to stop the horse in mid jump and give the older rider enough time in the air to make the corrections.  But unfortunately, gravity was very rigid about it’s rules and would not allow delays.

So my solution was to put the horses on a hill. It solved the problem immediately.  I took the horses to a hill, and let the students practice their two point positions as the horses trotted or cantered up the hill.  Once they got to the top of the hill, they could turn around and practice their position as the horses came back down.

So the benefits are:

  1. Extended time with the horse in an ascending jumping position, thus allowing the rider to practice and make corrections
  2. Extended time with the horse in the descending position, thus allowing the rider to practice and make corrections
  3. If the rider is having trouble, the instructor can hold the horse in the ascending position and let the horse stand, thus giving the rider an infinite amount of time to learn the position
  4. Riders will invariably look at the top of the hill, thus giving them practice at looking up and away past the jump instead of looking down
  5. Safer for beginners and horses.  No actual jumping needs to happen until the rider is comfortable with their position
  6. And best of all, you don’t have to constantly be replacing knocked over jumps.

For those of you trying to learn, give it a shot, if it does not work for you, then at least you will have had some fun riding up and down some hills.  For instructors, consider how often you have yelled out corrections, only for the student to comply after the fact when it is too late.  On a hill, you have all the time in the world.  Well, at least till the top of the hill.  But then again, who said you have to be moving at all?


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