Winter Jumping

by Holly Nelson

Reprinted from The Icelandic Horse Quarterly: Issue One 2003.
The Icelandic Horse Quarterly is the official publication of the US Icelandic Horse Congress. The magazine is printed four times annually and mailed to the membership. Back issues may be purchased for a small fee and may be read online at

When I got Breki a few years ago, he was pretty well trained, as his first owner, Hulda Geirsdottir, is a firm believer in dressage and other fun stuff. He was much more trained than I, being one of those desk-bound types who started riding at 40. There are 30 horses, 20 boarders, a riding school, and Pony Club at my barn. I wandered into the jumping class last winter, looking for something interesting for all those indoor months. I've learned a bunch since then, and am totally crazed by the fun and satisfaction of jumping.

I was shocked to get a blue ribbon at the Pony Club show last fall - it was only cross rails, only adult beginners, but we cantered smoothly over a very muddy course and he made it seem easy. The pleasure in that job well done lasts longer than my ability to wear the ribbon. We'll never be able to jump huge jumps, as Breki's just not big enough. But being months away from 50, I don't need to jump 4-foot fences. We can do well over 2 - 2' 6", and perhaps a bit higher, and we're working on going broader. And he's rock solid at those heights - speedy and comfortable, energetic and confident. He flies and I fly with him.

I'd encourage folks to consider jumping. It's exciting, but not too scary. Here are a few things I've found.

  1. Jumping makes you practice all the basics of good riding. You need to learn to sit deep on your horse, get your weight down into your heels, have quiet hands, ride with your back and legs, and move with your horse's rhythm. You ride with a much shorter leg than when riding Icelandic style, and it's helpful to post. But I sit a lot more than my big horse friends can, and I always have a lot of mane to hang on to! All of this serves you well any time you're on your horse.

  1. You need the right equipment. My Icelandic saddle - a very comfortable Jarl- was too far back for jumping well, and I couldn't move so easily in it. I borrowed jumping saddles for a long time and then bought a Wintec all-purpose saddle, which fits Breki great (and the price was very right). He tölts reasonably well in the Wintec, although for trail rides, of course, it's best to use the Jarl. (Don't make your friends from Iceland jump in an Icelandic saddle if your horse is going to make a sharp turn after the jump. Ask Hulda about that).

  1. It's harder to learn when both horse and rider are new at a discipline. Breki learns faster than I because he doesn't have all that other stuff to think about. I've had a couple more experienced riders on him, and that helps him a lot. Love those 12 year olds! I've taken a few lessons on the big school horses, so I can feel how to ride a good jumper. It helps me recognize when my horse is going well. As Breki gets better at it, my challenge is to know how to direct him correctly, and also to stay out of his way when he's right on the money.

  1. Like lots of horses, he's not crazy about arena work, but the jumping really seems to keep his attention-- sometimes you can see him grinning. We have lots more to learn, and it's a very slow process, but the challenge is really fun and it's making us a better team.

  1. The arena is a good place to learn the basics, but then putting it to use outside is what it’s really about. When Breki and I go to the little cross-country course in the back fields, jump up a bank, canter down into the water and over the log at the top before racing off to the next jump, I know the arena work is worthwhile. And a hunter pace is even more fun when the jumps don't slow you down.

  1. Jumping can be a very good discipline and scads of fun. It's a great way to spend winter months in a big horse barn, and will get you ready for a great outdoor riding, too. A good trainer, the right saddle, and a willingness to put the basics together are all it takes. The hardest part is going back to the rest of your life when you dismount.

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