Question: I was told that my horse is too bold when he jumps. What exactly is that? How do I correct it? He does run at jumps and I have trouble stopping him after. How should I be riding this?
Answer by April Reeves: What is a horse that is ‘too bold’?
A ‘too bold’ jumper is a horse that uses way too much enthusiasm when approaching a fence. His strides increase in speed, he tends to ‘flatten out’ and charge, causing the horse to miss the height he may need to get over.
In the show jumping arena however, knockdowns are not only points against you, it also means the horse can lose his confidence and eventually begin to dislike jumping. Knockdowns can also cause a horse to begin refusing and stopping at the fences.
What causes a horse to be too ‘bold’?
Temperament plays the major role, along with lack of confidence and pressure to perform. Improper training, lack of a good foundation and rushing the training can give the horse enough pressure and tension to charge at fences. Bold does not mean brave in this case.
Riders. In an effort to start a horse, they often jump too early, too much, before putting a good foundation on them first.
Often, pushing your horse into a jump will encourage the horse to become over-bold. To the horse, this is uncomfortable and considered punishment.
When Bold is Good
Horses that offer enthusiasm for jumping need careful schooling to encourage them to use this talent to the best of their ability.
There are times when ‘bold’ is required in jumping, especially during cross country work. Horses need speed during this event and although that often creates knockdowns under arena conditions, cross country jumps are solid, and the horse learns to clear them. A good ‘bold’ horse is confident, strong and has a solid foundation behind him.
How can you correct this?
Go back to basics. Start from kindergarten and work your way through. Get off the jumps for about 3 months.
Get the stop and go buttons responsive and soft. Get his mouth responsive and soft. Keep him supple with lateral flexing and bending, circles in all gaits. You want a horse that has no resistance, anywhere.
Transition work is especially important when jumping. The horse needs to be able to ‘rate’ his speed: where he shortens and lengthens when YOU want him to. Bold horses are great on the ‘up’ gaits but tend to be strong on the down transitions. Do lots of them, keeping the horse non-resistant and supple. All bold horses need transition work continually to keep them from getting too long and strong in their canter.
Work on collected gaits. Collection is so very important with jumping horses, yet I see so very few trainers and riders working at this. Jumping is an art form that is constructed on the ground first.
Work on shoulder-in and haunches-in. The horse must know how to move each body part separately as you ask. Again, another very important factor in a jumper; he needs to be able to ‘flip’ his hindquarters around when asked, especially during those ‘moments of need’, or move his shoulder to line up a jump properly.
Once you have these established, begin to re-introduce the fences. Start low and slow, working your transitions through ground poles and short fences. Rate your speed through a series of 2 jumps, changing from 5 strides to 4 and back again. Get him so comfortable that you don’t notice any change in anxiety or speed during the process.
Teach the horse to halt after a jump, straight and on the line. Back up 2 steps, and proceed to the next jump, and repeat each process. If the horse gets pushy, do this without fences until you can introduce them again. Enter each jump in the middle and end on the line dead straight, about 3 strides after each jump. Perfection of this exercise will teach the correct lesson; without that it teaches nothing. As you land and come down from the canter, feel your weight sink deep into the saddle, close your fingers on the reins and ask the horse to soften to your hand and halt softly. Keep your body straight; no leaning on any side.
Do not let your reins go. Move your hands either forward or back, but do not get into the habit of letting the reins slip through your hands. This is dangerous in jumping.
Make sure your elbows open and close as you post. When the elbows are stiff and locked, the hands go up and down with them. You want each of your body parts to move and work independently.
Keep your eyes up and forward during jumping. Do not look down. Your horse goes where you go.
Do not use only upright jumps. Set up low and wide fences to encourage a horse to use his body (bascule) in a rounded style as opposed to a flat or ‘cracked’ back style. Keep them low to start and use ground poles to encourage the spread.
On the day you are jumping, warm up for about 15 minutes before you begin. If you warm up too much, you will lose the ‘edge’ needed to perform. Jump no more than once a week for height and once more that week for control (using smaller jumps). It is important that you keep jumpers fresh, or you will move right back to where you had problems.
Also, I don’t know what bit you use, but the more severe the bit, the more problems you will have. Put him in the lightest bit you can and train him from there. Many horses react from the pain, and increasing that solves nothing. I use a French link with a small roller in the middle; one with some weight to it, and I don’t position it high in his mouth, but keep it low, barely one wrinkle, so that the horse can feel when I pick up the reins, but not so low as it interferes with his teeth.
Reward each try with your bold horse, as this is not an easy transition for him to make. Give him a rub on the neck each time he tries even the tiniest bit. It may feel small to you, but to the horse it’s a very big deal. You will also need enormous amounts of patience through this. It can take months, or a year to get the result you need, depending on how bold and pushy we was to begin with, and how long it has gone on for.
A well-mannered, confident bold horse in the jumping arena can produce results beyond your expectations. But should you feel this is beyond what you are capable of doing, it may be best to not jump the horse at all, or move on to a quieter one. Regardless, it is worth taking lessons or a clinic to see if it is you or your horse that needs the work.