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Young pony lacking confidence -- what to do?

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  • Young pony lacking confidence -- what to do?

    My pony is only 5, and her confidence over fences is "meh". She's developed a ton of confidence with certain things like water, and I've seen an appreciable growth in that confidence, but with fences the growth isn't as noticeable. She does love hacking out (and we go alone usually), doesn't think twice about going over anything on the trail, and has an aptitude for dressage as well.

    I keep reminding myself that Denny and Darryl's mare Rosie spent years doing little crossrails before she was confident, and that's what I've been trying to do. Truthfully though, in any given session or lesson, I don't feel like she ends any more confidently than she begins? Like, once she's seen a fence and gone over it, she's generally fine with it, but she'll still hesitate or stop in our next session. She doesn't seem to build from session to session (or month to month).

    She has scope for days, seems keen once she's been over something, but just doesn't seem to be getting more confident in general, even with smaller simple fences. I guess the exception to that is small plain logs, but other types of xc or stadium fences are still something to look at on first approach, every time.

    I know she's just 5... do i keep plugging away, jumping cross rails and small stuff? Do I table jumping for a year or two? Do I just switch to dressage full time? Just looking for support and experience, I guess.

    For what it's worth, next month I'm spending 3 days with a fresh set of eyes with a top coach/judge, and will get her take on this pony then.

  • #2
    Take a step back. You're making the right decision to set yourself up with an intensive session with a coach. From our side perhaps its your position, perhaps she's behind your leg, maybe she's had a bad experience we don't know, or pain. All of this a good coach should be able to identify.

    However, until then take a huge step back. (What size fences are we talking about that she's stopping at. 3'+? Or is she stopping at 12'' cross rails that she could walk over?) Are these the types of stops you can feel from a few strides away or stops that aren't seen until the last stride? Is a professional able to ride the horse willingly over the same course?

    Whatever the answer, once pain is completely eliminated, which could easily be a factor, take a step back. The horse must be in front of your leg, or moving forward without you having to squeeze every step. And you need to set up fences that you are 120% confident. So jump poles on the ground or 18" verticals if she is confident over these. Rebuilding a horse's confidence takes time, patience, and a rider whose confidence makes up for the horse's lack of one.

    It's hard! Especially, with your own horse. I had the same problem as a junior. I'd jumped my pony too high a few times, because he could. Then, the pony began stopping at even what I considered low (Novice) type fences. I'd give a smack, next time he went over. But our record became spotty, and he eventually went to a dressage home, and I was placed with a packer who built my own confidence back up. You don't want to get yourself in a place where both you and your pony lack the confidence in each other. Lets, see what some eyes on the ground tell you!


    • #3
      Try setting up a jump chute. Free jumping is excellent for giving a green horse confidence and letting them figure the game out. Start with poles on the ground, lead the horse through, and offer a bucket of treats at the end.

      Gradually build up the grid, keeping distances easy and jumps low until the horse clearly understands what to do. I've had two very "chicken" horses have a lightbulb moment after one or two free jump sessions. Depending on the horse's experience, I'll set up a placing rail, one stride X to vertical, two strides to rampy oxer. Or, placing rail, bounce X to X, one stride to vertical, one stride to oxer. Distances anywhere from 9-10ft bounce, 18-24ft one stride, 30-36ft two stride...it really depends on how quiet or aggressive the horse comes in. The first session, I'm not trying to work on adjustability or teaching the horse to collect or extend...I just want a comfortable distance with no reaching or stuffing.

      It works best with three people: one to lead, one to chase (as needed), and one to video (or "catch" at the end). Be sure to have plenty of treats or grain to reward each attempt. I often leave a shallow feed pan at the far end of the chute, loaded with "bait" so the horse rewards himself for completing the exercise.

      Don't chase the horse madly through the grid. Use the whip just as you would use your leg-- for encouragement to maintain a steady rhythm. If the horse rushes, add ground rails or guide rails to back him off and make him think (not usually needed for the underconfident ones!).
      “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
      ? Albert Einstein



      • #4
        Is it only over cross country fences or is it also in the ring? My daughter had a pony that she had planned to event. He could jump the moon but turned out cross country, when out there alone, just wasn't his thing. She took her cue from him and redirected her goals. She spent her last junior year in the pony jumper ring and ended up quite successful. It ended up a good thing as DD also took to jumpers and hasn't looked back.

