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Tips For Riding Dressage in a Jumping Saddle

Tips For Riding Dressage in a Jumping Saddle

Jess Payne is a 33-year-old international event rider based in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Jess is an accomplished hunter, jumper and event trainer alongside her four-star eventing husband, Doug Payne at Payne Equestrian, which specializes in producing show jumpers and eventers. She shares her tips on how to effectively school dressage flatwork in a jumping saddle.

“Maybe it’s because I started riding as a hunter/jumper, but I’ve always been more comfortable riding in my jump saddle than dressage. When I started eventing at 18, I would just drop my stirrups two holes when it was time to do flatwork.

I remember when I got my first dressage saddle, I struggled to sit the trot, even though I had no problem sitting it in my jump saddle. It took me two-and-a-half years to find a dressage saddle I actually felt comfortable riding in. Over time, my seat of course got deeper. But even now, I ride most of my horses in a jump saddle for flatwork. Only for the Advanced horses, that do the big flatwork stuff, do I pull out the dressage saddle.

It’s become a running joke at the farm. The girls who work for us actually started hiding my jump saddles to force me to ride in my dressage saddle. I just love riding in jump saddles, it’s what I’m used to. It felt so foreign to ride in a dressage saddle. I knew if a horse was naughty or spooked, that I could stick it better in the saddle I knew. It just comes down to what you’re comfortable in. I do think you can do most of the same work in either saddle, just how dressage riders still jump cavaletti in their dressage saddles.”

Drop Those Stirrups

“The biggest takeaway should be how to properly utilize your leg while in a jump saddle. I’m not 6’4” tall with long legs like my husband Doug, so I drop my stirrups down two holes when schooling flatwork. That makes all the difference for me. I also ride a lot without stirrups, both to sit the trot and to post, which helps a ton.

You can do most of the flatwork in a jumping saddle. It’s all about knowing how to use the tools that you have, and keeping in mind little tricks.

This allows my leg to wrap around the horse and really lengthen, so I can use different parts of my leg, from the ankle to the calf, to the thigh. I focus on a lot of lateral work and engaging my seat too, as needed. Sometimes in shorter stirrups, like when I’m jumping, I can’t use my thigh as much because I’m too high off the saddle.”You can do most of the flatwork in a jumping saddle. It’s all about knowing how to use the tools that you have, and keeping in mind little tricks.

Change the Bridle, Not the Saddle

“When I’m schooling flatwork in my jump saddle, I still make sure to ride in a snaffle or my full dressage bridle. This is very important, especially if you use different bits for different kinds of work. If you use a leverage bit to jump, you should be schooling in a snaffle for flatwork. This way you still have the right feel on the mouth in the bridle and bit you know you’ll be showing in, if you show in dressage.”

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Trainers Preach It

“George Morris is one of the great ones who rides in a jump saddle on the flat. When I rode in his clinic, we flatted for 45 minutes the first day before being able to jump, to make sure our horses were warmed up and on our aids. We were leg-yielding both ways to make sure they weren’t hanging on our hands. With George, we had to drop our stirrups to flat for a long time too, before we were ever able to start jumping.

For riders who are interested in dabbling in dressage or who just want to have the best foundational work, you can do most of the flatwork in a jumping saddle. It’s all about knowing how to use the tools that you have, and keeping in mind little tricks like lengthening your stirrups.

There are obvious advantages to riding in a dressage saddle — the blocks on a dressage saddle are really made to help you and to put your leg in the correct position. You won’t get that in a jumping saddle. But if you are aware of your position, your hip angle, and the length of your leg, you can still ride effectively on the flat in a jump saddle.”

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