Carl Smallwood, Millbry Hill, is a keen show jumper. In this article, he gives his top tips for improving your showjumping performance.
Showjumping is one of the most popular equestrian disciplines. British Showjumping, the sport’s governing body in the UK, puts on over 4,000 shows each year, and over 1.2 million people in the UK visit the ten best-attended shows, according to their figures.
Showjumping holds a lot of prestige, and riders can compete at a variety of local and national levels, all the way up to Olympic events. While not everyone will be able to make it to the very top of the sport, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your performance.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking to improve, here are my five top tips for making your next big leap in show jumping.
Build jumping confidence at an early stage
If you’re riding a young horse or one that has little experience of jumping, it’s important to take the right steps when you begin training with them. Before you even start approaching fences, let your horse build its confidence with you riding it, then move onto jumps that are small enough not to cause any stress, reducing down to a ground pole if necessary. If they question a jump, approach again with a consistent rhythm and work onwards from this. This way, you can slowly introduce a jumping mentality without putting you or your horse at risk of stress or injury.
Get your own form right
While it’s important to get your horse jumping, it’s vital that you get your own form right too. Your position and weight distribution can have a major impact on the success of a jump — especially if you are riding a particularly sensitive horse who can tell when something is off.
Aim to stay balanced with your heels and lower legs providing grip, and practice switching between a light seat and sitting to give your horse the freedom of movement it needs. When they jump, be sure to follow them through the air with your upper body and arms, even if the jump is off. This way you can make the action as comfortable and painless as possible for your horse, and an aversion to fences is less likely to become deep rooted.
Practice shortening and lengthening strides
As you tackle different show jumping courses, you will need to be able to adapt to different distances between fences as you go. The ability to switch between long and short canters with your horse, as well as moving forwards and backwards within each, will give you the flexibility that you need to tackle any layout. You can practice this during flatwork sessions by opening your horse up and bringing them back on a regular basis to get them used to the routine. Soon, you should be able to perform these switches simply by changing your position.
Don’t push your horse too hard in training
While it’s good to have some momentum in training so you’re learning new things, it’s important that you aren’t always looking to progress, and that you make time for revising the basics. Train progressively: if you move onto cantering jumps one day, be sure to revisit trot jumps when building up to them in the next session. Don’t neglect the steps you’ve covered previously.
Between competitions, make sure that you don’t push your horse too hard by making them attempt high jumps when you are training. Instead, make use of cavaletti to create jumps where you can adjust the height and length without putting your horse through the unnecessary stress of a high fence. This can help to avoid any injury or fear developing in your training sessions.
Always walk the course before riding it
Before you begin your ride, make sure to walk the course yourself. This can help you map out the route in your head, as well as formulate a plan for your horse. Pay attention to the distances between each fence and where you will need to corner, while trying to judge what pace you need to approach particular stages at. This can help you prepare for your ride and create a strategy that will play to you and your horse’s strengths.
Take these five tips on board when you are preparing for your next show jumping event and you will be able to boost your performance on the day. Keep at it and you and your horse will become much more attuned to clearing those fences.