My Horse Rushes Jumps


My very green hackney pony is learning to jump – and he is really talented! Has a great eye and picks up his little knees great! When working on the flat, he’s calm and focused, however, our problem is this: when jumping, he is a maniac! He is so full of spunk and pep that he wont slow down to the fences. He always finds a nice spot, but then he races through the corners and puts his head down, shaking it and trying to buck! I can usually kick him forward to prevent the bucking, but that just increases his speed! How do I slow him down in the lines and around the corners?

Do you have exercises or tips to help me?


First, you want to make sure there are not health or pain issues, such as a sore back, ill-fitting tack, or sore hocks.  Next, you want to make sure his flat work is quite good and he understands rein aids, leg aids, seat aids and weight aids.  Spending time on flat work is often the solution, as sometimes the green horse is still unclear or confused about some of the aids.  Next, make sure you are not anticipating the jump (and subsequent misbehavior) by tightening up your body (ie, reins and legs and stiffening through the spine) and tilting forward onto the pubic bone and “perching.”  Both of these things will cause your horse, especially the green horse, to spurt forward and subsequently lose balance on the other side of the jump, causing anxiety and loss of confidence.

That being said, for the purposes of this question, we will assume you have attended to the above concerns and still need help, as indicated by your question.  If you have not, you will want to get a good instructor to evaluate what you may be doing to inadvertently create some of this behavior.

Very often when this situation occurs, the horse is feeling a bit unsure or nervous or excited.  Whether it is anxiety or excitement, the fix is often the same.  One thing to try is to set up three ground poles both before and after a small crossrail jump. Trot the ground poles on the approach side, go over the jump, then trot the ground poles on the landing side. Set up the ground poles so that the horse crosses a pole on every stride, leaving one “free” trot stride directly before and directly after the jump. When this is going well, then gradually remove one pole at a time (starting with the pole the farthest away) in front of the jump till they are all gone. If the horse continues to jump quietly, then gradually remove the poles one stride at a time (again starting with the pole the farthest away) that are after the jump. If the horse starts rushing again, the put the poles back. When the horse is trotting the jumps calmly and quietly without any poles, then set up two ground poles at canter stride distances both before and after the jump, again leaving one “blank” stride both before and after the jump. Use the same process of removal as when trotting the poles. One other thing I will often do at frequent intervals with both the trotting and the canter phases is to firmly ask the horse to come to a complete stop as soon as possible after the last pole. Not every time, but frequently.

As the horse gets more experience jumping and is ready to move on, I suggest setting up some small crossrails on a bending line. A favorite of mine for this type of situation is to work up to three jumps on a circle, and to ride the pattern two times (jumping all three jumps twice) before stopping. Determine a large circle in your arena and set one jump on the circle. Before and after the jump, work very specifically on the flatwork of the circle, being quite picky about rhythm, balance, roundness and bend.  In other words, place more importance on the circle, and less on the small obstacle that happens to also be on that circle.  Once that is going well, add another small crossrail directly opposite of the first one.   Eventually, add a third jump in between the first two jumps, also on the circle. In other words, set the first jump, then one quarter of a circle away, set another jump, then one quarter away set a third jump. One half of your circle will, in effect, have three jumps, while the other half of the circle will have no jumps. In order to be able to jump correctly, with rhythm and arriving at the correct take-off spot for each jump, the horse must stay on the exact path of the circle and it must also maintain a steady rhythm, not only between the jumps, but also on the side of the circle without jumps. The two halves of the circle must be exactly the same for the horse to arrive correctly for the “first” jump when coming around for the second time. Most horses that are simply jumping too enthusiastically also like to jump well. This exercise must be performed in a very exact manner, and if the horse isn’t paying attention to the rider’s directions, the jumps will be very awkward. Jumping on a bending line is going to, by necessity, make the horse slow down in order to keep it’s balance. Jumping on a circle does not allow a horse to get up a head of steam like it can when it is straight. When the horse can do the crossrails on a circle consistently well, then raise them up and/or vary the heights of each jump a little.

Another exercise I like is setting up a gymnastic line, keeping the jumps as crossrails or verticals of no more than 2’3″. One gymnastic line that I like for this situation is to have the first two elements set as a bounce, using crossrails, then the third element one stride later as a small vertical, then the fourth element two rather short strides, with one stride to the last element. The last jump should be the highest jump of the line. You can vary the height of the jumps (though you should keep the bounce as crossrails), as the horse gets proficient, and you can decorate the jumps, or begin to alter the striding in between the jumps.

