If you struggle to find the right “spot” or “distance” to a jump, the problem may be with your eye, but is more likely with your canter rhythm. Follow these tips and you will develop more consistency in your jumping while building your horse’s confidence and your own.
1. Ride Your Rhythm – Improve Your Canter on the Flat
A jumper on course will manage challenging turns and distances between obstacles when he is balanced and elastic in his pace. To maintain an even and consistent pace, you must be able to adjust your horse’s stride smoothly without interrupting the rhythm of his canter. Practice lengthening and shortening his stride on the flat. Focus on keeping a consistent ba-da-dump-ba-da-dump-ba-da-dump rhythm.
Pick up the canter on a 20-metre circle. Ride in a half seat (softly up out of the saddle in two-point, your weight resting on your legs). Focus on the evenness of your horse’s step. When he’s consistently steady, go down a long side of the arena asking him to lengthen by gently adding more leg. Half halt if his rhythm gets faster and check you aren’t using too much leg. If he doesn’t move off your leg aid, tickle his flank with a dressage whip until he does come forward.
Approaching the corner, collect the canter. Sit up lightly, letting your seat bones touch the saddle without driving with your seat, raise your chest and shoulders slightly until you feel a bit more contact on the reins (don’t pull on the reins). Maintain the same rhythm. At the long side, lighten your seat, lower your chest and shoulders feeling the rein contact lengthen and encourage your horse to lengthen stride again.
When he is responding consistently, change up the pattern so your horse is not anticipating. You want him to listen and respond to your cues rather than automatically moving forward on the long side.
2. Practice over Ground Poles
Think of ground poles as three-inch jumps. Add a single ground pole to the first exercise on one long side. When you’re riding it with consistent rhythm, add another pole five or six strides from the first. As your comfort and consistency improve, add another set of two poles on the opposite side to create a simple “outside line to outside line.” When this feels smooth and effortless, add more challenges one at a time – decrease the distance between poles, add poles, add a diagonal line, etc. Practicing your rhythm over poles gives you lots of practice “over fences” without stressing your horse’s joints the way jumping over fences would. It also helps you and your horse build your partnership and jumping confidence as you both will be more relaxed and supple.
3. Ride Beyond the Jump
The jump is just an obstacle that takes up one stride of your ride. You need to know where on your path that “obstacle” is so you can help your horse approach it with balance and rhythm. Look for the path that takes you to the middle the jump, and then allow it to come to you. Sit quietly and ride your rhythm. As you turn out of the corner, lift your chest softly, count your strides and look through the fence towards the end of the arena. This approach gives your horse time to see the jump, study it and figure out the distance. Even if you don’t see a distance just ride the rhythm. Don’t try to make something happen. Keep your leg on quietly and trust your horse. If the distance doesn’t work out, at least you will both be relaxed and balanced and able to regroup on the landing side. When you land, ride a straight line to the end of the arena, create true bend to ride the turn and then look at the first jump in the next line. Turning when you see the second jump lined up behind the first will help to keep your horse straight.