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The "first jump"/"single jump" problem

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  • The "first jump"/"single jump" problem

    I have not been jumping regularly for the last 3 years (multitude of reasons), but this year, since about Feb., I've been restarting myself from scratch. I have some competence and muscle memory in there, but the mental part has always been the most difficult for me. If I'm not jumping once a week or more, I lose my rhythm and confidence very quickly. So I started small with gymnastics and was able to comfortably get around a 2'11" "fun day" course a couple months ago.

    I've had most of the last month off, so I'm back to having the yips, but schooling today had a little epiphany. My problem on courses when I was last competing regularly was that I would pull a rail in one of the first two jumps before I could relax and find my flow on course. I've been having similar problems this year "starting over", biffing the approach to a single jump or the first jump in a gymnastic line. But the fun day course was no problem at all, even though it was bigger than I've been jumping regularly and had some challenging sections.

    The realization was that I don't have problems on courses after the first jump or two because after that, I'm thinking at least one jump ahead of where I am, so don't make over-controlling or second-guessing types of mistakes. When I'm schooling single jumps at home, I don't have that distraction - unless I find ways to make it for myself, like jump->circle, jump->rollback, jump-> flying change, etc.

    So I guess the question here is "Is this normal?" Can anyone recommend other strategies for dealing with it?

  • #2
    How much work are you doing to make sure you have a good canter before the first jump? With some horses/riders, it can really help if you do a lengthen and shorten canter before you approach the first jump.

    I was also recently reading in an article in HorseSport, where they discuss looking at the landing spot of the jump instead of the back rail. It is supposed to help second guessing the distance.

    You may also want to consider distracting yourself by counting to the jump (one, two, one, two) or otherwise occupying your brain so you don't overthink
    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


    • Original Poster

      Originally posted by CHT View Post
      How much work are you doing to make sure you have a good canter before the first jump? With some horses/riders, it can really help if you do a lengthen and shorten canter before you approach the first jump.
      On a course, hard to say, but I will keep that in mind and try to practice adding that to the starting circle. Schooling, that's like 90% of what jump schooling is to me. Well ok, maybe 60% developing the canter, 30% tuning my position (and his responsiveness to it), and 10% actually jumping. Warm-ups, lower all those % a bit to make room for managing show nerves.


      • #4
        I wouldn't do the lengthen/shorten on a circle. I would to it going large around the arena while the horse is straight. If you are always doing a circle before you aim at the first jump, that might be part of the issue. It can be hard to get a good rhythm and straight horse on a circle...and these are the top two elements of a good jump.
        Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


        • Original Poster

          I meant at a show. You can't go around the arena before the first jump on course can you? I'm a LL eventer and I don't think I've seen anyone do this in my divisions. I don't know if we have different rules.

          Eta: I've also accidentally circled through the start line and gotten faults from that before.


          • #6
            I think this is very common..... it's your pace. At horse shows the first jump is often deep or long because of pace. Practice over poles making sure you have the correct pace. I have heard "bouncing rubber ball" from a wonderful trainer and I still replay that in my head when I first pick up my canter...... Don't over think; be connected and have the right canter that is adjustable and balanced......
            If you like the distance you see; continue forward. If you don't; stay still and the shorter distance works out. ~GM~


            • #7
              No you can’t go around the ring in a judged class IF there a line posted on your course diagram, if there’s not, you can swing it out past the first fence..,assuming that first fence is going away from the gate ( smart course designers often have the first fence on the first course coming back towards the gate in Ammy classes).

              But you can get a good gallop going when you are 2 trips out in the schooling ring then go directly to that in gate and DO NOT stand there waiting. If you need to watch a few trips, do it before you gallop and review your course with trainer before as well. We all fall into a trap warming up then standing at the gate so the horse falls back asleep then trot in and try to get going. Please don’t say you can’t because there’s other horses the ring, figure out how to extend that horse for 15 or 20 stride before you go in and don’t stop and stand. It’s a Hunter course, the flowers are on the take off side and there should be 8 jumps and you should be counting the same cadence all the way around, not just down the lines. Thats your job, horse will find everything.

              When schooling at home, dont do your flat work then stop, then walk around, then stand around talking to a trainer, then pickup a canter directly to your jumps. That doesn’t work. You need to treat the jump as part of your canter flatwork, not as a totally seperate exercise..after he’s already getting tired-and bored.

