The great thing about show jumping is that you don't need to have a mega expensive horse in order to compete - there are plenty of local unaffiliated shows where you can have some fun over smaller, less demanding courses. If the thought of actually competing makes you a bit nervous, you can always go and jump a round or two over the Clear Round course instead - most unaffiliated shows have a ring set aside especially for this. It can be a great way of gaining experience without any of the pressure of being in a competition: you can start and finish in your own time, and as long as you jump all the fences in the right order, and jump them all clear, you'll even get a rosette.
Ride as many different horses as possible - you will learn something from each of them and become a more useful and versatile rider. The experience you gain will also make it easier for you if you are asked to ride horses or ponies for other people, as you'll be able to 'click' more quickly and get a good tune out of them. Top international show jumper John Whitaker is a brilliant example of someone who possesses this ability: in 2004 he won the tough Hickstead Derby on Buddy Bunn - yet he had only ridden him for the first time the day before!
Learning to be a better rider can be done out of the saddle as well as in it. Theory is also important, so read everything you can lay your hands on about riding generally as well as jumping specifically. Don't neglect stablemanagement either, as the correct care of your horse or pony plays an essential part in his success.
Position is the foundation of everything - it affects how secure and well balanced you are in the saddle, how well you can communicate with your horse, how sensitive you are to his feedback, and how effective your aids are. As well as working on improving your position while riding, you can iron out problems and strengthen weak areas by doing dismounted exercises. Ask your instructor to demonstrate a few which will help.
If you want to be good over fences, you will first need to be good on the flat. Jumping might be more fun and exciting, but if you haven't spent enough time getting the basics right you'll never get the best out of your horse.
Join the Pony Club - many top riders started their careers there! You'll learn loads at the rallies, there will be opportunities to compete and you'll make new friends who share your interests. If you don't own a pony or horse, you can still join, as there are around 600 riding schools who are part of the membership scheme, so you will still be able to join in all the activities. And although it's called the Pony Club, you can be a member until the age of 21, after which you can become an associate member until you are 25!
Keep on having lessons! No-one is perfect, and you should never stop trying to improve yourself. And as top riders will be the first to tell you, you never stop learning!
If you own a horse or pony, you can of course, start competing at shows. But if you don't have one, there's no need to despair, as riding schools often run client-only competitions which you can take part in. It may be the very bottom rung of the ladder, but at least you'll be getting a toe on it and gaining some valuable experience.
Whenever you get the opportunity, watch lecture demos and DVDs; you can also learn from the experts by watching them in action at shows, both in the ring and while warming up their horses before classes at shows.
If you decide that you want to take things a stage further and compete professionally rather than just as a hobby, you'll need to be dedicated, hard working, incredibly self-disciplined and highly motivated. Even if you consider yourself to be reasonably experienced, getting some kind of training will be invaluable if you can get a place - many of our top riders first started out working in professional jumping yards.
British Showjumping also run training schemes - you can find out more about these on their website at www.britishshowjumping
If you don't have a horse of your own, get as much practical, hands-on experience in as you can - everything you can learn will be helpful, even if it isn't specifically about jumping. Ask at your local riding school if you can become a helper, and try to arrive early for your lessons so you can watch a bit of the one beforehand.
Ask about ABRS exams too - the weekly rider Progressive Riding tests are a great way of learning more and of measuring your progress.
Show jumping isn't for everyone - you may find that you or your horse's talents lie elsewhere. But whatever you do, remember that it should be fun for both of you!