What’s going through your mind as you approach a jump? Lila Gendal shares her own mental checklist.
Top photo: Lila and Skybreaker at the GMHA Team Jumper Challenge on July 14.
Jumping horses is a blast. Friends and family members ask me all the time, “How do you NOT fall off when jumping over something so large?” or “How do you stay with your horse?” These are not easy questions to answer when talking to someone who knows nothing about jumping, or even riding horses for that matter. So, instead of reciting a dissertation on the importance of balance, position, the quality of the canter and so on, I simply say, “I put my leg on and hold on tight!” I have come a long way as a rider, but I think I have an even longer way to go still. There are so many pieces to the puzzle, which is why I try to focus on certain criteria when jumping.
Here’s my checklist:
1) Heels down. Yes, I actually have to think about keeping my heels down when coming to a jump. This may seem like a given, and it may come naturally for other riders, but for me it’s something I really have to focus on. If my heels are down and anchored, I will be able to keep my calves on the horse and remain in a secure position for take-off.
2) Eyes and chin up. If my eyes and chin are up, everything else seems to follow: My shoulders are back and I tend to be sitting in the saddle the last few strides before the jump. If my eyes and chin are down, I will most likely drop my horse in front of the fence and lose my own position as a result.
3) Leg on, knee off. If my leg is literally not touching the horse, or is loose in any way, shape or form, I will not have control over the horse, the canter or my position. This is why I always think leg on. Focusing on keeping the knee off or away from the saddle helps achieve that glued-on contact. If you are not touching your horse, how can you make a horse go forward from your leg?
4) The canter. I’m not sure if Margie Engle has to think about her canter so much, as that perfect canter is probably engrained in her soul after jumping thousands of horses over thousands of jumps. I on the other hand always have to think about what canter I need in order to get to the jump in the appropriate speed, balance and impulsion. If my canter is deplorable, my jump will most likely follow suit. If I have a very good canter, it is likely to be reflected in a very good jump.
5) Seeing a distance. Lastly, I think about seeing the last three strides in front of a jump. This number varies according to your jumping experience — maybe more, maybe less. I am starting to learn what four strides looks like, but my three-stride eye is more reliable. Of course, it’s hard to see a distance if your horse’s strides are uneven in length and inconsistent in rhythm. In my head I am counting to the rhythm of the canter: one, two, one, two, one, two…. This helps me count strides and maintain a clear rhythm in my head and body, which results in a steadier horse.
There are so many things to think about when jumping a horse — I could probably keep going forever. What do YOU think about when jumping?
My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media, or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.