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How To Ride Different Types Of Jumps

Submitted by member: Rachel

I would like to know the ideal take-off spots for various different fences: tall vertical with just a top rail vs. ascending oxer vs. Swedish oxer vs. brick wall vs. triple bar vs. trot fence in handy classes vs. combinations with verticals and oxers, etc.

Answer by Linda Allen

Thinking of jumping solely in terms of take-off “spot” doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the quality of the jump. The pace used on the approach and departure, the regularity of the stride, and the balance and jumping technique of the horse all enter into creating both a beautiful and effective jumping effort. The general rule for all disciplines is both take-off and landing distances should be equidistant from the top of the jumping arc. For a vertical jump, the top of the arc should be right over the top rail. A square oxer still requires a jumping arc but the top of the arc will be higher so that the arc clears both the front and back. Triple bars move the arc over the last element and thus the take-off point will be closer to the lower front rail. The exact distance in front of the jump for a good take-off depends on the size of the jump and the speed and stride length the horse is on. Whenever the horse makes a noticeable change in the rhythm of their gait in front of the jump, it doesn’t matter if he jumps from a perfect ‘spot,’ it will not be a satisfactory effort. Even worse is when a rider anticipates and ‘jumps’ before the horse. This is the classic ‘miss’ that both horse and rider (and judges) hate!

For Hunters, generally the fences are constructed similarly, with lots of ground line material encouraging the horse to elevate the front legs earlier and well in front of the shoulder. However, the nicest jump still is that which puts the arc over the highest part of the jump. As the jumps go higher for Show Hunters, the distances are customarily lengthened at the shows. Larger jumps require a bigger jumping arc and thus a somewhat longer stride so that the jump appears ‘out of stride’ with no increase or decrease in pace or stride length on either the approach or departure. When the canter used on the approach to a single jump or the beginning of a line of jumps will result in the final stride putting the horse either very far away from the jump or very close to it, some adjustment needs to be made. The experienced rider, as well as the smart and experienced horse, will feel this just as they feel their pace, stride, and balance. Since at the normal cantering pace the difference between a very long, a good, or a very short take-off distance is only a matter of a very few feet (and a horse in a balanced, medium canter can easily change the length of their stride by a foot or more in one stride), correct adjustments are very subtle and are executed over four or more of the final strides on the approach. A big adjustment in the last couple of strides won’t make for a good jump, even if the take-off spot that results is perfect.

Virtually all horses jumping free (without a rider) quickly learn to make adjustments to their approach to a jump to create an easier effort. When inexperienced riders begin jumping at the canter, I prefer to have them focus entirely on the track they are following, the pace (speed) they are on, and maintaining an even rhythm to the fence—allow the horse to deal with any adjustment needed. Small jumps can be negotiated from nearly any take-off spot, as long as the other elements (track, pace, and rhythm) are maintained. Track and pace can be established well back from the jump and if the rider focuses on maintaining them with a consistent rhythm, they are less likely to mess up the horse’s efforts to assure a good enough jump. The biggest errors—those that get riders into trouble and are most discouraging to the horse—are always when the horse is planning on one adjustment and in the last step or two the rider suddenly decides the horse should do the opposite!! When the rider relaxes enough to feel what the horse is doing their natural ‘eye’ will start to kick in. I believe it is essential that a rider, and a green horse, first learn how to ‘handle’ a less than perfect jump. When a rider is confident that they can maintain their balance, security, and a steady confident ride even when a jump happens to come up extra short or long, then they won’t need to panic on those inevitable days when they find it hard to ’see their spot.’ Correcting poor jumps is not accomplished by doing something different at the jump, it is done by improving the quality and appropriateness of the gait during the entire approach.

When we turn to the Jumper divisions, with various distance questions and types and shapes of jumps, both horse and rider need to cope with jumping on different pace, stride, and take-off distances. As the height, and especially the width, increase every factor counts more. A high and wide spread jump requires a powerful jumping effort but a far closer take-off spot than that for a vertical. The best jumpers are capable of jumping from a wide variance in take-off distances depending on the circumstances. They accomplish this by being able to control their impulsion (stored power), length of stride, quick shifts in balance to quickly elevate the front end, and excellent body mechanics over the jump to utilize their back and hind quarters. Riders ability to maintain their own balance and support their horse’s athleticism is at least as important as their ability to ‘see’ a take-off spot. A discussion of appropriate take-off distances over larger jumps would be a long one. Any serious rider would do well to spend a week following a good course designer as they work, and watch, really watch, how a lot of horses jump various jumps and lines—you will learn a lot. But there will always be more to learn!

More Learning

Check out the following blog posts on similar topics:

Adjusting for the Optimal Take-off Spot on a Hunter Horse by Rob Gage

Does Your Horse Have a Long Stride and Struggle with Combinations? by Linda Allen

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Linda Allen

Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website: www.llallen.com

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