Ask some horses to approach a colourful showjump and they will react as if you've asked them to go head to head with a fire-breathing monster! Of course, a horse may be genuinely scared of fillers, especially if he hasn't been introduced to fences in a confidence-building way. Others may use the sight of patters on wood as an excuse to pop in a cheeky stop. Whatever the reason, the good news it is possible to overcome the refusals and awkward jumps if you start at the beginning and build things up gradually. Just follow our sound advice...
1. Eliminate any pain issues
A horse may be reluctant to jump because he is experiencing pain or discomfort. Even if he is fine over plain fences, it's worth getting his back checked and ensure his tack – especially his saddle and his bit – isn't causing any problems. Often, horses will jump awkwardly over spooky fences - take care not to accidentally pull him in the mouth when this happening, or bang down on his back when he lands. A neck strap is a handy thing to use, both on a young horse or when riding a horse that's sticky over fences. Slip a finger through it to give you more security in the saddle, and to prevent you snatching the reins.
2. Look ahead
The automatic thing to do if you are worried your horse will refuse or run out, or if you are nervous of jumping, is to look at the fence. But if you look at the bottom of the fence, this is where you are likely to end up! Looking down tips your weight forward and makes it harder for the horse to balance. Instead, look at the fence early, choose your line and stick to it. Then lift your eyes and focus on a point in the distance - such as a tree or an arena marker. This will help keep your weight up.
3. Stay in control
Resist the temptation to push your horse to approach a scary fence at speed. When a horse sees a potentially frightening object he will slow down to take a proper look at it. By chasing him into the fence, he won't be able to assess it and is more likely to refuse. If a horse is genuinely scared of a filler it's better for him to stop in front of it than duck out. Running out can quickly become an escape method and a difficult habit to break.
Approach the fence calmly, in a good rhythm. Get the horse in a balanced canter and ensure you have impulsion and that he's listening to you before you put him to a jump. A good tip is to ride a 20-metre circle, to prepare you for the jump ahead.
4. Introduce fillers gradually
Go right back to basics to build up your own and your horse's confidence. Start by setting up an easy fence, with a filler placed at an angle on each side, and leaving a large gap in the middle.
To have the best chance of clearing the jump, sit up with your heels down and have the horses straight and on a contact.
Once the horse is jumping the fence confidently, gradually move the fillers closer together, until they are directly under the fence, with no gaps between them. This may take more than one session. If the horse refuses or seems unsure of the fillers at any time, move them back out again, to rebuild his confidence. Placing V-poles at the sides of fences can help guide a horse into the centre of the fence.
5. Handling refusals
Ideally, you will be able to encourage your horse over the fence - use lots of leg and open your hands wider, to channel him forward. One benefit of keeping fences small in training is that the horse can pop over them easily from trot or even walk. Some horses will duck out to one side - work out if your horse is likely to go left or right, and keep a feel on your opposite rein to hold him straight. While it is the norm to turn a circle and approach the fence again, try not to turn your horse's back on the obstacle. Instead, ask him to rein back for a few strides, until there is enough room to trot forward to the jump.
By not turning away you are keeping the horse's focus on the fence. It also means you are taking control of the situation - if the horse learns he gets to turn away from the fence, stopping could become a habit.
6. Stay positive
Be positive when schooling your horse over fences - if you think he's going to stop, he probably will. Often, horses have a problem with fillers because riders believe they are scary and communicate this to their horse. It's not that the horse can read your mind, but they can read your body language - for example, if you are nervous you might tip forward, putting the horse out of balance.
Or, a rider worried about filler fences may hold the horse too tight on the approach to a fence, causing him to run out. Eliminate any problems you have with your position - book some lessons with a good instructor, if necessary.
7. Improve your position
Become a more effective rider over fences with this useful exercise to improve your leg position:-
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