Alongside yawning ditches, heart-stopping drop fences rank amongst the scariest on any cross country fence. And yet, with the correct training of the horse and a confident centered position from the rider, there is very little to jumping a drop fence.
As with any type of riding confidence in each other is attained by making steady progress over obstacles of increasing difficulty. Of course, if you jump a huge drop fence unprepared the experience will doubtless not be fun, for either horse or rider.
By starting on banks and later progressing to drops you will help to create a more agile, willing, and confident horse. Regardless of the type of riding you do at some stage, your horse will need to think for himself and by putting in the work over a variety of terrains and fences he should cope easily.
Start by jumping banks before you attempt your first drop fence. Bank fences are easier but riders will need to adopt the position which they will need at a drop fence.
Begin by finding gentle humps to ride up and down so that you get used to the upwards and downwards motion. Walk at first and then progress to trot, up the bank and then down. Sand dunes on a beach are ideal for this, but you should be able to find suitable humps and small banks while out on any countryside hack.
Remember to look up and ahead it is tempting to look down which then puts unnecessary weight on the horse’s forehand. By beginning on a bank you will allow both of you, horse and rider to get used to one phase of the jump at a time. The motion is broken into two parts, a forward seat going up the bank followed by a safety position going down the bank which is excellent preparation for jumping a drop fence. When going down banks and later drops use a seat that allows you to stay with your horse and over his centre of gravity. By keeping your weight in your heels and having your lower leg and seat in a deep, secure position the downwards motion shouldn’t feel awkward or unsafe.
On the downwards slope push your upper body backwards, feet forwards, and your knees in line with the ball of your foot. Sit tall and behind the motion, pushing your hips and heels forward over the drop to absorb the impact of the landing. If you feel you need an extra confidence boost use a breast collar if you feel you will need to balance yourself on landing, but aim to practice not using this as your confidence won’t increase if you feel the need to hold on like a beginner. Follow the horse’s motion, on landing let the reins slip to allow the horse freedom of his head and neck, so he can use his neck for balance.
When you are comfortable going up and down slopes and humps find steeper banks to go up and down. Ideally find somewhere that the horse needs to jump up the bank, or will find it easier to get up at a faster pace. Aim to arrive at the bottom of the slope rather than taking off on a long stride. It is easier to approach on a round bouncy stride.
As with ditches and water fences, once confidence has been gained move onto a more difficult obstacle – but don’t put either of you under pressure – there is nothing to be gained by rushing to tackle more difficult obstacles.
When you feel confident try a bank that has a little more drop to it. Most cross country training courses have banks that have a few flat strides for the horse to catch his balance before going downhill. Eventually, you can progress to landing on falling ground, but again, only when you and the horse feel confident, both in each other and with tackling the obstacle.
Maintaining a confident, balanced position you will be able to ride better across country and be in a good position, ready to steer your horse to the next fence as soon as you land. This will make a huge difference when in competition when you will need to be balanced and confident enough to be influential and successful.
by Jacqui Broderick
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