There are many reasons that a horse stops at the jumps. And therefore, there are many different ways to deal with it. First and foremost you need to understand why he is stopping, get to the root of the problem.
If it is a single stop in a riding lesson, or at a horse show it doesn't mean that the horse has a problem with a stop, if he jumps all the other jumps and doesn't seem to have any further difficulty. He may have just been surprised, or a strange circumstance. But if the horse continues to stop, in a lesson, in a horse show or during warm up for a horse show, you need to try to figure out why. To every problem there is a root!
Firstly, are you asking too much of a young or green horse? Is the flatwork ready for a jump, or is the jump too big or spooky for the horses level of training? I never want to chase a horse down to the jumps. I want the horse to be ok with getting right to the bottom and jumping. I usually start a young one over anything spooky or solid with a 9 foot trot rail infront of a smaller jump.
Even in a ticketed warmup ring with small walls, flower boxes or gates. Particularly because a young horse's canter is often not very adjustable. Showing a young one the jumps is also a wise idea, as I am a strong believer in prevention. You do not want the horse to learn to say "no".
So take the time to walk beside the jump. Leg yield into it and move him around it. Do not walk him directly up to the jump and then pull him off of it, as that is telling him he does not have to go over it, so keep your work beside and around it. The trot rail helps to put the horse in the correct place to leave the ground and provided that you have done enough rails and small jumps with poles and planks a horse should be ok with trotting the newer more spooky elements, as long as he stays in front of your leg.
If a horse that has quite a bit of experience stops at a spooky element, then you need to try and approach it with a little more positiveness the second time. That doesn't mean faster or chase it harder, it just means you need the horse between your leg and your hand better, riding him forward up into your hand with a little stronger connection to keep him straight, keep feeding your hand with your leg so you have an energetic package.
If it is in the show ring and you are eliminated obviously you cannot go back to that jump at the time, you can however, ask the jury if you can jump a jump that you have already jumped. Pick something simple like a vertical going toward home, get it done!
Then you will need to simulate the problem jump somehow in the schooling area with a cooler, or if it was a liverpool, the show is required to have one in the warmup area if it is in the show ring. Try to build the same element at home, figure out what exactly about the element is spooky whether it is holes in a cut-out wall or bright, busy colors.
Practicing spooky elements at home is very important for getting a horse ready for the shows. If it is a spooky element either at home, or in a warm-up ring then you can make it smaller and get the horse jumping it with confidence and then raise the height to the level you are showing.
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If the horse is an experienced horse and it started to stop routinely then you need to ask yourself some questions.
Hopefully, you are showing or riding with someone more experienced than yourself like a coach or trainer that can address any rider errors that may be causing the horse to stop. For example, lack of pace or straightess. If all of this has been addressed, then you need to really take a good overall look at the horse.
#1. Is your horse hurting?
When was it last shod? Are his feet bruised, hot or sore? Feet are usually the first go to. They are shod usually every 4 to 6 weeks. Sometimes horses are a little tender after being shod and need a few days of growth to feel more like themselves, especially if the footing is a little hard.
There may be a bruise or a close nail, perhaps an abscess. Usually there will be heat in the foot. Have your farrier take a look if they are accessible, they will often have hoof testers and can find a sensitive area.
#2. How are his teeth?
Teeth can play a large factor in stopping horses. If they have sharp points, if they're biting the sides of their mouth or if there is a lot of bit in their mouth to control their gallop and the bit is not sitting properly. Have the teeth been floated lately?
#3. What about its overall soundness?
Is it a little body sore, is it limping? There are very many therapeutic things you can do for horses, even sound horses. With the advice of your trainer you should make sure you have a good health regiment for your horse.
Other things to address is the bit itself, did you recently change the bit? Is it too much bit for the horse, maybe it is a great flat bit however, maybe too much for jumping, particularly for an amateur ride.
Have you changed the feed lately? Some feeds make horses quite spooky, this is something to have a look at.
Does the saddle fit properly? Sometimes saddles can make horses sore in their backs.
Other things that can make horses temporarily sore are vaccinations, continuous working in bad footing and definitely over showing or just over working. These are all things that you will need an expert's advice on. Coaches can help to make you aware if any of the above is the cause.
Often a trainer can ride and school the horse a few times to build back the confidence, or put a more experienced rider on for a few lessons or ticketed warm up rings. This will usually help make the horse more rideable for you and you can continue to learn again rather then just learning to ride defensively.
Finally, you need to ask yourself the question, am I asking too much of the horse? Have I stepped it up too fast? Is the horse actually ready to be jumping the height that we are jumping? That is up to your coach to help you decide this, and sometimes we make the decision that someone is ready for the next level, but if it is not working out then you are way better step down and have great results and rewards then cutting the heart out of your horse.
The question needs to be asked, is it even capable of showing at the next level? Whether it is an amateur hunter or jumper, there are many divisions you can show that are competitive and best suited to some horses.
Or maybe the horse is capable, but you are not ready! I am a strong believer in what you don't know will never hurt you, I don't like regret. Some horses just don't have the confidence or the scope to step up to the divisions that we want to do. That's when we need to make the decision to keep it where it is and either sell or lease it if we are ready for the next move. It doesn't mean it's a bad horse it just means it's more comfortable jumping a in division that doesn't challenge their ability.
And riders are no different! By staying in the same division it does not mean you are at a standstill in your learning. There is always more learning to do, horses will forever make you humble. Always remain the student.
We all want to make our horses last as long as they can and get the best from them. It is fun to step up to the plate and challenge yourself once in a while by jumping the odd big fence, something that is set in a line and easy to get to. But continually asking something of a horse that he doesn't want to, or is not capable of doing will only discourage yourself as a rider and take the confidence away from the horse. No one wants to live in fear of their next lesson or horse show.
Riding is a wonderful, stress relieving, physical and mentally demanding recreation that we are all lucky enough to be involved in. Enjoy the good days and the bad days, stay safe and above all, listen to your horse.
When she’s not in the barn or the riding ring, this 21-year-old is studying social work at Laurentian University with the hopes of someday working with children or seniors. This year, Isabelle’s goal is to move up to the 1.10 and possibly the 1.20 in the A shows of the trillium circuit with Red, the horse she’s owned for six years.