Step-By-Step Guide to Jumping a Horse
Jumping is perhaps one of the most exciting things you can do when horseback riding. That being said, it can be a very technical sport that requires skill and knowledge from both horse and rider. In this article, I’ll walk you through how to get started with jumping!
How do you jump a horse? When jumping a horse, the rider will need to get in the two-point position in order to stay balanced over the horse and enable the horse to move freely over the jump. To start jumping, you should practice your jump position at a walk, trot, and canter. When it’s time to jump, begin with low cross rails to help you build confidence and skill.
When it comes to learning how to jump a horse, it’s best to have an instructor teach you the process so that you can be safe and develop good techniques from the get-go. With all that said, this article is meant to supplement the knowledge you will gain from your instructor. Read on to learn more about how to jump a horse!
Before You Start Jumping a Horse:
While you may be excited to start jumping, there are some things you need to take into consideration before doing so. Follow these tips to ensure you are ready to start jumping!
Have Someone With You
While horseback riding, in general, has its risks, jumping poses a higher level of potential danger. Not only are the horse and rider hurdling over an object, but jumping also adds an element of choice for your horse. Ultimately, the horse can choose whether or not to go over the jump. All of these circumstances increase the risk for the rider.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to have someone around when you practice jumping. This could be your instructor, a friend, or a family member. Another benefit to having them around is they can set up and fix jumps for you if need be!
Always Wear a Helmet
As I mentioned in the previous point, jumping introduces more safety risks to the rider. Wearing an approved ASTM riding helmet when jumping a horse is vital to your health and safety. Even if you feel secure and confident on a horse, you never know when accidents might occur. I like to compare wearing a helmet to having insurance. When everything is going well, you may wonder why you need it, but when things go bad, you’re thankful to have it!
Make Sure You’re Comfortable at the Walk, Trot, and Canter First
Before you start jumping, make sure you are comfortable at the walk, trot, and canter first. If you’ve taken the time to train and hone your skills at these gaits, you should have developed someone of an independent seat for jumping. This means that you should have been able to build muscles and balance you need to properly jump and not get thrown off balance. If you don’t yet feel comfortable at the walk, trot, or canter, I recommend you continue to work at these gaits until you feel confident in your abilities.
Thoroughly Warm Up Your Horse
I’ve covered how to keep yourself safe when jumping; now I want to talk about how to keep your horse safe. Jumping requires agility, finesse, and skill from your horse. While horses were designed to jump great heights, doing it repeatedly can pose a risk of injury and stress to their bodies.
One of the best ways to reduce your horse’s risk of injury when jumping is to properly warm them up. Spend 15 – 20 minutes on flatwork, walking, trotting, and cantering, before you start jumping. For your first few jumps of the day, start off with something lower and easy to help your horse get in the mindset of jumping before moving on to doing a course or bigger jumps.
By designating time for a good warm-up, you’re giving your horse’s muscles time to warm up and stretch before they are suddenly thrown into the cardio of jumping a course.
Riding Position for Jumping a Horse:
Perhaps the most important thing you need to know when it comes to jumping a horse is the rider position. The correct riding position will enable the horse to move freely over the jump as well as secure the rider’s balance over the horse. This position is known as “two-point.”
What is Two-Point?
When naturally sitting on a horse, you will have three points of contact with your horse. This includes your seat, your legs, and your reins. In the two-point position, you only have two points of contact: your legs and reins. That means that you are removing the contact of your seat by getting your bottom out of the saddle. Let’s break down the two-point position further.
Leg Position for Two-Point
To remove your seat contact in the two-point position, you are going to stand slightly in your stirrups. You should keep the bend in your knee to encourage yourself to move with the motions of the horse. Your weight should be down in your heels, with your heel continuing to stay under your hip to maintain balance.
When it comes to jumping, you will usually want to ride in shorter stirrups. This will give you as the rider more mobility so you can move with your horse. A good rule of thumb for jumping-length stirrups would be for the stirrup to hit at your ankle bone if your feet were dangling by your horse’s side.
Core Position for Two-Point
When jumping, the rider will bend at their waist in order to maintain balance over the horse’s barrel. If you didn’t bend your waist and stayed sitting up straight in the saddle over the jump, your balance would be thrown backyard.
The correct two-point position requires a closed waist, where you’re simply going to close the angle of the waist rather than completely bending it at a 90° angle to where you would then be laid on the horse’s neck. If you did this, you would throw your balance forward rather than keeping it over the barrel of your horse.
Hand Position for Two-Point
When jumping a horse, if you kept your hands in normal riding position, you’d end up catching your horse in the mouth and yanking on the bit. Instead, what you should do is move your hands about mid-way up your horse’s neck and rest them there.
