Starting a green horse over jumps is much like teaching a child to read. Both require a step-by-step approach, where the student becomes proficient in one lesson before moving on to the next challenge.
A: Attain adjustability on the flat.
Long before cantering jumps and schooling entire courses, your greenie needs to be adjustable at all gaits. That means your horse should not only walk, trot and canter, but he should also be willing to collect or extend each of these gaits without leaning on your hands like a race horse. Needless to say, this requires that your horse understands and responds to your aids, including the all-important half-halt. Once your horse’s gaits are adjustable on the flat, he’ll be easier to ride over a course of jumps. He won’t move up (increase his pace and length of stride) on the way to a jump unless you tell him. And won’t that be nice?
B: Be confident when new jumping elements are introduced.
A green horse that bolts over unfamiliar jumps is not brave; he’s anxious and lacks confidence. So that you don’t create a horse that gets strong and quick to his jumps, introduce new obstacles—like flower boxes, panels and gates—in their smallest format. Set flower boxes at the base of a crossrail, and lean solid panels against a low vertical. Then approach them at the trot, which allows your greenie to focus on jumping the strange item. Trotting also gives you greater control over your horse’s pace and approach. Just adhere to this imperative: Do not let your greenie stop and inspect new elements. While he mustn’t leap like an antelope over strange jumps, he does have to go forward. Encourage him with a tap of the crop if necessary. He’ll gain confidence when he realizes that he can indeed jump whatever you place before him.
C: Canter low, single jumps on a consistent rhythm.
This skill is a final exam. If your greenie can maintain the same pace and length of stride throughout his approach to a jump, and then continue on the same rhythm once he lands, then you have been an excellent teacher. Your horse is confident in his job and trusts your judgment. He knows you won’t ask him to do the impossible. Your greenie is now prepared for more sophisticated lessons, like trotting into a line and cantering out over the other elements. You can also canter a short course of three or four jumps, with simple lead changes in the corners. On the other hand, if your greenie gets strong when he canters a jump, especially if he quickens the last few strides before take-off, then you have some homework to do. Resist the urge to continue on and fix this later. Remember your commitment to a methodical approach. Don’t promote your green hunter or jumper until he knows his ABCs.