              Get your canter BEFORE you go into the corner, not after coming out of it looking at the jump. Carry a stick and use it, get and keep that canter, commit to that every time you ride. Lose the OMG a jump, retrain your mind and’s a canter stride. Get the canter, keep it, let the horse find the jump. Don’t fiddle and take it away from the horse on the way to the jump.

              Try closing your eyes 3 strides out. Really. The only way I could ever find that dreaded single oxer on the diagonal away from the gate was to keep horse ahead of leg into and around corner, look way up over jump off the corner, plant my hands on the neck and close my eyes 3 strides out. Try it. There every time,

              Thought of something else that might help. Watch the better Pros warm up and get into the ring. Rarely see them standing around the gate with the reins dropped. If they are there, that horse is on contact, maybe doing a little rein back, little side to side leg to hand. Tap on the butt as they go in. And they go right in and they get moving into a good , brisk trot, then drop to full seat for a stride and drive the horse directly into a good, forward canter. No piddly poking around. They get on it. They do not bore the judge to sleep before getting to the first fence. They SHOW the horse from the first step in that ring. That’s your goal.
              Last edited by findeight; Sep. 15, 2019, 12:33 PM.
              When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

              The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


              • #8
                Hold it. You event! Where else can you have a 1/4 mile gallop to a single oxer in the middle of nowhere? You should have singles down. ;-)

                On a serious note, first fence as others are noting, is set up the moment you enter the ring. You create the impulsion and response to the leg in the open tour/circle. You aren't out there just to dilly around. Go in the ring with a plan. Stop riding the fences and ride the line (even a single fence has a line to be ridden, that's why you walk courses or watch previous rides).

                Before I even enter the ring, I note where the judge is so I go immediately there, salute the judge and get their approval to continue (yes I am OLD school). Then I go directly to work in the canter until the buzzer sounds. Why do I salute? Because it is a moment you are telling the judge and YOURSELF that you are ready to go on course. I use this as my moment to be sure my head is in the game.

                Given there is no line in stadium in eventing, make your opening tour as big as you need, just don't break the start timers.


                • #9
                  Agree with everyone who says that first jump problems are usually related to a lack of a good canter/pace. I used to start every [jumper, not event/stadium] class by walking through the in gate, then immediately picking up a full on gallop. Then halt, back up a few steps, and then right to the canter. Yes, you have to pay attention to where starting lines are. But usually there's room for at least a few steps of gallop. On rare occasion I would do my gallop in the warmup ring first. The key is to establish a pace that's more than you need which can help "trick" you into picking up a much better canter to fence one.
                  Flying F Sport Horses
                  Horses in the NW


                  • Original Poster

                    RAyers, it's even more complicated than that. I'm *actually* a dressage rider who has been taking a few years "off" to event. I do not have an eventer's boldness or bravery. Anything I'm capable of doing xc (and most of what I can do in SJ) comes from some good experiences I had when living in Germany as a postdoc. Current horse, I took from 0 to Training level myself right after moving back to the states, but then my relationship with my instructor at that time started to deteriorate - she was having me really get in his face and come deep to the fences and I never really "got" it. Just made me second-guess my distances and look at the ground. And get too slow

                    Then he got hurt, and I also needed some time off to change careers and handle some other "life" stuff, etc, and I'm coming back to it now by myself. Point being that my most recent memories from when we were last competing are not of raging success, and the voice in my head is still that last instructor telling me I'm weak and need to bring him in deeper. Horse is a good egg though - he really just needs a rider who stays in balance and keeps him in front of the leg *without* a lot of interference with the front end.

                    You guys are for sure right about pace to the first fence though. If I'm guilty of anything in the saddle, it's being slow. The frustrating thing is although that's been a major problem for me, even in dressage, I don't think a single instructor has told me to send my horse more forward more than a handful of times - and yes, I understand that faster is not the same as forward.


                    • #11
                      If your instructors have not been telling you to send the horse forward more then a handful of times? You need to seek better ones. Even Dessage needs to create impulsion before you can harness it into collection. You have to ride from the back end forward in everything including Western, stay behind and up, not shoulders collapsed and fetal.

