Stop Jumping Refusals

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How to remedy refusals and run-outsWhat happened? You were galloping down to a jump, your horse’s ears were up, and your eyes were analyzing the approach for a correct take-off spot. In your heart, you sensed a blue ribbon. But then, your horse made a sudden decision to avoid the jump, spraying sand against the arena railing and nearly sending you up and over his neck.

If refusals and run-outs are becoming habit, it’s time to take a serious look at why sometimes your horse just says, “No!” Here are four common stopping scenarios, their possible causes and ways to rehabilitate your riding and your horse’s mindset.

The Sliding Stop

Apparently you were unaware that your horse had potential as a National Reining Horse Association champion. But sure enough, he can be cantering down to a jump with all the zeal of a steeplechaser when, right at the base of the obstacle, he slams on the brakes. Amazing, isn’t it, the way that he can stiffen his front legs inches away from the ground line, and then literally sit down on his haunches? Unfortunately, the sudden loss of forward momentum can send you hurtling through space and into the jump rails.

In many cases, the sliding stop is a refusal borne from pilot error. That can be a tough criticism to accept. Yet often a horse slides to a stop at the base of a jump because he realizes at the last instant that he simply cannot clear the hurdle from where he’s been placed. An otherwise honest horse—one that generally jumps without hesitation—that surprises everyone by abruptly stopping at an occasional jump may merely be saving both himself and his rider from disaster. This horse simply needs a better ride.

Note: While a horse that refuses jumps must be punished so that it doesn’t become a habit, there is a difference between educating the horse and abusing him. One or two smacks of a crop behind the rider’s leg are enough to explain to the horse that he has disobeyed a command. Spanking the horse in front of the girth is useless. The horse’s motor is located in his hindquarters.


On the other hand, a horse that incurs a multitude of bad rides soon learns that it’s just as easy to slide to a stop as to go over the jump from an awkward take-off spot. He becomes what’s termed a “dirty stopper.” Such a horse is forever waiting for a rider’s split second of indecision. Being dropped at the base of the jump, meaning the rider slackens the reins and assumes a defensive posture in the saddle, is the cue a dirty stopper lives for. The only correction is for a more skilled rider to school the habitual stopper. At any point that the horse slides to a stop, the rider must discipline the horse with a smack of the crop behind the girth. An even better solution? Be an accurate, determined rider.

 

“I am So Not Going There!”

At least the dirty stopper makes it to the base of the jump. The jump-shy horse is so committed to not jumping a particular obstacle that he will proclaim his intent from several strides away, perhaps as soon as he rounds the corner and grasps where he’s heading. His body language seems to scream, “You have got to be kidding!” This emotional conveyance is combined with histrionics, such as bulging eyes, flared nostrils, pricked ears and a neck elevated like a giraffe. When urged forward, the expression can turn into outrage, with pinned ears and a swishing tail. Defiant, the jump-shy horse may even rear when the rider demands that he approach the jump.

Green or young horses that are overfaced beyond their level of experience may balk at spooky or challenging jumps. Older horses can carry this act to the extreme, particularly those that have learned how to get the best of novice riders. Oh, what thespians they are! Their performance begins as soon as the novice aims them toward the offending obstacle. Then they cease their forward motion and add flourishes such as whirling or bolting to further intimidate the rider.


To prevent jump shyness, the green horse should be slowly introduced to the same sort of jumps he’ll encounter in the show-ring. A variety of obstacles, such as artificial flowers, miniature paddock gates, little wooden boxes covered with artificial turf and striped poles can all be used at home to acquaint the green horse with his new job environment. Any jump that spooks the green horse at a show should be re-created at home for the next schooling session. And the wily veteran horse that begins his refusal process in the corners needs a hiatus from the beginner’s riding school program. (He may also need a veterinary exam to rule out soundness issues.) When he’s convinced by an experienced rider that his melodramatic antics only bring forth retribution, he’ll become trustworthy again.

Drifting Away

Lines are the mainstay of hunter and jumper courses. If a horse and rider cannot maintain a straight pathway, there’s a good chance they’ll miss the related jumps in a line. For example, the horse jumps safely into the first element of a line, but upon landing he begins to drift or bulge off to the side. With each stride, the drift becomes more evident. Soon he’s no longer aimed at thecenter of the upcoming jump. In fact, he may be staring straight into the standards. His only option? Bypass the entire obstacle.

Some horses have a natural tendency to drift. It’s noticeable from the time they begin their careers over jumps. First it should be determined if there is an underlying unsoundness that is causing the horse to favor bearing weight on one side of his body over the other. Once that’s ruled out, the rider must focus on teaching the horse to be straight in his flatwork and to carry himself in a balanced frame of self-carriage. Plus, the horse must be taught to respect the rider’s aids. Regardless of whether the horse is green or a seasoned campaigner, if he does not respond to subtle pressure from the rider’s leg, he will not move laterally within a line of jumps to remain on a straight flight path.

