Question: I have a 4 year old mare who is getting really bad and I need help NOW. She rushes jumps to the point where I can’t stop her and is now running full speed past them and refusing. My coach said that we need to practice more, and to jump her 6 days a week. We have been doing that, but she is getting worse, not better. What am I doing wrong? My coach is getting impatient with her.
Answer from April Reeves: I don’t usually answer questions like this as they make me absolutely stunned at how stupid people can be, but this one I have had in various forms lately, so sit down and listen! I’m telling it the way it is (I’m afraid to ask what age you broke her).
First Thing To Do
FIRE YOUR COACH! I’m not kidding. I am absolutely disgusted at any coach who jumps more than 2 times a week (a level 3 I might add). Do it NOW! Or that thinks it is okay to jump a 4 year old (mare jumps up to 3′ 6″).
Second Thing To Do:
Get off your mare and stop riding her until next spring. I’m not kidding. Jumping anything before 5 is absolutely stupid. Think about it this way: you are working at training your horse something so that you can enjoy it IN THE FUTURE! But if you don’t pay attention to the damage being created by riding too early, all the work you are putting in will be for nothing if you don’t have a sound and serviceable horse for the rest of it’s life. It’s so simple. Don’t rush things.
Your mare needs a mental health holiday. I’m not blaming you for the problem, as you can only go by what you are told, but this may be a very expensive lesson. Normally I would be speaking about retraining right away, but this case is so extreme that I cannot ignore the health and well being of your mare.
Spend the next 6 months working with her on the ground. NO RIDING. Ask her to bend her neck gently, working each side, 3-4 times a day. Walk her for longer distances, quietly on the roads or around the property. Get to know her on the ground. Get her poor little mind back to calm and trust. Right now she is in such mental anguish and pain that you have lost all her trust and confidence as a partner. You need that back before you ever enter the arena riding. Walk her around the jumps and if she is quiet, walk over ground poles only. This mare not only needs the time to get her mind back but also her body. Let her grow up a bit more during this winter.
Get back on and do at least 6 months of solid basic foundation work. Get your cadence and rhythm down first. Get a soft mouth, a good quiet stop and a responsive go. Do all of this under the guidance of a different coach who you have watched teaching other students. Ask questions. Get references.
When you begin jumping again, in the fall of your mare’s 5th year, start with ground poles. The minute she ever begins to feel ANYTHING but soft and quiet over any pole or small jump, go back to the beginning.
Build her confidence back up. Do not jump anything over 1 1/2 feet for her 5th year, and never more than once a week.
There is so much ground work and riding a jumping horse needs, but few ever train for this. It’s all about getting the horse over a fence. Well, not in my stable. You must have your ground work impeccable before any fence work. Jumping is an art and a challenge, and if you are not willing to do the work, you are not meant to ride in this discipline. I’m not being cheeky, just telling you the way it is. The way a true professional approaches it.
I will be surprised if your mare has not had any structural skeletal damage. It’s not just the legs that will pay the price, but the spine and especially the neck. This area is last to develop and fuse on a horse, as backs and necks lengthen a the end of the growth cycle. Horses grow from the ground up, meaning that their legs develop first, then backs, then necks. It’s part of their survival technique Mother Nature gave them. Their legs develop faster to accommodate the soundness needed to run from predators.
Watch your mare’s pasterns and spine and neck. At the first sign of lameness or pain in either area, consult a vet. A good one.
Let me know what you do. PLEASE!