With particularly cocky or overly-enthusiastic horses, I’ve even combined the two exercises. I will start with a gymnastic line as described above down the long side of the arena, having the last element just one stride before the corner, bend through the corner, over a jump set in the center of the short side, bend through the corner, to a final jump set one stride after the corner. Using a series of jumps this way forces a horse to slow down and think and forces a horse to concentrate to stay balanced, all of which teaches the horse to wait for and listen to the rider’s instructions.  The point you want to keep in mind is that the horse needs to use his mind and be attentive to the aids to make the jumps comfortable.

When doing these types of exercises, it’s always a good idea to keep the jumps low. Remember, the objective is to show the horse that he needs to slow down and pay attention, not to cause a crash or wreck it’s confidence.

Pulling When Going Home


We have a somewhat green mare who is doing very well learning to trail ride.  Until we start to come back and we get to near her field. Then she is a major pain…constantly pulling, not responding to the bit…I have been doing circles with her, but  yesterday she was really pulling hard on the bit and I nearly lost control.  Any suggestions?


What your mare is doing is very common, and also very difficult to fix. Not that it’s difficult to DO, but that it is is very time-consuming. The first thing you want to make sure is that your mare knows how to give to the bit. Both laterally and vertically. Practice that until all you need to do is squeeze your fingers and she softens and gives in that direction. You will also need to make sure she understands how to move laterally off of the rider’s leg. Practice this until all it takes is a bit of shift in the rider’s weight (for example, to the right) and a gentle squeeze of the left leg to get her to step her hindquarters to the right. Practice this in both directions until she is soft and responsive.

Then, when she is pulling to go home, don’t pull back with both reins, you must disengage the hindquarters, which is where her “pull” is coming from. She is, in reality, pushing from her hindquarters into your hands.

You disengage the hindquarters by asking for her to move her hips over with your leg and by asking her to give to the bit (by tilting her nose) in the opposite direction. You can go back and forth between both directions. Do this EVERY time she pulls on you, even a small bit.

If this is not sufficient, then you will need to simply stop continuing towards her “home” and start doing a bit of schooling right there where she is, so make sure that when you are working on this problem, you pick areas that give you some room to work. Now, I want to be clear, here.  You do not want to simply “stop going home” without a plan, that will just make a horse more agitated.  Rather, focus on true schooling.  Begin schooling circles, figure eights, moving the haunches, backing, etc, and really, truly focus on the movements, on getting them correct. For example, on a circle, focus that the circle is truly round, and that your mare is straight on the circle (bending through the body so that her spine matches the bend of the circle and the imaginary line of the circle runs between her left legs and right legs), make sure that both halves of the figure eight are the same and that she does a smooth change of bend in the middle, and so on. DON’T focus on “keeping her from going home” but DO focus on getting the exercise correct. In other words, give her a job to do……..give her something very definite to think about BESIDES going home. Take your time and expect to be there for a bit. 😉

When she is listening, you can calmly start going towards home again, and as soon as she starts pulling, begin again with disengaging the haunches a few times, and if needed, proceed into stopping right where you are and schooling figures again.

Eventually she will realize that every time she goes against her proper training and starts pulling against the bit, she will have to stop and have a “re-training” session. As long as she is listening to the bit, she can continue on towards home.

Once you do get home, DO NOT put her away right away, but take time to do more schooling. Even get off, take a break (without unsaddling) and then do some schooling or go back out again. Make some of your rides be something like this:  go out for ten minutes, come home, go back out for ten minutes, come home, go back out, etc., so that she does not think that if she can just get you home, you will get off and put her away. In other words, take away the anticipation of “going home.” 😉 Make her go back out, or make her do some schooling when she does get back.  A great technique is to have her work harder (serious schooling exercises) while at home, and have the short trail ride be relaxed and enjoyable “time off” (so long as she is behaving).

The trick is to keep yourself thinking about this as a training problem (she is not listening to the rider’s cues) and not a specifically “going home” problem………that way, you will have more of the mindset of “how can I get her to listen to me better in all situations” rather than “how can I keep her from dragging me home.” The first way of thinking encourages you and her to work together, the latter way encourages you and her to fight over something. Because the bottom line is that she is not listening to you in all situations………and if you allow her to disregard you in one situation, she will do so in more and more situations, anytime the situation does not “suit” her. It will escalate.

Basically, there is no quick fix to this problem. But it is very common and pretty much every horse will do this to some extent or another at some point. However, if you DON’T get it under control, it can very quickly become dangerous.

Snaffle Bit


A trainer I know insists ALL horses be ridden in a snaffle, can ALL horses really perform in one, including older horses who have harder mouths, or mouths that can ignore a snaffle?


This is a question that, taken at face value, I would have to answer as “yes,” since this question is asking if all horses are CAPABLE of performing in a snaffle. But, perhaps a better way of asking this question would be: “Can ALL RIDERS get all horses to perform well in a snaffle, including older horses who have harder mouths, or mouths that can ignore a snaffle?” Asked this way, the answer would be “no.” Let me elaborate.

