Any of you who happened to read my (somewhat petite) bucket list a few months ago will be aware that I wanted to learn to jump on horseback. Well, as you may already have guessed from the title of this post, I’ve had my first jump lesson.
My instructor had told me that in my first jump lesson we’d just practice jump position and maybe trot over a few poles laid flat on the ground. As I arrived there were lots of actual jumps being set up in the school. I eyed them suspiciously, but she assured me they were for the jump lesson after mine. I had booked a 1 hour lesson, half flat, half jump so for the first section of the lesson I was just warming up and getting used to the horse, Danny*, who was one I haven’t ridden for almost six months, but he loves jumping and jumps easily and economically (rather than jumping a twig on the ground like it’s something in the Grand National) so he’s the best one to learn to jump on.
The flatwork part of the lesson passed as such things do, and then the instructor had me stop, shorten my stirrups and practice folding into a jump position. Then she pointed to a black and white crossed-pole jump and told me that was what I was going over. In canter. Sorry, what?? That sounds quite dissimilar to trotting over a pole laid on the floor. But I didn’t argue, and I did jump it. Kind of like this:
Trot to there … pick up canter now … turn towards the jump … nice straight line (ish) … forgot to fold (but sort of stood up at the right time) … land … canter off
Really, there didn’t seem to be much to it that first time, aside from the fact that I’d been in the wrong position going over. It all felt balanced and the timing worked and was generally less weird than I expected.
After repeating that once or twice it was time to start linking two jumps together. This I found a little more worrying because it meant I had to be mentally present and steer shortly after jumping, on a horse I don’t find that easy to steer, but, it all went OK. This is in part due to the fact that I was on Danny, who really wanted to jump. No doubt on a horse that wasn’t in the mood to jump I would have found steering to set up a second jump something more of a challenge, but with his help it was well within my capabilities. I still hadn’t really got the hand of folding properly into a nice position, but everything else was going well.
Then my instructor suggested we try going in the opposite direction over the first jump. This meant we’d have a longer run-up to the jump and a shorter space on the far side before we had to turn to avoid crashing into the fence at the edge of the school. And Danny likes jumping. Danny got onto that long run-up and eagerly headed for the jump:
Half-half, half-halt (slow down Danny!) … ah good he’s slowed …Oh no! he’s suddenly got ridiculously fast just at the last minute before the jump … going over fast… landing off-balance … I’m falling off-NO I’M NOT, I’M STAYING ON … grab mane … damn, lost mane again … try for more mane … down from canter to trot – less stable – not good … throw arms around his neck … hang on … hope he’ll stop … down from trot to walk – thank heavens I’ll probably stay off the floor … he’s still walking round … I can’t reach the reins to stop him … he’s still walking … my instructor’s coming to catch us … he’s still walking … this is going to be OK but I wish he’d stop walking … I can probably risk reaching for a rein … he’s stopped … recover seat … recover composure.
It seems that I stayed on using only determination to defy gravity. This opinion is shared by my instructor, who said it almost made her want to fill in an accident form just so she could put that I’d stayed on regardless. Of course I was also assisted by Danny keeping calm and carrying on instead of choosing to shake me loose, which would have cost him no effort whatsoever.
We decided it was probably best not to try jumping it from that side again just yet, and went back to approaching from the other direction with a short approach. Further jumps were pretty uneventful although I still didn’t really get the hang of folding into the correct position.
Setting aside the ‘refusing to fall off’ incident, the thing I found hardest was not (as I had expected) going over the jumps. It was the flatwork between the jumps, because having short stirrups did me no favours. My natural body/leg ratio is not the best for riding and shortening my leg even more made it very hard to keep my leg under control, especially in a downward transition from canter to a bouncy trot. I’m hoping I can work on this in my flat lessons before I try jumping again in a fortnight.
I’m a lot fonder of Danny than I was before the lesson. Generally he’s not the most pleasant horse to spend time with in the stable. He’s always ready to kick or bite when being groomed or tacked up and he had caught me with his teeth just before the lesson. But it seems that if you hang around his neck, dependant on his good will to keep you from hitting the ground, then he’s a totally different horse. 🙂
*Readers with exceptional memory may remember Danny from my post A lesson to learn from a horse. He’s not spooky in the school it seems, just out hacking.