If you do this at a standstill, you may feel that you need to bend slightly at the waist to do this; that’s exactly right! By moving your hands up, you will automatically get the correct bend in your waist for two-point. Don’t forget to still keep your thumbs up and shoulders back, even in a jumping position.
How to Jump a Horse:
Now it’s time to jump! It’s best to have your riding instructor with you the first time you jump so that they can walk you through the process in real-time and give you any advice you may need to make it a safer and more positive experience. This is how the process may go:
Start With a Cross Rail
For your first few jumps, your instructor will probably set up cross rails. A cross rail is a type of jump where two poles form an “X” for you to jump over. This type of jump is inviting to both the horse and rider because it helps the horse aim for the center of the jump. You won’t have to focus so much on steering; instead, you can focus on just getting over the jump.
Trot Your First Jump
For your first jump, your instructor will probably have you trot the jump. When trotting, it’s easier to prepare and approach a jump. When cantering jumps, you have to worry about striding and your take-off spots. Trotting will be a good introduction.
Ride to the Jump Already in Your Two-Point
At this point, you’ve already practiced your two-point. For your first jump, it’s best to approach the jump already in your two-point. This way, you don’t have to worry about repositioning yourself or getting off-balance over the jump. All you’ll have to do is hold on!
How to Canter a Jump
Once you’ve gotten comfortable trotting jumps, you’ll move on to cantering them. I recommend going through the same steps we’ve just covered and apply them to cantering. Start off by jumping cross rails. Approach the jump already in your two-point so all you have to worry about is staying on the horse.
As you get more comfortable jumping, you’ll develop an independent seat and feel more confident without these steps. These steps are designed to give you stability in the saddle and confidence in your abilities as you learn how to jump.
Want to know the best horse breeds for jumping? Visit my article 8 Top Horse Breeds for Jumping (Picked By an Equestrian).
Helpful Tips When Jumping a Horse:
Throughout my years of jumping, I’ve come across some helpful tips that I would like to share with you!
Believe it or not, horses can feel the smallest movement from their riders. Horses are also prey animals and are naturally skeptical of new objects, situations, and animals. All that said, where your eyes are pointing as you ride can determine how your horse responds to things.
If you’re riding up to a jump and looking directly at it, the horse can feel where your gaze is. Sensing that you’re looking at the jump and wary will make them start to wonder if they should be worried about the jump as well. This may increase your horse’s chance of stopping at the jump.
Even if you feel nervous about a jump, always try to look up and past the jump. This will communicate confidence to your horse, as your body language will show that you’re not so worried about getting over the jump. When all else fails, look up!
I like to refer to grabbing mane as the seat belt of horseback riding. Grabbing mane is exactly as it sounds… it’s when you grab your horse’s mane and hang on! While horses can feel when their hair is pulled out, they don’t really feel pain if you’re just grabbing and holding onto their mane. It’s also really hard to pull out a chunk of horse mane with your bare hands, so don’t worry about that.
If you’re going over a jump and you feel a bit unstable or unsure of your security in the saddle, you can grab onto the horse’s mane to stabilize your hands. By stabilizing your hands over the jump, you stay out of the horse’s mouth and secure yourself from throwing your balance backward. I can’t tell you how many times grabbing mane has saved me from falling off over a jump!
Fold Your Elbows In, Not Out
Here’s an equitation note for you; as you go over a jump and the horse comes up to you, fold your elbows in at your sides rather than out at a weird angle. Firstly, folding your elbows in looks better than the latter; secondly, it can also help to secure your upper body over the jump.
How to Tell Your Horse When to Jump
As you learn to jump, you’ll often hear instructors say something along the lines of “tell your horse to take off here.” Well…how exactly do you do that? When it comes to encouraging your horse when to take off and jump, your legs are your best friend. When you get to your spot, you can squeeze with your lower leg to let the horse know this is where you plan on taking off.
Count Your Strides
One of the most frustrating aspects of jumping is trying to find your strides when cantering jumps. Taking off long to a jump or taking off short to a jump is not only uncomfortable but could also be dangerous.
Counting your strides as you approach the jump can help you see where you will be taking off so that you can adjust accordingly. Lining up to your jump, start counting your horse’s strides about 5 strides out. You can even count them out loud. This will help you find the rhythm of your horse’s movements so you’ll be able to visually plan where your horse will have to take off.
I hope this article will be helpful to you when it comes to learning how to jump! If you plan on competing in jumping classes, I have an article that explains everything you need to know about showjumping: Show Jumping for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know.