EQUUS - - Eq Consultant­s -

Re­luc­tant to jump

Q:I started do­ing some in­hand jumping with a cou­ple of 2-year-olds. They are brothers, and both were en­thu­si­as­tic dur­ing their first two train­ing ses­sions. They each would just walk up to a jump and sail over it. Dur­ing their third train­ing ses­sion, some­thing changed. They both started out as en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as ever, but while David con­tin­ues to jump higher and higher, Harry just stopped. He shows no re­sis­tance or ag­gres­sion; he just walks through jumps like they are not even there. He won’t even go over the itty-bitty rails that he used to clear with feet to spare. He seems in per­fect health. What might be wrong? Mika Inger­man Burling­ton, Ver­mont

A:One of the most in­ter­est­ing things about train­ing horses is that each one is dif­fer­ent, and so they re­act dif­fer­ently to the ques­tions we ask them. Your two brothers are a good ex­am­ple of that. It sounds to me that while David en­joys the chal­lenge of clear­ing the ob­sta­cles, Harry has be­come ei­ther ner­vous or com­pla­cent about it.

First, I want to cau­tion you against do­ing much jumping with a 2-year-old. Take care to avoid putting too much stress on young joints, even when limited to jumping in hand. How­ever, if you are jumping them only oc­ca­sion­ally on good foot­ing, and the ob­sta­cles are small and not re­peated too many times, it is prob­a­bly no more stress on their legs than when they play and buck in the pas­ture. Per­son­ally, I wait un­til my horses are 3-year-olds to in­tro­duce them to jumping cross rails and small logs, and I get more se­ri­ous with their jumping ed­u­ca­tion at 4.

I start work­ing the young horse over poles on the ground, usu­ally with a lead horse, and grad­u­ally build the jumps higher as the horse shows con­fi­dence. If Harry is show­ing any signs of ner­vous­ness or ap­pre­hen­sion about the jumps, then go back and start again from the be­gin­ning, prefer­ably let­ting him follow another horse, un­til he re­gains his con­fi­dence. It is not un­usual for a horse to jump bravely the first few times and then be­come ner­vous about it after sev­eral school­ing ses­sions. Pa­tient and grad­ual work will usu­ally quickly over­come any such re­luc­tance the horse has about jumping.

It’s also pos­si­ble that the prob­lem might stem not from ap­pre­hen­sion but from over­con­fi­dence. Many nat­u­rally bold horses jump en­thu­si­as­ti­cally when they are first in­tro­duced to it, but after the nov­elty wears off, they be­come bored and jump with min­i­mal ef­fort or just step over (or through) the jumps. For horses who knock rails down care­lessly, school­ing over (small) solid logs can in­still more re­spect for the fences. Of­ten the bolder, scopier horses, es­pe­cially long-legged rangy in­di­vid­u­als, will not show im­pres­sive jumping form over small fences be­cause it is so easy for them that they do not have to try very hard. This does not mean you should raise the jumps or over-face th­ese horses; you sim­ply have to give them time to de­velop, and wait un­til their age and level of train­ing in­di­cate they are ready to progress to larger fences. Of­ten th­ese are the horses who show the most tal­ent later on. Hope­fully, that will be the case with Harry. Phyl­lis Daw­son Event­ing trainer and rider Hills­boro, Vir­ginia


In­ter­na­tional rider and trainer Phyl­lis Daw­son has been com­pet­ing at the high­est lev­els of three-day event­ing for over 30 years. Daw­son rep­re­sented the United States in the 1988 Olympic Games and also rode for the United States Eques­trian Team in 1997. She op­er­ates her train­ing fa­cil­ity, Wind­chase, in Hills­boro, Vir­ginia.

GO SLOW: When train­ing young horses to jump, take care to avoid ask­ing for too much too soon.

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