There are as many ways to train horses to jump as there are horse trainers. And there are a lot of “right” ways to do it, too. Many people have great systems that work for them. And I’m no different; I’ve started lots and lots of horses over jumps, and while I’ve tweaked it over the years, basically it follows the method many other riders do.
We start with walking over simple rails on the ground, then trot, then add a little crossrail jump, then add two jumps a bit of distance of apart that are low and negotiable at a slow pace. Usually somewhere around this time I’ll do a trail ride with low logs, following others, or free-jump the horse a little. All the while keeping it under 18 inches, pretty much. You want the horse to not feel anxious about putting his feet where they belong. They need to be comfortable going, step, push off, jump, land, step. Create confidence by keeping the rhythm the same and the height the same. They learn how high they need to go to clear and learn the sequence of the legs, which is really important for balance and for you as a rider.
If a horse knows how to put their feet, the height is not the problem. You want the horse to keep you in the tack so the best way to do that is keep him balanced. You direct him to stay slow and go one hoof at a time. I have never started a horse over fences that rushed with staying low and keeping them trotting, but I also mind my equitation, try not to throw myself at a fence and release their heads at every opportunity. Phillip Dutton feels that you must not pull on the mouth so much. It takes a horse’s confidence away.
Every single time you face the young horse to a fence — EVERY TIME — you must be
sure it is safe on the other side, has a good take off, is not too high, holds no surprises, and is not too much for the horse. You build a bulletproof jumper by doing that. You want a horse that has never learned how to say, “no” by questioning the size or look of an obstacle. If there is any doubt he must know you will not accept any hesitation or reluctance. If you are sure, then go. Even if you step over it from a walk. Never, never let them stop or run out at this stage, you do not want them to learn they can. This does not mean you should be cruel. It means don’t pick a big fight over something. Just insist and of course, make a big fuss over them when they give in and do it. Then forget it and go on.
I think a common mistake is rushing the learning curve of a green jumper.
I mention all of this because guess what — Lucky’s trotting poles and getting ready to jump! 🙂 I want to let everyone in on what I will be doing in the next few months with him, as many details as I can, so that you can understand how YOUR OTTB reacts when you do the same things that I am doing with Lucky.