EQUINE MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING - Fred and Rowena Cook
Retraining Racehorses, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Schooling
Email: Enquiries@equinetraining.co.uk or call 01780 740773
MOST horses do have the ability to jump to some degree; however some just do not enjoy the experience whether with or without a rider so they should not be forced to do so. Or it may be that the horse has difficulty jumping which can be due to general weakness and lack of musculature or some other physical issue which needs addressing - or even an inappropriate bit, poor saddle fit or bad riding, or a combination of factors.
THE most important aspect of jumping is to be realistic about your own ambitions and capability as well as the ability of your horse so as not to put undue stress or pressure on either of you; it is no good wanting to tackle a Discovery course if your horse is not confident and happy when faced with a course of fences standing at just 2ft 6". However most people, although enjoying jumping, are happy not to attain any great height, so the abilities of most horses more than copes with the demands placed upon them.
THE natural talent of individual should be allowed to come through; it cannot be forced but that does not mean to say it is not in there; it is just a case of finding out - but in the right way not as not to put the horse off altogether.
POLEWORK is of even more benefit for the ridden horse as he has to carry the weight of a rider. Such exercises can be carried out with a horse in a more stretched outline or with him more collected up; it entirely depends on what the trainer is wishing to teach or achieve.
AS with ground training, the horse can be worked over raised poles when he is ready to cope with the additional physical and mental effort such exercise exerts.
THE gelding on the left is a thoroughbred whilst the gelding on the right is a warmblood. These two photographs illustrate what has been stated under "Ground Training" - that a horse's breed should always be taken into account when training him. Just compare the two and how different the picture presented ia: the thoroughbred is quite correct but look at the warmblood and how he has lowered the quarters to engage and propell himself forwards.
AS with ground training, the horse can be worked over raised poles when he is ready to cope with the additional physical and mental effort such exercise exerts.
ONCE the little horse pictured below has become more accustomed to working over raised poles and his balance and strength improves, we can ask him to work in a more rounded outline; with neck stretched forwards and down, this is absolutely fine at this stage of training.
THE natural progression from polework is an introduction to jumping.
THIS is tremendous fun for horses and all of them really do seem to enjoy it whatever their capability.
LOOSE jumping is a wonderful training exercise which is not made enough of; a horse can learn so much from it as well as it being an ideal way to introduce new types of fences and fillers and for building or restoring confidence. And of course it is an exercise that is benefitial to the experienced jumping horse as well as the young horse. Working a horse loose over fences enables him to work things out for himself whilst being subtly guided by his trainer. As with any training exercise the horse must be allowed time to learn and absorb what is being asked of him.
WITH the correct and combined use of voice commands and body language it is easy to get horses to change the rein or adjust their speed so that fences of all sizes and widths can readily be tackled.
JUMPING exercises are excellent for dressage horses too as not only do they have to use different muscles, but the stretching required for jumping is so good for them helping eliminate tightness and stiffness - it keeps them opened up.
OBSERVING a horse, even over a small fence, provides the trainer with valuable insight as biomechanics, gait, etc. particularly when the horse lands.
WORKING over single fences is an invaluable training exercise and the appropriate and strategic placing of ground rails teaches the horse all manner of things depending upon their placement. The sort of fence that is built is also very important depending upon what the desired achievement of the training session is
COMPARE the two photographs below; it is the same horse and so illustrates what correct training can achieve).
IN the first it can clearly be seen that this horse has a very poor technique - he is not using his body athletically; this was for several reasons - his body physically could not shape due to musculoskeletal and internal problems which actually caused pain, he lacked the confidence to jump and he had not been taught properly. This caused adverse behavioural displays which resulted in a very stressed and nappy horse which was depositing riders at an alarming rate. .
HAVING corrected the physical, a few weeks of suppling exercises followed, after which gymnastic jumping exercises could begin.
THE gymnastic exercises having clearly worked - there is no doubting the difference; now the horse is really using himself - he looks and is athletic.
COMPARE the pictures again; we now have a jumping horse.
OF COURSE a jumping horse has to be able to tackle width as well as height. Although the horse still needs to be "round" for a spread fence he must not get up in the air quite so much; he needs to flatten out a bit in order to make the distance over the back rail.
SOME breeds of horses, by their very confirmation, cannot tackle the wider fences so this must be borne in mind. However this warmblood clearly is not having any problems judging by his take-off point so there is scope to gradually widen the fence.
