Any jumping discipline requires rhythm. Spending endless, precious time setting up for each fence is not only distracting, it can be dangerous. In the hunter ring, rhythm is highly regarded by judges – they don’t want to see a rider interfering with the horse’s stride save for minor adjustments. For event riders, it’s important to ride efficiently to each fence, saving time by jumping individual fences out of stride. For the show jumpers, too much of an adjustment can mean the difference between gold and silver on a podium. The common theme here? Learning to jump out of a good, rhythmic stride is useful no matter what discipline you choose.
Ashley Kehoe, an Advanced level event rider and trainer based in Lexington, Ky., knows how important rhythm is. Growing up in Pony Club (and going on to become a Pony Club instructor), she learned early on how to feel her gallop speed out on cross-country. But how do you begin to learn the concept of jumping something out of rhythm? It’s a step-by-step process, she says.
The first thing to do, Ashley says, is to practice your light seat or galloping position (depending on your discipline). This is something you can do incrementally, and without jumps. Using poles on the ground will be sufficient.
Set poles out around the outside of your arena – one on each long side will do. Practice your position at the walk, then the trot, then the canter. You’ll need to be strong in your lower back and hip adductors, Ashley says, in order to be stable in this light seat. The movement of the horse underneath you will help strengthen those muscles and improve your balance.
Once you’re comfortable in the gaits, practice counting strides to the pole on the ground without changing your rhythm. As you come out of the corner of the arena, try not to take away or add more to the horse’s stride, and let the distance come to you. Remember – the idea is to be smooth, to save time, and to ride efficiently.
Learning to jump out of a good, rhythmic stride is useful no matter what discipline you choose.
“You can canter through invisible jumps and practice the four phases of the jump, the rebalace, approach, takeoff and landing,” Ashley says. “Make sure you sit in the saddle to some extent for the rebalance/approach phase, but in the air and on landing, make sure you are landing in your stirrups and not whacking your horse on its back. Don’t collapse your upper body, but keep using your adductor muscles and lower-back muscles to hold yourself in galloping position as you canter away from the invisible fence.”
Ready to try with a jump? Grab your trainer or someone else to supervise (don’t jump alone!), and build a small ascending oxer suitable for your level of riding. Ashley likes to take this a step further and add some brush in the middle.
“Remember, cross-country is all about positive riding,” Ashley advises. “Try not to take back in front of the jump – rebalance your horse’s stride and keep kicking. Make it a habit to land positively going forward, too.”
And as a reminder – jumping out of rhythm does not mean jumping out of a Mach 5 gallop every time. Safety is important here, so be sure you have the basics down first before you move on to jumping anything at speed. But even a slower pace has a rhythm, so practice this at a speed you are safe and comfortable at.