How Big is Big?

There was a question on COTH recently about what counts as a “big” jump.

There were a range of answers, but the general consensus seemed to be that it’s entirely relative. What’s big to one horse and rider pair might look small to the same rider on a different horse. What’s small change for one rider may be prohibitively daunting to another.

I couldn’t agree more. Jumping over 3′ on the DragonMare was intimidating because I knew we were reaching the max of her scope and she could be a difficult ride. The same height on the Frankenbean causes no angst. I also remember how long it took me to ever go over a 3′ jump- so for a very long time, my decisive answer to that question would have been 3′. That counts as big. Nowadays I feel differently. It’s completely relative.

But then thinking about it further, I started considering the skill sets I needed at each height and how that changed. At this point, what would I consider “big”? Keep in mind- I’m coming at this with my own experiences and my own horse. He’s tall. He’s powerful. He makes jumps feel smaller than they are. I’m fully aware that a smaller horse that moves differently will make this journey looks COMPLETELY different. It’s all relative!

At 18″ I was learning to stay with the motion, release with my hands, stay steady in my leg. Distances were unimportant because of the height. Lots and lots of focus on my equitation- heels down, straight back, elbows in, etc.

Short Stirrup QUEEN

At 2’6″ I had to fold a tiny bit more. Distances were still pretty unimportant, but we started counting strides and trying to find the sweet spot. Continued focus on correct equitation.

Grab mane and look cute

At 3′ finding the right spot started to become more important. Still not the end of the world if we missed, but there was more of a focus. We started to introduce the auto-release as I got stronger. The motion was slightly bigger over the jumps, but technique still held- heels down, eyes up, release. Correcting my position constantly.

Remember when I actually used to have really great equitation? Ah the days of yore.

At 1m (3’3″) it was more of the same. Slightly more important to help my horse to the spot, release a little bigger for the bigger effort. Position is finally starting to get into muscle memory, but still constantly working on it.

For realz though I used to look pretty in the saddle

At 1.10m (3’7″ish) it was NOT more of the same holy CRAP it’s time to learn how to ride. All of a sudden we need an actual useful canter because he can no longer just lurch over it from any gait. So he has to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden it becomes much more important that I support from any distance. So I have to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden riding that powerful canter at any stride length is crucially important. So we need major adjustability which means focusing hard on his self carriage and responsiveness. AND THAT’S BEFORE WE EVEN GET TO THE JUMP. Then once we’re at the jump, it’s no longer just fold and then unfold. THERE’S AIR TIME AND A LANDING PHASE NOW FOLKS. I won’t get into the gritty details because I already did last year, but suddenly I had to pretty much re-learn how to jump. At this point we talk about my equitation purely in terms of utility. At this point, if I don’t have my technical skills in order, I’m just gonna fall off the side. They’re not taken for granted and we still work to correct them, but there’s more of an assumption of base-level correctness. Now it’s about truly using my position instead of having a position.

Releases get bigger, staying centered becomes WAY WAY WAY more important, and core strength becomes a major factor. 

At 1.15m (3’9″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.20m (3’11″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.25m (4’1″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

So yeah. For me there was a clear tipping point in terms of skills and training that happened right around the 1.10m mark. Do I have a magical amazing horse that bails me out at that height when I mess up? Yes. Does that make his life way harder at that height than it was at anything lower? Definitely. Once I’ve gotten over that hump it’s been relatively straightforward to put the jumps up little by little.

I always thought of moving up in height as a very linear process, and that’s certainly not true. The graph of height vs. skills needed has looked a lot more like this for me:

height skills

I really hope that one day I look back on this post and laugh that I ever thought 3’6″ was big. I’m curious to see if there is another “tipping point” in the future as the jumps continue to go up. I’d love to find out!

There’s my long winded answer that can be summed up as this: I feel like jumps start getting big at around 3’6″, but that answer has changed a thousand times over the years and I think the answer is going to be different for everyone at different times.

Your turn! Tell me- how would you answer that question?

27 thoughts on “How Big is Big?

  1. Amanda C 10/24/2018 / 8:58 am

    That 1.10m mark seems to be the tipping point across the board for most. Hunters – big difference between AA and AO. Eventing – huge difference between Training and Prelim. It’s the point at which some horses are past the very end of their talent, or other moderately talented horses (which is most of them) need our help in order to be successful. Amazing what a difference a few inches makes at that crucial point. As far as what’s big… depends entirely on what horse I’m sitting on. 😉


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:23 pm

      Really good point- it really is pretty consistently the marker for all different disciplines.


  2. Emily 10/24/2018 / 9:53 am

    This is a great way to look at it! I know things get “big” (for May and I) when I have to do something different during the landing phase lol.


  3. Beth Lubeck 10/24/2018 / 10:25 am

    This is where I’m at as well. I made it to the Low Adults, and on the large pony the 1.05m oxers required the perfect bouncy canter, so I’ve really built 3’6″ into this mysterious hallmark achievement since I’ve never really gotten to do it consistently on one horse where it came naturally. 1.20 seems like the moon at this point!

    Now that I’m mostly lessoning and only see the odd 3′ jump, I don’t find them intimidating but it does require more support due to the horse not seeing them much either, and I do find I change my ride a little (for the better). I pretty much say I can get anything around 2’6″ that isn’t trying to kill me.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:25 pm

      Great point about the support needed! It makes such an enormous difference in how you have to ride the jump, both physically and mentally.


