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  1. #1
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    Default Jumping: Natural Talent vs Training

    I think it is fair to say that most light horses could hurl themselves over an obstacle in the 3'6" range. Some are certainly more predisposed to this skill, especially in terms of what we consider orthodox jumping style. But at this height and above, how much is purely natural talent and how much can be taught/trained?

    If we think of human athletes, say with high jump for comparison's sake, a lot of their upper level success is through training. I am sure there are people more atheletically gifted than others, but considering humans don't breed for sport (...yet), I would feel fairly comfortable saying the majority of success at upper levels comes from the nitty gritty determination and exhausting training. Now don't get me wrong, there are certainly some freaks of nature out there whose level of proficiency couldn't be mimicked if someone spent 15 years training their hearts out... But let's think less Olympic level and more just plain upper level of a sport.

    How do we think this relates to horses? Understanding again that there will always be those "freaks of nature", how much can we train a horse to be proficient at upper levels?

    Let's say we have two similarly conformed horses, one coming from European jumping stock and one plain Jane. Horse # 1 may have a natural proficiency for jumping from their breeding, but horse # 2 is willing and atheletic. Can we train horse # 2 to be successful over 4'? 4'6"?

    Do you think there is a cut off for train vs natural ability?

    I'm just curious on others thoughts on this. We talk a lot about training ourselves to new levels (a marathon, heavier weights), but it seems most of our talk about training horses is to do with honing and tweaking their natural ability rather than strengthening them or training them to do more than they may be naturally gifted to do (ie jumping a 4' course).


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  2. #2
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    Default

    Interesting question, My 2cp
    Training only goes so far. You can build confidence for a not so athletic horse but at some point (height) he just won't have the springs to get the job done, even if he is willing to try and eventually you will break his heart. So You have to have the sense to decide what is a fair limit for him as far as height.
    A horse with natural ability (and springs and scope) still needs training to control the process. The most talented horse on the planet is worthless if he is uncontrollable. On top of that he can't really succeed at the big stuff without decent guidance since the "technical" side of the course isn't usually something one can just muddle through, even the talented athletic horse loses something over time due to constant "misses" at the big ones.

    Truely, the answer depends on the skill of the rider.
    "The Desire to Win is worthless without the Desire to Prepare"

    It's a "KILT". If I wore something underneath, it would be a "SKIRT".


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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lostboy View Post
    Training only goes so far. You can build confidence for a not so athletic horse but at some point (height) he just won't have the springs to get the job done, even if he is willing to try and eventually you will break his heart. So You have to have the sense to decide what is a fair limit for him as far as height.
    But what about the middle ground, athletic horse without a huge amount of natural talent? Do you think you can take a horse and help them improve beyond where they were naturally comfortable? Relating back to humans, we might do interval training or slowly build up our endurance to go from 5k to 10k. What about strengthening a horse's hind end to help them with bigger obstacles?

    I'm genuinely curious. Can it be done? Is it done? Or do we just choose horses who are already naturally proficient?



  4. #4
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    Interesting question!
    I think most jumping riders usually pick horses who are somehow naturally gifted at jumping (which doesn't mean they are necessarily from a fancy European jumping line .) That being said, I definitely think you can improve a horse's jumping style and give them more confidence through practice and grid work but that's not necessarily going to make them 1.50 Grand Prix material.
    To use your human example, yes, I can train myself to run 5k and then 10k - and I could train pretty much any sound horse to do endurance races (though not win them) that way since it's more about conditioning than skill - but no matter how much practicing I do, it's unlikely I'd be able to hurl my rather ample behind over anything higher than a 1.00 high jump...
    You can give more strength and confidence to a horse which may have the physical ability to do it but doesn't know it yet, but I'm afraid that, just like for us, there are some limits to what you can achieve in disciplines where conformation and coordination play a bigger part than strong work ethics only.



  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rohello View Post
    Interesting question!
    I think most jumping riders usually pick horses who are somehow naturally gifted at jumping (which doesn't mean they are necessarily from a fancy European jumping line .) That being said, I definitely think you can improve a horse's jumping style and give them more confidence through practice and grid work but that's not necessarily going to make them 1.50 Grand Prix material.
    To use your human example, yes, I can train myself to run 5k and then 10k - and I could train pretty much any sound horse to do endurance races (though not win them) that way since it's more about conditioning than skill - but no matter how much practicing I do, it's unlikely I'd be able to hurl my rather ample behind over anything higher than a 1.00 high jump...
    You can give more strength and confidence to a horse which may have the physical ability to do it but doesn't know it yet, but I'm afraid that, just like for us, there are some limits to what you can achieve in disciplines where conformation and coordination play a bigger part than strong work ethics only.
    So do we think we cannot train a horse to jump higher than he is naturally able to?

