Working Equitation Jump Training

Working Equitation offers a small jump obstacle.  In this article we will  reveal a proven method to safely introduce Jump Training to your horse.

By Jody Marken

Photos by Elaine Lozada

This article focuses on key ideas to create a solid foundation and offer a positive introduction to jumping with your horse.  We will not concentrate on the quality of the horse’s jumping style, but rather on the safety and presentation of starting your horse over low Working Equitation jumps and your ability to go with him. It is our responsibility to always practice good horsemanship and realize that each horse has an individual learning style.  Horses have a natural ability to jump – if something in their environment gets in their way and they need to get to the other side, they will jump it.

Introducing Jump Training

If you are going to effectively work with your horse and introduce him to jumps, the following exercises/principles need to make sense to you, so that you will present them to your horse in a way that he will understand.  You need to stay in your comfort zone, use good judgment and be patient and clear with your directions.  If you methodically teach this progression with kindness and if you do the best preparation work – you will end up with a confident, willing and happy horse who understands your direction.  You will also be able to have fun doing something different with your horse.  It is helpful to work with an instructor/helper/ground person when introducing jumps to your horse.

This article will focus on a few principles that form the basis of much of our riding:  rhythm, relaxation, impulsion and straightness combined with varying speed, direction and destination.

Ground Work Preparation

You can certainly teach your horse to jump without introducing it from the ground first, but groundwork offers a fun opportunity to build your relationship with your horse and recognize subtle changes in his expression.

Photo 1; Jody is introducing her OTTB to jumps by working him online through a progressive series of obstacles.
Photo 1  Jody is introducing her OTTB to jumps by working him online through a progressive series of obstacles.

If you do ground work with your horse online there are a few exercises that will help him learn how to think for himself and find his balance and timing when approaching and going over an obstacle.  Your horse should accept your leadership and guidance on a circle – to go forward, travel on a straight line, move his hindquarters/front quarters, yield etc.  It helps to prepare him so that you can send him over something (send over versus lead over).

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Photo 2  Jody is helping her horse to maintain his direction and impulsion, allowing him to take the time and figure out what to do with his body parts while building his confidence.
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Photo 3  Note the softness on the line and the horse’s expression.

To teach your horse about obstacles from the ground, you need at least a 12 foot halter rope/line.  You can start with a single ground pole on your circle and encourage your horse to go straight over the middle of the ground pole.  If you can control your horse, a longer line will enable you to make the circle large enough to maintain your horse’s forward movement and give your horse enough time to be straight on the approach.  When your horse is following your direction and going quietly forward over the obstacle, you can increase to a trot and then progress to building a larger obstacle.  When working the horse on a line the jump must be something without high standards on the side, or your line will get caught on the standards.  Some inviting options include low free-standing cavaletti, telephone pole, log, flower boxes, small walls etc.  Train to approach the obstacle from both directions.  If you have a methodical, positive progression for exposing your horse to obstacles  you will create a confident horse that is willing to pop over whatever is in front of him.  Your goal would be for him to go forward (not fast!) quietly, and  to look  where he is going.  Upon landing, he should go basically straight and  forward  with control.

In The Saddle

You should be constantly working on solidifying and strengthening your position (seat, legs, hands) on the horse.  Your position should be secure, yet flexible when riding transitions from one gait to another and when changing speeds within the gait – always trying to harmonize with your horse’s natural quality of movement.  For jumping, you need to follow your horse with your body and hands and not interfere with his jumping effort.

Photo 4; Lisa is demonstrating the 3 point (normal) position at the halt
Photo 4  Lisa is demonstrating the 3 point (normal) position at the halt

When a horse jumps, they rock back on their hindquarters so that they can lift and clear the obstacle with their front end, and then follow with their hind end off the ground.  As riders, we need to find our point of balance on the horse and follow their center of gravity so that we don’t balance on the horse’s mouth (pull on the reins) and that we don’t come down on their back or fall forward on their neck.

It is important to practice the jumping position, half seat or 2 point position. This position is easier to perform in an English saddle, but can be accomplished in any saddle.   Your stirrups need to be short enough to support this position. You should have a secure leg underneath you (the base of your support with weight in your heels and the appropriate distribution of contact with your leg). See Photo 5

Photo 5; Lisa is then demonstrating the 2 point (jumping) position by closing her hip angle and sliding her hands up the crest of the horse’s neck.
Photo 5  Lisa is then demonstrating the 2 point (jumping) position by closing her hip angle and sliding her hands up the crest of the horse’s neck.

Starting at the halt, try to get in this position.  As you bend forward at your hip and close your hip angle, you will need to slide your hands forward on the crest of your horse’s neck and grab some of his mane. See Photo 6. Watch that you don’t just round your back and extend your arms at your shoulders, but instead keep your elbows bent and close your hip angle so that your upper body is forward but remains tall with chest up, shoulders back and eyes ahead.

It is helpful to be able to ride securely in this position at the walk, trot and canter and to have smooth transitions

Photo 6; Note that her leg maintains a secure foundation and her upper body remains tall with eyes forward.
Photo 6  Note that her leg maintains a secure foundation and her upper body remains tall with eyes forward.

between the 3 point (normal) position and the 2 point (jumping) position. It is also helpful to practice sliding your hands up and back along the crest of your horse’s neck while maintaining your balance (hands operating independently). Using the crest of the horse’s neck and grabbing the mane is very important so that you don’t balance  on the horse’s face and so that you can stay off his back. You want to be able to push your knuckles into your horse’s neck (which is the beginning of learning how to release and follow over the top of a jump) so that your horse has the freedom to use his head, neck and body and you do not interfere by holding onto his face.  If you practice sliding your hands forward, grabbing some mane and then pushing  your knuckles into your horse’s neck versus grabbing the mane and pulling backward, you will be better able to stay with your horse.

