How can I build my young horse’s confidence for jumping hedges?

  • If you’re looking for advice on how to teach a horse to jump a hedge, Nicky Hanbury, a joint-master of the Quorn Hunt with her husband Joss, has some great suggestions to help build confidence at home before heading out hunting.

    Nicky has been involved with horses all her life and the couple breed and produce event horses and racehorses. All the horses Nicky hunts are home-bred, and she produces them herself. Nicky is an all-round competition rider who has evented, team chased and has ridden in hunt races.

    Training the stars

    Nicky says: “I produce all my own horses from scratch, so I am yet to have a problem with hedge jumping as such. However, I feel this is a common problem for many riders and their young horses, which, if tackled sympathetically, can be rectified with time and patience.

    “Most hedges one jumps out hunting are relatively small; probably smaller than fences you are jumping at home. Therefore, ride a hedge in the same way as you would any other fence.

    “Just because you are hunting does not mean you gallop at the hedge when your horse has never approached an obstacle at that speed before. Ride your horse in a collected canter and approach the hedge in the same way as you jump him at home. This is not possible to do unless your horse is relatively relaxed and not fazed by the whole hunting experience.”

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    How to teach a horse to jump a hedge

    1. Before introducing your horse to hedges, try jumping normal fences in an arena with other horses. Initially, jump behind another horse, then build two fences next to each other across the arena so you can jump as a pair alongside each other. Horses are often more worried by the proximity of other horses jumping next to them out hunting than the actual fence.

    2. Construct as good a replica of a hedge as is possible with the materials you have available. Initially, have a well-defined ground line with a pole in front of the fence and, if necessary, have another pole along the top. When you are both jumping it confidently, remove the poles and jump it again. Then progress to a natural hedge. If necessary, prune it to make it as inviting as possible — remove sticking-up branches and anything from in front of the hedge.

    3. When hunting, don’t jump the first hedge you come to unless it is relatively small and well defined with no ditch or scoop in front of it. Approach the hedge in exactly the same way as you did when schooling at home.

    4. Progress gradually. Just because you have jumped your first hedge, don’t get carried away and try to jump everything; build up your horse’s confidence slowly.

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    Things to consider…

    • If your horse has never hunted before, take him out with a group of riders and practise cantering as a group to accustom him to the proximity of other horses. This will greatly increase your chances of your horse listening to you, and you being able to present him correctly to whatever you want to jump out hunting.
    • The better you prepare your horse for the hunting experience, the more likely you are to jump hedges with control and confidence. Hopefully, you will enjoy your day’s hunting all the more.

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