This week I’ve been a bit mean to a couple of clients and pushed them out of their comfort zones whilst jumping by taking their reins away.
Both riders have quite a nice jumping position over fences and are looking stable, but I felt that both pushed their weight onto their toes slightly, letting the heels rise and weight tip forwards. Obviously this puts them in a compromising position should the horse chip in or refuse. Plus I want to start jumping both of them over larger fences and challenge them more, which means I need to be confident in their stability and balance in the saddle, and also know that they aren’t going to upset the balance of their horse or interfere with his head and neck.
One of my riders had ridden bounces before, so I set up a row of four and we rapidly built them up until they were jumping through nicely. I told her to focus on the weight staying in her heels, with the stirrup leather staying vertical and her leg not swinging back. This rider can sometimes throw herself forwards over fences and be a bit slow to get back into the saddle, so we also worked on not folding quite so much, and using the tummy muscles to really push herself back upright.
Once the bounces were flowing nicely, and my rider was less reliant on her hands resting on the horse’s neck as she jumped we started taking hands away. Having never done it before we did just one hand first. Simply holding it out as she jumped the grid. Once she was happy with both hands independently out to the side she jumped the grid with both arms held horizontally out to the side.
After a few times my rider could feel the increased stability in her lower leg, and wasn’t being quite so dramatic in her jumping position so looked much more secure. When we took the reins back she remained balanced with no reliance on her hands, and most importantly she knew exactly which muscles had worked hard – suggesting that they’re usually quite lazy!
My next victim, I mean rider, this week hadn’t actually done bounces before, but this exercise was as much about confidence boosting as it was improving her position.
I only used two bounces, explained the principle, and ran through the exercise until she had got the hang of folding very quickly between the fences. Her horse soon told her if she was relying on her hands by throwing his head in the air, but using the breastplate to wrap her fingers around a couple of times, and switching on the core muscles, she found the rhythm.
As I had with the other rider, we jumped the two bounces with one hand out until she was confident and then we moved onto jumping without both hands. She could feel and see how her weight had to stay over the withers to keep her in balance, and her horse jumped more fluidly without the interference of her hands.
After taking back the reins, they finished over a bigger upright, looking much more secure and feeling more confident.
Jumping without reins is an excellent way to improve core stability over fences, improve confidence of both horse and rider, and secure the lower leg over fences. Give it a go, doing as many jumps as you feel comfortable with, and you’ll soon notice a difference!