Riding To The Jump

After you have practiced the jumping position at all gaits and transitions, you can progress to going over a single pole on the ground. Your approach to a jump is critical to your success at the jump. Ride a nice corner, look ahead where you are going (destination), direct your horse in a straight line and before you get to the pole, get in your jumping position, slide your hands forward up the crest and grab some mane.

Photo 7: Lisa is demonstrating the 2 point (jumping position) as she approaches a pile of poles. Note that she is staying tall and balanced with her upper body (without getting ahead of her horse) and her hands are sliding forward up the crest of her horse’s neck to give her horse freedom and not interfere with his mouth.
Photo 7  Lisa is demonstrating the 2 point (jumping position) as she approaches a pile of poles. Note that she is staying tall and balanced with her upper body (without getting ahead of her horse) and her hands are sliding forward up the crest of her horse’s neck to give her horse freedom and not interfere with his mouth.

As you go over the pole, practice staying with your horse and pressing your knuckles into your horse’s neck (as you are grabbing the mane). You should also be steering, as needed, so that your horse goes straight and maintains his forward motion. Practice first at the walk, then the trot and/or canter.

You can practice gaining confidence in this position and helping your horse understand that he needs to maintain his rhythm, stay quiet and relaxed and that you will guide him through the best corner to ride the line and then continue over the pole and ride the line to the end of the arena or area to finish your line. It is important to present the obstacle to the horse on a straight line and leave the obstacle on a straight line so that the horse can plan and balance himself. As you become more comfortable approaching the pole, you can build the single pole to a pile of poles (3 poles stacked) and ride the corner to the line again with straightness, rhythm, relaxation and impulsion, getting into your jumping position before the pile of poles and grabbing mane and staying up there until you land from the poles. See Photo 7

Photo 8: Lisa is demonstrating the 2 point (jumping position) as she goes over a series of trotting poles. Note that she is guiding her horse in a straight line over the poles while maintaining her position and following her horse’s movement.
Photo 8  Lisa is demonstrating the 2 point (jumping position) as she goes over a series of trotting poles. Note that she is guiding her horse in a straight line over the poles while maintaining her position and following her horse’s movement.

It is just fine if your horse trots right over the pole or pile of poles (and does not put in a jumping effort). You can also set up 4 or 5 cavaletti (single poles on the ground about 4’ apart for trotting poles) and work over those to maintain your horse’s rhythm and to stay with your horse as he picks up his feet over the poles. See Photo 8

Time To Jump!

With the help of an instructor, you can then progress to a cross rail jump (a jump with 2 poles between 2 standards that looks like an X). Your instructor might have you go over the trotting poles first with a set distance between the last pole and the cross rail jump. As you approach the jump at the trot, maintain all the basics that you have been working on (rhythm, relaxation, straightness, impulsion, stability and balance in your jumping position, grabbing the mane, looking ahead at your destination etc). A few strides before the jump, increase your leg pressure to keep your horse’s impulsion and energy up over the jump and try to land in the canter, then canter away. If you do this while maintaining a straight line it will encourage his jumping effort.  You will be working on maintaining your position over the top of the jump to stay with your horse.  You do not want to be left behind, nor do you want to get ahead and anticipate the jump. Excess movement on your part will affect your horse’s balance and interfere with his quiet approach. You only need to slightly close your hip angle and stay tall. You should not throw your upper body at his neck, but let his jumping effort close the angle appropriately. On landing from the jump, it is important to maintain your tall upper body position, eyes forward, hands balancing on the horse’s neck and to use your joints (elbows, hips, knees, ankles) as shock absorbers. See Photos 9, 10, 11

Photo 9.
Photo 9

Lisa is demonstrating a perfectly balanced position as she lands.   Note that her eyes are forward, her upper body is tall, her hands are still grabbing the mane to not interfere with her horse’s head as he jumps and lands from the jump, her leg is maintaining a secure foundation underneath her and that she is following her horse (not ahead or behind) and allowing him to happily canter on to whatever is next.

Photo 10
Photo 10

If you do not have poles and jump standards, you can build something with poles and blocks and/or use a small log to jump over. The jump should be safe and inviting for the horse. The jump will ultimately need to be interesting enough for your horse to jump over it.

Photo 11.
Photo 11.

If your horse knocks it down, it is no big deal, have your helper set it again so that you can keep your momentum. Repeat this sequence until both you and your horse are confident and comfortable. Know when to stop the exercise and reward your horse’s positive attitude. I encourage you to stay at the trot on your approach to jumps as it will help give your horse enough time to focus and figure out his timing and where to put his feet.

With the help of an instructor, you can also build a gymnastic or a progressive combination of jumps with the striding pre-set for your horse. This exercise will help him figure out his striding and ultimately take off from the canter. The gymnastic will also help you find the rhythm, timing and feel of the jumps.

When teaching your horse anything new, you are looking for the try. Make sure that you reward his try and don’t overexpose your horse. You ultimately want a horse with heart – a horse that wants to do his job and that will fill in for you when needed. Start small and have fun!  The Working Equitation Jump is fun and adds excitement for both horse and rider!!

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