ANY horse IS capable of being ridden in a snaffle, PROVIDED the horse has been trained correctly, and the rider is riding correctly. Of these two conditions, the rider’s knowledge and ability is the most critical. A horse is properly controlled by a rider’s seat and legs, NOT the bit and reins. The bit is more correctly used for very fine detail to enhance the control that comes from the seat and legs. Ridden correctly, a horse does not need a bit at all for general riding maneuvers, therefore a “hard mouth” or a horse that has learned to ignore a snaffle are irrelevant. Many people, however, do not understand the correct use of legs, seat, and hands and will use the hands for the majority of their control. This causes tension in the horse, sometimes outright pain, and causes the horse to focus on it’s mouth to the exclusion of all else. This leads to the horse learning evasions and resistance to the bit, causing people to use stronger bits. In many of these cases, it is true that a knowledgeable rider would still be able to ride this type of horse in a snaffle (albeit with some retraining), however, to the less knowledgeable, this same horse would be uncontrollable in a snaffle.

So, in other words, some horses could not perform well, if at all, in a snaffle with some riders. This is not due a HORSE’S inability to ride in a snaffle, but a RIDER’S inability (both past and present) to apply proper use of aids. If all riders rode equally well, then there would not be learned evasions and resistance to the bit, and if, for some reason these did occur, then a rider would have the knowledge to correct the problem, therefore still allowing performance in a snaffle. Since I don’t see this happening any time soon, I think it is the trainer’s, or instructor’s, job to work within the bounds of reality and find a compromise suitable for both the horse and the rider, according to the situation.

On a related side note, some people may try to make the case that the configuration of their horse’s mouth is such that a single jointed snaffle is uncomfortable. This is certainly possible, however, replacing that single jointed snaffle with a double jointed snaffle, such as a french-link will solve this problem.

Backing Out of a Trailer Problem


I have a 4 yr. old gelding who I can get into a stock trailer but I can’t get him to back out. When I put just his front feet in I can get him to back out very nicely but when I get him all the way in he won’t back up even if he is at the front of the trailer and backing up won’t get him anywhere near
the edge. He hasn’t been trailered ever as he was born at my place and I’ve never had a trailer. Am I expecting to much of him or not?




I don’t think that you are expecting too much from this horse at all. Even weanlings can learn to trailer, load and unload quietly. This is not really a trailering issue at all, this is really a trust issue. While your horse may trust you in most areas, in this unfamiliar situation this horse does not trust the ground to be there under him when YOU say that it will be. If you look at it from his point of view, you can understand his fear. If you KNEW that there was a drop-off behind you, and someone, even someone you know, told you that it was okay to step off, yet you could not check to see for yourself but must step backwards blindly and hope that you can make it, would you not be hesitant to proceed? I suggest taking time to teach this horse that he can, in fact, trust you in this sort of situation. You do not need a trailer for this, either. You will need to come up with two distinct cues. One for “follow” and one for “back up.”

First, teach the horse to follow you everywhere you go while leading him forward. Make it a game, give treats (this is a great clicker-training exercise) and lots of praise and teach him to follow with his head at your shoulder through all sorts of obstacles and situations. Over tarps, over ditches, through water, build a bridge and clump up and over it, through hanging strips of plastic garbage bags, past or through any sort of scary object and uneven ground you can think of and/or make.

Next practice a bit making sure that he will back easily on cue. Start on level ground with good footing, and ask that he back a few steps with you. Stand at his head facing his tail and move with him as he backs up. Practice this until he is comfortably and quietly and easily backing on cue for a good distance. Then ask him to back between two poles on the ground. Ask him to back between two barrels. Ask him to back through a pattern of poles so that he has to turn and maneuver. Again, work at this until he can do it easily and quietly. Now, you are ready to put the two skills together.

Start out as you have been and go forwards past or over a scary obstacle or uneven ground. Then stop, and, staying at his head, you begin walking backwards as you use your “back up” cue to ask him to do the same obstacle in reverse. Work up to him backing into shallow ditches and creeks and off small banks. I used to have a house where the back steps from the porch to the driveway were concrete slabs of about 12 feet square. Something like that would be perfect. Stand the horse on a slab and ask him to back so that he steps down to the next one. When he will confidently follow you forwards or backwards over, across, or past anything you ask, then you can use the same technique with the stock railer. Have the same matter-of-fact attitude and use the same cues in the same consistent manner as you have been. Ask him to follow you onto the trailer, then ask him to back off of the trailer. If you want, or feel it may help, back the trailer to a smallish bank or hump in the ground so that the distance he must step up or down is less.  If you’ve taken your time and built his trust in you so that he knows if you ask him to back up somewhere, he CAN do it, even if it seems weird or scary, then the trailer will become a non-issue.