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How to get a horse fearless over fences?

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  • How to get a horse fearless over fences?

    I'm starting my soon to be four year old mare over fences this fall- nothing too big- and she is a thoroughbred and sort of skittish and nervous over the few cross rails we have gone over (when we follow other horses she can't get over the jumps fast enough) I just need a way to boost her confidence. I was wondering if anyone had tips on how to make her fearless over fences? I want to make her a jumper and bravery is a good quality to have for that.

  • #2
    I think one of the best ways to make jumps less scary is to integrate them into your flatwork and do trot poles and cavaletti as well.

    For instance, warm up at the walk and go through the poles. Then, go through the poles at the trot and start incorporating a crossrail or two. Just do it once or twice and then go back to trotting. Once she is solid at the trot, then start working your way up to cantering the poles and a crossrail or two.

    If she gets upset, then go back to poles until she is solid. Focus on straight and forward and then do things after the jump or pole like a circle, work them into a serpentine, etc. etc.

    Keep it interesting yet controlled and she will get braver in no time. Spend that time building her confidence and she will build a solid base to build on.

    Good Luck!
    "The Prince" aka Front Row
    Cavalier Manor


    • #3
      Get with a decent trainer who has been through the whole thing many times. Honestly, I can not tell you - I have tried for years with all my young ponies, and every time it has been a trial and a drama (though ultimately successful every time). This time through, with my trainer, my baby TB just pops over everything totally calmly, no fuss, getting the distance right every time. I don't think there is any substitute for old eyes on the ground.


      • #4
        Definitely seconding having a coach on the ground but other then that, don't expect it to happen over night. I have a hot little mare and I've had her since she was 4 and she really just needed her energy to be channeled. She stopped a lot at first but the most important thing was to be patient but also to be firm. If she stopped, she could not run away from it she had to stand there for a second and she would get one smack and then we would wait another moment in front of the jump for us to both chill and then we would circle around and go at it again. It took a couple of years for her to really get solid but she is brave and confident now. They just need a lot of exposure and you can never get upset with a horse like that, they are sensitive and will feed off you. The only time she might consider stopping at this point is if I am hesitating, or if she thinks its going to storm (and she's always been right about that bit). Just keep at it! My hot little thing was a jumpy skittish thing at first too and her method was to just stop, hopefully you don't go through all of that like we did. Also, trot of canter poles before the jump can help them figure out they're distance too. And just make sure that she is muscled enough to do what your doing now, I know your just doing little stuff but having them fit helps a lot with their confidence too.


        • #5
          You can't make a timid horse brave (imho.) You can make a timid horse confident but giving them the best ride you can give to every single fence.

          We have a horse who is a big fat chicken and think crossrails are going to eat him, but if he gets jumped 2 or 3x a week by a confident rider he goes perfectly. Put someone on him who leans a little forward, looks down, or takes their leg off and he comes to a standstill before launching himself over the fence to escape the bogey monster he thinks his rider sees.

          A horse can also be brave but not confident. My ottb is green and will jump anything but if he senses his rider is unsure he starts to waver. He's not scared or timid to a fence but he needed to know his rider was going to be there for him. After lots of good, strong rides to fences he gained even confidence to carry a more timid rider around a course.


          • #6
            Often times the ones that are "afraid" jump super well since they do not want to touch a jump but for a jumper sometimes that also means they spend too much time in the air! I agree witht the others, get some ground help and keep it simple.


            • #7
              ride confident


              • #8
                I agree it sounds like you need help from a professional. Not every horse needs the same work to become confident. Some need to find their own way on a loose rein to feel confident while others need lots of rein and leg support. Some horses jump really great when they spook off the jump but others jump up with their bodies and leave their legs dangling and even others become stoppers because they are too worried to jump and need too professional a ride to feel confident. Best of luck!!
                You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!


                • #9
                  Make sure you don't change more than one element at a time. Don't try to jump a roll top for the first time at her maxed out height with colorful flowers at the base of a bending tight 5. Make incremental changes with height, complexity, "scare factor", etc. so that she doesn't get backed off. I also think that popping over natural jumps while hacking out builds a lot of confidence and makes jumping less of an event and more of an every day activity. Also, do not be afraid of using a grab strap if there is even a 1% chance of getting left behind. I think getting popped in the mouth is the worst thing that can happen to a nervous young horse. No one is perfect so a grab strap is that safety belt for when/if you get left behind.


                  • #10
                    Well, I don't show and I'm pretty "backyard" in terms of horse ownership, but my 10y.o. OTTB will go over absolutely anything in front of him, without question-- he just does not have a stop in him. When I first got him as a 5-year old, he had a couple years as a pasture ornament but hadn't been restarted after his racing career, so all of his post-track schooling has been up to me. And I am NOT a great rider by any means; he has saved my @$$ more times than I can count.

