Q: My horse seems heavy on her forehand while cantering and jumping. This causes me to lose my balance, resulting in an awkward landing. What can I do to lighten up her forehand?
First, you must teach your mare to carry herself on the flat. She has learned to lean on your hands for support, and you need to interrupt and correct that habit. Whenever she feels like she’s moving downhill, half-halt to rebalance her weight back onto her hindquarters where it belongs. Stretch up through your torso and lift both of your hands up—not back—so they’re about 6 inches above the withers. Keep your leg pressure active, though, so your mare maintains her forward momentum. She may temporarily raise her head, but that’s OK. Reward her lightness by softening your contact with her mouth. Circle around cones or jump standards at various gaits too. As you work through transitions and bends, continually ask your mare to get off your hands and carry herself by using consistent half-halts.
Once you’ve made your mare lighter in your hands, she’ll be more balanced for jumping. Focus on schooling over gymnastic exercises or grids rather than jumping single fences. The most basic example is to lay a ground pole on both the takeoff and landing side of a low jump. Roll each pole out so it’s 9 to 10 feet from the jump. As you trot this exercise, the ground poles will encourage your mare to rock back on her hocks and stay light on her front end. Just be sure that you do your part by keeping your reins soft and using a generous crest release. Rather than enabling her tendency to be heavy on the front end, you must show her a better way to be balanced.
During her lengthy show career on the hunter/jumper circuit, CINDY HALE won more than 20 medals for hunt seat equitation. She currently serves as a judge at local and regional open horse shows.
This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!