Training the horse to jump
Some essential factors in training a horse to jump. The importance of the rate of progress
Horses are born with varying degrees of jumping ability. The trainer’s task is to develop horse’s ability, giving him the confidence to jump many different types of obstacles and to do so when carrying a rider.
A horse jumping correctly from a balanced, calm, yet, energetic approach to an obstacle appears to do so with ease. During the last few strides of the approach he stretches his head and neck forward and downwards, then raises them to spring upwards off his forehand. This takes place a moment before the hind feet meet the ground. The powerful muscles of the hind quarters and thighs, and the leverage of the hips, stifles, hocks and fetlocks, push the horse upwards and forwards over the obstacle.
During take-off and over the obstacle, the horse’s back should be rounded, not hollow, with withers as the highest point and with the head and the neck stretched forward ho help his balance (known as ‘basculing’).
On descent, the head and neck rise slightly and the forelegs meet the ground one after the other, followed by the hind legs. This style is the most efficient method of jumping and demands least effort from the horse. But it takes time to build up the muscles and to develop the suppleness to enable him to jump in this way. Rushed training usually results in incorrect muscles development, less efficient styles and often eventually – because it takes an effort to jump – a loss of confidence and refusal.
The muscles which should be developed are: the upper neck muscles (not those on the underside), the shoulder and forearm, back and loin, which are probably the most important, and the second thigh muscles.
The muscles should be developed through flat work, riding out, especially up and down hills, and gymnastic jumping exercises.
The flat work is vital in order to develop the correct muscles and the controlled riding necessary to jump in the above style. In the case of the potential show jumper, greater emphasis can be placed on jumping in conjunction with his flat work. Easy obstacles should be used so that he gradually builds up his his ability and confidence.
Afer he relaxes when ridden and when he is sufficiently obedient and fit, the rider can take him over trotting poles, then progress gradually to small obstacles, with the size and variety of the jumps being slowly increased.
The rate of progress will depend on the ability of the horse and rider, but there are some essential factors: the jumping should be fun for the horse, so he must not be asked too much for his stage of training, nor should be asked to jump when tired, and schooling sessions over jumps should be short. Slightly more difficult fences may be tackled when the horse can jump the easier obstacles in the styles described above, but if at any time he loses his confidence, return to the easier obstacles. It’s important that in each jumping lesson he is loosened up over trotting poles and small fences, gradually progressing to ever larger obstacles.