Does your horse go from 0 to 120 in half a stride whenever he sets his sights on a jump? If so, you will probably agree with me that jumping is definitely not the thing you find most enjoyable to do with your horse! In fact, very often it can feel terrifying!
And I agree. Jumping with a horse who is rushing at the fences is not just scary, but also dangerous and frustrating. I don’t think the height of the obstacles or jump really matters here. Whether you’re jumping 30cm or 1.30m; hurtling towards a fence feeling completely out of control is no fun for anyone.
It is also, as I just mentioned, really dangerous. Rushing causes horses to flatten over fences, which basically affects both the ’take-off gear’ as well as the ‘landing gear’. Rushing and the said ‘flattening’ also prevents your horse from making a good bascule, basically the arc he makes with his body as he goes up and over. This leads to poles being rubbed and 4 faults littered all over the arena.
This episode of the Daily Strides Podcast will hopefully give you some ideas on how you can begin reshaping jumping in your horse’s head. Re-training or re-schooling is going to be essential in order to completely ‘cure’ your rusher.
It is also important to note that these things usually take time; be willing to be patient while being consistent in order to get results.
Why is Your Horse Rushing at Jumps?
Firstly, I am going to assume that you have made 100% certain that pain or discomfort is not the reason your horse is rushing. I am also going to assume that your horse does not have an anxiety issue. This can often show up with a horse who has been over faced or a horse who simply does not trust the rider. I feel that this is a separate issue and today’s advice is not really tailored towards that type of horse…
There are lots of reasons horses rush at jumps. Usually, it is a training issue, basic training or the lack thereof to be precise.
Very often when rushing has really become an established habit or reaction, it is because it has actually been ‘allowed’.
How the rider responded when the horse initially began rushing often sets the scene for what occurs going forward from that point. A rider who remains calm and goes back a few steps will result in a very different outcome to a rider who pulled, ‘hunkered down’ or became overly tense.
Increasing the rider’s confidence is key to actually overcome this issue. As the rider’s confidence in their own abilities grows, so too with the horse’s confidence in the riders abilities. This can change everything where rushing is concerned.
The ‘Over-Enthusiastic’ Horse
Often horses who are deemed to be naturally ‘hot’ or ‘sensitive’ will start rushing at their jumps. There are lots of reason why this happens. However, the riders response to the ‘excess enthusiasm or rushing is key. Many riders ride horses like this using no or the absolute minimum of leg aids.
They keep their leg ‘off’ the horse because they think that their leg will encourage the horse to go faster. Or to become hotter.
This all works well; until it doesn’t! And it doesn’t where jumping is concerned. Your legs are essential to not only create energy on the way to the fence but also to help direct this energy. You cannot effectively direct the energy if your leg is off; which causes a big problem for a horse who only knows the leg when the rider is in crisis mode!
Couple this with the fact that the rider is probably feeling a little stressed at this point. It is not too far of a reach to suppose that they are clamping a little with their legs as well…
The Tug of War…
Another way riders can worsen an already fast and rushing horse is by puling against the horse using the reins. it is natural to want to slow and steady – or even stop – something that is hurtling out of control towards something else. Particularly when you are on that somethings back!
However, the pulling out of the reins and saying three Hail Marys approach only serves to give your horse something to pull against. Something to ‘lock in to’.
Let’s be honest here; you are never going to win a tug of war singlehandedly against something that potentially weighs 10+ times your own body weight. This is especially true when your horse has a boatload of momentum on his side as well. It’s the proverbial stopping the freight train.
The only way to really begin to slow down a horse that rushes is by addressing the problem before there is ever a jump in sight. Working on your horses basic training.
Start with Basic Training
I know, it all seems so, well, basic! But this is truly the only way that you will really and truly re-train or re-school a horse who has developed the habit of rushing at fences or jumps. I also feel that it is really important to note that this doesn’t involve any actual jumping! Working on the flat is your key to correcting a horse who is rushing over jumps.
The half-halt is key to re-training your horse to ‘wait’. Play with it in both trot and canter.
It is also important to make sure that your horse understands your leg aids. Fine-tuning responsiveness will go a long way to helping to slow things down a little on the way to a jump or fence. I also feel that the quality of the trot or canter is a really important consideration.
Perfecting your half-halt in a trot or canter that is going no-where slowly will not really help you when your horse locks his eyes on an upcoming jump! You must make sure that the gait you are working in is one that your horse could technically jump a jump from. The jump, in this case, would be a 90cm to 1m (3’ to 3’6”) jump. Big enough to respect but not too big to really cause any issues in and of itself.
Do you need to jump a jump? No, of course not. Just keep a check that while working in the gait you are riding and working in, if you needed to, you could.
