How to Seamlessly Transition Into the Jumper Ring (Or Not So Much…)

Just JUMP right in.

I have always known that my heart didn’t lie in the hunters, so when my horse Joey came into my life and it became increasingly obvious that his talents were not calm, cool, collected trips of inside, outside, inside, outside lines I decided it was time to make the switch: I was going to the dark side. I was going to become a show jumper.

So when we scheduled our first schooling show for the 2017 season and I saw that they offered some little .60m jumper classes, I was ecstatic! What better way to start the new year than to make the full transition to a white pants wearing, quick turn making, grab mane and jump clear jumper?

Of course, it is never as easy as it seems — now that its over I am so glad I made that career decision for Joey and myself. But we had a few bumps in the road.

Step one: convince husband that a new sport means new outfits!

Of course, for a schooling show that wasn’t necessarily true (shhhh, don’t tell Wayne) but I had some leftover Christmas money that was itching to find its way into a tack store. So off we went to my favorite little store Saddles ‘N Such in Germantown, Tennessee. The owner has always been so helpful and we have chatted a bit about my desire to make the switch to the jumper ring, so when I walked in and said “Suit me up! It’s white breeches time!” she was thrilled.

There is a lot more freedom in the jumper ring as far as attire goes. I settled on some reasonably priced and comfortably fitting RJ Classics breeches in white, but keep in mind that while you are just schooling at the lower levels it’s acceptable to wear the traditional tan breeches. Heck, at schooling shows, get fun with your garb! As long as you are not entered into a Classic, you have some freedom to be 100% matchy matchy with your horse — my personal favorite thing in the whole wide world. I saw several girls riding in colorful Piper breeches by Smartpak paired with button-downs under sweaters or even as casual as Nike workout wear with JUST DO IT down the arm.

As long as you look well-groomed and your coach doesn’t grimace when you walk by, you are good. To pair with my white breeches, I wore my Goode Rider show shirt that my husband, being the smart Horse Show Husband that he is, had purchased for me as a gift after seeing me sighing and staring longingly at the Dover catalog. Paired with my white breeches, I totally looked the part! Now… if only looking the part was all that mattered…

Looking like I know what the heck I am doing and still keeping it spunky with my pink butterfly patterned boot socks.

Looking like I know what the heck I am doing and still keeping it spunky with my pink butterfly patterned boot socks.

And of course, new stuff for you can also equal new stuff for your pony! Joey gets to finally show off his dashing colors of hunter green paired with burgundy with our Christmas Ogilvy Jumper pad (thanks Grandma!), a cute SmartPak white with burgundy piping AP pad with our monogram in hunter green, and we will soon pair our custom FUN Bonnet with our attire as well. Schooling in a simple AP pad or even a baby pad with a plain half-pad is totally acceptable. Fun shows should be just that — fun! Worry about getting down all the details later as you move up in the ranks!

Step two: figure out what the heck you are doing up there

I consider myself an intermediate rider. I make good decisions most of the time and am not too conservative or too bold. But, boy oh boy, I am not certain there is a for-sure way to be prepared for the wild ride that is the jumpers.

First things first, it’s not as easy as just going in, jumping clean, and then doing a jump-off. Oh, no. There are different sections of the jumpers. When I glanced at the show bill for our upcoming show and saw Table 2, Section 2B and Table 3 and Table 2, Section 2C I was beyond confused.

A few quick tips from my fellow equestrians and a quick read on the USEF website and I finally somewhat understood what was expected of me — some classes are only speed, some are power and speed, and some are your traditional jump-off. Do your homework before you get to your show! Thankfully I was watching other girls ride, or else I would have made a mistake and stopped after the “power” portion of my power and speed round and waited for a whistle to go on like you would in a jump off. And as always, have a good coach with you who understands the sport!

Now that you know how to ride, learn what to ride. Hello difficult jumper courses! I downloaded the Jump Off app and found it somewhat helpful, but I learned more by naming each fence (the arch, Pedro the friendly Mexican, the cactus jump, big scary green oxer) and memorizing my course through their nicknames.

And whatever you do, don’t get upset when you blow past the second to last fence in your course and then fist punch the air after landing from the last jump thinking you did it right, everyone is going to forget sometime. I just so happened to forget my first course of my first ever ride in the jumpers. Woohoo, go me.

Joey, jumping so fast that even a video still can't catch his legs in a decent pose, desperately trying to get the heck away from our new friend Pedro....Photo by Jamie McDowell

Joey, jumping so fast that even a video still can’t catch his legs in a decent pose, desperately trying to get the heck away from our new friend Pedro….Photo by Jamie McDowell

Be prepared for new questions. Our cross training with eventer Meghan O’Donoghue definitely came in handy when we tackled those roll backs and bending lines. Before hopping into the jumper ring, be sure to practice at home and make sure your horse is bendable and able to move freely without dropping his head or shoulder — or else those tight turns are going to be hard for you.

Step three: just smile and have a good time

Yes, I forgot a fence and was disqualified. Yes, I had to circle once because I didn’t turn quick enough to get to the fence correctly. Yes, I got so excited that at one point I accidentally dropped one of my reins. Yes, we knocked a rail… or two… or three in our speed round just trying to be fast, fast, fast. But Joey and I had a BLAST. I was crying happy tears after our last trip, because I could feel Joey finally settle. He waited by in the gate patiently and walked in with his game face on. He didn’t fuss or fight me, he happily did what I asked, and he knew what he needed to do to get the job done and keep me aboard.

All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better first day in the Jumper ring! Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better first day in the Jumper ring! Now if only I could learn to look at the camera….and to not pose by the poop pile. Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

Were we perfect? Heck no! But, I had a whole section of the bleachers cheering us on as we sailed around our course and when we exited the arena, I was living on a high I can’t explain. So most of all, go out and have fun. Don’t sweat the small stuff, make safe decisions, and ride it like you stole it.

Life is short. Jump the colored sticks!

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