H&H question of the week: How to build confidence in a horse who stops when jumping

  • Four-star event rider Coral Keen provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how to re-instill confidence in her horse while jumping

    Q: “I’m looking for some advice on jumping. I have a seven-year-old Irish Draught cross who was green when I got her two ago. I’m guessing she had hunted but not seen many showjumps and was super green in the school.

    “Everything was going well; flatwork improving, always keen to jump and took me to a fence although she could be a bit all over place with her legs sometimes. She still tried and wasn’t put off by knocking things down. We got up to 80cm in competition and jumping 90cm-1m at home training.

    “I took her cross-country schooling and on the second occasion we went we encountered a fairly upright white cross-country fence which spooked her totally and on the third refusal I fell off. I got back on and jumped all the small jumps to keep her confident. After this it is obvious she has lost confidence and has started stopping if the stride isn’t bang on. This has rattled my confidence too.

    “She comes in very keen still and almost rushes towards the jump. Her canter is bouncy so when she slams the anchors on it is easy to be unseated. We have gone back down to small jumps again. Do you have any advice on how to stop her rushing without encouraging her to stop at the jump? She doesn’t give you any warning that she is going to stop.”

    A: The problems seem to have arisen since this incident and your mare sounds quite panicked which is causing her to rush to the jump and then stop because she has lost her confidence.

    I’d go right back to basics starting off with pole work which will help to stop her rushing. She will then start to panic less and she will be able rebuild her confidence.

    You are better to do the exercises mentioned below little and often and you will get more from the horse if you do three days in a row and then give her a break or do something different.

    Don’t practice for hours and hours and don’t expect your horse to get it right first time and fix everything in one day. Just set very small targets and once that box is ticked move on.

    Continued below…

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    Start with putting poles in random places around the arena, and trot over them. Approach in a normal working trot but keep repeating until your horse softens and is very relaxed.

    I like using poles on a circle as the horse can’t run as much. Work on this each day until you feel she is soft and relaxed remembering to keep each session to a max of 20 mins.

    Then progress to placing poles in front of a jump and on the landing side, still keeping it very simple and basic.

    Use three canter poles measuring 3m to a cross pole or a small upright with one or two placing poles on the landing too. This will help keep the canter regular. Repeat until she is relaxed and listening, working down to just one placing pole on front of the jump. If she continues to rush, when you land over the jump ride in a straight line and then halt so that she learns to wait for you.

    You need to be really methodical and I would have someone sensible on the ground that you trust to adjust the poles and to give you moral support.

    You could also consider having lessons with a professional, but choose someone who is sympathetic and who understands what you are trying to achieve.

    Once you feel you have all this really established, go cross-country schooling with a friend on a more experienced horse that can give you a lead.

    Jump out of trot – the classic trot and pop – and jump some really small jumps so that each time she goes she has a really good confidence-giving experience. Make it really fun, have a splash in the water, and enjoy it. Your horse will thrive on that especially if you keep giving her lots of praise and encouragement.

    And its worth remembering that the quickest way to stop any horse is white filler or jump as they tend to be extra spooky.

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