Here showjumper Sarah Lewis, who competes up to two-star level and also previously competed to two-star level eventing, shares her advice on how to tackle spooky fences with your horse or pony.
1. Start small
Make the problem as easy as possible for you and your horse. If it has spooky fillers make a little cross-pole between the fillers, pulling them out to the side and pop over it until the horse jumps confidently, without over-jumping. Gradually you can pull the fillers in and put a pole over the top so that you are jumping easily and confidently. You can take your horse round and show them the fence first, however if you do this, make sure to jump it the first time you approach it properly.
2. Start slow
Horses are naturally flight animals, so if you gallop at something they are scared of they are likely to either gallop past or slam on the brakes. Come to your spooky jump in a balanced, forward trot, which will give you more time and make it easy to keep the horse straight. This will give your horse more time to look at the problem and understand what is required. Once you have hopped over both ways a couple of times in trot, you can start to canter over the fence and increase the size.
3. Keep straight
Make a proper 90 degree turn through the corner before you approach your fence so that you have the horse absolutely balanced and straight. Once again, this will give you and the horse more time to address the problem.
4. Don’t override — just be positive
Sometimes fences we think are terrifying aren’t spooky to horses at all – they don’t see bright colours the way we do — bright orange is just grey to them. Horses are very sensitive to your tension, so don’t alert the horse to impending terror by approaching “all guns blazing” – just keep calm, straight, leg on and deliver him to the fence in a normal positive way.
5. Sit up
If you sit up, rather than leaning forward, this naturally keeps your lower leg in a better position, nearer the girth, where you can squeeze the horse forward more effectively. If your horse does spook, you are less likely to take a tumble and your leg will be where you need it to propel your horse forward and over the fence.
6. Don’t take your horse by surprise
In showjumping you are allowed to show your horse some of the fences before the bell goes — take advantage of this. Make sure you enter the ring as early as possible, giving yourself plenty of time. With young horses, I always show them the first fence – even if I have schooled at the venue. Horses don’t always understand that a few plain fences in the warm-up really means that they are going to canter straight round to a filler in a different place. Show them the water trays and make a quick figure of eight through doubles and combinations to try to help them understand that there is room to land between the elements.
Whether showjumping or eventing, all the work you do at home, and when taking the horse schooling at different venues, is very important so that when you find yourself at a show with many distractions, you can rely on your good preparation and training to make the questions you are asking second nature to your horse.
Now you’ve got that advice in mind, take a look at these showjumping competitions available to enter where you can show off what you’ve learnt…
Date: 29 July
Venue: Codham Park Equestrian, Braintree
Details: “This affiliated competition has classes ranging from 1.10m/newcomers up to 1.40m with a Big Star Championship qualifier.”
Date: 29 July
Venue: Mullacott Event Centre, Ilfracombe
Details: “This competition has classes from 40cm up to 95-100cm with prize money and rosettes on offer, plus a clear round at the start of the day.”
Showjumping at Burgham International Horse Trials
Date: 29 July
Venue: Burgham International Horse Trials, Morpeth
Details: “This affiliated competition features classes ranging between British Novice to a 1.30m open.”
Nervous and novice showjumping
Date: 4 August
Venue: Milton Equestrian Centre, Worksop
Details: “This show features classes from a 30cm clear round up to 55cm with junior and senior sections with rosettes to sixth and prize money .”
Date: 5 August
Venue: Field House, Staffordshire
Details: “This affiliated competition has classes ranging from British Novice to 1.20m.”
Date: 7 August
Venue: Forest Edge Arena, Swaffham
Details: “This competition includes a clear round and classes from 65cm up to 1.05m.”
Visit equo.co.uk for full competition and training listings