Stop Leaning Up Your Horse’s Neck
By Cori Christmann
Riders in jumping disciplines (hunter/jumper/eventing) are always told not to lean up the horse’s neck before a jump or on the neck over a jump. Doing so puts the rider in a precarious position if the horse stops, and throws the horse off balance, which may cause his front end to hit the jump. Leaning up the neck may also lead to the hard-to-break habit of “ducking.” Ducking is when the rider bends the hip angles too much and snaps their upper body over one shoulder, causing the horse to carry uneven weight on one side.
To help the rider find balance without leaning on the horse’s neck or hanging on the horse’s mouth for security, a useful exercise is to jump without reins. The rider ties the reins in a knot and jumps a series of jumps (usually a gymnastic line, which is several jumps separated by one or two strides), letting go of the reins and placing their hands on their hips or out to the sides. This fun but challenging exercise improves the rider’s balance and demonstrates that there is no need to hold onto the horse’s mouth or lean on the neck to stay on or to “help the horse jump.”
The rider’s job is to carry their own body weight and control their upper body. To do this the rider must have a strong core and be able to engage it on the takeoff and in the air over the jump.
Instead of throwing their weight forward or relying on the horse’s neck or mouth to stabilize their position, the rider should move with the motion of the horse and not be ahead of that motion. It all goes back to the old adage: Let the horse jump up to you.
A classic and fascinating example of a rider staying balanced and not interfering with the horse over jumps – and illustrating how this can really come in handy when you get into trouble – is shown in the following video of Richard Spooner competing at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alberta.
Richard Spooner at Spruce Meadows
Main blog photo:Photo: Canstock/Bronwyn8