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When to start young horse jumping?

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  • When to start young horse jumping?

    Okay, I have a 3 yr old coming 4 in April. I have the goal of YEH 4 yr. old competition the beginning of Sept. Flat work is coming along very well and have used some ground poles and partially elevated ground poles to improve gaits.

    The horse has been through a jump chute about 4 times. My question is when should I begin more jump training? She is a hanoverian mare and appears to be growing. Should I have her knees or any other structures x-rayed to make sure her growth plates are closed before starting a program?

    Also, once I begin her training, assuming all goes well, when should I begin working backwards from the early Sept. goal?

    Thanks for your advice.

  • #2
    Since you are proposing this question, I am going to go ahead and make the assumption that you are an ammie, like myself. Given that I am an ammie, please take my advice as such.

    I would recommend you find a different goal. I personally think the 4yo FEH is too much for such a young horse, and I cannot tell you how thrilled it made me to hear Lucinda Green say the same thing.

    And also - Even if I didn't feel the 4yo FEH was a bad idea, having just brought my horse through his fourth year, I feel that as the ammie I am, I'm no where near qualified to be training a four year old as well as would be needed to not completely ruin him. To do a 4yo FEH, you must truly know how to ride a GREEN BABY correctly. They are a different ball game altogether.

    Second, and I have to add this, I really had SO MUCH fun just getting my four year old out and about - experiencing new things, and spending my show money on training with good instructors.

    We did ONE tadpole at a recognized show the end of last year, and we had a great time. And from where I stand now looking down his 5th year, I don't have a horse that's been schooled to death over jumps. Rather, I have one that is now confidant (and maybe cocky? hehe) he can jump well, and he really LOVES jumping - esp. XC.

    Now - I also realize that I'm conservative in that approach. There are plenty of really good riders who can take their 4yo's BN,N or what not. I know my personal limitations (as far as real instruction under saddle), and I put a LOT of thought and responsibility into the type of training my horse is going to receive. And I feel like I need some more instruction and just general experience with 4 year olds before I have the skill set to do this correctly. (Again - not that I have plans to do an FEH, BUT I have enjoyed training this baby immensely.)

    I don't mean this to be a complete downer if this is a dream of yours. However, talk this over with your trainer FOR SURE. Make sure they feel this is an appropriate goal for you and your horse. In the end, you are the sole one responsible for her training and the outcome of it. And you know better than anyone on this forum your skill set as a rider.

    Good luck!


    • #3

      The YEH program just makes me really nervous. I have a nice mare who just turned 4 at the end of May, and we're hoping to do our first BN HT at the end of March. She has jumped 2'6"-2'9" some, but we're keeping it small to keep her confident and thus far, its really working. She is brave, never refuses, and is really sure of herself. If your goal is YEH, then I would say you probably need to start jumping 1-2x a week now. But I would be super careful with a 3.5 yr old. My horse wasnt even started undersaddle til then, LOL. She is a big girl and I wanted to make sure she'd stay sound long term.
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      • #4
        Just to throw out a different prospective.... The winner of the 4 year old YEH East Coast this year was not started under tack until December the year before he turned 4 (so at about 3.5). He is a warmblood/TB cross. He was brought along by a AA rider not a pro. He was probably jumped about once a week and did ONE Baby Novice event in July of his four year old year- that is it! The only event he has done besides the YEH stuff. Remember the YEH is a TALENT show not a competition.

        Your horse does not have to be the brokest, best trained, most experinced, horse out there. He just has to demonstrate the most ability and talent to do well. Most of the qualifying competitions, fences are kept very reasonable and small in size. The qualifiers are a great atmosphere to get young horses out and in a "show enviorment" before they have to go to an "event" where things like training, obediance etc. are weighed more heavily in the dressage.

        The YEH may not be the program for everyone but please don't get the impression that you have to pound your young horse into the ground to prepare for it because that is simply not the case.


        • #5
          YEH aside, there are some people who start jumping horses at your horses age. I have a 3 year old that turns 4 in May. Unfortunately, she was raised in a hunter barn and they already jumped her u/s before I had bought her last fall I'm not too thrilled about that (would not have done it myself)--but I discussed it with my vet and got the go ahead.

