Let’s talk about teaching jumping!
Two schools of thought:
1.”Teaching” jumping can be entirely too easy, and as such people may tend to do it entirely too soon (like, say, to weanlings).
2.”Teaching” jumping is made into a science of precise distances and levels of work, and as such people build it into some sort of mountain when it is, in fact, a molehill. A crossrail. Whatever.
Natalie’s School of Thought:
I just like to send them over some fences to see what they’ll do. Horses know how to jump, just like dogs know how to swim. In other words, I’ve never seen a dog that wasn’t capable of getting itself out of a pond (and will never quite forget when we found our Beagle puppy, soaking wet, at the top of the apartment stairs, with wet puppy prints leading from the pond she’d fallen into!) And I’ve never seen a horse that couldn’t get himself over a fence! The key is, not to complicate it. Isn’t that always the key?
You know, just as there are Thoroughbred trainers out there who teach their yearlings dressage, there are trainers out there who let their yearlings hop over some fences. For one thing, it can slow them down and make them think. “I run too fast, pay no attention, and I hit my legs on this stupid pole! OW!” For another, it can freshen up the work-outs and keep a youngster from going sour quickly. That’s certainly true of an OTTB or older horse as well. Or rider, for that matter.
My three main requirements for starting an OTTB are: know their spooking points, know their brakes work, and know they’re sound. It’s really that simple.
Knowing their spooking points simply means being confident that they’ll go over the fence. The very best jumpers go their entire lives never refusing a fence because they simply didn’t realize it was possible to disobey and go around it or stop. How trustworthy does your horse find you? Can you ride him through or past a spook? Good to know this ahead of time.
Knowing their brakes work – well this is an obvious one, isn’t it? Too much fun and you’ve got a rusher for life.
Knowing they’re sound – um, yes.
So for a few days prior to this, Final Call has been enjoying some cavelletti, as you saw. No configurations or measurements or combinations, just two obstacles at two convenient locations in the paddock. After feeling comfortable trotting and cantering over them in his daily routine, I rolled one up to its full height, added a ground pole, and over we went!
Okay, the first few times he half-trotted, half-jumped, which was pretty entertaining. I was always prepared for the deer jump, you know, straight up, straight over, straight down, which is so very comfortable to ride – but no, he was just very Final Call about it – laid back, no sweat, take it easy there Mom, it’s just a pole elevated off the ground a foot or so.
Nothing to see here, in other words!
But don’t be fooled, he enjoyed it immensely. (The ears always give them away. Witness Zenyatta.)
We had some nifty little lattice fences, the sort of thing you’d find at the Super Baby Chicken Beginner Novice level at your local unrecognized Horse Trials/Yard Sale, and added those to the mix. Add a little scope, so to speak. A little reason to pick up your feet.
Naturally, these went over quite well! He appreciated the difference between the pole, which magically seemed to change heights between rounds, and was probably giving him a little bit of a headache (“I swear the last time, I didn’t have to pick up my feet that high, so why did I bang into it this time?”) and as you can see in the picture is thinking very hard about where all those legs and hooves are going to end up. Me, I’m just sitting there, in my short-stirrup hunter pose, ready for whatever’s next. Happily, with Final Call, it’s just another canter stride.