Sometimes, drifting inside a line of jumps becomes a lazy habit, especially in dull horses that are nonchalant about their jumping. Or the rider may not realize just how crooked he or she allows the horse to travel. An easy solution is to use ground poles to mark a sort of alley within a line of jumps. The poles can be set about 6 to 8 feet apart, perpendicular to the jumps. They act as straightening poles and will thwart a horse’s desire to drift and reinforce a rider’s attempt to ride a straight line from one jump to the next. Another tip is to add a cone, marker or human helper at the far end of a line, directly in the center. When a rider has a focal point to aim for, sometimes it’s easier to concentrate on maintaining a straight pathway.

Jumping Refusal
Photo by Jean-Louis Vandevivère via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Ding Dong Ditch!

Just as horses prefer to drift in one direction more than the other, the horse that habitually runs out at a jump tends to do it in one direction, too. The worst run-out scenario is the horse that has learned to eagerly approach the jump and then, at the last instant, drop his shoulder, duck to the outside of the jump and then scurry off.

At its most benign, the cause of a run-out may be as simple as a green horse that is genuinely scared of the jump. He cannot think fast enough to organize a sliding stop, so the path of least resistance is to simply cruise around the jump. Seems like a simple enough plan. The dastardly “runner outer,” though, is well aware that running out is a very, very bad thing to do. So he cloaks his intentions until the moment of take-off, and then dives off to the side. Worse, since he knows that punishment is coming, he bolts into a gallop, as if he can avoid the repercussions by running away.

There are two important methods for correcting a run-out. First, slow down. The primary cause of a run-out is that the horse approached the jump at too fast a pace. A fast pace intimidates the green horse and it gives the conniving horse the upper hand. At a slower pace the green horse has time to think and prepare for the jump, and the naughty horse remains under the rider’s control. When addressing a run-out, the horse’s pace should be reduced to a manageable trot on the next approach (lower the element to an appropriate height). It’s much easier to contain the horse and place him at an accurate take-off spot when trotting. Second, when disciplining a horse that has run out at a jump, bring him to a halt. Then turn him in the opposite direction that he ducked away from the jump. For example, if the horse ran out to the right of the jump, pull him to a stop, and then turn him to the left. Do not complete the circular route he wanted. That just reinforces his evasion.

Regroup and Ride On

Oh, the horror of it all! How can you contain your embarrassment, disappointment and utter humiliation when your horse refuses or runs out during a show? Perhaps you can take heart in knowing that even at the highest echelons of show jumping, such as the Olympic and World Cup events, some of the best riders experience the same despair. Yet they don’t make a public display of their emotions. They quietly regroup and ride on, perhaps approaching the fateful obstacle a little differently. Or they might add a smack of the crop or an audible cluck at the base of the jump. Then, once outside the show-ring, they analyze what led to the refusal or run-out and strategize so that it won’t happen again.

You, too, can accomplish much by keeping your cool when your horse stops at a jump. Stay focused on your goals. Stop and settle your horse. Determine what caused the refusal or run-out. Decide how you are going to correct your riding and your horse on the next approach. Then remain vigilant for the remainder of the round so that the fault isn’t repeated.

Having an instructor or trainer watch your rounds and guide you in the warm-up ring is invaluable, especially if you’re dealing with a horse that refuses or runs out. They may be able to spot weaknesses in your riding that contribute to the stopping problem. And there’s certainly no shame in having a more experienced rider hop on your horse and school him in a class or two. Besides, having moral support and expert advice will encourage you to stay in the saddle, keep your courage and ride on!

Cindy Hale is a regular contributor to Horse Illustrated and the author of Riding for the Blue and A Passion for Horses.


This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click Here to subscribe!

28 COMMENTS

  1. I found this article very informative. I agree with the categorization of the different types of refusal and run-out. It can be very frustrating when this starts happening and it is essential to analyze carefully what has gone wrong and deal with it quickly.
    I am a great believer that if the horse has stopped through sheer disobedience, rather than not understanding what it is being asked to do or inaccurate riding, then it must be punished. It’s the horses job to jump and a refusal is a serious disobedience. I always turn the crop upright and apply one or two good hard whacks behind the leg to remind the horse that stopping will not be tolerated. It’s important to be consistent about this.

  2. If you’re going to constantly whack the horse every time he refuses, he’s going to start processing the thought that every time he goes out to jump, it’s going to be an unpleasant experience. No horse should EVER be punished. Punishment gives the horse an unpleasant experience and therefore creates a problem because the horse knows that every time you go out to do it with him it’s not going to be fun or pleasant for him. It’s better to ‘reinforce’ him. Not punish him. Punishment never works. It may get the horse to do as you ask to avoid the punishment factor but it sure won’t make him respect you. A lot of the times we like to think our horses respect us, when the sad truth is that they don’t. And why? Because they’re basically saying: “You have nothing in common with me and I knew you wouldn’t understand.”
    Very informative article. Thank you for your insight.

