If you have a horse and would like to train it to jump you need to be aware of a few things. First of all, every able bodied horse can jump, but not every horse is talented, or built appropriately, to become a jumper (jumps high) or hunter (look pretty while going around the course and over the fences). Indeed one should look at their horse, its build, and temperament, before setting unrealistic expectations. A good horse should be able to jump low obstacles, such as fallen trees they encounter on the trail with no problem and a little bit of training.
photo by Author - just for fun, this foal is taught to jump over a cavaletti on the lowest setting.
You can train any age of horse to jump, but you should not attempt to ride any horse over anything more than trotting poles until it is mature. For some breeds of horses, such as warmbloods, this can be five, or even six, years of age. Horses in their late teens or twenties should not be asked to jump without a veterinarians inspection and approval.
The first thing to training a horse to jump is to introduce the it to trotting poles. This can be done in the saddle or on the lunge line. The poles should be spaced so the horse can evenly trot over them. For most horses about 4.5 feet between the trotting poles works well, closer for smaller horses, and slightly farther for large ones.
To help direct the horse over these place them next to a wall. The first time you may want to allow the horse a long rein, so it can look, and just want through the poles, then move up to doing it at a trot.
If the horse is proceeding well you can introduce a small jump, called the cross poles. Do this by placing the upright posts (jump supports) on either side of the trotting poles, but without any poles on them as such, you just want to be sure the horse is fine with going between the poles. This is especially true if you are lunging the horse and you may need to use extra poles, or even a wall, to direct the horse correctly.
The Cross Poles
Although some people train horses to jump by introducing them first to a cavaletti, the cross poles are often better simply because they help the horse to see that it should jump in the center of the jump, as this is where it will be lower. The cavaletti almost offers a new horse an escape route, being as they can easily to around.
Have the cross poles low, or if you are using a cavaletti have it low. Keep at least one trotting pole in front of the jump, by twice the regular distance of spacing. Meaning if you have the trotting poles 4.5 feet apart, you want one 9 feet in front of the jump. You also want a “ground” pole, one directly underneath of the jump. This helps the horse judge height, and while not so critical now, when you start jumping higher jumps, especially verticals, it is very important, so is a good habit for you to get into – laying a ground rail at the base of every jump.
photo source This pair appear to be stuck, but you will note that the cross poles are set so if the horse bumps them (coming from the direction they are at) the poles will fall.
Ask the horse to jump the cross poles (or low cavaletti) at a trot. Be determined as a rider, looking ahead and offering the horse no reason to back out. If you have the jump next to the wall this will help keep the horse focused and not looking to go around, but if it does want to go around, there is only one way around, and the rider must not let the horse consider this. Be encouraging, but not mean.
If you are lunging the horse, use your body language to “push” it to jump over the fence. You can also use poles along side the jump, creating a “jumping chute” to direct the horse over the fence.
End of the Lesson
If the horse is progressing well, and enjoying jumping, you will not want to push it too hard. Finish on a good note and pick up again the following day. If the horse is having issues, slow down, find a step it can do, and again, finish on a positive rather than continuing to push the horse.
As you get to know your horses learning curve you can raise the cross poles, or cavaletti, and eventually add a second jump in another location of your arena. If you are using cross poles remember it is the height in the center of the jump that counts. Keep this in mind when you first introduce your horse to jumping a vertical fence.
Introduce different looking fences too, or put some brush under the fence to make it more of an obstacle. Always be sure your fence is safe, in that if the horse hits it, it will fall over.
A beginner rider, who is not familiar with jumping, should not attempt to ride a horse over a jump, they may jerk the reins and hurt the horse in the process, thus scaring it off jumping in the future.
Riders should always wear helmets when training a horse to jump.
Horses can be “free jumped” to see how high they can jump, and to help them learn how to jump without a rider on their back. However some horses find the process frightening as such this should only be done by somebody who knows what they are doing.
photo source Note how relaxed this horse is while free jumping. Warmbloods are often pushed through chutes to jump heights of 4 feet or more, but they too are totally relaxed and kept at ease during training rather than forced, or frightened.