          Since I bought her in Oct--she is now in regular work--3 to 5 short rides per week. I have jumped her very lightly about once a month (only in my lessons supervised by an eventing pro). But other than that--we only do simple flatwork and cavaletti in our rides. I am considering entering her in the FEH (the one here is in August) but I'm not really concerned about working on her jumping for that (she "gets" it and shows good form). I am more focused on her getting out and about so she is exposed to show environment and able to focus when away from home. We will probably do our first x-c school in May.

          I read the YEH description carefully and I got the impression that EventingChase did. It's not about them being perfectly obedient. They are looking at the athletic potential. As long as you can demonstrate the horses gaits, gallop, and form over fences, I don't think they need to act like a show veteran to get an assessment from the judges. And, I am not going to do it to "win"--it's more to get feedback on my horse. I am hoping that the comments provided are helpful to determine what I need to work on in future training, what her weaknesses might be, etc.

          All that being said, if mid-way through the summer, I feel she is not ready, I won't do it. There are no plans carved in stone and if I feel it would be too much (mentally or physically) for her--we change the plans.


          • #6
            I have a 4-y.o. that will be going out to the 2nd and 3rd YEH this spring in FL (February and March)

            She's quite green over fences but from speaking to the organizer, I'm told that the courses will be very straight forward and due to the early dates will be low in height.

            Libby turned 3 in May. She'd free jumped as a two-year old in preparation for her AHHA inspection but was broken under saddle in Dec. of her 2 year old year. She spent the first half of her 3-yr old year just hacking out (splashing around in water, going calmly down the trails) We put her through a little jump chute once under saddle this summer when she REALLY turned three but have not been jumping her regularly at all.

            Around October (when she was actually 3.5) she started jumping about once a week. That's all the jumping she does. The rest of the days are still flat work and hacking. In spite of not having a ton of miles over jumps, we took her out to school at RH a few weeks ago and she handled it like a champ.

            That said, she is being ridden by a pro right now since I'm very pregnant but I think this horse has the type of personality that would allow me to do the riding (with my trainer's excellent coaching) if I was in any position to ride.

            I don't think you can make hard and fast rules for every horse. What's right for her might not be right for another horse. Although she is warmblood registered, she is 62.5% TB so probably quicker to mature than something with more WB and less TB.
            The rebel in the grey shirt


            • #7
              To give you some perspective...My young horse didn't do any YEH classes as a 4 year old. I didn't have time and I also wasn't going to go out to he finals anyway so it didn't seem worth it. He did one in the summer as a 5 year old with me in the irons to qualify for the championships (after only having been in work jumping about 4 weeks before.--since not having jumped the prior 6 months....and not having done an event at all that year...and only having done one event as a 4 year old. He jumped only a few times in the three months before the championships (right before the champs)and finished 4th. He had only done two novice events that year in the summer.

              He was GREEN as grass....and yes, some of the fences were 3'6" at the finals but I had a very good jockey on him and that height isn't the issue for a green good jumper.

              Anyway...bottom line with green horses, don't make plans or goals. Do what she is ready for. If she feels strong and ready to do a bit of jumping...do a bit. If she progresses and it is easy...then maybe she will be ready for the 4 YEH...but they do not need to be dead broke to do that and don't push her training just to make that goal.

              Personally. I have usually started them jumping Feb or so of their 4 year old year...but it is on an individual basis. I may jump as much as 2-3 a week but not a ton of jumps. Lots of trotting and trotting gymanstics. And LOTS of hacking. And I'm an ammy. My horses have all turned out well...but I do get good consistent help.

              ETA: My guy did do some showing in hand (Devon and FEH), summer of his 4 year old year went out hound exercising and cubbing and a few dressage shows. You can do a lot to give them exposure that will help them as competition horses in the future without jumping....hell, even without showing!
              Last edited by bornfreenowexpensive; Jan. 10, 2010, 05:55 PM.
              ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


              • #8
                I had written a fantastic post this morning, then my computer ate it and then had a total meltdown. Bummer. Now I don't feel like trying to remember it all!

                The basic gist was:
                YEH is tough for some youngsters, but not at all for others...it can also depend on the rider sitting on the horse. My now 6 year old was mentally and physically ready for the 4 year old classes, though I chose not to compete him in them as he just wasn't going to be competitive. He did do a couple of novices and was great and well within himself at 4.

