Down banks and me just don't get along.
I have had a bad fall down a bank when a horse i was riding started charging up the little hill to the down bank and then dropped her shoulder and spun. i right right over her shoulder and down the bank, so height of horse plus 2+ foot of bank. Now I am afraid to canter my own horse down a bank.
I will canter up banks and trot down, but i am afraid of cantering down the bank. I was wondering if anyone could talk me though cantering down a bank (like what do i look at for my spot and whatnot) and how to get over this fear? thanks! I feel like my position when trotting down a bank is solid, I am just afraid. Thanks again!
I just had a clinic with Capt Mark Phillips and I asked to work on down banks because I knew I needed help, his tips were simple; weight in your heels, eyes up and soft fingers to slip the reins. And for me I count my strides to keep rhythm. Just think of your horse steping off of the bank not actually jumping off of it, I found the more I thought about just staying in the middle of my horse and keeping myself soft and relaxed the easier and easier it got for me and my horse seemed to be much happier with the way I was riding
I was going to search this board because there was a long thread with many experts chiming in about how to properly ride a bank. However, this new software is being very uncooperative!
My first thought is that since you are comfortable trotting, then you are already half-way there. Can you practice the idea of cantering a down-bank, before you actually do it? Such as set up a small jump (cross-rail would be fine) at the lip of, or on a downhill slope. That way you can feel and practice the correct position and aids, without having the same amount of drop. As you get more comfortable, make the jump bigger. (This would be safest to do with a solid jump, in my opinion).
Above all I would suggest doing this under the watchful eye of an instructor. I know someone who had a similar fear (and reason for it) and it took her a while to get over it. Mostly she just needed to do it many times until it was comfortable and easy, erasing the bad memory. Riding a totally safe and reliable schoolmaster over drops also helped build her confidence.
You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng
You've gotten some great suggestions so far. I would suggest focusing on your position and keeping your body soft and relaxed as fritz suggested. Remember that down banks require us to follow the movement with our hips not our shoulders. Focus on keeping a nice rhythm in the canter. Don't try to hold the horse too much as the slower they're going, the bigger the effort will be. Try to keep a soft elastic connection with your horse's mouth. As the horse leaves the ground, focus on pushing your hips forward and allowing in your elbow. A stiff elbow will cause the horse to hit your hand. This creates that awful bone jarring landing that we've all experienced before . If you feel any hesitation from the horse just "snuggle" into the saddle and keep your shoulders back and eyes up and forward. Do you have any hills that you could practice cantering down? This could help to get you comfortable with what your body should be doing without having to worry about a jump. Good luck!!
Can you canter down a slope without worrying? If so, I like the suggestion of a small downhill fence. Also, can you find a tiny bank? Some of the places that allow XC schooling in my area have the tiniest of banks - like 8" !!
Canter off that a few times and it feels like nothing, so you get some confidence back.
Then there's the old school version of just go do it, and think "FEET OUT FRONT". If your feet are in front of you, it's hard to come off over the shoulder. (figured that out going Prelim in a flat jump saddle) It may be all kinds of wrong if you start to pick it apart, but you've got to get that first one over and done with so you can start to make it good.
Just train yourself like you would a green horse who is worried about down banks
Find somewhere to school with several different sizes, preferably in one complex and start with the smallest and work your way up. Trot them all first and then go back to the smallest one (like someone said above, 8" or so would be great). Canter up and down it until you feel good and bored cantering down it, then go to one that is 12-15 inches, and repeat. Just like a worried horse, go slow, focus on the basics of your position, take the time to "praise yourself" when you do it, even if it was scary, repeat until you are bored with that size and quit when things are going well
Obviously you should do this on a horse you trust that has no down bank issues himself, if your horse isn't that horse, maybe you can borrow a bombproof bank horse once or twice to work on yourself? And definitely have a trainer with you to focus you on your position and praise you. Good luck! You can do it!
I've got the same fear after getting bucked off a few times (same horse, same day). I bit the bullet and ponied up the cash to build a bank at our barn and I've been working through it with my instructor. It helps that I'm now riding a super-packer who's jumped WAY more banks than I have. I'm getting more comfortable with the idea. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I know I have to do it, but I also know that I have nothing to really worry about on the current horse.
So not really advice but what works for me 1)jumping lots of banks 2)having my instructor watch me jump lots of banks and 3)jumping lots of banks on a really safe horse.
Some great advice here already. My advice is to practice as described above over some small stuff until you're bored. Dont approach too fast, stay soft and following in your position, and pay close attention to what works best to rebalance your horse after the drop.
For me, the most important thing was finding the right horse. I never liked big drops until I found my TB. His natural tendency at canter was to move very up, so he felt super balanced going down hills or down drops, even if I messed things up. With him I suddenly learned to adore banks. The more, the bigger, the better!