Q: I’ve ridden western for many years, but I really want to ride English and jump. Is it hard to switch from western to jumping? Do you have any pointers?
To adjust your mindset, adopt a “gallop and go” philosophy. Split-second decisions are needed while jumping a course, so you’ll have to think quickly and be in constant communication with your horse. Though your hand and leg aids may at times be passive, they will never be absent. This contrasts with the image of the ideal western rider, who appears almost motionless as her horse lopes around the show pen on a draped rein.
You’ll also need professional mentoring as you transition from a western seat to the classic forward seat used for jumping. Find an instructor with a background in open (United States Equestrian Federation-affiliated) hunter or jumper competition who can give you advice that is correct, current and safe.
Switching to an English saddle requires more than just shortening your stirrup length. To prepare for jumping, you’ll spend much of your time in a two-point or half-seat position. Both situate your weight more on your pelvic bones than your seatbones.
Finally, you’ll progress much faster—and avoid a ton of frustration—if you learn the basics aboard a trustworthy horse that already knows how to jump. Ultimately, you may decide to buy or lease a proven hunter or jumper. Training your western horse to jump is certainly a possibility, and plenty of horses happily perform a variety of jobs in both western and English tack. Yet many horses cannot make the switch successfully, either due to their conformation or years of intensive training. They become confused and eventually turn sullen. Your horse should share your enthusiasm for this new pursuit.
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 September 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!