Jumping Principles
Jumping Principles

Gregorio Billikopf
A Passion for Dressage

Jumping is one of the aspects of horsemanship which probably attracts most riders. The tact or feel that is learned through jumping—and following the horse’s motion with body and hands—is invaluable for the dressage rider. Jumping helps riders learn the importance of riding forward with impulsion.

Dressage, in turn, has much to give the jumping horse and rider, including greater control, more suppleness, better engagement, and straighter jumps. The ambidextrous qualities developed in dressage are of great benefit to the jumping horse.

My philosophy about jumping is that the capable rider should have and keep control over the horse at all times. The rider knows what will be required of the horse after the jump. It is possible to obtain such complete control over the horse that the rider can ask for most dressage movements from either an upright or forward seat position.

This chapter is not intended to be a treatise on jumping and is included here to just provide a few ideas or alternatives. I hope readers will excuse some of the oversimplification in this section.

First Jumps

There are several methods to work the horse over his first jumps: (1) the rider can trot along on the ground with the horse and go over a jump; (2) the horse might be lunged over a jump; or the most ideal, (3) a horse may be placed in a double enclosure where he can run around without any lunge line. No matter which of these methods is used it is important for the horse to learn how to jump without a rider so he can arch his neck and body over the jump and learn how to find his own balance.

It helps to have an assistant to aid us with the training. The assistant can help create the right type of force field. It may help to have the rider take the jump alone several times while the assistant has the horse look on. Some horses catch the idea from observing a rider run over a jump (Figure A-1).

Figure A-1: Horse learns from watching person jump over an obstacle

Either way, the first jump should be small. Otherwise it is too easy for the horse to refuse the jump and get started improperly over jumps. Horses should never be asked to jump with side reins, as these would prevent the neck from stretching properly.

Running along

The trainer runs along with the horse—between his eyes and shoulder—and holds the horse with the right hand when working on the near side. On the left hand, the rider holds the whip to use for impulsion (Figure A-2).

Figure A-2: Horse and rider jump over together

The horse should not be afraid of the whip by now. If the rider gets in front of the eyes of the horse there is a good possibility that the horse will refuse the jump (Figure A-3). This is especially true at first.

Figure A-3: Horse refuses more easily if the rider gets ahead of the movement

If the rider gets behind the shoulders, then it is possible that the horse will take off and leave the rider behind or for the rider to lose control altogether.


A horse can be lunged over higher jumps than what a rider can jump along with a horse (Figure A-4). It is easier to reduce or increase the speed without losing control over the horse, when a lunge line is used. One advantage of lunging, over both other methods, is the finer control over the horse’s bend, speed, and lead. However, it takes a tactful trainer to be able to accomplish this. When using a lunge line, a pole is used so the lunge line will slide up and not get stuck on the jump.

Figure A-4: Pole keeps the lunge line from getting stuck on the obstacle

Double enclosure

Ideally, we will have use of the double enclosure to start teaching the horse to jump and even to help an accomplished horse improve (Figure A-5). When this method is used the trainer and an assistant get the horse moving freely and close in on the horse and encourage him to jump by adding impulsion at the right moments. The horse should be rewarded for any success and the rider should fight the temptation to ask too much of the horse on the first session. If the horse is to enjoy jumping the requirements should be increased slowly through time. Double enclosures can also be used to teach the horse to deal with varied terrain problems.

Figure A-5: A double enclosure gives a horse the most amount of freedom as he learns to jump

Take-off & Speed Variables

There are a number of variables that affect the take off point for a given horse:

(1) The jump height

(2) The type of jump

(3) The speed of the approach

(4) Other requirements before or after the jump, including varied terrain (more in Appendix B)

Jump height. There are a number of formulas offered for the proper take-off distance to take a jump. In general, the higher the jump, the further away that a horse will need to take off. A horse can come right up to the base of the jump (Figure A-6) on a water jump but has to take off several feet away from the base of standing barrels, and even further away for a five-foot jump (Figure A-7).

Figure A-6: Horse takes-off at the base of jump in a long jump

Figure A-7: Horse takes off farther away as the height of the jump increases

Jump type. The jump height is affected by the type of jump involved. In a vertical jump the highest point of the jump trajectory coincides with the highest part of the jump. There are oxers that are so constructed, also, as to not affect the trajectory of the highest jump element (Figure A-8). However, if the second jump element is far enough away from the first, or if both jump elements are the same height, the true height of the jump will be higher than either of the two elements (Figure A-9).

Figure A-8: A second jump element, in some instances, will not affect the height trajectory

Figure A-9: When two elements are far enough from each other, the required height of the jump increases

In general, the horse will have to take-off farther away as this artificial height increases (Figure A-10).

Figure A-10: The further the distance between jump elements, the greater the difference between the actual jump height and the required jump height

Jump speed. The faster the approach to the jump, the less the jumping effort is concentrated at the take-off point. In long jumps the horse should travel faster to cover the required ground. In a vertical jump, the faster the horse approaches, the further away that the take-off will be. Soccer Ball "B" had to be hit so it will move faster than "A" to be able to travel the same distance on a flatter curve (Figure A-11).