    You say you wouldn't be able to jump higher with training; I disagree. I guarantee that what I can personally jump (sans horse) today will be significantly less than what I could jump if I geared trained towards that goal for a year.

    Again, I'm not talking Olympic level, or, in horses, Grand Prix level. But surely we can improve our skills at a certain task through focused training... why can't we do the same for horses?



  6. #6
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    I guess what I'm trying to get at is where others think the cut off is. Say you have a horse through a chute. He clears 3'6'', but flunks out at 4'. Maybe he flunks out at 4' a few times.

    How much do you think you can train the horse through strength training and/or improved technique? And how much is just plain, either he has it, or he doesn't?

    Disclaimer: I don't have the answer! I'm just genuinely curious to hear what people have to say.



  7. #7
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    I give a wholehearted "yes," a good rider can "make up" for a lack of scope in a horse (to a certain degree), just like a good horse can make up for a lack of talent in a rider....though a good horse can make up for more in a rider than the other direction.

    I have my own example.....I have a mare who is definitely not blessed in the scope department. Looking at her conformation and athletic ability puts her at a "comfortable 3 foot at best" horse. I picked her up as a short stirrup flunkee (she's a bossy mare and even though she won a lot she scared her kid in the process and the trainer deemed her "dangerous"). I wanted to do the big jumps so I got our goal in mind and started developing her for that goal. It took a huge amount of conditioning and just general work to aim for the big jumps, but I had a secret weapon in the fact that she has a massive heart and *wanted* to do whatever I asked her to do.

    We competed through the 1.40m jumpers. It was beyond hard for her, and we had to jump every single day at home during the show season to keep her fit enough to do the job. In hindsight I feel a bit guilty for asking so much of her. I couldn't miss a distance because she couldn't get out of an even slightly long or short spot to a 1.30m+ fence, and it did a number on my confidence for a while because I spent several years terrified that THIS class was going to be the one where we missed and I ruined my poor mare. But we made it through 3 years in the 1.30m and 1 year at 1.40m with many, many championships. But I will admit that it was a huge relief when I started moving her back down the levels, and these days we stick to 4' and under at home....and we don't do square, wide oxers. At 16 years old she's earned a bit of an easier life, and will stay with me for life after everything she gave to me

    Now that I jump my very scopey TB around the big stuff, it makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking with my mare. It's SUCH a different feel to point a less-than-blessed-with-scope horse at a 1.40m course than it is to point a very scopey horse at the same course. It turns out that the knowledge that you CAN miss makes the course MUCH less terrifying!

    But to the point, my answer is definitely yes. Just about any horse can get over a single obstacle set higher than they're comfortable. And a very accurate rider can make a big course feel like a set of single jumps (as opposed to inter-related lines and combinations). I used to ride anything <4 strides literally as single jumps, and the places we really struggled were always the 1 and 2 strides where you can't "fudge it." Ultimately that was why I dropped her down from the 1.40m again. It wasn't fair to ask her to gallop into jumps that she struggled greatly to get out of when the course designer had set an awkward or difficult distance (i.e. a short 4 into a long 1 with a big square oxer in the middle).

    I used to get really defensive when people would say that a horse could "only do x, y, or z" because I thought it was patently untrue based on my experiences with the mare I mentioned above, and the QH gelding who took me through the 1.60m classes as a teenager despite the fact that he shouldn't have been able to. But now I understand that trainers often add in the "error factor," because who wants to ride a horse outside of their comfort level where one bad decision can ruin the horse? So for years I called my mare my "1.40m horse," where I would now classify her as my "1.20m horse who had the heart to do the 1.40m for me."
    __________________________________
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by over the moon View Post
    I'm genuinely curious. Can it be done? Is it done? Or do we just choose horses who are already naturally proficient?
    I think its true that we chose horses that are going to be easy to bring up the levels if thats what the rider's goal is. I definitely think conditioning and training will improve the horses scope, but I also agree that horses have physical limitations that max them out at a certain height. If someone wants to do the 1.30 jumpers, they're going to buy and train a horse that already has shown the ability to do well at that height. Not many people are willing to put in extra time and effort to train a horse that may not be able to do that height.
    so, in short, I think it can be done, the horse can be improved by training and fitness, but there is a limit to what can be done and additionally most people are not willing to put in the resources to do it.



  9. #9
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    I am one of those that has never been able to afford the big, scopey, naturally talented horses, I have always ridden smaller and less talented horses with considerably bigger hearts. My old trainer instilled in me that the horse's heart and desire have more to do with success then any amount of talent. That being said we as riders need to be aware of when the horse is approaching a level of too much. For these reasons, after a lifetime of exercises to help promote talent in my horses I have finally settled down and started looking for one of those horses that will help make my life easier.



