I've just randomly put her over a couple 1' cavalettis when I'm free lunging her, and she's so careful, even over that, that I think she has some good potential. So tomorrow, since most of the riders in my barn are going to a show (except me!) I've decided to take advantage of the emptiness and set up a free jumping chute!
This is the same mare that's in the 'My New OTTB; Share your experiences' post, and also in my little blog. (See signature)
So, she's 6 in 2 weeks.. She's been ridden and worked hard this week, but before that she hasn't been ridden since July. She's not overweight or anything though, and it's very difficult to make her break a sweat!
My question is, how high should I be free jumping her?
Watermark aka "Cleo" - 5 year old Warmblood cross
Foxtrot aka "Raven" - 5 year old Hanoverian
Simon Says aka "Sprout" - 4 year old Welsh pony
Considering she hasn't been worked much since July I would hesitate to jump her very much or very high. I would worry more about getting the striding right so that she builds confidence with jumping over-all. If it were my horse, I would start with an 18" jump a few times around and MAYBE add a 2' or 2'3" a couple of strides later, and do that just a few times as long as she seemed to be having fun with it and then quit there. Save the big jumps and the multiple jumps in a gymnastics grid for a little later on.
BUT, I am VERY cautious about not jumping too hard until I feel like they are legged up nicely, so I may be coddling too much
It is already tomorrow, so you may have already been to the barn.
It depends on what you're trying to do. Staying at or below 2'ish can be a good workout, if it's something you're planning to use on a regular basis. But if you're just trying to get an idea of potential, and aren't planning to do it a lot, staying that low isn't going to tell you much. And let me tell you, setting up a free jump chute can take a while.
The following assumes your horse doesn't get upset at any point in the lesson.
Lunge first, next to the chute to warm up. A little at each gait in each direction, maybe 15 mins.
Have poles already in place measured out where you will be setting up the jumps, just sitting on the ground to step over. Walk her through in hand until she steps calmly over everything. This can be twice or 10 times. Next, trot her through in-hand, same process. There should be at most 3-4 piles of poles that don't cause her to do anything but lift her legs higher.
Personally, I like to start with two low crossrails, 18' to 2' set either as a bounce or a one stride, depending on the horse. Then a one or two stride to a larger jump, usually an ascending oxer. This set up gets your horse straight and centered over the crossrails and forces your horse to hit the larger jump at the right place. An oxer is easier for most horses to judge size and jump.
Start like you would with any gymnastic, one element at a time. Set up the first crossrail, with the other poles still on the ground. Send her through. When she goes calmly over that one, set up the next one. Repeat. Then set up the last jump as a 2' vertical or oxer, see how she does, and raise accordingly.
Ideally, you do not want to just send her cantering in at one end alone. They can get too much speed up and fly through without learning anything. Try trotting her in-hand almost to the base of the first element before letting go to get her in at a controlled speed unless she does it that way consistently on her own. You'll need a second person to encourage her to go all the way through if she backs off. Make sure the chute continues for a couple strides after the last jump to make sure she lands and goes straight.
I've never had issues teaching a horse to free jump this way. I've taught several horses to free jump for inspections, sales videos, or just for fun. Watch your horse and stop before they get too exhausted or if they are getting more wound up rather than more calm. Walk/halt between each run, don't just continually send her through. If she starts breathing hard, take a walk break and decide whether to continue. Personally, if your horse is okay, I'd aim for 3' or 3'6" as a final jump. My current horse - who is bred to jump - needed to see 3'9" before he had to put any real effort into it. (Not recommended for a first time! My horse was fit and jumping under saddle when he did that.) But if your horse does a foot perfect run through at a lower height, stop there as a reward and try again another day. Don't take the chance of ruining the confidence you just built.
You know your horse, so watch to see when/if it's getting to be too much. Heck, you can even stop after walking and trotting over the poles in hand if you need to. Using this gradual process, I don't have to do too many runs and I always end on a positive note. If your horse does have an issue - knocks over a fence, crashes through the poles, etc for whatever reason - make sure you bring everything down and go through something super easy - even if it's just walking or trotting over the poles in-hand. Never quit after a bad run.
In most of your posts, you speak of free lunging???? Are you doing that in a round pen or just sort of chasing her around a big arena??? Do you have a jump chute?
The worst thing that could happen is she learns she can stop and you can't do a thing about it to correct her-you don't want to go there. Unless you are in a small round pen, you should have some way to control her like a line and, preferably, surcingle and bridle and side reins or she won't learn much unless she feels like it.
I would not do much free jumping unless you can control/correct her...and I sure would not face her with anything very large or she's liable to just say no.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.