I regularly see people asking for help on Facebook about how to stop their horse refusing. These posts are often accompanied with a video and while I never claim to be an expert, these videos nearly always look like a case of lack of confidence or knowledge. My advice for anyone struggling with refusals is to rule out pain as the cause then go back to basics. Since refusals is something I have struggled with with Scottie, this is my go to guide to build confidence to stop refusals.
Before You Start
Before you start with the exercise, there are several things you need to be aware of to give your horse the best chance of jumping. After all, it is your job to set the horse up, and it is his job to jump it!
- Get a good line to the jump, with time for your horse to see the question.
- Keep it steady, things quickly go wrong with speed
- Check your aids, are you pulling the reins on the approach?
If you make sure you are giving your horse a good line to the fence, getting the speed right and you are riding positively without pulling or bouncing, then you may find this is enough to stop your refusals.
Start with a Pole
No matter what sort of problem you are having, I think going back to a single pole on the floor is always a good start. Put the pole out before you start riding and once your horse is listening to your aids walk them over the pole as if it wasn’t there.
Focus on giving them a good line, keeping them straight and forward. Look up and kick on. If they stop and have a look at the pole, I think it is okay to let them have a quick look if they come to a stop and look down. But if they start going backwards or sideways push on.
Once they have walked over the pole once, walk them over it again. Approach it the exact same way, but this time do not let them stop. Repeat this coming from the other direction, as we all know that a single pole can look completely different from another angle…
When you have walked over the pole in both directions a few times, pick up trot and ride over it as if it wasn’t there. If your horse backs right off and goes back to walk before the pole, just keep kicking and being positive! They should eventually work out it is okay to trot over it with no drama! As with the walking, repeat this from both directions, making sure your horse is comfortable and happy.
If you are feeling happy, before moving onto the next stage you can introduce canter over the pole. Just ride it exactly the same as you did the trot. However, if your horse is prone to getting over excited in canter, I tend to avoid cantering until a little later!
Creating a Jump
Once your horse is comfortable over the single pole, raise one end of the pole. I like to keep the cups really small to start with, usually around 40cms. As it’s much easier to lose confidence over bigger fences as it is to gain confidence over smaller ones!
Now, depending on how confident your horse is, you are going to walk or trot over this raised pole just as you did when it was on the floor. If your horse is particularly green or looky, I recommend walking for the first time. (Which is another reason why keeping it small is helpful!)
If they want to stretch down on the approach and look, let them. But sit up and keep your leg on. If they stop to look they still have to step over it! Repeat this until they are trotting over it happily in each direction.
Next raise the other end, making a simple straight jump. I like to approach this from a walk, giving them time to look at it, but about 5-6 strides out ask for trot, keeping them forward and making it a bit more comfortable over the jump. Once you have gotten over it a couple of times, trot into it from both directions and make sure they are feeling happy.
Building On This
For some horses, getting to this stage may be plenty for the first session. So if you are super proud of what you have achieved in the session, don’t feel pressured to continue there and then. Repetition is the best way to build confidence after all! When I first started jumping Scottie again, getting him over a small jump a couple of times was more than enough and a great place to stop the session.
However, when you are ready to start building on this, these are the things I would suggest.
- Start cantering over the small jump, if it goes wrong, go back to trot a few times and try again. Ride it the same as you had been in trot.
- Start building a course. Often new jumps cause a problem so build a course of poles, raised poles, cross poles and small straights to ride round to keep things new.
- Start getting bigger!