                    I attribute his fearlessness to two things...

                    1.) He's inherently a good egg and doesn't question a whole lot.

                    2.) For the first 4-5 months I had him, we did NOTHING but trail-ride. I was lucky to be at a barn which sat on 300 acres of mountain trails, AND had a little trail obstacle course, so we were able to go out with a group, alone, through creeks, over logs, bridges, etc., etc. If there was something within reach that was low enough to step on/through/over, we walked over it, and he got heaps of praise afterwards. Tarps on the ground, hula hoops, pool noodles, buckets, flower boxes, whatever... I even taught him to sidepass over stuff, like the mounting block and barrels. It got to the point that Horse would see stuff and figured that I was probably going to ask him to go over it, so he now gravitates towards things to step over if I have him on a loose rein.

                    Personally, I HATE a horse that power-jumps over (and bolts away after) even a little tiny crossrail; if the thing is 12" high, whether it's a cavaletti or a row of jack o' lanterns, I expect him to be able to quietly step over it and not care. And if he can WALK over it without caring, then he can JUMP over it without caring.
                    *friend of bar.ka

                    "Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GraceLikeRain View Post
                      Make sure you don't change more than one element at a time. Don't try to jump a roll top for the first time at her maxed out height with colorful flowers at the base of a bending tight 5. Make incremental changes with height, complexity, "scare factor", etc. so that she doesn't get backed off. I also think that popping over natural jumps while hacking out builds a lot of confidence and makes jumping less of an event and more of an every day activity. Also, do not be afraid of using a grab strap if there is even a 1% chance of getting left behind. I think getting popped in the mouth is the worst thing that can happen to a nervous young horse. No one is perfect so a grab strap is that safety belt for when/if you get left behind.
                      I totally agree here. I also think that learning to slip the reins is an important skill. Sometimes I don't have time to grab anything when my horse stands off when I'm not expecting it, but I can always slip the reins, and it's an automatic response for me now.
                      I heard a neigh. Oh, such a brisk and melodious neigh as that was! My very heart leaped with delight at the sound. --Nathaniel Hawthorne


                      • #12
                        Incorporate anything & everything 'scary' into your everyday routine and in a comfortable environment. Keep it a low crossrail to encourage the center at all times. Only go over a few times, then pat and quit.

                        Make sure you are confident and comfortable. I started my mare and she is SENSITIVE, much more than any other of the geldings I have owned. The minute I would even think of questioning it, she stopped.

                        Keep a deeper seat for the first couple times and drive her forward, leg says Go! while hands stay low and soft.

                        At the shows, you will add the element of nerves so you want to instill "You are going..." when you are at home. It might be ugly at first, but getting over is the battle.
                        If you need to allow your mare too look at the fence first. You can do this at shows by making your opening circle close to the scary fences and put leg on while you pass.
                        LOTS of pats when she does!


                        • #13
                          I've had good luck with incorporating poles/small jumps into the every day flatwork routine as LoveJubal has suggested. Jump the cross rail, then go straight back to whatever exercise you were working on before jumping.


                          • #14
                            I agree with all the suggestions here, and slow and steady wins the race. Present things in a manner that allows your horse to gain confidence and have success, then she'll feel more confident as you introduce new things and she'll feel like she can handle whatever comes. Take your time, and if things make your horse worried, stay calm and let her figure it out.

                            With my current horse, I find the worst thing I can do if she worries about something is be confrontational or punish her for it. I try to slow down and let her take the time to process and figure things out on her own terms. When she is ready,s he will then typically march right up to things like she owns them. From a jumping perspective, at this point she'll will usually jump anything put in front of her (touch wood) although she'll typically over jump if she thinks it is spooky. In that case I try REALLY hard to stay out of her way and not punish her mouth/ back for her extra effort.

                            Your horse's careful-ness is a good thing, just nurture it patiently and you'll probably have a wonderful jumper. If you are on Facebook, I recommend following Denny Emerson/ Tamarack Hill Farm. He has a lot of fantastic posts about training young horses and building their confidence.


                            • #15
                              I don't think you can make a timid/chicken horse brave, but you can make them perhaps "more" confident by delivering a good ride every time.

                              You CAN very easily make a brave horse a quitter by giving them a bad ride (stiffing them in the air, missing a distance and making a big last minute move, jumping up their necks, etc. etc. etc.). If you are not 100% confident that you can give your horse a great ride to the jumps EVERY time in the very early stages, have a pro do it. The fact that you are asking the question indicates that you should have a pro help you with starting this one over fences.

                              FWIW, I don't think having a young horse "follow" another horse over a jump is a very good method. For one thing, it makes them quick, as you have already noticed. Also, I just have not found it to be very effective and it certainly doesn't keep the young horse focused on its rider.