Friday, April 11, 2008

Early Jumping Training

I've got a few hours before my flight, so I thought I would take the opportunity to answer a question about how I trained Brego to jump.

As background, even though I had ridden hunters most of my life, I had never taken a completely green horse and taught him or her to jump. So there was a lot of learning on my part about how to put together exercises that would ask the appropriate question and build up to a proper jumping course.

Brego Jump

I started playing around with Brego on the trails, trotting over logs and such, but not expecting anything from him other than he must go over and not stop. He did fine, as he always does, just packing around in a clumsy, uneducated fashion.

I have a close friend who is also a hunter trainer, so when I started to get excited about eventing, we teamed up and I started taking lessons. We began with setting up canter poles and just asking him to canter over them in rhythm. It was pretty discouraging because he was not truly coming forward and, being green, would miss his stride and plow over the poles. He didn't care if he stepped square on a pole or not. Brego is known as the pole killer.

So then we raised the poles about a foot off the ground, and again, he would either canter over perfectly or just blow through them. He wouldn't make any corrections if he started to miss the stride. In retrospect, I think I did him a great disservice because he needed to be much more adjustable on the flat, before asking him to jump. He just didn't have the instinct you look for in jumpers to get you out of a mess and leave the poles up. He would rather crash through things and stop working so hard. :)

Honestly, when your horse looks like that on the flat, this is what you are going to get jumping...


The first couple cross rails we set up were also very disappointing. He jumped them, but with really awful form and inherent laziness. Again, our lack of preparation on the flat was a big issue. I am lucky in that through all of this, Brego never really let his clumsiness shake his confidence. He would nail a jump and look gorgeous and then the next fence he would tear down, but it never made him want to quit and he never stopped.

So more dressage lessons, more fitness, lots of time in the jumping chute so he could figure things out on his own, and he started to mentally understand what jumping is all about. Poles were not just something you broke because you could and it didn't hurt, they were a kind a test that could be fun! You could actually see him think about the problem instead of running around and lifting his legs at the (mostly) correct time. He's a very smart horse, but the whole point of jumping was lost on him until we started to make things more interesting.

Once I raised the jumps to 2'6"-2'9" and added solid obstacles, he really started to "get it". He started to understand the rhythm of a line and how impulsion made jumping easier, not harder. He would lock onto fences farther and farther out and think about them. And, because of my ammie nature and his size, it was a lesson he needed to learn by himself. I am not good enough to teach it to him through perfect riding.

This picture is from the last time we jumped. And honestly, if we never jump again, this picture proves that he is a successful jumper. It took almost a year to get to this picture, and a lot of trial and error along the way to reach this moment. If I had a thin-skinned, mentally fragile horse, I would have gone to a professional for most of the work. But Brego just seems to like trying new things and is very forgiving.

He's still not very rateable and jumping is definitely something we are lagging in this days. But we'll make it through somehow.

I highly recommend this book on eventing which helps cover some canter pole to cross rail exercises to start a horse to jumping. There's lots of good information out there in other books as well. Just don't give up and listen to your horse. You'll be perfect.

This is just my opinion, but I think that asking horses to drill endlessly over 2' fences makes them worse jumpers. It teaches them to be lazy and not pay attention. Endless drilling is always bad, but especially over boring little jumps. So when Brego and I are stuck and he's not listening, he's bored. If he is calm and obviously not brain fried, I raise the stakes and the fences and then lo and behold, he CAN make the distance. So in general, I don't jump him under 2'6" anymore, because we will always battle a case of the "lazies". I do fewer fences higher or more interesting and call it a day.

Brego jumps out of pastures from a trot or (once) from a standstill at about 4'. We school at 2'9" and he does just fine.


rachel! said...

Thank you so much for such a quick and thorough answer!! :D

My guy looks SO much like Brego on the flat -- really, just sounds a lot like him in general. I know I need a *lot* more flatwork, but sometimes I just really miss jumping!

Lovelove that picture of Brego going over the log. I'll be excited to hear how he is when you jump him next -- I'm sure all your dressage work over the winter will really pay off.

Have a wonderful trip! I'm looking forward to reading about it!

Anonymous said...

I agree - over drilling on small horses just makes for sloppy jumpers. My horse has a lazy streak as well and will make absolutely no effort over small jumps but jump over the moon for things of reasonable size.

Anonymous said...

I agree - over drilling on small jumps just makes for sloppy jumpers. My horse has a lazy streak as well and will make absolutely no effort over small jumps but jump over the moon for things of reasonable size.

Jackie said...

I'm with you and Ranchette, there's no need to endlessly school over low fences. I suppose it depends on the horse though; that may be what some need. My girl, on the other hand loves to jump and feels that anything under 2'6" is beneath her. She's not lazy, but if it's boring she doesn't bother to try very hard.

Anonymous said...

WOW, that first picture is incredible! I think my Jasper loves to jump. Complete surprise to me, we are so conditioned to believe drafts don't jump. But if he is running around the arena he will jump a pole or barrel atleast 3 or 4 times - at full gallop. He gets absolute glee out of it. He likes longing over poles too, stops him from getting bored.