This week I’ve been looking at Jumping Positions and the Biomechanics of a good one. There’s been some serious “nit picking with Nicola” going on over Youtube, viewing some serious top level competitors -but there’s always something that could be improved!
I believe that the same rules apply in jumping as in flat work in that you should be in your own self carriage.
Generally horses carry 60% of their weight on the front end and 40% on the hind end. That’s quite a bit of force through the front end. When jumping those forces are increased further still.
In order for the horse to do his job to the best of his ability it’s up to you as the rider to manage your own body weight to enable him to manage his.
If you are leaning forward, using your reins or the horse's neck for balance, that is extra weight he has to lift up over the fence and then has to manage on landing.
In order to allow him to do his job the best he can you need to be over his centre of gravity. That is the middle of the saddle as you would be for flatwork. The only difference is that you will be lifted out of the saddle in a Jumping position.
As for supporting your own weight there seems to be a pattern of people being told to have their weight in their feet. Which I think is actually more of an interpretation issue than it being incorrect. I find that as soon as people are told to have weight in their feet they push their feet down; which pops them up and locks the joints in the ankles, knees and hips preventing force absorption. This makes the position tense and also not that stable. Also, if you had all your weight in your feet what happens when you lose your stirrup? We’ve seen plenty of top riders complete a round with one stirrup; which means they didn’t have all of their weight in their feet did they?
I think it’s more that there should be a positive connection to your feet, in that there is weight in the ball of your foot, your ankle is able to absorb movement so it draws down rather than being pushed down.
The majority of your weight will be in your thighs and your bum. These are the big muscles of your body so it makes sense to use them for stability and endurance.
In a Jumping position your hips hinge back, so it’s not a rounding of the shoulders, it’s a stable core, flat back hip hinge like you would in a Deadlift off horse-starting to make sense why we might do them now isn’t it? It’s this hip hinge that keeps you over the centre of the horse. If you leaned forward like I think many of us seem to have been taught, you’ve sent your bodyweight forward onto the front of the horse. Now he’s got to lift himself up at the front and you! Then when he lands there’s his own body weight multiplied in force, and now yours all coming down in his front legs. Then of course if he trips on landing you were already partially out the front door so you’ve less chance of staying on!
So your hands will go forward to allow his neck out, but the rest of you is still central over the saddle, supporting your own bodyweight on the take off right through to the landing.
The ability to absorb that force through your body and still be supporting yourself to land pretty much in the same position ready to ride onto the next fence requires your body to be very stable and be supple enough to absorb that force without having to collapse.
I actually train force absorption with my riders, we do jumps off a box straight into jump position, we use med balls for throwing and catching, band work to train against resistance.
As mentioned we also train the hip hinge so it’s a natural position for their bodies to adopt and they understand how to be strong there.
Training off horse is of course about being a better rider in general, but if the jumping position is anything to go by, the ability to support your own bodyweight can go a huge way (I’m not saying you're heavy!) in taking additional strain from the front of the horse; and I’m sure for most of us it really is just about being the best that we can be for our horse.