JUMPING loose is the best way of introducing the young horse to jumping as he can find his own way and work out what to do with his legs without the hindrance of a rider (and the additional weight) trying to organise him when the horse does not know exactly what the rider is asking. Of course each young horse must be evaluated to ensure that it is ready for such exercise - and also must not be over jumped or over faced just because he shows ability and enthusiasm.
ALTHOUGH not at all worried about tackling his first fence, this 3 year old thinks he is in the Champion Hurdle!! If the fence had been larger he could well have been in trouble!
BY adjusting the fence and controlling the speed of the approach he has not only jumped with a much better style but he is actually looking at what he is jumping rather than hurling himself at it. Ok, so he is still standing off a little bit too much but as he gains more loose jumping experience over different fences he will learn to judge his take off point better - all without the interference of a rider..
A TRAINER'S experience is very important at the best of times but particularly when jumping and especially when entrusted with teaching young horses of those who have not jumped before, those that need their confidence building or teaching a new technique - such as National Hunt horses . The trainer needs to know when to build different types of fence to achieve different things.
GRIDWORK is physically demanding so keep sessions short.
WITHOUT rider weight and interference the trainer can learn much about a horse and so decide on his training programme.
IN THE case of the horse in this photograph he cannot tuck his fore legs up too tightly but he lifts well from the shoulder. Now this could be put down to poor technique, faulty conformation, tight muscles or old injury. It is trainer experience which leads to the correct conclusion. In the case of this horse we know he had surgery to remove bone chips from both knees whilst racing so he cannot fold his knees too tightly.
ALTHOUGH an superb way to teach, improve or correct jumping ability and technique, it is surprising just how many horses have never been introduced to gridwork. Tthey can learn and develop so much mentally and physically from this training exercise - and it is great fun for them too. As with the jumping of single fences, gridwork is a great confidence giver to a horse whether he works on his own or with a rider. However it is the type of grid that is built and the nature of the fences within it that are the secret of success.
SIMPLE grids are basically bounces, doubles and trembles, but as training progresses they can become much more complex as they can be built to achieve different aims.
GRIDS built in different ways teach horses to improve their technique and overcome problems as well as aiding suppleness, gymnastic ability and mental agility.
EVEN as the horse tackles the first element of the double he is already concentrating on at the next fence.
HORSES can be easily be frightened by bounces so it is important to introduce them quietly when the horse is fully confident over a single fence and is obedient to ground cues from his trainer.
A FENCE does not have to be high to achieve the desired result. The technique is the important factor.
HERE you can see that the horse is clearly focused on what he is doing and is happy doing it - look at his ears.
THIS horse greatly lacked in confidence and had a very poor technique indeed (see his photograph below the grey horse ); his own lack of confidence meant that a bounce fence was a definite "no-no".
AS with any training, time is the secret of success, especially with horses like this.
FURTHER training will see him have the same technique over a double as he does over a single fence.
IN the photograph above the foreleg technique is somewhat exaggerated! This is typical of a horse negotiating a bounce for the first time - it is the "eek" factor of a second fence coming so quickly after the first.
HOWEVER after a few more jumps "Jazz" is jumping more confidently through the bounce and he is assuming a much more confident demeanour.
OF COURSE jumping work, whether loose or under saddle is not just the preserve of the showjumper or event horse; dressage horses, regardless of the level they are working at, can also benefit from jumping exercises.
So even if it is preferred not to risk straining muscles by the added weight of a rider, then a little loose work over small fences is extremely benefitial for stretching muscles and releasing tension.
REMEMBER gridwork is very demanding both mentally and physically. Obviously the amount each horse can undertake per session varies depending upon its age, ability, temperament and so on; consequently we carefully monitor each horse.
IT is important that a horse enjoys his work and what is being asked of him; that is the essence of our training - to produce horses that are happy and enthusiastic in their work. If a horse is not working happily then something is wrong.
WHEN introducing jumps under saddle the same careful steps that were taken during ground work exercises should be repeated so that the horse gains confidence and whats to go to the jump rather than back off from it.
THE horse featured here is an ex-national hunt horse and was at one time absolutely frightened to go near a jump let alone jump over it. This fear must have stemmed from a nasty fall racing when he was also jumped on by other horse.