Figure A-11: Ball B has to be hit so it will move faster than B to travel lower to the ground and yet go as far as A

Before or after jump requirements. Finally, the take-off speed and distance will be affected by other factors taking place right before or after the jump. In a series of jumps the horse must adjust the stride to arrive with enough speed and energy to take the present jump. Riders must adjust properly during each jump to be able to successfully pass each hurdle. If there is a steep inclination right after the jump riders must consider speed and take-off to avoid over-jumping and landing too far off on the other side.

Adjusting Strides & Asking For Take-Off

Horses and riders must make constant adjustments to their strides and level of collection as jumps are approached. Some difficult combinations might require a rider to push a horse forward only to quickly hold him back thereafter—or the reverse. Stride lengths are also changed. Very athletic horses can come closer to the jump base and can take wider and higher jumps. Riders must know their horses and determine if a jump can be taken at a different angle than the perpendicular. Or, how close they can arrive at the jump base and still negotiate a successful jump. There is much that a rider can do to adjust for a jump, by carefully considering the tightness and speed of turns, and the part of the jump that is to be taken.

A well trained athletic horse takes the jumps "in stride" and in stride. As the horse and rider approach the take-off point the rider can feel the horse and adjust to his desires and needs. A rider can also let the horse have the reins and lose contact over the jump. Sometimes a rider might have no choice in the matter, but my personal preference is for the rider to keep contact over the jump and to indicate to the horse with increased bilateral leg aids the exact moment of take-off. The way I look at this is the same way as when you lift something heavy and must tell yourself "now" and coordinate all muscles at the same time. The rider is not only coordinating his movement but also those of the powerful animal he is riding. The tap helps to do this. Such a tap should not degenerate into a kick but should be a soft squeeze with the lower leg. This does not mean that every jump requires such a take-off signal, either. A tap, can, however, tell the horse something about the jumping effort required, as well as the take-off moment. This helps both horse and rider come to an agreement, to coordinate the exact take-off so they work together, so the rider or the horse is not left behind the movement.

Preventing Anticipation & Engaging the Take-Off

Rushing, and refusals are often due to the horse’s anticipation of the requirements. There is an excellent exercise (Camilo O'Kuinghttons) that helps engage the horse and develop muscles for more powerful take-offs; and keeps the horse listening and taking his cues from the rider. The rider brings the horse to the jump and a few feet before the take-off brings the horse to a full halt (Figure A-12). From the halt the rider asks the horse to canter on a circle to the right (or one to the left). The horse comes back full circle and again nears the take-off point. The rider again brings the horse to a full halt and then departs on a circle to the right (or left). If this exercise is done correctly, it increases the horse’s engagement and power and desire to jump. The third time around the rider may bring the horse to another halt and subsequent canter circle or allows the horse to take the jump. There is no formula for how many times the horse is stopped before the jump. The rider can take advantage of practicing his canter circles, too. The horse soon learns to be attentive to the rider’s demands.

Figure A-12: Horse approaches (1) the jump and then stops, taking off to canter right or left and then stop again. Sometimes, the horse is allowed to take the jump

When trying this exercise for the first time the rider might ask for the halt quite a bit away from the take-off point if he is not confident of being able to bring the horse to a halt before the take-off. It can really be a disaster when the rider settles for a halt while the horse decides to take the jump! The better the horse is trained, the closer that the rider can bring the horse to the jump before requiring the halt. The time spent at the halt depends on whether the rider needs to keep the horse calm (longer halts for this) or wants to build greater energy and impulsion (shorter periods for this).

Among the subjects not mentioned here that might be of interest include changing leads over jumps, using single stride in and outs for improving the horse’s agility, and the use of cavalletti and single poles before or after jumps to improve the horse’s gymnastic ability over the jump.

One of the best things serious jumpers can do is to dressage their jumping horses. Riders can put their horses on the bit, do two track work, extensions, collections, and other work, both sitting on the saddle and riding forward.


There are a number of variables that affect the take off point for a given horse, such as (1) the jump height, (2) the type of jump, (3) the speed of the approach, and (4) other requirements before or after the jump. In general, the higher the jump, the further away that a horse will need to take off. A horse can come right up to the base of the jump on a water jump, but has to take off several feet away from the base of a vertical jump. The jump height is affected by the type of jump involved. For instance, if both jump elements are the same height, the true height of the jump will be higher than either of the two elements. The slower the approach to the jump, the greater the jumping effort is concentrated at the take-off point. In a series of jumps, the horse must adjust the stride to arrive with enough speed and energy to take the present jump, and be ready to make the proper adjustments to successfully pass each hurdle.

© 1999-2010 Gregorio Billikopf

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A Passion for Dressage
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19 May 2010