                      My late trainer used to tell the kids to ride like a merry go round horse, up, down, up, down with hands high. Try it. It works.

                      Even never seeing you ride, I’m betting you are not sitting into your horse with shoulders back, hands up and pushing him up ahead of your leg. Hunter, Jumper, CC or Dressage, you have to create that first. And I bet your hands are buried in his neck 3 strides out. BTDT. Possibility you could benefit by getting your core stronger to get a stronger position and hold it. Takes strength to sit into one and stop leading with your shoulders.
                      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                      • Original Poster

                        I mean, over 30 years, I've seen a range of quality of instruction. Some have been very good. Most have been better riders than teachers. I think this is pretty normal. The most common problem instructors seem to have is that they only know how to teach how they themselves learned, and since I have absolutely zero natural talent, I think they sometimes don't know what to do with me. I taught at a university for 10 years, so I've experienced the other side of that coin as well, but we at least had the support of teaching centers to help with these kinds of issues, and riding instructors don't, generally. I think one reason biomechanical dressage has become popular is because it gives instructors a bigger vocabulary and toolbox for working through things like position problems with their students, which is great.

                        The most recent eventing instructor was one of the more extreme versions of "only teaches how she's learned" I've experienced, and I got the sense that the type of student she's used to, or maybe used to be herself before she really became devoted to dressage (she's pretty accomplished in both disciplines), is the kind who has a natural tendency to go *fast* in a flat out run and has to be encouraged to slow down, sit up, and collect. I don't know if she knew what to do with a rider with a different background and tendencies. Add to that, my horse is naturally downhill (and fast), and what she ended up trying to do is have me pick up his front end with my hands rather than pushing him up with my leg. Going back this last year and developing his topline with lots of long, low work has made it much easier to lift his front end and engage his hind end without compressing and constraining his neck.

                        I would like to know how you would explain to students that "up down" means "forward", because "up down" sounds like you're talking about engagement, impulsion, collection, which doesn't necessarily mean forward. See e.g. piaffe and canter pirouette. I think of "forward" in terms of covering ground - maybe by starting from impulsion in collection and then opening the stride while maintaining impulsion, like how people up thread are saying to use corners. Would be interested to hear alternative definitions.


                        • #13
                          Start with a little more pace than you need then take back a tiny bit/balance going into the corner. But keep leg there to keep the impulsion.
                          Remember that horses will more forward more as course goes on, and lines heading home will ride shorter, and going away from gate will ride longer. Also in a smaller arena, or an indoor, horses will usually natually shorten their stride. Or going towards something spooky at end of arena.


                          • #14
                            I know it's only on VHS (so sad), but this has been my little secret to better distances for years Maybe get it and take it somewhere and have them convert it to DVD or something.
                            Line, pace, balance, rhythm, and track. If you're not getting to the jump right, change one.
                            In your case, start with more pace than you think you need and then just settle. You don't have to take back, just stop pushing and keep things even at that pace.

                            Also (we're talking showjumping here, right?) you don't have to give yourself a long approach to the first fence and give yourself time to make 100 different choices and see 100 different options. Best advice I got from my trainer years ago was not to give myself the option and just give the horse a handful of straight strides before the jump, instead of a looooooong approach. Watch Rowan Willis when he rides Blue Movie. He is great at this, because the horse gets so worked up when she locks on to fences. He knows she literally can't canter straight at a jump for 10 strides.

                            Same thing if you have issues from 1 to 2. Even if the time allowed is generous, there's no rule you can't make an efficient turn because it helps you mentally not to give yourself time to think too much. And if you don't land moving away from 1 with the pace you had before it...better kick right away so you get that "I'm going uncomfortably fast" feeling and can then settle again a few strides out from 2.

                            Easy right? Way.
                            But as a wise horse person once said, "If you're gonna miss. Miss going forward!"


                            • #15
                              I recently discovered that the best way to ensure I have the right pace to jump one is to do more work after the buzzer goes off. So I will pick up a bold canter, practice any inside turns, halt and back, get the horse listening to me.

                              When I do this, I'm then a little worried about getting through the timers in time, so I usually pick up a bolder canter, with the horse really in my hand and just focus on getting my weight in my heels and counting. It has totally changed how I approach jump 1, worrying about timers instead of a distance is just way better for my mental game.