WE spent several months combining ridden polework (which to begin with was also extremely daunting for this horse; if he touched one, he was most reluctant to face another one) and encouraging him to jump loose.
TIME and patience has been the key.
BY working up from a line of trotting poles with a little cross pole at the end, to jumping a single fence, we have now been able to introduce a little double. It ma not seem much but this is a major breakthrough - and with such a happy expression on the horse's face too; he is clearly at ease and enjoying himself.
THE second fence is purposely built smaller than the first to begin with so as not to put the horse off when he caught site of a second jump.
Doubles and Combinations
DOUBLES and combinations help horse and rider get to grips with strides and distances.
INITIALLY jumps should always be built at a distance which works with the horse's stride but then the distances can be lengthened or shortened a little so that horse and rider can learn all about unrelated distances.
THIS involves the rider being able to assess (when he/she walks a course) whether it is better to go with a greater number of shorter strides or a lesser number of longer strides.
THE The rider must be able to direct the horse - and the horse must listen!
WHEN training a horse or restoring his confidence, jumps must NEVER be built to catch him out. The jumping experience must be a happy one and the horse have trust in his rider otherwise he will soon start to run out or put in stops. A horse that does not jump with confidence is one that is likely to injure himself and possibly his rider.
JUMPS should always be inviting and be built in such a way as to encourage the correct shaping and fold/lifting of the legs and shoulder.
GRIDWORK is as equally benefitial under saddle as it is loose.So once a horse is successfully negotiating a double and a combination under saddle then he can be introduced to gridwork under saddle too.
APART from continuing to help with the athletic development of the horse, gridworkis a good way for horse and rider to build confidence in each other as well as iron out any difficulties such as straightness and control. It is also a useful way of introducing horses to different types of fences.
GRIDWORK also adds great variety to the training regime and is useful in "cheering up" a horse that has become a little bit bored with life. It also provides the rider with the opportunity of correcting faults intheir position and balance.
AS with loose gridwork,it is how fences are built which improves technique or corrects faulty technique, not the height of the fence.
Show Jumping – 'the art of combining rhythm and balance with impulsion'
THE showjumping courses that are seen today are increasing technical and require a horse to be totally attentive and responsive to the directional cues (aids) given; it must 'listen' to its rider, who has the responsibility to place the horse correctly for take off, for combinations of both related and unrelated distances and manoeuvre his mount around a twisting course.
ENOUGH emphasis cannot to put on the importance of flatwork as well as gymnastic jumping exercises in order to attain the suppleness and agility required for optimum results.
THIS mare illustrates how a jumping horse should shape over a fence - a lovely bascule, a good fold in front and height.
BEING critical it could be said that she could be a little more open through the neck but she is soft; as with all aspects of equine training, breed characteristics and conformation must be taken into account. As a Welsh Section D the mare is short and compact
Cross Country – 'it is a truly exhilarating experience to ride over solid timber'
THE absolute confidence of the horse in its rider is a must as often obstacles have to be tackled which conflict with the natural instincts of horses.
THE Event courses seen these days have fences comprising more than one element with ditches, steps, banks, and so on. Whilst island fences can usually be taken at a greater speed with horses standing off at take-off and tending to flatten over them, the 'technical' sections require quick changes of direction and riding has to be adjusted from 'attack' to holding back and 'popping', all of which not only test a horse's suppleness, athleticism and agility but also his boldness, confidence and concentration.
TO achieve this in a horse takes several years but it is a gradual process of building up confidence and ability as the courses become more demanding at each level attained.
FRED with a young horse undergoing a cross country schooling session.
THE early stages of jumping work are all about building confidence by working over a variety of small, simple fences. Many young horses are overfaced way too soon because they show ability - this is exactly how not to train the jumping horse!
THIS horse is obviously quite happy with what is being asked of him which is how it should be!
JUMPING solid timber not only requires definite ability from the horse but also confidence from both horse and rider working together. Uncertainty from one will eventually lead to problems for both.
THE horse featured here has happily undergone the transition from NH racing to a real all-round fun horse; he is clearly enjoying himself as evidenced by his expression and is showing plenty of scope, ability and confidence.
FOR jumping to be undertaken successfully both horse and rider need confidence in themselves and confidence in each other. If you have any doubts about your own ability or that of your horse, then this should be addressed without delay; a loss of confidence leads to knockdowns and refusals and as the downward spiral accentuates, more serious difficulties can set in which are then that much harder to correct.