TRUE TRAINING 91 - Back to Jumping

Apr 01, 2024 by Janet Jones

Spring--a good time to start horses jumping! Some of the previous posts on this True Training blog (Posts 37 through 44) were devoted to teaching True to jump. I got away from that goal temporarily for many reasons. Most important, I prefer to save jumping as a series of lessons that follow good flatwork and equine skeletal development. Horses’ bones are not fully mature until age 7 to 9 years. And jumping causes significant concussion to the front legs. It also affects the horse’s back, which is the last skeletal area to develop fully.


Yes, it’s true that 3-year-olds can be taught to jump. And many of them remain sound jumping low during the first several years. But it's a risk. And my intent for True is that he and I will still be jumping 20 years from now, not just 10. That kind of long-term soundness is much harder to achieve. It requires proper warming up and cooling out in daily walks, legging up on deep sand and hard dirt, full-size feet properly shod or trimmed, strong musculature and flexible tendons, and preventative measures like ice wraps and cold hosing even when no soreness has occurred. Most of all, it requires slow gradual training.


Human injuries are another factor in my hiatus from jumping True. All horse trainers experience injuries—it’s part of the job description—and I am no exception. Over the past two years, I’ve had several upper body injuries that prevented me from carrying and setting jumps. This problem was exacerbated by some glitches in arena footing that prevented safe galloping and jumping. Fortunately, my injuries and the arena footing are now largely healed.


We also had other lessons that were more important to learn. Like the lesson that the world is not out to eat True. He’s a spooky boy. Remember the cows? And the sheep? We have a lot of those around here, so it was critical to train True to accept them. If you’ve read my post on calf sorting, you know he’s doing much better now. He’s probably the only Dutch Warmblood cow pony in existence—and he’s not scared any more.


Finally, during our early jumping experiences, True was nervous hopping even low crosspoles. I prefer to educate for calmness before overfacing a nervous horse with higher jumps. Since I no longer compete over fences, I have the leisure to go slow—something competitive jumping should encourage, by the way. (Hello, USHJA? About these age-dependent hunter/jumper classes…)


To encourage calmness, I reverted to ground poles and little flower boxes with True. He trots and canters them, alone and in a series, sprinkled all over the arena. At this point, he’s as calm and natural with them as he is with bare sand.


So we’re ready to go back to another sequence of posts on jumping now. If you’re following along for your own horse this spring, please re-read Posts 37 through 44. They’ll carry you through True’s early introduction to hopping, discussing the use of ground poles and the trotting of small crosspoles. Be sure your favorite four-legged friend has this foundation before you start trotting larger jumps or cantering anything.


When babies are super-calm with the basics, I teach them the half seat and two-point positions. A two-point position is not the same as a half seat. It’s an exercise used to build strength and balance in the rider. The rider’s seat is positioned significantly higher in a two-point than a half-seat, with the thighs almost extended vertically and the hands forward. By contrast, the half seat is a jumping position used in competition, where the rider’s seat skims the saddle by only an inch or two and there’s a deeper angle in the rider’s knees, allowing more flex in the thighs.


I started True on half-seats and two-points at a walk for short periods, then longer. Eventually we practiced the two-point at a trot. It’s easier to balance at the trot in a two-point than in a half-seat, and I wanted True to learn that this was a position I might take at any time and maintain for any length of time.


True was surprised the first time I lifted my seat up out of the saddle into a two-point. He seemed to be asking, “Wait! Why are you way up there?” But within minutes, he got used to it. One word of caution on two-points and half-seats: be sure your baby is quiet enough in a calm environment for this. Your body is at greater risk of falling from these positions if the young horse shies or bucks. True had enough flatwork under his belt by then and had learned to delay his shying responses somewhat, so I felt it was safe to proceed.


Next time, we’ll talk about cantering poles singly and in succession as we get back in to our jumping goals. Thanks for your patience all this time!