Sticking The Landing
The question I am always asked is how do I stay on when my horses jump so big over the jumps. First, I must say I am so lucky to have such superfreaks in my life and they only jump like this because they are food motivated. They take after their rider! Just like my horses I love food, and just like my horses I am an overachiever which sometimes makes life difficult. My horses speak English and every time before they show I tell them that if they jump clean and are good they will get their special treats; they about eat me in their haste to eat their cookies. People laugh at me all the time asking if they understand and let me tell you, they totally do. My horses and I have full conversations.
I grew up riding Role Model and people used to say all the time that she looked so difficult to stay with, but the first horse I rode that really jumped me loose was Clever Girl (Clevi). She was a young mare we had bought as a broodmare and then within a year of starting to show she was very competitive at the 1.40m level. She was a special mare and I am excited for her daughter who I recently started. On that note though, I realized that if I wanted to give Clevi the ride she deserved I was going to need to get stronger. I was getting jumped loose and then didn’t get back into the saddle fast enough on the landing to be organized for the next jump. What’s more is that if I wanted her to keep jumping this good and trying so hard I had to stay with her in the air to give her the support she needed while at the same time not hanging onto her mouth. It is important for your seat and hand to be able to be independent of each other. You don’t have to be jumping big jumps to get jumped loose and it is important at all levels to be able to stay with your horse.
We hear it all the time that you have to be fit and you should work out to be a stronger rider but until this time I really didn’t accept or realize that. I rode a lot every day and did lots of barn work and I thought that was enough. I had worked out off and on but never really had the time or the energy to commit to it. I decided that I wanted to be the strongest rider I could be though, because I wanted to help the horse, not hinder it. Furthermore, it is doubly important when you have young horses that you stay with them because you have to help them with their balance and give them confidence. If I hang on their mouth or get left behind they are not going to want to jump the next jump and especially not in a confident, athletic manner. Usually, the first few times a young horse jumps they will jump really high because they are nervous and this is such a fragile time in their life. Then they will land on their front end unorganized and out of balance.
You have to be secure in your leg with your heel down, not pinching the knee, holding your core strong to hold your body in the air, looking forward because this does make a difference in your body position, with your hands keeping a slight feel on the horse’s mouth but not to the point where you are balancing off the mouth. I would rather see someone with their hands on the mane than pulling on the horse’s mouth. However, I think it is important to be strong in your seat and leg so that you can keep a slight feel of the horse’s mouth especially when they are young so that you can help them land balanced.
We expect our horses to be in peak condition and why should we accept less of ourselves. I am the first one to tell you that I know I could stand to lose a few, or several pounds, but beneath that I would like to think I am very physically strong and balanced. What really helped me to get this way was Pilates and Yoga and it is my go to workout whenever I can. When I cannot get to the gym I will do 15-20 minutes of exercises on my own. Pilates really taught me body control, helped with my balance, and it made my core very strong. People will say oh Pilates is a pansy workout, let me tell you, it is not. I never realized how strong it made me until I worked out with a personal trainer at the gym and he could not believe how strong I was and how easy everything was for me. Yoga makes me more supple in my body, which is so important for me because I am one of the tightest people ever. I think it is so important for riding to have a strong core because then it makes your back stronger and your seat more independent/balanced. In the air you want to be able to hold your body still and not be balancing off the horse’s mouth; a strong core makes this possible. When I hurt my back a year ago being fit, strong, and limber made my recovery so much faster.
Riding wise I think you can also do exercises to improve staying with your horse over the jumps. You can practice jumping without stirrups, or jumping with one hand behind your back to not have to balance off of the horse’s mouth but rather your seat.
I am definitely not perfect and my riding style is far from traditional but I always want to try to give my horses my all like they do for me. Even if you can’t fit in a workout you can still get stronger just by riding and I think the most important aspect is to be confident and positive about your riding. Believe in yourself.