At a recent masterclass, sponsored by Dodson & Horrell (16 January), Michael Whitaker and his 17-year-old son Jack shared some very useful advice for taking a young horse away from home for the first time to jump a course of showjumps.
Jack was riding a four-year-old home-bred gelding, by Billy Congo (pictured), who had never left home before. Here’s some top tips from the pair on how to introduce a horse to a new environment and build confidence…
1. We don’t ask too much from our young horses to start with — as long as they are forward and straight, that is all we are looking for.
2. We often use standing martingales on our young horses — they help with control and stop you getting smashed in the face!
3. Once we have had a little walk, trot and canter around to introduce the horse to its new surroundings, we start the jumping process using one pole on the floor in-between two wings. We trot over this a few times each way.
4. It’s important to try to avoid getting in a fight with your horse — keep things as straightforward as possible to avoid blowing their brains.
5. Once your horse is trotting and then cantering over the pole on the ground comfortably, build a small cross pole with fillers at the sides of the fence, so that the horse can see them, but they aren’t being asked to jump them — this will help them become accustomed to fillers and seeing different things. Jump the cross pole in canter until your horse feels confident, then progress to a small vertical.
6. Make sure that you give your horse the freedom in its head and neck to jump the fence, but don’t throw away the contact in case your horse goes to stop or spook.
7. Always praise your horse for doing the right thing.
8. We don’t mind horses being spooky — at least they’re thinking about the job in hand.
9. Never ask a horse something it isn’t ready to do.
10. If your horse is fresh to start with, make sure they are settled before you start jumping — don’t fight with your horse if they are fresh as it will only complicate things. Just keep calm and keep working with them until they settle.
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11. You have to let your horse make mistakes in order to learn — knocking the odd pole isn’t the end of the world, but don’t allow them to think knocking fences down is normal — there’s a balance between the two.
12. We like to use groundlines on fences — we find it helps horses with confidence and their jump.
13. It’s important to get young horses out and about as much as possible to help them see the world, whether it’s competing in small classes or hiring out arenas — it will pay off in the long term.
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