1. Mastering the basics
Before you begin jumping, make sure you and your pony are warmed up and confident. He’ll need his muscles to be warm and loose before practising his technique because going faster and jumping higher is more demanding on his body.
Check your pony is listening to you, too. Ride lots of transitions and shapes to get his attention. Also, check all elements of your position and make sure you’ve established a good rein contact with a constant connection with your pony’s mouth. This will help you maintain good control – essential for when the fences come up fast! Check your pony’s in front of your leg and responsive to your leg aids before you start jumping, too.
2. Control your canter
Good control is one of the most important things you’ll need to ride a successful jump-off round. Practising shortening and lengthening your pony’s stride is great for learning to control his canter.
Once you feel confident, you can make this exercise more challenging by practising between two poles on the ground. Count how many strides your pony takes between the poles in working canter, then aim to add one stride in your bouncy canter and then take one away in your open canter.
3. Be accurate
When it comes to jump-offs, accuracy is super-important. Aim to jump in the centre of each fence and make sure the last three strides on the approach are straight. If you plan where you’re going to jump and stick to it you’re more likely to ride a good line and get a clean jump than if you let your pony jump the fence anywhere.
The best way to practise this is by jumping cross-poles. The lower middle makes it easier for you to judge whether or not you’re jumping in the centre. However, with simple upright fences you can practise jumping them on a slight angle so you can ride a more direct line to the next fence.
4. Keeping the rhythm
Try to keep a regular rhythm to your pony’s canter rather than speeding up in between fences and slowing down on the approach. Although you might feel like you’re going really fast in-between fences, it’s actually quicker overall to remain in an even rhythm.
5. Look for your fence
Knowing exactly where your next fence is and how you’re going to get there will help you ride efficiently. Look for your next fence as soon as you land from the fence before and ride as direct a line as possible.
6. Turn, turn, turn
Tight turns are common in jump-offs. Some riders waste seconds on landing by riding straight for a few strides before they turn. Practise turning your pony towards the next fence as soon as you land. Make sure you’re looking towards the next fence as your pony’s front feet touch the ground. As soon as you’ve landed open your inside hand to give him a clear instruction. Then, focus on your line to the next fence straight away.
7. Put it into practice
Once you’ve mastered each of these elements, build a short jump-off style course to practise over – you only need about five fences. The more confident you and your pony get, the closer together you can make the fences to give yourselves a real challenge. You’ll be a jump-off pro in no time!