One H&C viewer got in touch because her young horse has been stopping at fences when competing.
"I have had my currently five-year-old mare since she was three. Recently we have been to a few local show jumping competitions, and I am finding her very strong. She has been refusing jumps and not listening to my leg aids for canter. At home she jumps courses fine but it’s when I take her away she seems unbothered about jumping and refuses. Is this her being immature or is she being cheeky and not respecting/trusting me enough?"
We asked former international show jumper and trainer Johnny Harris for his advice:
"Your young mare is being a typical baby - it can be such a frustrating times, so it's no wonder many people prefer an older horse that has this all behind them!
You really need to find an experienced instructor to help you through the next couple of years, as this is now the crucial time in the working life of your horse. If you can do a good job training and working her over this next period, you can have a lovely horse for many years.
I suggest you go back to your basics of flatwork and re-establish your aids, balance and her response to your instructions. She must obey your requests for walk, trot and canter on each rein; she must turn in a balanced manner, and start holding the rhythm that you have asked for in each pace.
If she gets strong, you need an instructor to tell you if she is unbalanced - and therefore ‘leaning’ on you to try to help her. This can feel like quite a weight in your hands, but she is not being strong when she does this. She needs exercises to help her balance and you need someone watching you to check that you are not leaning forward, which loads her forehand more and makes it even harder for her.
You need to be really confident in your control and her response before you take her away from home as she will get excited and tend to ignore you! When you start taking her out just ride her around and practise your flatwork until she will listen to you and obey your requests just like at home.
If at all possible try and hire a local arena to take her for her first ‘proper’ outing. Ask your instructor or a knowledgeable friend if they would come with you, so you can alter the jumps as you wish. Start with very small jumps, even poles on the ground and simply ride round over them all in trot. Keep her calm and make sure you ride your approaches really well, straight and in a nice rhythm. If you are attempting a spooky filler or wall, put sloping poles at each side to ‘funnel’ in to the centre of the jump and encourage her to pop over. As you both get more confident you can raise the jumps and allow her to trot more quickly, pop over and then canter away. Keep re-establishing your trot by asking her to come back to you after the jump and work your way round the course.
Trot in – pop over – canter away – back to trot – repeat! This will ensure that she pays attention after each jump – she will be expecting you to ask for trot - and later when you are cantering round courses, she will still listen after each jump. If she does refuse a jump, check that you gave her the correct instructions and approach line, then try lowering one side of the pole down to the ground and ask her again. Give her lots of praise when she is brave and obedient; always try to finish on a nice jump with good control afterwards. When you start taking her to shows, ride her at home for a bit before you go – this will take the ‘tickle out her toes’, get her focusing on you and relax you both. It’s always better for a young horse to be a little tired at the show than too full of energy."