Whether one begins by jumping up or down a step depends on what is available to you for training. For example, if your schooling area has a suitably wide ditch, you may be able to use this to jump in and out of. Another variation is a bank, which one jumps up onto first, and then down again.

Whatever you use, it is important to start with low steps. Also, the ground you will be landing on should not be too hard and should have no holes.

We prepare by loosening the horse, in this instance by trotting and cantering around between familiar obstacles, then jumping some and riding through water. If possible, it is also useful to do a little cantering up and down hills in the preparatory work. This is not only to improve balance but to exercise and strengthen the whole musculature of the horse. Trot and canter should always be ridden on long reins with flexion at the poll in a lively, but controlled tempo.

When it comes to jumping down the steps, they should be approached in walk or in a quiet trot to begin with. The rider should sit in the saddle in order to use the driving aids more efficiently. It is difficult to go with the movement of the horse in rising trot, especially if the horse jumps when the rider is rising. It is important to approach in a quiet tempo so that the inexperienced horse can jump down slowly and carefully. Be careful with young horses! They can sometimes jump down and land on all four legs together. This is one of the reasons why one should not jump down too high a step to start with since this can be overtaxing for the joints and affect the all-important trust.

The horse’s neck should be stretched out so that he can use it to balance with as he jumps down. Even with long reins, the rider should maintain a light contact with the horse’s mouth. In no circumstances should the reins be too short.

The rider’s upper body must lean slightly forwards without putting too much extra weight on the forehand. Keeping the knees closed and keeping the heels down and forwards gives the rider security in the landing phase and prevents the lower leg from swinging backwards.

The rider must maintain harmony with the horse by using a light seat and taking care not to land heavily on his back. The rider should sit in the saddle when riding away from the jump afterwards (at a later stage this will be out of a drop jump).

For the less experienced rider, it is always better to use a neck strap or hold the mane than to pull the horse in the mouth! Ride energetically forwards after the jump without going too fast, which can make the canter strides long and flat.

If the horse is reluctant to jump down it is important to decide whether he is not brave enough, or if he is in pain. If he has a weak back, growing problems, or undiagnosed front leg lameness, it is understandable that he does not want to jump down. If he is strong-willed, it is a matter of training and obedience. Assuming that there is no physical problem behind his reluctance it does not matter how long it takes; however, the steps should be small enough not to overtax the horse during his training.

There are horses who have no problem jumping either up or down. These are the ones with naturally good conformation, co-ordination and balance. If the horse has a weak back or poor balance, introducing him to cross-country jumps must be done in easy stages.

The next option after a step is a raised bank. With this, a lead horse is very helpful. The inexperienced horse follows the lead horse in trot, with the rider allowing the horse to look at the obstacle. (In fact, to begin with, many horses find it hard to judge exactly where to jump up. It can be helpful, before attempting to jump the bank, to stand the horse in front of it and allow him to sniff it – but the rider must take care that he does not try to jump from a standstill!)

When approaching the bank, the tempo must be lively enough to give the horse sufficient power in his hindquarters to jump up. Jumping onto a bank without impulsion can cause the horse to land on it with just his forefeet, and one or both hind legs can be grazed on the edge of the obstacle by not jumping far enough onto the bank. When jumping up a bank, step or otherwise uphill, it is important that the rider does not get behind the movement.

If the horse stops in front of the bank, the rider should approach again with more impulsion. Once the horse has jumped up, assuming that there is room to do so, he should be halted and praised. Once the lead horse jumps down again, the young horse should be happy to follow. With just one step down an inexperienced horse can be allowed to ‘scramble down’ from walk, or halt, if necessary. The bank should then be approached again without the lead horse, who should stand either on, or the other side of, the bank, but certainly not in the way of the young horse.

Riding over a small bank in canter is a good training exercise, as many horses find it easier to jump up from canter. Cantering forwards in a light seat is a way of ending the session. The horse should then be allowed to stretch down on a long rein in rising trot, and finally allowed to relax in walk and praised – a fitting end to the day’s training.

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