Jumping is the type of horsemanship which attracts the most riders. The feel that is gained through jumping, and following the horse’s motion with body and hands, is invaluable to the rider. Jumping helps riders learn the importance of riding forward with impulsion; which is so critical in both dressage and jumping.
Dressage, in turn, has much to give the jumping horse and rider combination; including greater control, suppleness, engagement, and straightness. The balanced qualities developed in dressage are among the greatest assets to the jumping horse.
The key to riding a successful dressage test, or a successful jumper course is flatwork that is done daily in preparation of these tasks. Balance, straightness, and engagement are the three basic goals to be achieved by consistent flatwork. You also need to have a horse that listens to your aids, has smoothness in all gaits, and has the freedom of neck movement.
Dressage work teaches our horse:
To have smooth and easy gaits through repetition,
To move in a steady rhythm, regardless of what the pace may be,
To be balanced not only in straight lines, but on circles as well,
To have accurate upward and downward transitions,
To lengthen and shorten the horses stride - including half halts,
To execute more advanced movements, such as flying lead changes, that would pertain to jumping a course.
All of the above listed principles are necessary when jumping a smooth and controlled course. It is great to have a horse that is a willing jumper, but without the dressage flatwork, your courses are not likely to be successful. When finding the perfect distance, or takeoff spot to a jump, all of these flatwork skills are key. The advantage to setting your horse up to the perfect distance is to give him the best opportunity to jump the jump efficiently, with the minimum effort necessary.
When you and your horse approach a jump, it is the rider’s job to find the ideal distance for takeoff. Once the rider sees this spot he/she may have to adjust the horses stride. There will be instances where a half halt is needed or the stride needs to be lengthened/shortened to get to a desirable distance.
Riders must know their horses and determine if a jump can be taken at a different angle, or how close they can arrive at the jump base and still negotiate a successful jump. There is much that a rider can do to adjust for a jump, by carefully considering the tightness and speed of turns, and the part of the jump that is to be taken.
These skills need to be second nature to the horse; as they need to be made split second in the jumping arena. The only way to achieve this is to work on flatwork repetitively, until these movements become comfortable for the horse to execute. As the horse becomes more aware of your aids and these movements, they will be easy to execute quickly.