We all know it when we see it: a horse executes a great jump – but what is it that makes it great? We know that all horses have their own style and that in the jumper ring a clear round is a clear round even if it isn’t pretty, but there are a few things we can identify in every horse’s good jumping effort.

In my own opinion as a rider and coach, a good jump happens when an athletic horse jumps up in the air with their body, has good push and everything is effortless for that moment. When a horse jumps a truly good jump they also land in balance. Sometimes they can jump a too powerful jump and land out of balance, so this isn’t the whole package. Finnish horseman and warmblood inspector Hakan Wahlman astutely points out, “Your transition can only be as good as your gait; therefore your jump is only as good as your gallop.” Certainly an excellent tip to help create the best possible conditions for the horse’s best jump.

I posed this question to some notable jumping riders; here are their thoughts:

Canadian Show Jumping Team veteran Jaclyn Duff begins: “A horse in good balance makes a good jump, but you can produce a better jump by adding power to the balance.”

A horse and rider jumping a fence.

Alex Grayton aboard Lord Grantham: “In order to be in balance, the horse must be straight to push evenly off of both hind legs in a straight trajectory.” (CanSport photo)

Grand prix rider, coach and clinician Alex Grayton expands on this point: “The horse must be in balance for the jump, the horse becoming lighter on the forelimbs and transferring weight onto the hind legs as they reach under the weight of the horse to push upwards. In order to be in balance, the horse must be straight to push evenly off of both hind legs in a straight trajectory; the shape of the horse is important – if it is inverted, it becomes difficult to transfer weight to the hind legs, and nearly impossible for the hind legs to step deeper under the mass of the horse to push up.

“The amount that the horse needs to transfer weight and step under itself depends on the size of jump and projected arc needed – more power is necessary for a bigger effort. The horse should have an even rhythm on the final approach in order for both horse and rider to gauge a distance and timing to prepare for the jumping effort. In short, balance, straightness, rhythm and power are the keys to the best jump, and they are all variables that the rider must monitor and adjust based on the situation and effort desired.”

Canadian athlete Andrea Harris, who runs Alpine Showjumpers in Alberta, notes the importance of the horse having some inherent traits, too: “A talented jumping horse with a good canter under a disciplined, feeling rider makes a good jump. Proper flatwork, where the horse has good balance along with acceptance of the aids, allows for better ability to lengthen and shorten easily for a desired takeoff distance while the horse maintains centre of gravity. An educated rider knows quickly what a specific horse needs – leg on or off at the base, soft hand or contact into an automatic release, and so on.”

Spruce Meadows resident rider Isis Landsbergen also recognizes the horse’s role during the final approach to a jump. “When your horse sights the jump and feels focused, light and uphill, your chances of a good jump are much higher. While every horse has a different level of support they need to help shape the best jump, when you find that balance and they jump up to you – it’s the best feeling.” Having a horse that is keen and understands the task at hand is important, but finding out how to create the light and uphill feel helps to inform what the rider should be thinking about.

Brian Morton, also a resident rider at Spruce Meadows, understands that each horse will have its own style, and an excellent jump for one horse may look quite different than that of a different horse. “When I look at a horse’s front end, I look for the ability to get deep to the jump without touching it, without having the momentum get stopped and without jumping out of balance. I like a horse who naturally lifts their belly, keeps their back round and relaxed through the jump.”


A horse and rider jumping afence.

Laura-Jane Tidball with Concetto Son: “If my horses can listen to my aids I can give them the best opportunity to jump each jump clean.” (Holly Grayton photo)


Laura-Jane Tidball of Thunderbird Show Stables sees the elasticity and responsiveness created in training leads to better jumping efforts on course. “Whether it’s to go fast enough to be under a time allowed or to collect well enough to shorten for a double of verticals, if my horses can listen to my aids I can give them the best opportunity to jump each jump clean.”

US rider, coach and trainer Ray Texel keeps it simple with his advice: “I think a great jump by a horse is when they appear to effortlessly alight off the ground, crest evenly at center of their arc (their bascule), and return to the ground in what looks to be the same balance as when they took off, as if nothing has even happened at all.”

Lastly, another US rider and winner of over 80 grands prix during a long career, Susan Hutchinson, simply says, “Generally, a happy, relaxed horse.”


An old photo of a horse and rider jumping a fence.

Susan Hutchinson riding Samsung Woodstock (in a war bridle!): “Generally, a happy, relaxed horse.”


While there is no one thing – no magic bullet – to make a good jump, the consensus seems to revolve around the qualities of the horse’s gallop on the approach. Spending time thinking about producing that during our daily work is a worthwhile task. Encouraging your horse to stay in a rhythm, to stay relaxed and balanced, to be able to affect your horse’s stride, straightness, and balance through the acceptance and understanding of the aids a rider will need, is sure to improve your horse’s natural abilities and tendencies.