Hang Time

Since Frankie and I have started schooling some bigger (to us) jumps, I’ve felt like I have to completely relearn how to ride over fences.

I was used to this motion: legs up, legs down.

Not a lot of arc, and by the time his back feet left the ground we were already coming in for a landing. Frankie doesn’t have a lot of roundness to his jump on a consistent basis (though there is MASSIVE improvement from when we got him), so it was a very flat, steady motion.

Now that the jumps are a bit higher and he has to work a little harder, the motion is more like this: front legs up-back legs up-hang in air-front legs down-back legs come down to push off.

The big difference here in his motion is that his hind legs are leaving the ground while we’re still on our way up, and there is a moment in the air as we “peak.” It is a distinct three-phase motion of takeoff, peak, and landing. The takeoff and peak don’t feel that different, but having his body crest over the top and then shift downwards was mighty disorienting at first. So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

Half seat. Then a little less half seat-y.

All of a sudden, I can’t just get into my half-seat and stay there ’til we land. Unless I want to land on his neck every time, and even the most tolerant pony in the world (aka Francis) gets annoyed at that after a while. I have to shift my balance over his so that I can land with my shoulders already up and telling Francis was to do next. No recovery stride to haul myself back in the saddle.

Usually looking like a sack of potatoes trying to stay over the saddle. See notes below about thigh and core strength.

Guys. This took is taking a lot of work. Having the world’s most tolerant ammy-friendly horse has been an absolute Godsend as I try to sort my parts out. My “recovery time” on landing is one of the biggest things my trainer and I are working on (along with riding to the right takeoff spot, but that is a lifelong struggle).

I won’t pretend to have good advice on how to do this, but here are a few things that have helped me start to get my body in the right place:

  • Heels down. I know, I know, we’ve all known this since we sat on our first pony. But being very conscious of this has helped- dropping my weight down into my heels and using that mental image to keep my leg perpendicular to the ground. I don’t always get this right (as evidenced by pretty much every picture ever), but there is a big difference when I focus on this.
  • Building strength in my thighs. This means lots of no-stirrup work, including no-stirrup half seat. Keeping my heel down helps me keep my lower leg stable and strong, but getting my thighs stronger has helped me keep my entire leg on to hold me in that centered position.
  • Building core strength. This is probably the number one improvement right here- maintaining that increased strength through my core helps SO much as my hip angle changes. When my core is loose, I collapse up the neck on landing. When my core is engaged, I stay over his back. I’m not as completely still and stable as I’d like to be yet, so planks galore to build that strength!
  • Thinking “shoulders tall” with every. single. stride. That needs to stay independent of my hip angle (see below), but keeping this mantra in my head helps me to constantly ~try to~ keep my shoulders facing forwards instead of collapsing up the neck.
  • Increasing flexibility in my hip angle. I don’t exactly mean by doing stretches or anything since my hips are decently flexible already- I more mean expanding the range of angles I use during my riding. This angle used to stay pretty closed as I stayed in a half-seat and then closed a little more over jumps. Now there is SUCH a wider range: slightly closed when I ask for a gallop, more open when I sit back and ask for collection, closed at takeoff, wider for landing. And not only is there a wider range, that range all needs to happen within 0.8 seconds. I’m still getting comfortable with a wider hip angle but Frankie responds well to my seat when I open up like that.
Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
Hip angle opens a bit as I ask him to collect before sending him forward to a single oxer

A big part of the goal here is to make sure I can change my seat as soon as I can upon landing- staying off his back when I need to allow him, but getting in the backseat and driving him when I need to. This needs to be able to happen within a 1-stride combo, not 3 strides out from a jump. So yeah. That landing needs to be tight and balanced and I need to know what I’m asking for as soon as his front feet leave the ground. I should start doing some quick-thinking exercises too!

Like I said before, it does feel like I’m completely re-learning how to jump. I’m making a LOT of mistakes these days- big pats for Francis for truckin’ along while I play with my angles and slowly get stronger.

How have you approached adjusting to the motion of bigger jumps?


21 thoughts on “Hang Time

  1. Centered in the Saddle 05/02/2017 / 10:47 am

    Yes! The landing phase is hardest for me. I collapse my back and shoulders instead of keeping my chest/shoulders up and back flat. It’s hard. I’ve also been doing planks galore…and squats galore for thigh strength. It’s a struggle but at least we’re not alone in it!


  2. Tracy - Fly On Over 05/02/2017 / 10:49 am

    While I’m not jumping NEARLY as high as you, I’ve focused on some of the same things as you in the last year. Riding the landing phase of the jump has been critical for me!


  3. Liz 05/02/2017 / 11:24 am

    I love how you explain everything here and the media to support is spot on. I’m not jumping that high yet, but all of those points ring true all the same!


    • hellomylivia 05/02/2017 / 11:26 am

      I’m glad I was able to organize my rambling thoughts on this somewhat haha


  4. Allison Stitzinger 05/02/2017 / 11:24 am

    DEFINITELY not jumping near that high, but I’ve had similar struggles learning to ride drop fences and down banks! It takes a lot of practice to keep your hip joints loose enough to close-open-close with the motion like that!


    • hellomylivia 05/02/2017 / 11:27 am

      Yes I was thinking about drop fences/banks as I was writing this!! Keeping the core engaged while keeping the hips loose enough to move is sometimes just too much for my hamster brain haha


  5. Hillary H. 05/02/2017 / 12:23 pm

    Feels. Not jumping as large yet with the baby (ish) ginger but the few 3’+ fences that sneak in definitely require finesse that I am still trying to find.


    • hellomylivia 05/02/2017 / 1:58 pm

      Definitely seeking that finesse too- let me know when and how you find it 😉


  6. Stacie Seidman 05/03/2017 / 9:24 am

    I always took strength for granted until I moved my horses home and started taking winters off. Now I am totally struggling with body control on landing. Not so much on Jamp since he’s very comfortable. But on Badger for sure who jumps everything like the fancy hunter he’s turning into. And even on my trainer’s horse who is easily as saintly as Frankie. Thank goodness she is! You really do have to be STRONG to jump horses. Especially as the fences get bigger!


    • hellomylivia 05/03/2017 / 9:27 am

      It’s never something I really consciously thought about until recently, and it’s really cool to consider how the different parts come together! Thank goodness for patient ponies who bear with us while we get stronger haha


  7. carey 05/03/2017 / 9:47 am

    I like the way to broke this all down. I try to focus on (or at least keep in mind) sitting tall and driving my heals down. I have been doing barre classes the past few months and have for sure felt a difference in my thighs and core (and seat!) – for reals, what to feel physically worthless after only an hour (but oh so good)? Take a barre class. Also, looking up helps me stay tall and keep my heals down and core engaged, but it looks like you’re pretty good at keeping your eyes up!


    • hellomylivia 05/03/2017 / 9:55 am

      I really want to try a barre class! I’m a little intimidated, but I’ve heard only good things. That heels-to-the-ground-shoulders-tall stretching feeling is def the most useful!!

      Liked by 1 person

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