Q: My horse is afraid of brightly colored or decorated jumps. How can I desensitize him?
To desensitize your horse, you will have to repeatedly expose him to these things at home until they’re no longer a big deal. You can have fun and get creative by bringing new jump decorations to the barn for schooling sessions.
Start your horse off easy with some colorful jump poles on the ground. This is a great excuse to spruce up dull, peeling poles and standards that need repainting every couple of years. Try alternating stripes with a lot of contrast, such as red and white or black and yellow. To get your horse used to them, start by just walking and trotting him over a single pole on the ground. When he no longer reacts to this, you can use two or three of the rails to make a low vertical jump, around 2′ or 2’3″.
Give him as many sessions as needed to get used to this before adding more challenging elements to your routine.
If your horse is especially spooky, he may need a few minutes on the longeline to burn off excess energy before being ridden, or he may just be the type that needs to take things more slowly. If this is the case, you can do groundwork, leading him over the poles and past the “scary” things in a businesslike manner as many times as necessary until you feel comfortable mounting up again.
You can school him past the objects in trot and canter circles, but try not to let him inspect them fully before jumping them in order to get a sense of how his show-ring preparation is coming along.
Jazz Up Your Jumps
Here are some jump decoration ideas to keep your training fresh:
- Make flower boxes by drilling small holes in landscape timbers or square PVC posts; add bright silk flowers from craft or dollar stores to the holes.
- Acquire some plastic 55-gallon barrels from the local carwash after they’ve used up the soap; barrels can look scary at first but make an inviting shape to jump. Lay a pole on either side of the barrels so they don’t roll.
- Paint jump gates and panels with patterns such as zebra stripes or polka dots, or even words-anything that looks out of the ordinary.
- Buy some cheap plastic potted plants and put them next to the jump standards or in a corner. Move them every day so they look different.
- Set down a folded-up tarp held in place by poles underneath a jump to simulate a liverpool.
- To get used to things that flap in the wind, hang streamers on jump standards.
- As your horse gets more confident and is ready for advanced-level desensitizing, try putting an inflatable pool float (like a blow-up shark) next to a standard, or a beach ball under the jump pole. Make sure it’s anchored down by putting some arena sand inside.
When your horse is no longer fazed by these decorations at home, he’s much more likely to be accepting of them at a show.
This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!