It’s often hard to know when to push the limits and when to take a step back to basics. Sometimes you have to break new boundaries to make progress, but at the same time you don’t want to introduce frequent mistakes and bad habits. Below are a few basic principles I use when schooling my horse:
Push the limits – and then take a step back
Make sure after you step up a level, or make the jumps higher, to drop it down slightly before the end of the training session. With inexperienced or “green” horses, I find this helps to keep them really confident because it ends on an easier thing to do, giving the horse a positive memory of the session.
Make sure you take things slowly and don’t over face your horse. Even if you want to jump higher, it is a good idea to put the fences up gradually, so the horse doesn’t notice any change. This should mean that the rider is able to ride the fence in the same way. The worst thing to do is to be nervous about the jump being higher, or more challenging, because this may change the way you ride, and so making your horse notice the difference in difficulty.
Take it easy
It’s a good idea to make your horse ‘feel like superman’ – in other words, make sure they have a positive experience at competitions so that they come away with positive associations with the competition environment. Adding a difficult course that is above the horse’s (or rider’s) capabilities alongside the show atmosphere can make a horse fear that setting – this is one of the reasons a horse might learn to nap at the gate of a show ring. You can do this by entering a class that is lower than you jump at home, so you can focus on your technique and how the horse is going, without the added distraction of being too nervous.
Avoid total disaster!
Don’t be afraid to retire from a competition, or get off and try again another day – this doesn’t mean you failed! For example, if I’m on a sensitive horse and they have a refusal in show jumping, I tend to just get them to clear that fence and then retire. This means I don’t risk having more stops in the same round, giving the horse a bad experience, which is very important with young horses!
Next time you ride, it’s a good idea to return to something that is easier and familiar to the horse so that they can (hopefully) forget about the bad experience and you can both move on! Grid work and pole work is a great way to regain horse and rider confidence, and it can be effective even when the jumps are kept small.
If you have any other ideas on how to improve jumping confidence then please comment!