This horse and rider are in top condition for this class which is the jumper phase of a CCI3* event. Both are pared down to muscle with no excess weight to carry on the cross country and present a picture of perfect muscle to fat ratio.
The horse is jumping in a classic arc over the airy fence and has his ears tilted back listening to whatever instruction his rider is giving him. His front legs are so tight from the knees down that he’s almost hitting his belly with his hooves and the belly guard is a wise addition to his tack.
The photo was taken just after take off and it seems that the ground may slope down slightly in the direction the horse is jumping. As you can see, the balance of this advanced rider is quite different from it will be at the peak of the jump arc.
The rider’s heels are down, he has a nice flat back, and his head is up looking for his next jump. At first glance it appears that he has a death grip on the reins, but that is misleading. He has a wonderful, tight hand around his reins and I tip my hat to him as most riders these days seem to have a rather loose and wimpy hold on their reins. The curve in the reins tells me that, even while he has a good grip on them, the reins are not tight on his horse’s mouth.
He appears to be slightly ahead of the movement. In an athletic jump like this one, the rider has to lean slightly into the jump in order to prevent being left behind and this rider is doing that. As the horse approaches the top of his arc and is directly over the fence, his torso and the saddle will be more parallel to the ground. If you tilt this photo to the left about 45 degrees you will see the approximate position of the horse’s back and the saddle. As the horse levels out the saddle will come up closer to the rider. At the same time the rider should rebalance until his lower leg is parallel with the ground while keeping the same knee angle and folding at the hip to remain close to the horse. If you don’t believe this, tilt the screen 45 degrees to the right until the rider’s lower leg is parallel to the ground. Do you see how balanced this looks, with an equal amount of weight in front of his knee and behind his knee? The rider’s angles should remain until the horse tilts again to begin his descent to the other side of the jump. At that point, the rider’s leg will swing slightly in front of him and his body angle will begin to straighten as his horse’s body tilts downward. He is a tall rider with long legs and it looks as if it would be easy for him to grip with his knee and pivot his leg back while laying down on his horse, but I don’t think he will do that.
Changes I would suggest would be very slight. He’s a little higher out of the saddle than I like to see. That is partly due to his very long leg. However, I do feel that he could benefit by relaxing his hip and knee angles just a bit and coming closer to the tack. Perhaps open his knee a little to take the pressure off the inside of the joint and let his knee move a bit forward on his horse so his hip angle could fold a little more and bring him into better contact. And, one last thing, from the angle of the photo it looks like his elbows are just short of a 90 degree angle from the horse, so bring those flaps in. The difference between first and second place in the jumper ring is sometimes less than 1/10th of a second so cut down on wind resistance by tucking in the elbows and getting closer to the horse.
Overall, my impression is of a confident, advanced pair at or near the top of their class.
I was happy to hear afterward that this horse/rider combination is none other than Andrew Bourns, winner of the CCI3* Event that day.