Question of the Week: My horse won’t jump in both directions

What to do if your horse regularly refuses to jump in one direction.


Horse and rider jumping a vertical jump.

Q: I’m teaching my green horse to jump and I’m having a problem I can’t seem to fix. My horse jumps fine in one direction, but going the other way he often refuses. What am I doing wrong?

A: Horses often prefer to jump one direction more than the other, whether it’s on a large circle (cantering jumps on the left or right lead) or a straight line (headed either toward or away from the gate or barn). Part of training a horse to jump, however, is to make sure their performance is consistent regardless of the direction. Here are a few things to consider.

First, go back to flatwork. Spend time trotting and cantering back and forth over simple poles on the ground or small crossrails. Focus on riding a track that takes your horse directly across the center of the obstacle. Use cones or other markers to help you visualize your track. Then halt in a straight line. If your horse shifts his haunches or forehand off the track, gently push him over with your leg. Don’t settle for “good enough.”

Next, work on cantering medium-sized circles (about the diameter of a longe line), keeping your horse round and bent in the correct direction. Lay a single ground pole across your circular track, and then eventually graduate to a small crossrail. Make sure you travel in both directions so your horse becomes soft and supple regardless of which lead he’s on. Any time you feel your horse bulge or push through your inside or outside leg, in an effort to escape the circular track, correct him with your leg aids.

Finally, consider enlisting some help from a riding instructor in your community. Having someone on the ground who can evaluate errors in your position or missing elements in your horse’s training can benefit both you and your horse. Keep in mind that once a horse begins to refuse it can become a habit. Eventually you’ll begin to anticipate the refusals, which undermines your self-confidence and affects your position in the saddle. Then your horse’s performance will suffer further. It’s sort of a vicious cycle, but fortunately some professional instruction should give you the insight, and the encouragement, you need.

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.



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