                As for the OP's original question, I start introducing youngsters to jumping as soon as they comprehend forward and straight and have dependable steering and brakes. I don't do much- mostly just little Xs and verticals, flowerboxes, and little logs. Just fun stuff to teach them what the idea is and to have some fun. If I have them in their 3 year old year, they usually are getting this in the last few weeks they are ridden before kicked out for the winter. It is not big stuff and it is really more about having fun with them and letting them figure out how their bodies work and that the point is to get to the other side.

                When they come back to work in the late winter/early spring of their 4 year old year, their jumping progresses however they tell me they want to progress. If they are smart, brave, bold, and having a blast, I keep giving them appropriate challenges. If they are timid or struggling, I go slow and do exercises that can bolster their confidence. Some babies get it and progress rapidly and are out competing by the summer. Some babies take longer and might not show at all or might not go out until the fall.

                You reallly have to go at THEIR pace. And I am a big believer that you have to keep giving them little challenges and keeping them interested. I find that a lot of people go too slow and baby their horses (then come on here asking for advice on bigger and better bits for their strong horses). It is a fine line between keeping them thinking and challenging them a little and over facing them. This is probably why youngsters ridden by pros are often so much more advanced than their peers who are ridden by ammies. Pros ride enough horses and have ridden enough babies to know how to challenge but not over face and they know how to inspire confidence and bravery.

                So, I'd say your baby is more than ready. Start little, try to make it fun (I LOVE setting up a lot of little stuff that all looks a little different and just going out and having fun and playing). Remember it is about forward and straight. If you've never started a baby over fences, I'd strongly suggest having a good coach on the ground to help and talk you through the process or have some one who's done it put the first few schools under the baby's belt.

                Good luck! Don't fret about getting to the YEH classes. If she's ready, she'll be ready, but YEH is NOT a necessary step in a horse's career.


                • #9
                  Our "normal" schedule is to back a young horse in the fall of his 3 y.o. year, then turn him out for the winter. If he's amenable to it, he'll be started jumping some time in his 4 y.o. year, but we've waited as long as 6 when they tell us they're not ready. We're considering backing earlier, as people like Carol Kozlowski have advised it's a lot easier at 2 (don't work them, just get them accustomed to saddle and "broke") than 3 - then just turn them back out to mature. We may try that with our young ones (yearlings this year) - always willing to learn. I came from TWH and AQHA background, and we always broke at 18-24 months old.

                  Megan won the 4 y.o. YEH (as opposed to FEH, which is in-hand for younger horses) class at Maui Jim in 2008 with our homebred Anglo Trakehner. Here's the schedule he told us he was comfortable with:
                  1. Lightly backed in the fall of his 3 y.o. year.
                  2. Restarted about April of his 4 y.o. year.
                  3. When he'd minimized the tendency to want to buck at the canter transition, introduce to ground poles (May?).
                  4. This horse LOVES to jump, so he went from ground poles to 2'6" pretty much on his own. And this was with one of our working students (she's an outstanding rider)!
                  5. He did his first starter HT at our farm show in the first week of June.
                  6. He did his first BN, unintentionally, when he filled in for an entry at MidSouth who pulled a shoe. He loved it.
                  7. He did a CT the following week.
                  8. He went to Maui Jim the first (second?) week of July and won.

                  Frankly that's too much for a 4 y.o. but it just worked out that way; I wouldn't do it intentionally and I wouldn't do it again (unless I needed to). Oh, did I mention he's a stallion? He bred 3 mares during that time, too. I wrote a semi-humorous writeup of his development schedule and formative years; if you're interested, p.m. me and I'll e-mail you a copy - it's titled "Trakehner Tough."

                  Then this year he's bred 3 more mares, competed lightly in 5 horse trials never worse than 4th, and won the Area VIII Beginner Novice Championships. Early work doesn't seem to have hurt him any, but future history will tell us.

                  So we think that's a pretty good schedule for a horse that loves it. If your horse does not LOVE to jump at this stage, it's very important not to push him. And it's definitely different strokes for different folks - many of our best OTTB's are successful at TRAINING as 4 y.o.'s, but others haven't even EVENTED until 7 (and he went ADVANCED). Listen to what the horse tells you.


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks to everyone for your great posts. I have set the YEH as a end of summer goal. The facility hosting it is very low key and I think that it would be a positive experience if she is ready. I also believe that the organizers will make it a developmental friendly course since they will most likely have a few youngsters entered as well.

