Show jumping is one of the most exciting disciplines in horse riding. It is a combination of speed and agility, daring and finesse. When it’s done professionally, show jumping is a spectacle to behold, but how do you get to that level? It won’t happen overnight but there are steps you can take to improve both yourself and your horse that will make a difference. Just a few hours a week is all it takes – as long as you are willing to put in the effort then you will see a huge reward.
Secure Your Seat
Any sort of jumping is a test to your riding ability – let alone high speed, high difficulty jumping. Because of that, you need to prepare. You might be confident jumping in the school, but what if your horse spooks or over jumps out of fear? You must stay on. Not only is a fall an instant disqualification, but it will also be harder to get back into the ring after.
There is a multitude of things you can do to improve your seat, but one thing that will see results immediately is riding without stirrups. Practice riding in an enclosed area without them to work on your balance. Can you turn on a sixpence and stay in the saddle? This is also great training for if you lose one in a jump off and don’t have time to get it back. You might be forced to ride and even jump without it so this is the perfect practice exercise. Try jumping over baby fences to see if you can keep your posture. This will help you move with your horse and understand where you need to keep your weight next time you are jumping a course.
Once you have mastered riding without stirrups, you can try moving up a level and riding bareback. It is not advisable to jump large fences without a saddle, but if you can ride quickly around a course with no saddle and still nail every landing/corner, you are going to feel completely secure riding with a saddle.
Work on Your Agility
Show jumping is a test of skill and ability so it is imperative your horse can move quickly and agilely around the course. Even if they are very light on their feet, there is no harm in training them to be even better as the improved balance will mean they are better jumpers.
The first thing you can do is practice tight turns. Start at a walk and make your horse turn as tightly as possible and then work your way up through the gaits. Being able to turn quickly can mean the difference between winning and losing the jump off so it is an important skill to learn. If your horse resists the training in the ring, try weaving in between obstacles. Being able to see them will help your horse’s willingness.
After a tight turn, it may not be possible to fully line your horse up before the next fence. Some horses have no problem jumping on an angle, but if yours struggles, then it is an important skill to work on. Start with some ground poles and get them used to riding at an angle then slowly increase the height. The more comfortable they both are, the less likely you are to get a refusal and those all so crucial four faults.
Make Your Horse Bomb Proof
Despite all your preparation, sometimes your horse gets in the ring and just refuses to perform. This can be down to the unfamiliar nature of a competition with their bright fences and loud noises. There are a lot of things for your horse to overcome and ignore before it can even think about jumping, so taking steps to prepare them will benefit you both.
Firstly, see if you can hire a local ring and their obstacles. Riding schools have a huge range of resources which will help your horse desensitize with the added benefit of being loud and busy. Use a range of fences, poles, cross jumps, doubles – anything you might see in the ring.
However, if this isn’t an option, there are steps you can take to make your own fences different. Try hanging brightly colored clothes off the wings of the fences, or draping scarfs over the poles. They will immediately look different and your horse will take a good hard look before going over them.
Once they have gained their confidence with this, it’s time to take it up a level. A flapping plastic bag, a bell or a wind chime making noise – these are considered high risk by your flight animal so if they can get past these, they should be fine in the ring. Consider asking a friend to watch you jump and make crowd noises to see if that makes a difference as well.
Jump on Different Terrain
Show jumping rings are on a range of different surfaces – the nice sandy indoor school, a flat (ish) field outside, and an outside ring with the wind blowing – every competition is different. This is why it is important to practice on every surface. Even if your horse has good balance, it can lose its footing outside and take down a pole.
If you train in a ring, try taking your horse outside into a paddock. You don’t have to bring an entire course, but even a couple of fences will allow your horse the chance to practice on the grass. If they slip a lot, then maybe you can invest in some studs to help their performance. If you practice outside, then again see if you can train in a ring. Your horse should keep its footing, but there are unusual sights and smells in an indoor arena plus it is usually sand. As the take-off isn’t from a hard surface, they may have to work a little harder so it’s good to give them an opportunity before competition day.