Here is some advice for how to prepare yourself and your horse to jump, if you are a novice at this. The key to successful jumping on horseback is maintaining the right balance throughout the ascent and descent. This is not only for your own safety but it is also so that you do not interfere with your horse's natural movement. Begin your jumping training by practising riding up and down a gentle slope. The beauty of this method is that it mirrors the ascent and descent of a jump, but, because you are at a walk, it gives you sufficient time to practise adjusting and achieving the right balance.
For rising trot and for jumping the weight needs to be kept through your legs. This means that the lower leg should remain vertical, with the knee in line with the ball of the foot. If you do this, it should be possible to maintain your balance during both the ascent and descent of the hill, even if your legs are not in contact with the horse's sides. Don’t make the mistake of using strong inward pressure with your legs in an attempt to stay balanced. If you try to grip the horse's sides as he/she moves up the hill, then your lower leg will no longer stay vertical but will stay at a right angle to the bodyline of the horse – it will be too far forwards and you may tip backwards. Likewise as you walk down the hill, your lower leg will be too far back. This will both restrict the horse's movement on the ascent and potentially tip you forwards, causing insecurity to your seat and balance on the descent.
For the beginner, jumping small banks is a real confidence booster. It splits the phases of a jump into two. You therefore have the opportunity to get used to the first half of a jump – going up the bank – and then the second half of the jump – going down the bank. Initially hold on to the pommel if you need to. Keep a long rein, so that your horse is free to move and concentrate on keeping a consistent balance with your weight through your legs and your heels staying lower than your toes. Practise jumping up and down the bank and repeat this until you feel secure in the saddle.
As you walk up and down the slope, concentrate on staying in harmony with the movement of the horse, and keep your weight through your legs and heels down. Maintain a steady, soft rein contact, allowing your horse's head to move freely. Once you are able to keep your balance in walking up and down the hill, repeat the exercise in trot and canter – everything will happen more quickly and will be more similar to the speed of an actual jump. Then progress to jumping up and down a little bank as a good preparation to jumping your first fence.
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