Hunt the Jump

A Horse Training Article by 4-Star Senior Parelli Professional Amy Bowers

As some of you might know, I love jumping! I can remember the very first time I ever jumped a horse. It was not on purpose. I was probably six or seven, and I was riding my little pony, Frosty. I had come to a gate that I had wanted to go through, but it had rained, so there was a puddle in the gate way. When I tried to go through the gate, my pony jumped it. From that point on I was hooked. The rest of my childhood was spent riding that pony, finding everything I could to jump.

Very little has changed now that I am older. I still look at everything and think about how to jump it. But one of my challenges has been to cause my horse to look at everything and think about how to jump it. My first levels horse was a very obedient Right-Brain Introvert named Prince. He would do anything I asked of him. Even jumping. But when I got Sapphire, it was the opposite. As most of you know, Sapphire was a failed eventing horse. One of her biggest fears was jumping. She would get so scared of jumping that she would jump halfway over a jump and then try to go backwards. She would do this so bad that she would not even care if she ended up on the ground. Or she would just avoid going over anything. Even a ground pole.

I had my work cut out for me. I needed to help her not only get confident with jumping, but get to the place where she liked it and it could be her idea. So first I had to improve her confidence. With this I just started really small, a ground pole, and got to the point where she could walk, trot and canter over it. And then I just got a little bigger as she got more confident.

At this point, I had her confident. She was no longer worried about going over obstacles, but she would still choose not to do it. She would do it when we were playing on line, but if we were at liberty, she would rather go around the jump. I had to come up with a way to cause it to be her idea. Just like everything else in Parelli, we made it a game.

So one day, I set a jump up. I had the three barrels lying down in a line. Then I played the Circling Game next to the barrels. I had it set up that she could go around the barrels or she could go over them. But she got to choose what she wanted to do. So I set it up and waited. I allowed her to go around the barrels; the only rule was that she had to maintain gait and direction. After a little bit, she decided she wanted to jump the barrels. As soon as she jumped the barrels, I asked her to come in and let her hang out.

After I let her rest, I sent her back out, and this time she only went around the barrels a few times until she jumped. And again, after she jumped, I asked her back in to have a break. By the third time I sent her out, she went right over the barrels!

That’s where we ended our session. She did so much licking and chewing on this – and even yawning. It was huge for her to realize that she could choose to do it all on her own. After this session, I played with it a few more times and she had it. After she had the idea, I could start to make the jump narrower and tougher. I would play the same game, waiting for her to jump it and then reward that. She got it really fast. That’s the super learner in her.

So now, not only am I hunting for things to jump, but so is my horse!

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