A good jumping technique is essential for a show jumper or eventer to achieve success in top level competitions. It is important for a rider and trainer to understand the horse’s jumping technique as this allows any adjustments and improvements to be made early in the horse’s training programme. Good technique leads to better feel and correctness for the rider, complements training techniques and programmes, improves overall performance, and if the horse is less likely to knock fences down it is less likely to injure itself or the rider.
Most show jumping riders and trainers will assess the jumping technique of a horse both loose and with a rider. This can be done at any age or level of training, from the natural raw talent of unbroken youngsters to international level show jumpers. It is useful for a rider or trainer to observe any improvement or deterioration of jumping technique following the original assessment; which could be due to factors such as improved performance or indicate that the horse is in pain.
When studying the jumping technique of the horse, it is necessary to note how the shoulders and hindquarters are lifted, and how the horse lifts and bends the knees and hocks. If the horse consistently drops the knees, or lets one hang down it is difficult to perfect the technique, although the defect can be lessened with training. This is important from a safety aspect as a horse will tend to revert to its natural way in moments of crisis, which is the very moment when perfect technique is needed to get the horse and rider out of trouble (Wallace, 1994).
Some equestrian disciplines can accommodate a poor jumping technique, for example cross country, hunting, point to point and national hunt racing can all make use of a horse that brushes the top of a fence, whereas success at showjumping requires a horse with near perfect jumping technique.
Many event horses do not have as good a jumping technique as showjumpers, as it is more important for them to be bold and fast they often find the showjumping phase of the competition particularly difficult (Pilliner, Elmhurst & Davies, 2002). It is rare to find a horse bold enough to jump an imposing cross country fence, yet careful enough never to touch a coloured pole (Wallace, 1994).
Much of the training that is done with the showjumping horse will benefit the cross-country horse; however each discipline requires a different technique. Individual trainers will therefore adopt different methods of improving jumping technique to a standard which suits their own needs.
Most trainers recognise that the sequence of jumping can be divided into five phases; approach, take-off, airborne, landing and get away (Pilliner, Elmhurst & Davies, 2002). Phases 1, 2, 4 and 5 can be influenced and controlled by the rider and by training to some extent. Phase 3 is the moment of suspension and is largely down to the horse’s basic instinctive jumping technique.
Jumping technique is a broad and extensive subject that includes many problem areas such as rushing, refusing or running out, taking off too far away or too deep, drifting, and pecking on landing.