English Lesson: How to Stop Ducking While Jumping

Ducking over jumps is a common bad habit. Here's how to fix it.

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Ducking while jumping
Photo by Leslie Potter

Have you been accused of ducking over jumps? If so, you’re not alone. Ducking is a common bad habit. It occurs when your upper body breaks over too far, almost as if you’re lying on the horse’s neck. Sometimes riders lean off to one side until their upper body disappears below the horse’s mane.

Ducking can affect your horse’s jump by distracting him and throwing him off balance. Also, when you duck, you’re more likely to pop up and plunk in the saddle before your horse has a chance to land. This can make him hit rails with his hind legs.

Finally, ducking is unattractive. It’s too much unnecessary motion, and judges consider it a fault in equitation classes.

Young Rider Magazine LogoDo you need to ditch the ducking habit? Here are three reasons why it might have begun in the first place, plus tips on how to fix it forever.

1. The Chair Seat

A chair seat looks as if you’re sitting in a chair at the dining table: Your upper body is rigidly upright with your leg bent out in front of you. Stirrups that are too long can also be a factor. In a chair seat, you’re behind the motion of a jumping horse. You’re forced to thrust your upper body toward his neck in an effort to catch up.

Trotting in Two-Point
Practice riding in two-point at all gaits to get your leg under you in the right alignment. Photo by Leslie Potter

To fix the chair seat, learn to perfect the two-point position. Adjust the length of your stirrups if necessary. Then ride in two-point at all gaits until you feel in harmony with your horse’s forward motion. It’ll be impossible to hold your two-point (especially at the canter) if your upper body is inclined too far forward or too far back. Keep in mind that your two-point is very similar to the position you should have over a jump.

2. Low, Fixed Hands

If your hands are held below the withers, you may also be pressing down onto your horse’s shoulder. That does seem like a secure way to steady yourself over the jump. Unfortunately, rigid hands pull against your horse’s mouth. When he jumps, you may resort to ducking so that your horse has some amount of freedom. Instead, you should be helping your horse with your hands.

Using a Neck Strap when Jumping - Ducking while jumping
Use a neck strap as a reminder to push your hands forward as opposed to keeping them at the withers. Photo by Leslie Potter

When your hands function properly, you can communicate with your pony and give him freedom to jump. Shorten your reins so your hands are held above and in front of the withers.

For a visual reminder, use an old stirrup leather as a neck strap that sits about a third of the way up his neck. Once you start jumping, press your hands forward to the strap—this will keep your hands off the withers and encourage a good two-point position.

3. A Poor Canter

Does your horse have a lazy canter? Too much pushing with your seat and bumping with your heels can put you behind the motion of your horse. Then, when your horse does reach the jump, you might throw your upper body forward in an attempt to help him leave the ground, which leads to ducking.

Good canter
The right quality of canter means your horse moves freely forward with controlled energy toward the jump. Photo by Leslie Potter

This habit could lead to an accident. If your horse refuses the jump, your sudden forward lunge could send you flying out of the saddle.

Work on developing your horse’s canter. You may need help from your trainer or instructor. Perhaps she can tell if your bit is too severe or your martingale is too short. Maybe your pony is becoming bored or sour about jumping and needs a change in his routine.

Once you discover the problem, you can fix it. Ideally, your horse should canter freely forward to each jump with controlled energy—then you won’t have to work so hard. Now you can focus on your position.

Bouncing to Success

Bounce Jumps
Photo by Leslie Potter

This handy jumping exercise can help you ditch the ducking. Rather than taking a stride between each element, your horse will land and immediately leave the ground again. It will feel as if he’s bouncing through the exercise. You won’t have the time to duck, sit down in the saddle, and then duck again.

To set this exercise, lay one ground pole about 9 feet in front of a cross-rail. Measure 9 feet and set another cross-rail. Then measure 9 feet again and set a third and final cross-rail. (If your horse has an extra long stride, you can increase the measurements between cross-rails to 10 feet.)

Be sure that you approach the exercise at a trot—it’s not set for cantering. Hold a two-point position all the way from your approach until several strides after the last cross-rail. Just stay still in the two-point. You’ll feel the motion of your horse jumping up to you instead of closing your upper body down to meet his neck.

As you get comfortable, raise the cross-rails to low verticals (about 2 feet high). After some practice, your ducking will disappear!

 

This article about how to stop ducking while jumping originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.

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