It’s Time to Face Your Fears: Enter, the Trot Jump
I should start by saying that I don’t hate trot jumps, but boy, I used to. Don’t worry – you’ve got solidarity there. Honestly, I could never figure out why one would trot a jump when cantering one is just so much easier. Alas, as a trainer, I have to acknowledge the answer: because it’s great practice for both the horse and the rider. Also, medal class judges really love to throw a trot jump in the tests whenever they can, so we best all learn to embrace it.
Let’s break it down.
Trotting fences is a great practice for the horse, especially young horses. I’m sure you’ve heard your trainer say this, but you’ve likely never understood why. Young horses – just like young humans – don’t really know where all their body parts are. They don’t quite know how to use their knees, shoulders, back, or hind end until a certain age – and why would they? They’re growing and changing constantly, and being asked to learn a lot of body awareness at once. Trot jumps teach a young horse how to maintain a consistent, balanced rhythm to a jump and to use all of their body parts in the correct order and improve their bascule. It might not be fun, but it’s a good thing.
What does a trot jump do for a rider? Basically, it teaches a rider to be in perfect balance with a horse with minimum hindrance to its jumping effort. That means that the rider is in the middle of his horse’s motion all of the time. Just to break that down even more – you don’t get left behind or lean ahead ever, not even once. Trotting fences forces you to get your act together, as you can just rely on a smooth canter or easy jump. In theory, once you perfect the trot jump, you will be so perfectly timed with your horse that whenever you go to a jump, you will be right there with your horse.
“In theory, once you perfect the trot jump, you will be so perfectly timed with your horse that whenever you go to a jump, you will be right there with your horse.”
That is the goal. And it’s one you’re going to reach (I promise).
1. Set a trot jump with adequate ground lines and a place a rail about 9’ from the base of the ground line. If you have a shorter or longer strided horse, set accordingly, but it’s better to set a little long than a little short, so the horse has the opportunity to use its knees and shoulders.
2. Pick up a rhythmic deliberate trot well in advance and project a straight line to your jump. Straightness is key.
3. Before the pole on the ground, melt into your horse’s back in what I like to call a 2.5 point – where you are both in a forward seat and connected to the saddle.
4. Grab mane if you need the extra balance, and let the horse do its job while you gently support with the calf.
5. When you think you’re done, finish your ride – ride away from the jump, through the turn, and then transition to a working walk.
When you become more sophisticated in your ride – such as when you’re in the work-off at medal finals – you will want to do a solid crest release, or, eventually do a soft and subtle automatic release over the jump (remember, trot jumps are usually on the small side).
This exercise will help develop your skills to get to the ‘jump zone’. When you are in the zone, you should not interfere with your horse’s ability – and as a by-product, you’ll look pretty good, too. At that point – when you have the approach, rhythm, and balance down perfectly – it is your horse’s job to get across the jump.
“Practice, practice, practice. Practice is key, and there is really no substitute for it.”
Heading into finals? Practice, practice, practice. Practice is key, and there is really no substitute for it. And once you feel like you have gotten good at the single trot jump, start practicing cantering and doing a downward transition to the trot on a straight line before going to the trot jump, since that is what you will have to do in a work-off or a handy hunter class.
Now go out there and conquer that trot jump like a boss. You got this.