Excerpt from the essay “Tallyho and Tribulation”
Jumping over a fence on horseback is an almost utterly counterintuitive process. Getting it right is a trick of the mind as much as a physical skill, a process of learning at times to do the exact opposite of what the self-preservation instinct demands. In a perfect jump the rider feels as if he is the one soaring through space in a parabolic arc; the horse is just something below swiveling on gimbals, leaving the rider’s balance unaffected. To acheive that result the rider must maintain his balance with supple knees and ankles–he must be, in effect, independent of the motion of his horse. Yet he can achieve that only by being fully aware of and at one with the horse’s motion–and, indeed, the horse’s anticipation. Riders in the ring are sometimes taught to deal with this contradiction by what has always struck me as a bastardized compromise; you sit firmly in the saddle, with your balance in the center of the horse; you keep your horse under an almost rigid control with your hands and your body weight; and then, at the last second, just as the horse pushes off the ground, you shift your balance forward into the airborne jump. The show-jumping ideal is to be able to choose the exact distance from a jump where you want to take off and “place” your horse at that precise spot. Riders who do this for a living on the Grand Prix show-jumping circuit can even make it look artistic and natural–some of them, anyway.