Jumping is a thrilling equine sport, but just because you make it over a fence and land on the other side still astride your trusty steed doesn't always mean you are doing it right. Here are some fixes to the common mistakes riders are making in their jump position:
1. Chin Up
It is difficult not to look down at the fence you are sailing over or down at the horse's head and neck, but it is important to train yourself to keep your chin up. When you begin looking down, the rest of you body tends to follow. This results in hunched shoulders and rounded backs. The key to keeping your back flat and parallel to the horse's back during jump position, is to keep your chin up. Fix your eyes on something on the other side of the jump and don't look down. If you must glance down, just move your eyes; do not drop your chin.
2. Hands forward
While jumping, riders have a tendency to hold their horses back a lot and forget they need to slide their hands forward so the horse can have his head to stretch his neck as he is taking off over the fence. This is what we call a release. There are several different types of releases: half crest release, full crest release, automatic release, etc. Use the proper release for you, your horse, and the height of the fence.
Don't pull on your horse's mouth to keep your balance over a fence. That's what mane is for. To a certain degree when jumping, you need to allow your horse to do his thing. Staying in his mouth the whole time over a fence is prohibiting him from using his body properly and affecting his balance. Tie a ribbon in your horse's mane or braid a lock of it to give you a visual point to place your hands until releasing becomes a habit.
3. Hips back
This is the most common problem I see in jumpers. They throw themselves forward, pitching their hips over the pommel of the saddle when they get in jump position. This throws the rider and the horse off balance and causes more equitation problems. Your center of balance needs to remain over the horse's center of balance. This means your hips should hover over the seat/cantle of the saddle. (There are exceptions to this when jumping higher fences.)
Practice squats on the ground to simulate what your body should do in the saddle. A proper squat is executed by keeping your weight back on your heels with a soft bend to the knee. Your hips move back, while your upper body comes forward, almost parallel to the ground with your shoulder blades pinching together. Your knees should not come in front of your toes. That is incorrect. Squats are much the same as jump position.
I also encourage riders who get ahead of the horse to get in two point a few strides before the jump and hang out there. When the horse takes off, his neck will rise to meet you and all you need to do is release your hands. Get in position ahead of time, instead of throwing yourself on the horse's withers at the last second and overcompensating. Have some elasticity in your position as the horse jumps, but for the most part maintain your two point position.
Practice trotting and and cantering in two point with your arms out to the side like you are a bird. You will quickly figure out that if your hips are not back to balance the weight of your upper body when it leans forward, you will topple over onto your horse's neck.
4. Knees against the saddle
If a rider's knees and thighs are too loose, it causes the rider to stand in the stirrups. The lower leg then swings back too far and they are unable to keep their heels down. This puts the rider in a very off-balanced position. The upper leg helps keep you close to the saddle. If you do not have your legs against the saddle, you'll need to brace against the stirrups to stay with the horse as he jumps.
A good way to learn how to grip with your thighs is to practice jump position and take small fences without stirrups. Taking away the stirrups means you cannot brace against them. Practicing two point and jumping without stirrups will help you improve your balance and can fix a lot of equitation problems over fences.
You can also try placing a dollar beneath the inside of both your thighs, about several inches above your knees. Practice riding in two point and also while jumping and see how long you can keep the dollars in place. This will help you to remember to keep your upper leg against the saddle. If you lose a dollar, I recommend trying this with twenties or fifties. Or hundreds, if you've got them. You'll be more apt to try and hold on to those!
With these tips, you can be better balanced, have better equitation, and help your horse out over fences. Good luck!