                    However, I would not attempt to go to this venue if I felt my mare was not ready for competition outing and I can tell you that this could be for a variety of reasons. I'm hopeful that she will like eventing, but this too is untried and as the training progresses, we could be directed tp a completely different discipline.

                    Given that my mare is a warmblood and still maturing, I am wondering if any of you have had physicals to assess the joints before being a young horses jumping education. I realize that the progress is slow and low, but is there a concern regarding concussion to the joints. Maybe, I'm being a little neurotically cautious, but I want to sure that she is physically ready and able to do jump without compromising her soundness, because I didn't complete a test that might have indicated that I should have waited another 4 months before jumping.

                    Again, just asking for others experiences or recommendations.


                    • #11
                      mine is a warmblood cross...but talk to your vet. My vets say that PHYSICALLY...internally....horses of any breed mature the same.

                      Those TB race horses running at 3 and 4 are not running on closed joints in their knees or physically maturing any faster than a warmblood (not suggesting it is good to race 2-3 year olds but that is a different topic..but a lot of young horses and young horses in the wild, run and work harder than we will ever make them work in sport). And honestly, jumping a few fences in prepared footing is probably a lot less stress than what most youngsters do in their paddock!

                      Turning, drilling and riding on crappy footing is what will cause harm.

                      Every vet I talked too has said that horses who do some work, including some jumping, as they are developing seem to develop stronger. So talk to your vet and have them look at her and give you their opinion.
                      Last edited by bornfreenowexpensive; Jan. 10, 2010, 06:20 PM.
                      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                      • #12
                        I have not read all the posts, but I thought I would give my story on my young horse.

                        I bought my mare in the fall of her 3yo year. She had been started over some crossrails when I got her. When I got her we took the winter off of any jumping and just did easy flat work. We started jumping her again spring of her 4yo year. She did her first BN event in Oct of her 4yo year then moved up to Novice. She spent the winter in Florida and did some Novices there. May of her 5yo year she did her first Training. We did a 5yo YEH at the end of May. It was nice to get her in the arena before the actual event, but that was really it. I would probably not do another YEH when I have another young horse. I did not have a bad experience and it was fun, just felt like it was not worth the $90. And to add to that I am a Young Rider who moved up to training with my horse. If you have quality and consistant instruction I don't think there is any reason that you could not set your goals the way you want them to be. I took weekly lessons and did not feel like my horse or I were being pushed.


                        • #13
                          It sounds like your question is more about physical joint readiness than mental. It might be worth talking to your vet about it assess the joints. People DO jump horses, some quite a bit, at 3/4 but i would imagine if she is still growing it wouldn't do her harm to hold off a little.

                          On the YEH topic, I think it depends on the horse. You'll know a lot more once you do start jumping her, if she's the type who can take on a more questions quickly, or if she needs to go slower.

                          While all riders are different, I don't think this is necessarily an ammy/pro issue (though, fabulous upper level pros have an edge on the rest of us). I am an ammy and I took a horse off the track in the fall, then to YEH5 the following spring, after inconsistent winter riding, and he was fine.


                          • #14
                            While all riders are different, I don't think this is necessarily an ammy/pro issue (though, fabulous upper level pros have an edge on the rest of us). I am an ammy and I took a horse off the track in the fall, then to YEH5 the following spring, after inconsistent winter riding, and he was fine.
                            Yes, it is not an all pros vs all ammies type thing. There are plenty of ammies out there more than capable of developing a youngster very well (and you are on my list of capable ammies....I've seen some of the stuff you ride, and well!! ). But a lot of ammies don't have the saddle time on a variety of horses and/or knowledge to know when to push and when to back off with a youngster. It really is definitely a case by case basis, and there are plenty of pros out there that I wouldn't let sit on anything of mine, let alone a youngster, and there are plenty of ammies I know that I'd love to sit on my horses!


                            • #15
                              I don't know what the YEH includes, is that novice?

                              I take mine along slow, but usually do the following:
                              2-3 months of work as a 2yr old in the summer- no jumping, maybe canter, then whole winter/fall off

                              spring/summer 3yr old start jumping logs and X's. All at the trot. I don't canter jumps until they have trotted a ton of them. Everything around and under 2'3".

                              By the fall of the 3yr old year I like them trotting a small baby course in the ring and doing logs. The winter off.

