Horses are not born jumpers. Although a horse in the wild can jump a log to get to a certain destination, a horse in domestication needs to be taught to jump. Teaching young horses to jump can be tricky; their first jump will leave a lasting impression. In an ideal world, horses should jump every obstacle we present to them willingly. In reality, horses develop all kinds of problems and try to avoid jumping as best as they can. Not all horses do that, of course. Some horses are naturally talented and those of us who own such horses are blessed. As for the rest of us who really enjoy jumping and want to get the best out of their horses, how do we deal with all the problems associated with jumping?
The problems described below are general and common in the horse world. Every trainer will probably have his own technique to solving a problem, and every horse is an individual who may or may not respond to a particular technique. Therefore, the solutions suggested are general and apply to all horses. Most importantly, do not make the mistake of falling into the never ending spiral of tension. Stay calm and maintain a neutral but positive state of mind. Never loose your temper.
Problem # 1: The horse refuses to jump, stops before the fence, or jumps hesitantly.
An over-faced horse will refuse to jump because his confidence has not been established. Check that you are not advancing too fast for him. If you are, go back one level and reduce the difficulty. When you are positive that he is jumping positively, gradually increase the difficulty. Many horses take a long time to build their confidence so be patient.
If the horse still
refuses to jump, get another horse to jump ahead of him. Horses learn
surprisingly fast from one another and they also trust each other…if
he can do it, so can I.
Be warned that beating the horse with a whip or digging into his ribs with spurs will only make the situation worse. The goal is to let the horse trust in his ability, not completely shatter his confidence.
Problem # 2: The horse hesitates on the approach and slows down.
This happens with a horse who does not enjoy jumping or thinks it is too difficult for him. Instead of kicking on and on, work on the flat to make sure your horse is very responsive to light leg aids. Strong leg aids don’t work any better, they just deaden the horse’s sides. You want to sharpen his responses, not eliminate them.
When you want to jump, approach the fence in walk. Pick up the trot about 15 meters before the fence, encouraging him with your voice. Use your leg only if he needs it more forward energy. Otherwise, the legs should be draped around the horse, doing no more than ‘breathing’ with every stride; translated as the legs should lie closely against the horse.
Problem # 3: The horse rushes on the approach and rockets over the jump.
Allow more time for the warm up to make sure your horse is loose and relaxed. When working on the flat, include trotting poles and jump a small cross-pole every now and then. This accustoms him to the concept of jumping and plants in his mind the idea that it is no big deal.
Before jumping, ask yourself these questions: are there other excited or active horses around? Are you riding next to a paddock where horses are turned loose? Are you jumping towards the gate? These are factors that can contribute to the horse’s rushing. Try jumping in a quiet area and away from the gate.
Approaching the fence on a circle can help. Jumping from curves rather than straight lines tend to settle horses down a bit. Another good remedy is to place three to five trotting poles before the fence. This encourages the horse to slow down and think about his approach.
Problem # 4: The horse runs away after jumping the fence.
One of the main reasons that his occurs is because the horse is afraid of the rider’s hand. Harsh half-halts and pulling on the bit can actually aggravate the problem and make it worse. To slow the horse down and regain control, sit upright in a dressage position and keep your seat light and soft. Half-halt a few times until the horse has slowed down a little. You can place the jump before a wall to discourage the horse from taking off. It may be easier said than done to ask you to sit upright and half-halt a galloping horse, but it is the only way to correct the problem without making it any worse. Make sure that as soon as the horse responds to the half-halt, you lighten the contact and give him some rein. If he tries to pick up speed again, bring him onto a circle to avoid any loss of control.
To prevent it from occurring, approach the fence with as much leg as necessary. Don’t generate too much energy if the horse can manage the jump with the current activity.
Problem # 5: The horse is always fresh and very excitable about jumping.
A young or nervous horse should be jumped frequently but with little demand. Four or five times a week should be sufficient. Try including trotting poles and small fences in your daily schooling of your horse. You want your horse to build his confidence and get used to jumping, so never ask too much of him before he is ready.
