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Moving Up a Level: How to Prepare for Bigger Jumps

Submitted by member: whistlejacket

What is the best way to prepare a 1.1m (3’6″) jumper for 1.25m (4’0″)? This is a big jump for an adult amateur. Most peak at 1.1m, and horses can do this quite easily. It’s at 1.25m that distances and that the ability to ride into the fences in better balance makes a difference. How can I create speed and impulsion without sacrificing balance when jumping a combination of bigger fences?

Answer by Linda Allen

A horse’s ability to jump a particular level of difficulty in competition depends on three different factors: natural jumping talent, experience in many different situations, and confidence level. For a horse/rider pair to successfully “move up” in the various sections offered at today’s competitions, a sufficient degree of all three components need to be present, otherwise even if the initial attempts go OK, things are likely to fall apart rather quickly.

Note that I refer to ’level of difficulty’ rather than simply ‘height’ because so many other factors enter into making a particular ‘height level’ more or less difficult. As a Course Designer, and competitor before that, I learned that those factors are most notably width, distances between fences, and technicality of the course. As the various sections advance in advertised height, all the other factors always advance as well, and it is usually the less obvious questions asked of a particular course that actually create the biggest challenges. In particular width, since few riders (other than the most experienced) pay much attention to this element. On the other hand, wider jumps are usually of more import to the horses since they have less room for error over wider spreads. The risk to them is loss of balance, which is a bigger concern to most horses than rolling a pole out of the cups.

In the higher sections the distances become more challenging as well since the normal lengthening of stride, or increase in speed, as they proceed around the course that is so common amongst less experienced riders becomes a bigger problem when the jumps are higher/wider and the distances between jumps more important.

Technicality in the courses refers to the placement of particular questions on the track; particularly how quickly they are presented, the variety of materials used in construction, and even the atmosphere that changes when your new section moves you into the main arena.

For a rider to confidently move up, they need to be sure of a few things. First that their horse has the ability, experience, and confidence to deal with whatever might come up. In general, the less experience the rider has, the more the horse should have. However, horses and riders who know each other well, and have been successful over a period of time in a lower section, should certainly be considering an upward move. This is provided proper preparation for the move is made at home and suitable events are selected for their first forays. Then be sure when training at home that both of you can effectively deal with whatever might come up when you are in competition. Doing well when everything is going just right is not so difficult. What makes a successful rider or horse is how well they cope with something that is not going exactly to plan. Can you feel that loss of impulsion before the double in time to fix if effectively? Does your horse have the experience and technique to deal with that short distance in front of the vertical in the jump-off? These are not critical when the jumps are tiny, but these finer points become more important as the courses become more demanding.

I have never believed it advantageous to always jump ‘your particular height’ at home schooling. Both horse and rider should always feel comfortable jumping occasional fences well above the height at which you are currently competing.  Just be sure that the larger and wider jumps are those with which both horse and rider will be confident and bold. Bigger jumps are no more difficult, it is just that any weaknesses which you can get away with (and might not even be aware of) over smaller jumps will become much more obvious. Always go back to basics—rhythm, pace, balance, and position—to strengthen them; never try to make big changes as you step up. Instead use what has worked well for you in the past, and if you find difficulties with larger fences, go back and correct what is weak for either you or your horse over smaller jumps.

A horse’s innate talent is usually much more than most riders are utilizing currently. Experience is something the horse either has when you first acquired him, or is something that they will get over time with a variety of different exercises in training, along with appropriate courses at shows. Confidence, for both horse and rider, is something that must be established and maintained so that rough spots can be dealt with, learned from, and shaken off. When both horse and rider have developed effective tools to deal with challenging situations, those situations become fewer, and performance becomes smoother and much more consistent.

Take it step by step and you’ll achieve goals you only dreamt of!

Bernie Traurig did another blog post on a similar issue called: “How to Overcome Nerves When Moving Up a Level and Jumping Bigger Jumps”

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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:

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Thanks to both, asking the question and Beautifully truthful and helpful answer. But there is also another side to this answer. I have been trying to change USEF and Zone Rules to help amateurs to move up as it is a HUGE gap between 1.10 and 1.20-1.25 as Linda pointed out. But current rules do not allow you to attempt 1.20m course if you successfully tackled the 1.10m at the same show or in opposite to step down if you need that confidence back. So many of us a “stuck” at Ch/Adult jumpers not feeling that there is a safer way to move up. Or now we have advanced A/O riders who had injured horse that are also stuck trying to get back in a swing of things but no safer way of moving to the next level. God forbid you have 2 horses then the other has to be pushed harder so you can show both of them at the same show and save on all the already large expenses.

  2. I had a wonderful horse who had gone indoors for equitation and won ribbons in FL in the juniors/3’6″. He had some mileage on his body and he was awesome at 3′. However, when trying to show 3’6″ he backed off so much and basically told us his 3’6″ days were over. The higher the jump, the less room for error. Wonderful article!!!

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