Q: I started competing in hunters last fall. During my over-fence classes, I have some problems with pace and missed distances. Is there some kind of checklist I should be going over in my head as I go around the course?
A: Putting together a course of jumps can seem complicated and overwhelming. By breaking it down into easy-to-remember concepts, you can analyze how it will ride and what you need to do to ride it well. The following steps will help you formulate a plan and solve problems as they arise.
Before jumping a course, though, it’s important to assess your position and skills to make sure that you’re ready to tackle courses. These basics give you the ability to positively influence your horse and allow him to do his job over each jump. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you able to keep your heels down over each jump with a stable leg position?
- Do you stay with your horse’s jump each time, grabbing mane if you need to?
- Can you regain your position between jumps so you can steer and adjust your horse’s pace?
- Can you get to the middle of jumps?
- Are you able to adjust your horse’s pace to slow down or speed up when you need to?
If any of these skills are lacking, spend some time solidifying them. The first three can be addressed by lots of work in your two-point position as well as without stirrups. The last two can be improved by work over ground poles or riding as if you were jumping: riding a track between standards, with or without ground poles, to practice adjusting your horse’s stride and your track without the added difficulty of jumping. Working with a qualified instructor will also help.
Once these things are in place, take time before your next jumping course to learn the nuances of it and make a detailed step-by-step plan of how you’ll ride it. Consider what types of questions are being asked and how your horse will respond. Not only do you need to learn the track and remember what jump comes next, you also need to understand how your horse will perform over that course of jumps on that day.
First, where are all the jumps located in the ring? Which direction are you jumping them? Some jumps will ride differently because of where they are placed in the ring. For instance, a jump at the far end of the arena may make your horse lose impulsion because he’s far from the in-gate and his horse friends, so he might need more support from your leg. For jumps that are at the end of the course and coming toward the in-gate, you might need to hold your horse’s stride together as he heads toward “home.”
As you formulate your plan, remember that everything you do influences what you’ll do next. How you ride the corner after your opening circle directly influences the way you’ll jump the first fence of a line. Your jump into a line influences the second jump of that line. Your turn coming off a line influences the second half of that turn, which then influences your next jump, and so on. Pay attention to each step, and a course becomes smaller with easier-to-tackle pieces that come together to form a flowing round.