To ensure you’re brimming with confidence every time you jump, rider and trainer, Karen Dixon is on-hand to offer some handy tips.
Leaving the ground on top of a four-legged beast with a mind of his own is a frightening prospect and it’s bound to send you into a bit of a spin. “I know that jumping is a daunting prospect for a lot of riders, particularly the under confident ones,” says Karen. “But it’s easy to bring the fun-factor back into jumping with some simple exercises.”
Here are Karen’s key jumping confidence exercises:
Perfect your position
In order to feel as confident as possible when jumping you must first ensure you have a secure, balanced seat and jumping position. To achieve this, stand up out of your saddle and shift your weight into your heels - remember not to grip with your knees. When you come to a fence, tip your shoulders forwards in front of the vertical and be sure not to let your legs slip back as this will unbalance you. It’s a good idea to practise this on the flat before you start over fences. A few circuits in walk, trot and canter in the jumping position during every ride is a great way to perfect it. Riding over poles will help to replicate the feeling of jumping without actually having to do it, which allows you to concentrate more on the quality of your position rather than the fence, which can be a real confidence booster.
Desensitise him to prevent spooks
Rider frighteners and bright, spooky fillers are part and parcel of most cross-country and show jumping courses, so you need to ensure your horse is desensitised to all possibilities before you hit the track. Getting your horse out hacking or riding him around spooky objects in his arena or schooling area is a fantastic way to get him used to things and ensure he’s prepared for every eventuality. Scatter your fillers around your arena and warm your horse up around them. The more he sees different spooky objects in random places, the less reactive he’ll be to them.
Build confidence over solid fences
Fear and apprehension around fixed fences isn’t uncommon, but cross-country can be one of the most fun and exhilarating rides of your life if you’re able to conquer it. I always recommend going along to a training session or hiring out a cross-country course with an experienced friend. Following a more confident rider over a fence is the ideal way to build your confidence. Start small at first before working you way up to the larger rider frightener fences. You can even have your instructor on hand to offer guidance and support from the ground.
Using a neck strap will give you added security and prevent you from sending nervous signals to your horse down the reins. Consider investing in one today and use it until you feel more confident.
More about our expert
Karen Dixon is a four-time Olympic event rider who competes, trains, rides and produces young horses. She also retrains ex-racers from her yard in County Durham.