A judge’s remark that’s often seen on dressage score sheets is that the canter “needs more jump.”
But what does that mean? And how can you achieve more jump in your horse’s canter?
Read on to find out
What is “jump” in the canter?
The term “jump” is often used to describe the amount of bounce and elevation in the horse’s canter strides.
The degree of jump that’s achieved in the horse’s canter stride depends on the duration of the moment of suspension, when all four of the horse’s feet are off the ground, and on the spacing between each footfall.
A good canter that has plenty of jump will have a very distinct three-beat rhythm, thanks to a large amount of air-time.
Horses with a poor canter tend to have a quicker, earthbound gait. The strides are flatter, and the rhythm is less clear.
Also, a lack of impulsion can cause the canter to lose jump and become flat.
Often, riders who are attempting to collect the horse’s canter do so by slowing the tempo of the pace. That’s fine, as long as the impulsion and energy are maintained. However, simply making the tempo slower without using enough leg will cause the canter to lose jump, and that often corrupts the correct, three-beat rhythm too.
Why is “jump” in the canter so important?
A canter without sufficient jump is flat and expressionless.
If the canter lacks impulsion, the rhythm and sequence can become corrupted, ending up as an almost two-time shuffle!
To create more jump in the canter, you need a deep, supple, balanced seat. Also, you must understand how the gait works and know what happens at each phase of a stride.
Your seat in the canter
Before you can create more jump in the canter, you will need to develop your seat.
Learn how to follow the canter whilst keeping your seat in contact with the saddle at all times. You should be able to feel the horse breathing in and out with each stride he takes.
It’s very important to keep your inner thighs relaxed and don’t grip the horse’s barrel, as that will kill the jump and flatten the canter strides.
Keep your torso quiet and upright. Don’t rock backward and forward as this upsets the horse’s balance.
Absorb the up and down motion of the horse’s back through your hips, knees, and ankles, as well as your back. That allows you to keep your shoulders still.
Remember that too much forward-backward motion can push the horse onto his forehand, and he may also come heavy in the hand or curl up behind the vertical. Also, rocking can cause your legs to swing, creating background noise for the horse that could disturb the rhythm.
You can influence the shape of the canter stride and create more jump by accentuating the upward or forward motion. Joining the forward motion helps to lengthen the stride, whereas increasing the upward motion encourages the horse to lift his forehand.
So, if you reduce the forward motion of your seat and redirect it in an upward direction, you will collect the horse and increase the jump.
To help keep the canter rhythm clearly defined and in three-time, try counting out loud, “one-two-three, one-two-three.”
Exercises to create more jump in the canter
You can use the following exercises, incorporating half-halts, to create more jump in the canter.
Ride a 20-meter circle, pushing your horse forward into a bigger canter.
After a few strides, use half-halts to shorten the canter gradually and then make four or five collected strides.
Repeat the exercise several times. The horse should become more elastic over his back, which will help to increase the moment of suspension and therefore produce more jump.
Ride canter-trot-canter transitions on your 20-meter circle, aiming for two transitions per circle
Next, ride canter-walk-canter transitions.
Finally, develop the exercise further by riding a few steps of big canter, a transition, and then a few steps of small canter.
Using poles can encourage your horse to inject more jump into his canter.
You don’t need to use very high jumps, and you don’t have to be onboard if jumping isn’t your thing. Instead, you can try jumping your horse through a gymnastic grid on the lunge or whilst loose schooling.
You can vary the combination of fences within the grid to help improve a flat, downhill canter and teach the horse to be quicker with his feet.
A lack of jump in the canterwork is a common criticism that riders see on their dressage score sheets.
Also, a poor seat and a lack of ability to follow the canter movement can cause the horse to tighten through the back, losing cadence and expression in the canter.
If you have any questions about how to achieve more jump in your horse’s canter, or if you have any other hints and tips that you would like to share, please leave us a comment below.