Question of the Week: From western pleasure to jumping

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English horseQ: One of the horses I ride was professionally
trained for western pleasure. Now I want to ride him English and do some low
jumping, but whenever I try to canter he just lopes instead. This makes jumping
very awkward. Plus, continually urging him into a canter is exhausting! Is it possible
to retrain him to actually canter so I can progress to jumping?

A: It requires a great deal of time and
training to school a western horse to lope. Before attempting to retrain your
horse it’s important to acknowledge and respect that so you don’t become
frustrated. Yet as lovely as it is, a western lope really isn’t a suitable gait
for jumping. It lacks the impulsion (power) and length of stride necessary for
jumping a course. Providing your horse is serviceably sound, meaning that
soreness isn’t what’s keeping him from moving at a faster pace and on a longer
stride, you should be able to get him to canter and jump. It’ll just take some
time and practice.

To get
your horse into a more forward-thinking mindset, ride him in the mildest bit
possible. Although most western horses respond well to curb (leverage) bits,
they’ve all spent time in a snaffle. Go back to one. Press him into a brisk
posting trot on light rein contact, encouraging him to poke his nose in front
of the vertical and “reach” for the bit. If he gets a little strung out and
flat at first, that’s okay; don’t discourage his efforts. You can gently
rebalance his weight onto his hindquarters by using half-halts and big, loopy
circles. As he realizes that you aren’t going to bump, check or nip him in the
mouth to put him back into a western frame he’ll become even more emboldened.
Then you can try to canter.

When he
strikes off into his usual lope, rise up into a half-seat (a modified two-point
position). This will be much less exhausting than trying to urge him forward by
sitting deeply in the saddle and pushing with your seat bones. The half-seat position
also introduces your horse to a less restrictive approach to work and a more
forward pace. Once again, to encourage a longer stride and faster pace, keep
soft rein contact and envision pushing the bit in front of your horse. Then,
think of sending your horse up to the bit by squeezing with your calves.

Finally,
when you do introduce jumping fundamentals, take into consideration your horse’s
previous training. In general, former western pleasure horses expect to receive
constant information and cues from their riders. They’re not the typical
“gallop and go” hunter or jumper. So always approach your jumping exercises at an
energetic yet controlled pace. Keep soft contact on your horse’s mouth and when
he lands after each jumping effort, press with your legs or cluck so that he
canters away in a straight line. With patience and consistency he’ll stretch
out his stride, learn to canter, and jump willingly.

— Cindy Hale

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Great advice. It really helps because I am considering playing polo with my western pleasure horse and getting him out of his slow lope was my problem too!

  2. Now that I’ve read this properly, how is the lope different from the canter? I thought that the lope was a canter and that the jog is a trot.
    It seems that we’re not teaching the horse to go from one gait to another but just changing its centre of balance and impulsion.

  3. A professionally trained western pleasure horse goes a lot slower than your average horse. The western pleasure is extremely well balanced for their discipline but it’s different than your average jumper. So it seems their problem is just trying to get more giddy up, and letting the horse know that it is okay to go faster.

  4. Thanks! This held a lot. My horse, Merlin, was a western pleasure horse and we are training him to jump and he’s almost got it except for his long, slow lope that makes jimping look really awkward.

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