Q: I have a 2-year-old gelding that I want to train to jump. Is that too young? If so, how old would he have to be?
Hunters, jumpers and eventers will often lightly back a horse during its 3-year-old year. This includes basic walk, trot and canter work and steering. Later in the year, trotting over a few ground poles and tiny cross-rails may be introduced before the horse is put away until the following season. There is no harm in waiting longer to introduce jumping and more serious riding.
It’s not until a horse’s 4-year-old season that he has aged into jumping competitions. However, training philosophies vary from light, few-and-far-between schoolings to frequently competing over jumps of 3′ or higher during this year.
One factor to consider is your horse’s physical build. Stock breeds and Thoroughbreds have often filled out by age 4, whereas warmbloods and larger horses may still look very gangly at this age. Mental maturity also varies among individuals but is a very important component when introducing work over fences.
Your best bet is to confer with your vet and come up with a plan for safely introducing more serious jumping. Your horse should be physically fit and mature before jumping larger fences more frequently. Focusing on the walk, trot and canter and long hacks will not only increase your horse’s fitness, but it will also make him more rideable when jumping courses where straight lines and balanced turns are a factor.
When you start jumping your horse, always ride on good footing—either soft grass or soft (but not deep) sand arena footing.
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!