Jumping Horses—Then & Now

The HDV12 German Cavalry Manual is very clear on one thing: Never, ever, ever interfere with the horse’s natural movement when jumping.

But is that still the case in modern riding? Let’s examine some modern trends versus the classical approach.

“No rider can make a horse jump. You allow the horse to learn to jump himself, then stay out of the way.” (Rolf Becher, who developed the Chiron method*).

German Cavalry manual Caprilli seat forward seat
The first two phases of the jump. (HDV12/1937)

The Origin of the Forward Seat

The ‘Caprilli seat’ — a forward-leaning versus backward-leaning seat meant to be easier on the horse — was relatively new in the first quarter of the 20th century. Cavalry officers from all over Europe were sent to Italy to learn this revolutionary seat. The German cavalry soon adopted this seat in their regulation (HDV12).

The forward seat was developed by Italian cavalry officer Frederico Caprilli, who initially faced resistance from the cavalry establishment and only earned fame and recognition after it was proven that horses were more willing and effective jumpers with the new seat.

Forward seat nurmi stubbendorf eventing olympics
Major Ludwig Stubbendorff and his horse Nurmi at the 1936 Olympics.

How to ride the classic forward seat:

  • Feet stuck through stirrups to gain stability
  • Lower leg from knee down stays calm and quiet by the horse’s side to create a foundation for the upper body’s movement while following the horse’s movement
  • The rider’s knees serve as ‘shock absorbers’
  • Shoulder and knee stay aligned in all phases
  • The rider keeps soft contact with the horse’s mouth



Fast-forward to the 21st century

The arrival of the ‘modern jumping seat’

In recent decades, there has been a development toward what we can call today’s ‘modern’ jumping seat. Here some of the features of the ‘modern’ jumping seat as we can observe them in books, online media, live competitions and instruction:

  • Instead of balancing on the basis of a sound foundation, the rider ‘hovers’ over the horse’s neck, supporting his or her weight and balance by elbows locked against the horse’s neck.
  • There is not steady (and reassuring) connection to the horse’s mouth, instead the reins either fly away only to be abruptly picked up again after the jump, or never soften enough.
  • The feet are barely in the stirrups, which support the toes or ball of the foot at most.
  • Without ample support from the stirrup, the knee (supported by elbows) locks (or not) and the lower legs fly back, touching the horse’s rib cage right under the cantle or stab into the horse’s side.

While these may not be the ‘official features of the modern jumping seat’, there is ample photo evidence, that this is a very popular way to ride now.


A rider in an international competition

Let’s give it a try!

The classic forward seat, that is…

Several successful riders on the international scene prove that you can have your (classical ride) cake and eat (win) it, too! Riders like Ingrid Klimke train to classical principles with the HDV12 as basis for their success.

If you are not already doing it, give it a try: Get back to classic and “get out of the horse’s way”.

The HDV12 German Cavalry Manual is an easy read with ample illustrations.
If you follow it closely, you can do no wrong, especially if supported by a caring and knowledgeable instructor.

Enjoy your horse!

*) a method to teach the classic Caprilli (forward) seat with playful methods and without fear

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