  3. I agree with the punishment part to it, but you cant OVER punish your horse. If he is stopping look at you, the rider. I know, I hate to hear it too.
    (video a lesson of your-self, watch it slow at home, and look for these things below)
    BUT….
    -Are you jumping ahead of the horse (do you go into 2-point before the horse leaves the ground)? If so your throwing your horse off balance.
    -How strong is your leg? If you don’t have the leg support, your leg swings back over the jump and/or your heal isn’t pressued down, then your horse will take advantage fo you.
    -How hard of contact do you have on your horses mouth? If your contact to your horses mouth is too strong, you’re asking for him to stop. If you have no contact, you’re horse has freedom to run out. A steady contact that is supporting with a supporting leg is a good combanation.
    – How fast is he going? If your running your horse you are putting you and your horse in harms way and your horse is saying “Hey this is dangerous, I am not going to hurt my-self.” If your horse is going too slow he is probably chipping into the jumps and adding down the lines. After a while the horse gets tired of not approaching the jump correctly and he begins to stop.
    *Count your strides like “1 and 2 and 3 and 4” and do it over and over. If your stumbling threw your counting or your mouth is starting to hurt he is too fast. If you have a pause between each number he is going too slow. Support with your legs up to, over, and after the jump. If your horse lands in a heap PUSH hs/she is going too slow. PLEASE keep your jumps at the right height for you and your horse. Its like “I jump 5′, but I never won class at a show. OR I jump 3′, but I am winning or placing in my classes.” Its never the height that counts, its if you can do it right. Anyone can jump heigh, but not everyone can jump correct.

  4. Interesting article. I like the way the various types of stops are analysed. I agree that it is important that the horse should be disciplined for disobeying the rider’s commanand. With regard to the comment below that the horse will associate jumping with punishment, I think that most stoppers know perfectly well that they are expected to jump when presented and will merely take advantage if they are not punished. A couple of good hard whacks with the crop behind the leg will serve to let them know that life is a lot more pleasant of they make the jumping effort. If you do not punish stops, they will soon learn that stopping is the easy option. They must understand hat there will be consequences.

  5. Nice article, but on the “dastardly runner-outer”, do we not think maybe the reason he bolts off “as if he can avoid the repercussions by running away” could be because of the repercussions? Obvious, yes, but if he is running in fear of the rider, something has definitely gone wrong, and it’s not the horse. Ditch the repercussions, and use psychology. If the horse doesn’t know for sure he’s going to be jumping, he can’t refuse to, right? So stop or turn a couple of strides out, and confuse the hell out of them, then every so often, leave them to do their own thing over the jump. This works for rushers or refusers, or any horse, really. It doesn’t teach them to refuse – how can they if that’s what they think they might be asked to do anyway? And let them rest after a jump/short course of jumps – it’ll motivate them to jump, and if they still refuse, continue to send them at the jump until they make an effort (NOT neccessarily clear it!!) and then rest and reward for try.

  6. Yes!!! Thank you so much! I have 3 geldings, and one (Simon) always refuses! He’s an Arabian, and I know their sensitivity but he continuously runs out with me. And my hands are fine and my leg is on him. My trainer has been a saint, but this makes a huge impact now on how I will approach our next jump. We are showing in hunter (o/f) on Sunday Feb. 24th and the jumps are small, only 2′. Wish us luck! Its supposed to be a big class. I will be sure to give cocoa, Simon and Buddy all huggles from HorseChannel… as usual!

  7. This was a great and very helpful article, but I think there should be more of a note in inspecting soundness. The horse may have a stomach issue such as ulcers with vague symptoms such as not jumping at shows. This happened to us, as we had a horse with ulcers and he only would not jump at shows due to the added excitement. It’s a danger that is very easy to not be aware of, but can be fatal, as we just had to put my jumper due to his ulcer bursting. Until he was cut open, we, the vets, and various trainers never would’ve guessed that he had ulcers.

  8. I feel blessed to have one of those horses that will jump anything that I ask him to but I have also had my fair share of refusers.

  9. This helps a lot considering that my horse has a left shoulder drift, and as long as I keep an excessive amount of left leg on him, he does fine!

  10. my horse is very honest and jumps anything from any spot.. the other day I went cross country after a bit of work in the sand arena. I got over a small 65 log 4 times, him just scraping over it, which usually his ears are pricked and he takes an excitable long spot into. After the 4th time, i tried once more, and to be more forward and for the first time, he refused ( nearly came off ) I tried to get him over it multiple times afterwards, and he just wouldnt go over it. Unfortunately I had to leave the ride there as i thought he was just too tired and hot to get over it, and was just simply saying “no mum if i try i might hurt myself” so I didnt want to push it. As typical as i get, my confidence just went down the drain, and i dont think he will go over any cross country jump. I had a lesson not too long after the incident which included tiny cross poles and he was fine. A bit lazy at the start but eventually was his normal forward self. ( He is a 6yo that im schooling.) Anyone know how i can get my confidence back? Or what I could do for him to get over it?

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