• Maddy Brown

The Mathematics of Jumping

This article was originally published on February 23, 2016 on my old website.

I’m bringing it back now after recently chatting with some of my students about how often we jump our horses and why.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not much of a mathematician. However, I am acutely aware that math serves a purpose in this world. For example, it comes in handy when you’re balancing the pros and cons of nearly overdrafting your account in favor of a matchy-matchy saddle pad, bonnet, polo wrap combo. It’s necessary to measure out horse feed and calculate hay consumption, or to determine what score you need to break into the top ten in the derby. Math also comes into play when setting a riding plan for your horse.

There are two philosophies that I've heard over my years of riding by which I have always lived and breathed. Those are:

  • 90% of jumping is flatwork

  • Your horse only has so many jumps in his legs…make them count.

Living by these theories – or rather, facts – has led to lots of very sound, very healthy horses who love their jobs and do them for a very long time. That’s the goal in this sport, after all. Those two philosophies have become the baseline for planning every ride, every week, every month. Let me explain them a little further.

90% of jumping is flatwork

Think about a basic hunter course. You have 8 fences, but by the time you’ve finished your round, you’ve ridden the length of the arena 6 times.  You spent about 2 seconds in the air over each jump (that is assuming it’s a good sized fence and your lovely hunter gets a solid amount of hangtime), adding up to 16 total seconds of flight time, but your trip took 2 minutes to complete. That means that 104 of the seconds you were on course were spent – wait for it – flatting. That’s an awful lot in comparison to your 16 seconds spent leaping over sticks.

That’s the point this philosophy makes. Most of the time you spend jumping is actually spent with four on the floor. All the cantering to, from, and between the jumps is flatwork – collecting, lengthening, bending, yielding. You name it, what happens on the ground is what’s setting you up for a beautiful, correct jumping effort.

Heat’s weekly schedule combines lots of flatwork, conditioning, and hacking out with two days of jumping.

Your horse only has so many jumps in his legs…make them count.

My favorite one, and the basis for this whole article, this philosophy really brings it on home that your horse isn’t going to live, jump, and win forever. At some point, your horse will have to stop jumping, whether that be from injury or old age or what-have-you. It only makes sense that we take advantage of the jumps our horses’ legs have to offer. Make them count. Make them worth it.

Imagine if horses were allotted 100 jumps in their lifetime. Would you start jumping them over full courses when they’re 3? Would you waste those jumps just playing in the arena at home? Would you jump jump jump in the warm up before you go into the ring? Probably not. You would want to save them for when they matter: in the show ring.

Let’s now consider the amount of jumps you jump on average, in a normal calendar year. The general rule that I have always heard is to jump no more than 1/3rd of the days that you ride per week. Let’s say you ride 6 days per week, meaning you’d jump 2 days per week.

On those 2 days, your ride looks like this:

  • Warm up over a crossrail and/or small vertical. Jump it maybe 5 times to get your horse nice and loose.

  • Jump a course of 8 fences.

  • Mess up on the outside line. Jump it again.

  • Chipped out. One more time.

At the end of that average ride, you’ve jumped 17 fences.

Multiply that by those two days per week you’re jumping. 34 jumping efforts.

Per month, that puts you at 136 jumps.

All of the time spent developing Heat on the flat has created one of the best jumping horses I know!

But wait! Let’s say you show one weekend per month. Let’s factor in that weekend horse show…

  • You arrive on Friday. Schooling day. You warm up over a single on the quarter line a few times to get loose. Let’s say twice each direction, so 4 jumps.

  • You need to get over everything at least once. There’s 10 fences in the ring.

  • Your horse was super spooky off the ground at the trot jump. Do it again.

  • The diagonal bending was sketchy. Try it again.

  • Friday jump tally: 17 jumps.

  • Saturday is the first show day! Warm up for your classes over a crossrail both directions, a vertical twice each way, an oxer one way and a swedish the other to get your horse jumping up and round. Warm up: 8 jumps.

  • You have a medal and two hunter over fences rounds today. The medal has 9 fences, each hunter class has 8.

  • You’re also doing a hunter derby! There are 10 fences in the first round if you include the in-and-out.

  • You made the handy! 6 efforts.

  • Saturday jump tally: 49 fences.

  • Sunday morning and you’re warming up. Same 8 jumps as yesterday.

  • You’ve just got your two hunters today. 16 fences.

  • Sunday jump tally: 24

This very typical weekend horse show cost you 90 jumping efforts. Add this to your average month and you have 226 fences. Annually, 2,712 jumps.

This schedule is one that, for a horse who is fit and well-maintained, is easily manageable. It follows the rule of 1/3rd, and makes the assumption that the other 2/3rds of the days that you ride your horse per week, you are working on developing the horse on the flat only. Of 6 days you ride per week, your horse is jumping 2 and flatting 4. This only makes sense given the information I shared earlier about how much more time is spent on the ground than in the air. He gets one rest day.

2,712 fences per year. That is twenty-seven hundred times your horse is rocking back on his hocks, propelling himself through the air, and catching his entire body weight (with the added pressure of landing) on his two lil front hooves. Really, really incredible.

Like most people who choose the hunter/jumper discipline, I love to jump. Really, really love to jump. But as someone who loves my horses and wants them to be sound, comfortable, and competitive for as long as possible, I know that there is a limit, and I am acutely aware of how many jumps my horses go over and how they’re taken care of afterwards. So as winter starts to shift to spring, and we begin to shape up for the show ring and spend more time at the barn, take into consideration all of the fences you’re jumping and make them all count.

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