Maintain an even rhythm and never ask for sudden changes of speed when you are jumping. Stay calm and work on establishing a secure seat for yourself so that you do not upset him by an unbalanced seat. Include frequent hacking as this is essential for the mental well-being of the horse.
Problem # 6: The horse leans on the bit, resists the aids, and runs out at the fence.
If your horse only does this occasionally, consider if you have overworked him. Horses get frustrated by too much work and will resist if pressured. If that is not the case, then don’t give the horse anything to lean on. Lighten your contact and give him more rein. To maintain control with the light contact, keep your hands wide apart as you approach the jump. This lessens the pressure on the bit and keeps the horse straight. Your approach should be slow and steady; half-halt if necessary but always give the rein again to prevent the horse from leaning on the bit.
It has been said that changing the bend two or three times on the approach to the fence can stop the horse from running out. You can try this if you wish, but if it results in a crooked jump, it is best to try another remedy.
Also, jumping on a curved line or as you come out of a curved line can help with the problem. This engages the hind legs and maintains a certain bend, discouraging the horse from running out. Above all, never use harsh or restraining aids or equipment to force the horse to jump.
Problem # 7: The horse approaches the fence in a crooked line.
This is a problem often associated with poor schooling on the flat. You will need to spend more time working on straightening exercises on the flat before you attempt to jump. Once that is done, to break the habit, you can position ground poles before the fence in a funnel shape. That is, make a lane of poles that direct the horse to the center of the fence.
Your horse could
also be stiff to one side. You can correct that by straightening exercises
too. Jump him more often with his stiff side stretched, i.e. bending
to the left if he is stiff on the right. Remember that most horses are
stiffer on one side so work on the flat is extremely valuable to suppling
both sides of the horse. You can also practice lateral movements by
getting the horse responsive to sideway-stepping aids. It will prove
handy when you need to straighten the horse on the approach of a jump.
That is an effect that results from a crooked approach. Again, work on improving your horse’s straightness on the flat. Check that you are not the cause too; if the stirrups are uneven or if you collapse one hip on the take-off, the horse will be unable to maintain a straight line.
If the horse always
tends to jump towards one side, try the following exercise: Say your
horse jumps with an angle towards the left. Ride a circle to the left
and jump the fence at approximately a 45º angle to the right. The
opposite applies if he jumps to the right. Make sure your angle is not
too sharp or you are risking a run-out. See figure 1.
Hollowing over jumps is similar to hollowing on the flat. Again, go back to basics and work the horse in a rounder, longer outline on the flat. Read the article on Long & Low as the exercises described will help strengthen the horse’s back. Otherwise, spend more time in the warm up loosening your horse.
Check if you are blocking the horse with your hand. A heavy hand or seat can result in the horse hollowing his back. Always maintain a light but steady contact. Hill work can also strengthen the horse’s quarters and back and will help him retain the desired bascule shape over fences. Lateral exercises, such as the shoulder-in and half-pass, can be of great benefit to the development of the horse’s athletic ability, provided that your horse is already established in his training. Perhaps you can do some loose jumping (jumping without the rider) as this will help him find his balance naturally.
Problem # 10: The horse is careless and constantly hits the poles.
Does he do this at the end of the session? If so, he may be tired. Give him a break and jump a small fence after he catches his breath, then declare the workout over for the day. If it has nothing to do with exhaustion, try the following tips:
Place a pole before the fence to help him determine the take-off point.
Vary the size and shape of the fences; variety will catch his attention.
Surprise your horse by jumping right out of a tight corner or immediately after a short break. This will keep him attentive.
Approach the jump in a steady rhythm. If the horse is not balanced, he will knock down a pole. As the rider, you should help him by making the approach as perfect as possible.
Gridwork increases the horse’s agility over jumps. It is great for improving his technique both on the approach and over the fence.
Remember that with any problems you face in your training, finding the cause will take you 50% of the way towards solving it. Patience and a calm attitude is essential; never punish your horse out of frustration. In fact, punishment should be the very last resort. Always make sure that the horse understands your message. Many of the training problems we face are due to the fact that the horse does not quite understand what is required, and we often interpret that as lack of obedience. Give your horse a chance to perform and keep in mind that you two are a team!