  4. t 10/24/2018 / 10:30 am

    For my pony, I found 2’6 ish to be the point where I needed to be really accurate. 3′ is pretty much her max, and I need everything to come up perfectly for that to happen. I’m not a great rider, so unsupervised I keep the courses small. So, I had it in my head that 3′ is big and dressage is my happier place. But, I’m finding with a more averagely athletic horse, 3′ is my new 2’3″ and i want to try eventing again 😀


  5. Liz 10/24/2018 / 10:30 am

    I totally agree. It’s relative based on the horse and the experience.

    Time and miles and trust built over time has changed the way I view jumps. I remember when 12″ looked terrifying. Then 18″. Then 2’3″. And now? Now 3′ looks fine most days and anything smaller is meh. But with all of the time that has passed Grif and I have built strength and finesse and, most of all, trust in one another. That last one makes all the difference in the world. I know he has lots more in him and I know we’ll get there with more time and miles. And then 3′ will seem small.

    With Q or Stan who have jumped but don’t do it regularly at all, 2′ looks kind of terrifying. But that’s because they huck themselves over it in a manner that is so hard to ride! It’s not their jam and that’s okay! But when I see logs on trail with them, I’m muuuuchh more thoughtful about approaching than I would be on Grif.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:26 pm

      That’s such a good point about trust- for me that was the difference between Addy and Frankie too.


  6. lauracoburn1111 10/24/2018 / 10:59 am

    Interesting! Really like the approach of training/skills ramping up as the height goes up. Very sensible!

    Mine is: “Panics and flaps arms at more than 1 ground pole” Lol


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:27 pm

      Oh lawd I panic more at ground poles than I do at anything else hahaha


  7. Nicole C 10/24/2018 / 11:18 am

    I found this super interesting! Since I’m still moving up the lower levels and am currently only jumping 2’6-2’9, anything over 3′ looks big to me haha. But I felt that the biggest change at the lower heights came in the move from 2′ to 2’3, since my horse had to actually use himself a little at that height instead of just flopping over lol. Not much difference from 2’3 to 2’6, or to 2’9. I’ll be interesting to see as we keep moving up where that next big difference is.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:28 pm

      Agreed, feeling them have to use their body instead of taking a bigger canter stride is definitely a big difference! It’s part of why I ride big horses, it makes the jumps feel smaller haha 😉


  8. Centered in the Saddle 10/24/2018 / 11:45 am

    This is so fun to think about. It definitely changes over time and in different situations. I’m the world’s worst person at judging jump height by sight so I don’t actually know what we’ve been jumping in show jumping lessons lately other than “comfortably challenging.” I guess somewhere between Novice (2’11”) and Training (3’3″).
    Anecdotally, my “big jump threshold” has grown this year. At the beginning of the summer, we added a Training table in our cross country field, and I looked at it like ‘yeah nope, not ready to jump that thanks.’ Last week I had a cross country lesson in the field and jumped the table with minimal nerves. It didn’t look that big anymore, and honestly it didn’t even feel that big when we jumped it. My bravery has grown! It definitely has to do with knowing Duke and trusting our partnership as well as having more experiences under our belts throughout the summer.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:31 pm

      Dude my trainer lies like a rug about fence height. She told me I was jumping 2’6″ up until I was at about 3’3″. I only have a solid marker now because the kickboard in the indoor is right at 4′. So I’m with you, I have ZERO idea what height things are haha

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Tracy 10/24/2018 / 12:47 pm

    It’s interesting to read this! Very thought-provoking for sure…. and now I kind of want to write my own post, LOL. I have much less experience jumping height than you, the biggest I’ve ever jumped has been 3′ (and not a course, just a single jump here and there). I’ve found that about every 6″ I needed new skills, as well as refining skills I already had.

    I’m not sure how to say this eloquently, but I feel like some people have more natural talent than others. Perhaps it’s just general athletic ability or more specific to riding horses, but either way there’s definitely a talent difference… and I think THAT’S part of what makes the true size of a “big jump” different to different people.

    For example, I’d consider myself not very talented. I feel like I generally have to work a bit harder than some of my friends to reach the same levels. That’s not to say that my friends don’t work their asses off to improve (because they do!) I just feel like some people progress faster or maybe certain basics are more intuitive for them.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:33 pm

      I vote you write a post too! And very interesting point about natural talent- just like some horses are more naturally balanced or scopey, some riders may be too. Doesn’t mean they aren’t as good, just that it takes more effort to draw out that potential.


  10. roamingridersite 10/24/2018 / 3:12 pm

    Super interesting. Learning to jump on Gem meant that I was perpetually terrified at 18” though the one time I did a 2’ course it felt no different. H’Appy is way easier to jump and I find myself not even wanting to do 18” stuff anymore with an eye to going up to 2’3” if he ever stays rideable for more than a day at a time.


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:33 pm

      Having a horse that knows the job and likes the job makes a world of difference!


  11. Rachel - For Want of a Horse 10/27/2018 / 2:20 am

    I think you are very right that it is rider and horse combination dependent. I would love to say that for me 3′ is a challenge but right now Winifred and I are struggling even at 2’6″. He has competed at 4′ but he still needs you to pick the exact right spot for even 2’6″ and I jumped ahead a couple times that he has lost his confidence in me and is now stopping. My last fall I dislocated my knee and had to miss finals so I have lost my confidence too. I have been in Korea for the last 2 and a half weeks but I get back Sunday and I plan on rebuilding our relationship!


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:37 pm

      Having to pick the right spot definitely makes it much harder! Excited for you two to keep building and working together ❤


  12. HunkyHanoverian 11/01/2018 / 1:58 pm

    Great post, I really enjoyed it. As someone who has never competed higher then a meter, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to do the bigger stuff! Very enlightening!


    • hellomylivia 11/05/2018 / 1:37 pm

      Glad you liked! Loving seeing the comments too, and hearing how different it is for everyone.


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