Learning how to jump (from a horse)

Honestly, I am quite proud of me these days. Though I pretend to know some things about horse behavior and horse training - when it comes to jumping I am the biggest chicken you can think of. The biggest chicken on the most gentle and most obedient horse on earth
Few weeks ago when I was wondering how I could possibly improve my balance when riding I thought jumping might be a good idea. I haven't had a single jumping class in my whole life. But if I am not able to learn it on this horse, I will probably not learn it at all: My project horse is sure footed, gentle, no runaway and though he is not too enthusiastic about going - when it comes to jumping (at least if the obstacles are not too high) he livens up. So I thought, he can just as well teach me how to do it. 
Our deal: I steer him to the jump, tell him which gait to pick, try to stay on and he does the rest. I am not telling him how slow or how fast to canter and I do not regulate the length of his stride. That would be too much at the beginning for me. As he doesn't like to be nagged at and patronized anyway, that's also a nice division of labor.

Preparing for jumping on the best horse ever.
Foto: Marko
I started the jumping project with loosening my ankles and bouncing them in trot (my goal was to get my weight down in my heels in the stirrup instead of pushing me up with the balls of my feet when posting, what I tend to do and what is a nuisance). Next step was practicing the jumping style seat in trot and canter until I felt my balance nicely over our point of weight. Also a good exercise to gain better balance is to post the trot and stand two strides, sit one, and stand two strides again. This threw me off balance badly at first but I worked it out. 
Then, we started as wild as trotting and cantering over a pole lying on the ground. When I found that this wasn't too hard on him and on me, we graduated to a cavaletto. And honestly cantering over it took some courage on my part (yes, you may laugh now). But amazingly, after a few repetitions I felt pretty secure and in rhythm. Next step was a small jump (it was higher than my knee, which means it was still kind of low as I am short. But to me, it felt huge). The beginnings were awkward with me clinging to his neck, falling over in front or bumping in his back (sorry for that!). I clearly lacked preparation and I retreated to cantering over poles and cavaletti again, practicing the jumping seat. 

Yesterday, I thought I was ready to give it another try (the horse always is) and we made it over the small jump quite elegantly! We prepared again cantering over a cavaletto and then came the real jump. I did not jerk on the reins (I most of the time ride bitless), I did not bump in his back and I did not fall off! I actually felt quite balanced and the jump felt smooth too. 
I am not at a point where I can take jumping lessons yet. I think my horse is a far better teacher than any human (I don't want to be pushed and I don't want my horse to be pushed) and I will stick to our division of labor which is not the usual riding school approach - at least as far as I know. The horse prepares me quite well: I can tell when he is ready to jump, I like the way he accelerates before the obstacle and how he takes responsibility for his strides and sorts his legs. I often don't even have to steer him - he will prick his ears and head for the jump! 
I am grateful to have such a great teacher and I am confident that we can make it to even greater heights!

Do you have any tips to improve jumping and balance? I'd love to hear them!


  1. I grew up on a ranch and could jump anything, bareback with my arms straight out, but I knew to save my horse, and eventually myself I HAD to get instruction. There is a lot more to jumping than just going over something. Please, for the sake of your horse, get to a qualified instructor before you end up in a mess & one of you gets hurt, or worse!

  2. Hi there,I think you are right - we are responsible for our safety and the safety of the horse. So if I should decide I want to jump a course or become really serious I will get help. So far, I feel confident that the horse (who is actually quite experienced) and I can handle it pretty well. But if I feel that he (or me) is challenged I quit and get assistance. Thanks for reminding me - we shouldn't take that lightly. PS: My problem with jumping lessons is the way of teaching here. As a horsemanship person I am still quite lonely and I shun away from regular teachers as with them I feel endangered.