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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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