Responsiveness & Straightness
I also think that it is important to, as I mentioned, fine-tune your responsiveness. This is both up and down in your gaits and speed. You need your horse to be attentive and listening for any directions you are going to give him.
By building your responsiveness on the flat, you will increase your chances of your horse actually listening to you when a jump appears.
Straightness is another element that can have a large impact on steadying up your Ferreri when a jump is firmly in his sights. Straightness is one of those things that has the potential to be overlooked when working on the flat. A speed wobble here or there is not going to cause too many issues for most riders.
However, being able to keep your horse straight and keep the energy directed where you want it to go is essential for jumping. It should not only be practiced when actually jumping itself!
It is often when the rider puts their leg on in order to straighten the horse for a jump, that the horse responds by shooting off like a rocket at the said jump. Your horse needs to understand basic principles of riding such as your leg aids, half halt and straightness long before he ever sees a jump.
Make Your Horse Think
Once you have a little more understanding between you and your horse happening on the flat, you can then look at beginning to ‘build’ things. one of the best ways to slow a horse down is to make him think. Anything that requires a little concentrated effort, will usually result in him naturally steadying things up himself.
Groundpoles are great at getting horses to think. They require a horse to actually consider where they are going to put their feet – which usually has the result of slowing things down a little.
You can use groundpoles both on their own, before a jump and after a jump. It is the ones after a jump that I find have the greatest impact on a horse who likes rushing over his fences. They make him look at where he is landing, which has the knock on effect of taking a moment to actually consider the landing.
Horses who rush fences often jump very flat over the jump itself. They are a little like an arrow, with a downward trajectory.
The ground pole after the fence usually results in your horse raising their head and neck a little, which helps you to remain a little more ‘in control’ and able to influence more.
Cross Poles rather than Uprights
I am a huge fan of cross poles for so many different reasons. One of the big ones, especially when working through challenges like this, is that they build riders confidence. For some reason, riders tend to think that horses jump the height of the X in the center of the cross pole. They don’t, they jump higher as they wouldn’t fit in where the X is.
Remember I said at the beginning how important the rider’s confidence in their own abilities is when re-training a horse who has an ingrained habit of rushing? Well, anything that builds confidence is good.
Cross poles not only build confidence, but they also help with that all important straightness which is essential for good jumping. Trust me, they are the jump to work with initially when re-schooling a rushing horse!
Then place the groundpoles both before and after your jump. How far the groundpoles are from your jump depends on your horse. However, 3m is a good distance to start working with. Keep in mind that, as with all poles, you may need to adjust the distance to suit your horse. Not the other way around.
The Riders Position
The final point that you should work on when working with a horse who is rushing their fences is you. You the rider. What are you doing on the way to, over and then after the jump? In order to truly re-school your horse out of rushing, you need to be able to remain balanced and secure all the way to, over and away from each jump.
Now, I get it that speeding flat out towards a solid obstacle has the potential to change your reaction a little. Meaning that perhaps you are not doing what you usually do when jumping…
Many riders of a horse that rushes jumps tend to ‘hunker in’. It is a hamster impression. The curved back, chin to chest. A lack of any engagement of core – or anything else for that matter. Basic survival is the name of the game! And I can understand why if you are caught off guard.
However, if you are riding a horse who regularly tackles jumps at 120mph, you really need to pay attention to what you are doing on the approach, over the jump, and as your horse lands and leaves the jump.
Do As Little As Possible
Many riders seem to think that they have to fold flat down onto their horse’s neck when jumping every single fence. I want you to keep in mind that the degree of bend in your hip should be dictated by lots of different circumstances. An important one is the height of the fence.
If you take my advice, you won’t be popping over any ‘substantial’ fences for a while. Small jump requires minimal folding from the rider. Rather wait and only do what is absolutely necessary over the jump. This leaves you in a perfect position to better influence your horse on landing.
And landing is important because one jump usually leads to the next. You aim should be to feel ‘in control’ and have the horse nicely balanced and working before you reach a corner or bend after each fence.
It Will Take Time
As I said at the beginning, this is not something which you will completely re-train or re-program overnight in your horse. it will require consistent correct training, a lot of which will have nothing to do with jumping, in order to un-do or replace this tendency in your horse.
However, being able to approach a jump without having to worry about flipping over, crashing through or skidding around the corner afterwards is important.
So if you enjoy jumping, this is definitely something that is well worth your time working on.
Other resources that may help you:-
- Relaxation with Riding a Hot or Sensitive Horse
- Riding a Hot Horse
- Confidently Getting Started Over Jumps
- Learning to Wait for the Jump
- Free Equestrian Fitness Challenge
- How Are You Showing Up for Your Horse
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- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- Daily Strides Podcast on Google Play
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
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