Q: I have a problem with a horse I ride at my local riding school. She trots and canters well, but when I jump her she rushes and plunges into the fences.
Although the mare is a very capable jumper, she either takes off too soon or too late.
What makes her do this and is there anything I can do to help her jump more calmly?
A: The problem you describe is quite common and may have been caused by a number of things. Horses, contrary to common belief, are not natural jumpers.
They aren’t like deer who will automatically jump in the wild (and therefore have to be enclosed with very high fences when domesticated).
Horses have to be trained to jump and taught to approach a fence in rhythm and balance, to jump and then continue away calmly.
Individual horses will vary in temperament and enthusiasm with regard to jumping and often get excited as they learn more. Similarly, they can become anxious about jumping if they are asked to tackle something higher than their level of training. In the latter case, if the training has been inadequate, the horse may start to rush the jumps to get them over with as quickly as possible.
As the horse you refer to is a riding school horse, I would suggest you talk to your instructor about why she may be acting like this. It may be something to do with her history – what has happened to her in the past may still affect her present behaviour.
Your instructor can also help you adapt to her way of jumping. Horses who are ridden by many different riders in a riding school environment are more difficult to re-school as there will have been an inconsistency in the way they were ridden. Horses learn or relearn a lesson through repetition, but they can become confused when ridden differently so often.
Try to ride calmly into fences, keeping your body position and hands quiet and consistent. You should avoid trying to hold the horse back as this will make her pull against you more, as you have already discovered.
To re-train her, she needs to be worked quietly over poles on the ground until she accepts these calmly at a good rhythm.
As a next step, a small fence could be incorporated. Set out a line of three or four poles about 4ft 6in apart, with 9ft between the last trotting pole and the fence.
When she is calmly trotting to this, one or two other fences could be introduced at random around the school. Circle in and out of these jumps and only present her at one when she is calm and obedient and not dictating the terms of the approach.
Your instructor will be able to set a re-training programme for you.