Question: Hi April, I have a really big problem that’s getting worse. My horse stalls out after every fence. We jump one fence and he just quits. I can get him moving again but he just keeps doing this over and over. I can go over one fence and he does it okay but he won’t do a line of them. Help me please! My instructor doesn’t know what’s wrong with him either. Is he sick?
Answer from April Reeves: No Angela, he’s not likely sick. He’s likely trained to do that, and you trained him. I know what you’re thinking right now “Gosh, no April, I’ve never trained him for that!’ but we unconsciously train our horses to do many things we don’t want them to do.
This is a typical scenario when you first learn about jumping. You aim at a jump, pray the horse will keep going, and then immediately stop the horse after you go over the fence and take a look at your accomplishment. If that isn’t training a horse to stop after every fence I don’t know what is!
One of the first elements you need in a jumping horse is to get the horse “in front of your legs”. What does this mean? The horse must continue to move forward on it’s own accord until you ask it to change (You will get a good feel for this when you watch the below post’s video cam of Peter Atkin’s riding) . It’s not a horse running away from you: it’s a horse that has forward momentum without the feeling of him stalling out and backing away from your leg. Horses should go forward without spurs or continual use of legs every stride. When you apply your leg, the horse should respond and stay there. That takes training. That takes time and work, and if you are not prepared to do the work then you can’t move forward and do what you want to do with your horse. Very simple, but in my experience most riders will never make it to where they want to go. You can’t cheat: you can’t go from grade 2 to grade 12. It doesn’t work that way.
Another thing you must do when jumping: never, EVER, end at a jump. Always DO something else after it. Ride a circle, rein back and canter off again and stop, counter canter, change leads, but don’t stop and admire your work or you will ‘train’ your horse to do this and he will continue to stall out because he’s expecting you to stop!
You also need to train your horse how to ‘rate’ his speed. You have to be able to shorten and lengthen his strides at will. You can practice this with 2 poles on the ground. Set them at 4 ½ canter strides and ride them at 5 strides (what you would ride in a show ring course), 6 strides (a balanced, shorter strided canter) and 4 strides (stretched gallop canter).
Try a simple exercise (but do it perfectly). Sit centered and balanced with your leg a little longer. At the halt, ask nicely for the walk forward. If there is no response, ask again but stronger and if he still doesn’t move forward, ask with leg, voice (cluck) and crop all at the same time. Once he moves, stop nagging him. Go with it. Halt again and do it again. Eventually the horse will wake up and begin to move off your leg. Move up into the trot. Walk and trot and halt. Repeat. Once that’s better, skip the walk and go from a halt to the trot. Get your horse “hot” off your leg. This takes time and practice; really consistent practice done perfectly. This is the beginning of a horse in front of your leg.
Transfer this into faster gaits until the horse is in front of your leg. You will feel the difference. All this work must be done with your body upright and tall in the saddle. DO NOT lean forward!!
Just a note about tack: often I find people’s girths are too close to the front of the horse and impede his movement. Watch your horse move: is his front leg hitting the girth when it’s back? As he swings his legs, can the horse move freely without hitting the girth on the way back? If the girth interferes it will have an effect on the horse’s performance.
Always ask yourself if you have trained your horse to do the very thing you DON’T want him to do. More often than not, this is the case. Also, if your instructor can’t figure this one out, move on.