        Pony could also just be a late bloomer who could benefit from another year of puttering around without much pressure. It's a great feeling on the day something clicks and you can feel they are ready for more. Good luck! Just keep being sensitive to your pony and as long as you don't get frustrated you'll figure out what will work best in your situation.


        • #5
          Originally posted by normandy_shores View Post

          ...She has scope for days, seems keen once she's been over something, but just doesn't seem to be getting more confident in general, even with smaller simple fences. I guess the exception to that is small plain logs, but other types of xc or stadium fences are still something to look at on first approach, every time...
          I’m not sure if I have any advice, but I do have a question. Is she confident with a boring plain white or brown jump? Or does she have the same issues going over a plain jump the first time?


          • #6
            Are you taking her over single fences or grids that set her up for success? It's very hard for a green horse to jump a single jump. They don't have the eye yet for distance, know how to adjust their speed or striding. (in most cases) Grids with predetermined distances do wonders for them since there is nothing for her to figure out. You just keep her straight and the poles tell her where her strides need to be and when to jump.
            "Do what you can't do"


            • Original Poster

              Thanks for all the feedback, I haven’t tried freejumping through a chute.

              she sometimes hesitates or stops at plain jumps, not just interesting or coloured stuff. On the other hand, she doesn’t always think twice about a coloured jump either.

              I keep the jumps small, xrails to 2’. Xc fences are hit and miss, as are stadium fences. She has done gridwork and single fences, lower level courses. We’ve trotted lots, but she actually seems more confident at the canter.

              At at this point we’re taking an I vomit Bart break anyhow (heavy smoke from fires), and I’ve got an upcoming vet appointment so will have a look at anything that may be causing her hesitation.


              • #8
                Sorry to hear this. Have you taken her to any clinics this year? Sometimes a few days of jumping with leads available and repitition and incremental increases to height or complexity can do wonders.

                If you've done that and it hasn't helped then maybe you need a different approach than the traditional one. (For me traditional is start very small so they can walk over if needed, repeat a lot and add scary objects before height. Only trot to start as they can more easily find distance and process the jumps. Only increase difficulty or height when they are very confident and totally consistent with going over "new" stuff the first time. Lots of dollar store items plus whatever I have at the barn.)

                Some other approaches to consider: natural horsemanship (lunging over fences including xc fences); equitation science (I'm not too familiar but there are people near you who are); clicker training; a new approach I've been exploring called TRT method.

                Definitely rule out pain. Saddle fit. Ulcers etc. Eyesight also a possibility.

                You could be right that it's just not her thing but I'd give it a bit more time before concluding that. Shoot me a PM if you want to talk more.

                You never know what kind of obsessive compulsive crazy person you are until another person imitates your behaviour at a three-day. --Gry2Yng


                • Original Poster

                  Oh Blugal, glad you mentioned lunging over fences. She went in hand over everything she was pointed at in June at a 3 day camp... but in fairness she had a brave weekend under saddle too. Didn’t bat an eye at anything.

                  i think a less traditional method may be in order...


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by normandy_shores View Post
                    Oh Blugal, glad you mentioned lunging over fences. She went in hand over everything she was pointed at in June at a 3 day camp... but in fairness she had a brave weekend under saddle too. Didn’t bat an eye at anything.

                    i think a less traditional method may be in order...
                    I have a horse who I could probably lead in hand through fire. He will literally follow me anywhere, under any circumstances. Under saddle, he's a lot less brave. I can lead him over poles and he won't bat an eye, but if I try to ride him over ground poles he often balks at them. For him, a better but similar exercise is lunging him over the poles. He still gets to do it without me getting in his way, but he also doesn't get to have a lead over every time and is able to grow his confidence incrementally.


                    • #11
                      Ok, reading what you told Blugal about your pony's bravery @ the clinic makes me wonder if you are channeling nervousness to her at the competitions. Along with all of Blugal's excellent suggestions, how about some sports psychology for you? I know you've successfully competed at higher levels, but that was with your wonderful other horse. What have you got to lose?


                      • Original Poster

                        Originally posted by fanfayre View Post
                        Ok, reading what you told Blugal about your pony's bravery @ the clinic makes me wonder if you are channeling nervousness to her at the competitions. Along with all of Blugal's excellent suggestions, how about some sports psychology for you? I know you've successfully competed at higher levels, but that was with your wonderful other horse. What have you got to lose?
                        it isn’t just at competitions though... she can be the same at home :/