  10. #10
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    Scope is innate. Kind of like how after a couple of years of working at it my 5k time went from 30 minutes to 23, but my college roommate was able to run 24 minutes her first time out without any training at all. You can absolutely improve technique, but that's different than improving talent (which is there or isn't). A horse that's sloppy with his legs can be made tighter, but a horse that can't jump high enough you're not going to fix.

    That said there are plenty of cheap horses with scope. They're called thoroughbreds.


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  11. #11
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    I am very much in agreement with PNWJumper (as usual). I think one of the things that affects whether a horse with less scope than another makes it at a bigger height is the rider, but also what the horse was acquired for.

    For example, if I were functioning as a pro and buying/selling lots of young horses, I probably wouldn't waste my time on buying something that could comfortably do a small fence but needed a dead-on accurate ride for something bigger. It would certainly depend on what I thought I might do with the horse, but if I could acquire a different one for a similar price and it had more natural talent, I'd go with that one.

    A dead accurate rider can make it work with a horse that doesn't really have the scope for a height, a la PNWJumper's mare. I personally am most comfortable knowing that I can make a mistake at the fence and not feel like we're going to crash as a result, and I suspect that many people feel similarly.


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  12. #12
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    Scope is innate for sure, but the heart and willingness can often be the make or break IMHO. I had a tiny TB mare who jumped in an unorthodox style (she was the same sire as Lisa carlsen's horse kahlua, and jumped like him) but she did not have a "no" in her, and was extremely careful as a jumper.
    No matter what, having the animal fit and as well trained helps to.



  13. #13
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    Even human athletes require heart to make it - and the reality is, giving max effort in sport physically hurts! Think of marathon runners - they train and train, but running that far, that fast (elite marathoners) is just plain HARD on the body. It takes a desire to win despite the pain. I don't think it's fair to expect horses to endure that type of pain - they get no thrill out of winning, but some will do it for their rider because they want to please. I'd rather ride a horse that is physically comfortable in the job so I won't feel guilty pushing them so hard. Having said that, I've seen a cow jump a 4 ft fence from a standstill. It was a single effort, of course, but still, I think most horses could physically jump 4' or so, but doing a course of top level fences, well, that's a different story. And again, why push these wonderful animals as hard as humans are willing to push themselves?


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  14. #14
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    i think the the horses with the more natural talent are easier to work with as i feel they need just some training to use the natural ability the right way and best of ability.if that makes any sense to anyone.
    the horses that don't have the more natural jumping ability will need more training and work to get them to full potential,whether it be upper or lower level.will have to work harder at the jumping ability then to its counterpart.
    forcing a horse that maynot make to upper/olympic level is not right .but too me and others it also depends on skill of rider.



  15. #15

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    "Horse # 1 may have a natural proficiency for jumping from their breeding, but horse # 2 is willing and atheletic."

    I find it interesting that you differentiate between natural proficiency and athletic. To me they are one and the same. An athletic horse can jump - now they may be unorthodox or jump in a less than classic style but they have scope and and enough carefulness to want to jump over versus through. What they may or may not have is trainability, heart and bravery. You can have all the ability in the world and without heart and trainability you have garbage. If you have it all, you are very lucky. If you are an amateur you go for trainability, heart and bravery and then buy as much athleticism and talent as you can afford. If you are really accurate and confident, maybe you can get one that has less heart or bravery or is a pig to train but has lots of talent, at somewhat of a discount.

    Remember, most horses can jump a big vertical with a good ride - 4 or 5 feet. Most of them can jump out of their paddock if so inclined. The problem comes with width. . .



  16. #16
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    I think to have a horse be a successful jumper at the upper levels, it needs to have several ingredients. Most importantly of course: scope. Then comes heart.. you need a horse that will TRY for you and if you miss together, come back and TRY again. Also important is trainability.

    I think the scope that a horse is born with does not change, but fitness and training can certainly help a horse's jump leaps and bounds.

    I bought a 2 year old mare that I felt had all of the ingredients that I wanted. She had plenty of scope but her jumping style was a little unorthodox at first. (She jumped very high over everything, but was not always tight with her front end). We have spent the years going slowly, getting her fit, confident and doing lots of gymnastics and her front end and overall technique has improved more than I could have hoped for.

    What I've known that I have had with her all along, is a very smart, talented horse that LOVES to jump and wants to come out and do her job for me every day. After the talent that I saw in the jumping chute, it was her heart and her brain that impressed me.. that made me fall in love!



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