                              Spring(april-ish) 4yr start up. Start cantering jumps during the summer. And hopefully by the fall of 4yr old year potentially cantering a small course. Nothing over 2'6" generally

                              I am usually not so worried about the 'physical' aspects of jumping, I just like to go slow more for the mental. I don't mind showing and doing baby events, but it would mean not winning due to trotting and such.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post
                                YEH is tough for some youngsters, but not at all for others...it can also depend on the rider sitting on the horse.

                                I start introducing youngsters to jumping as soon as they comprehend forward and straight and have dependable steering and brakes.

                                Pros ride enough horses and have ridden enough babies to know how to challenge but not over face and they know how to inspire confidence and bravery.

                                So, I'd say your baby is more than ready. Start little, try to make it fun (I LOVE setting up a lot of little stuff that all looks a little different and just going out and having fun and playing).
                                Ditto this post word for word.

                                You have to go at the horse's pace.
                                I had a 4 year old ready for YEH in March.
                                And I had a 5 year old that I started jumping Feb of his 5th year and he was ready for the 5YEH in May.

                                You really have to take it step by step and do what you are comfortable and confident doing.

                                Really, there is no point in the 4y/o YEH unless you plan on hitting the champs in Nov.
                                I'd say take it easy and if you are ready spring of your horses 5th year hit it!
                                Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                                • #17
                                  (then come on here asking for advice on bigger and better bits for their strong horses).
                                  Hey! I think I resemble this remark!


                                  • #18
                                    Our last youngster we purchased at two and shipped to us in the spring of his three year old year. He's Ango Trak and has a great head on his shoulders. He was an EASY break and only bucked once (first canter). We started with trot poles as soon as he was confirmed in W/T and halt. He got bored easily so we had to keep things varried for him. We were careful to not get ahead of him and did some LIGHT jumping at the trot over x-rails in the fall of his 3yo year.

                                    We now have a 2 1/2 yo half brother Trak x Dutch/TB that we got as a yearling. This little guy is even more athletic and agile than his brother and more eager to "go". My DW started doing light saddle work with him in the fall and has been on him ~6-7 times in 3-4 months. He'll walk around for 10-15 minutes and is just enough for him to start understanding forward off the leg, light steering and halt. He's been a very quick and willing study.

                                    He's WAY more eager to work than his brother, so it's hard to not do too much, especially since he was a late (June) baby, so we just kind of stay hands.. err... butt off, lol. A GP dressage trainer that we clinic with inspected him for a SHIH class two months ago and asked if we had backed him yet. We told her, "Yes, VERY lightly" and explained our plan. She thought it was good that we were on him as it makes them more compliant as they get older. They used the USEA FEH score sheet and at the bottom where is said "Shows Inner Confidence", she circled it and wrote, "Boy does he!!".

                                    Our goal is to work at his pace but keep him in check. More solid W/T and MAYBE some canter by June. Do some trot poles to help him learn where his feet are and MAYBE a W/T dressage test if he's up for it.

                                    The biggest goal we've had so far to date is to haul him with us to every schooling show we go to. We figure the more he sees now w/o a rider, the better. It's paid off so far. He's been off the farm ~five times and he's already an old pro at standing at the trailer and behaving on show grounds. People ask about him and say, "Wow, that's good that you're doing that with him" but don't do it with their youngsters....
                                    Last edited by wlrottge; Jan. 11, 2010, 05:59 PM.
                                    "There are no stupid questions, but there are a LOT of inquisitive idiots."
                                    -Member of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique!


                                    • #19
                                      I'm very pleased with how my trainer has handled my coming 5 year old TB (late May baby). He came to me just short of 3 with basic undersaddle training (OTTB and polo), she worked on dressage with him (jumping the occasional cross-rail or low gymnastic) for the first year and a half, doing a lot of the work in an uneven grass jumping paddock so he learned to keep track of his feet. He has grown two or three inches since I got him and gone through various awkward butt-high stages and it has also taken this long to get his feet in order. We both showed him in dressage last summer as a four year old. He did his first real jumping this fall as a 4 1/2 year old in two indoor jumping clinics. During the second clinic, he cantered his first 2'6" course. This spring she will try him out cross-country and if all goes well, take him B/N this summer, which will be after he turns 5. I have no plans to event him myself but am happy he is getting the jumping training.