My current horse who I have had for about 3 years now has come a long way. When I first bought him (first horse) I was not a particularly experienced rider and he was green. Not a good combination, I know. He would stop and I would fall off. Since then he and I both have grown immensely. He is now much more mature I guess you could say and jumps most anything with little issue. I'm a fairly timid rider and if ever there is a not so perfect distance, I've asked him to chip in that extra stride instead of leave a little early. Now, however, as the jumps are getting a little bigger (2'6-3' so still not huge) He has started to chip in even when it's not neccessary (ie when we are at a good spot but not directly under the base) I know this is all rider error not him. I am sure he would be more than happy to step up and be a little more aggressive to the fences, but I feel much more comfortable crawling along and getting the chip. Any tips to get out of this box I've gotten myself into?
Try taking lessons on another horse and having somebody else ride yours for a bit.
You sort of taught him to chip...and that's good, we love the chip when we miss the distance as it saves our butts. All ammy/kid horses need to be willing to chip instead of leave long and weak.
Right now you are not sure and he can feel that so he is going to throw that stutter step in there because that is the way you have ridden him for 3 years. Unfortunately, as the fences get up around 3' and the width increases on those oxers? It's getting harder for him to chip and get over. He will start stopping.
Best guess is you are riding "backwards" to your fences, getting the pace and then taking it away as you approach the fence instead of coming freely forward and letting the horse find a nice distance and then letting him take you over. Most ammy/kid riders do this at least occasionally, especially when moving up to bigger fences so don't beat yourself up over it.
But you have to work with a trainer on this one, somebody to get your confidence up and do the same for the horse. You cannot jump "defensively" at anything over a speed bump.
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This happens to me from time to time in a small crowded warm up ring. I end up on a too small stride and see nothing but the pull-to-deep distance, which feels and looks pretty sucky.
I find the biggest thing is to have enough pace through the turn. Before you get even close to the fence, rev up a little bit. Get a bit of a gallop - a little more than you think you need. As you turn and get your eye on the jump, you can now gauge where you're at and if you can just keep coming or need to speed-check a little. I've found that it's waaaay easier to adjust when you've got a little more than you need, rather than trying to make something from nothing when it's already too late and you're a couple strides away.
YEARS ago, I was sort of a working student for a barn in PA. I was not the most aggressive rider in the world, but fairly confident. One of the ammies was much less experienced, quite timid - with a very nice, but not super-experienced horse. Back in the day, after show season (yes, Virginia, there was an 'after' show season!), we hunted. Horse needed more 'go'.
Trainer made it my job to make this happen. He didn't need to gallop & go, but more than creep & crawl. It was challenging and fun and did wonders for both of us, by the way. My big disappointment was that I never got to hunt him.
Story told to say that it doesn't sound like your horse needs 'trainer-rides' - just someone who has a couple more ounces of confidence than you do. And for you to ride something that has the "hang on, kid, I'll get us both around safely" to boost your confidence.
I had a similar problem this fall. I have a giant moose-of-a WB who'd learned to kind of bolt the fences (in Germany). I essentially started him over fences from scratch, spending a year on trotting and then cantering single ground poles, moving up to Xs and low verticals, and when doing courses, Add, Add, Add. He learned to relax about the whole thing, would carry a lovely, soft canter for a whole course, and would adjsut *shorter* very well, (adding,1-3 strides in a line became easy. But when I was ready to start showing him, I realized he'd gotten to comfortable at the little waiting distances and when the spot was a tad long, he'd chip, even if I asked for the big one. Went back to basics again, and started ground poles, single Xs and small vertical lines from a "big" canter, to teach him to be comfortable with the longer spots (and more importantly, re-balance and come back after the bigger efforts). After a few weeks of that, he was confidently cantering the bigger jumps with longer distances (more length, but only marginally more pace). I still alternate between the adds and the numbers in our schooling sessions.
Also, above posters are correct: it's alot about pace. Set up two ground poles at 5 strides, then go and do the line in 6, then 6, then 5. Get used the more forward canter feel over poles before gradually putting the jumps higher. You can also use simple gymnastics to get your horse on the right canter step and make it easy for him to understand where to jump from. Good Luck.
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Ditto what everyone said. Especially the riding other horses part. When you've been riding one horse exclusively for that long, there tends to be a cycle of bad habits going on (at least I know there is for me). Its good to get on a horse who is totally different, so that you develop that different feel.
One of the hardest things I'm overcoming right now is riding to fences with more pace. I'm with you OP that it seems like its easier to crawl along and get the chip, however with all the other horses I've been riding, most seem happier with the ride up to the distance type of ride. Which is mind blowing to me, because its the complete opposite of what I want to do, lol. Like my mare, for instance. She has been so much better about the fences when I'm not in her face going through turns/corners and taking away to the front of the fence. It has actually given her a lot more confidence in me, I think, so that when we do happen to get that chip/ugly distance, instead of stopping, she's actually taking them.
And ground poles are your best friend to get over most issues, I've found. Same basics to riding to fences, but no wear/tear on your horse and if you mess up, so what? Its a frickin' pole on the ground. Its nothing!
Think of how hard it is for the horse to jump when they crawl along and get the chip? It is simple physics, the more momentum you have the easier it is to get over an obstacle. The best way to fix this is either grab mane or a grab strap at home and not pull at the base. At a show either grab main or the martingale. It is very difficult to tell yourself to stop pulling. By using the main, strap or martingale, you get the feeling you are pulling, but the horse does not react. Once you get used to letting the horse go, you can try letting go of the crutches. Sometimes at a show when you get nervous and you don't see a distance, many people want to pull and slow down for the chip. Hook your finger around the martingale to resist pulling and you will see how much better the fence will be.
When flatting, try cantering with a little more pace, and even hand gallop the long sides, or at least lengthen your stride and shorten on the short sides to mix it up. Get used to more pace on the flat, and it'll be easier to move up when jumping.