The difference between training hunters and jumpers

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Jumper
Hunters and jumpers both need to be supple, relaxed and willing, but it takes a specialized program to refine each horse for his respective discipline. Photo: Leslie Potter

In my career I have worked with both hunters and jumpers. Training hunters and jumpers can be similar, but there are some very distinct differences. It is important to develop a program that suits each discipline.

In both hunters and jumpers there needs to be a solid base of flatwork. The horse needs to be straight, supple, balanced, attentive, relaxed and willing. However, when training jumpers I require my horses to have a higher degree of balance. This allows the horse to utilize his full range of scope and ability, thereby taking care of the rider while being careful to the jump. We work our jumpers over ground poles to develop their ability to react quickly and smoothly to different situations.

Both hunters and jumpers need to be fit according to their discipline: jumpers need more wind fitness (endurance) than hunters do so they do not get winded. When training jumpers the horses are held to a higher degree of fitness. This enables the horse to perform at his peak level while going against the clock. The more wind fit he is, the better able he is to jump clean and fast.

Equine Treadmill
Photo courtesy Lainie Wimberly

Hunters should be fit muscularly. I flat my hunters daily to make them balanced, straight and supple. We also work them on an equine treadmill daily. This helps to develop core strength with low impact and without making them overly wind fit. After using the treadmill for over 8 years, I have found that my horses are stronger overall through their backs and stifles, which makes them more relaxed and easier to prepare for the show ring.

When we put our jumpers on the treadmill we put it on an incline on a faster speed, which helps condition their hind ends while building wind strength.

Another difference in training hunters and jumpers is what they are fed. We feed our hunters a low energy feed with a top dress of Healthy Coat supplement and a rich Timothy and Alfalfa mix hay. Our jumpers are fed a higher energy feed. I like them to have enough natural energy to stay forward. The jumper feed should not put excess weight on the horse but instead offer the energy level necessary for the proper fitness needed to complete long courses with a jump off.

When training the rider on a hunter, we work on becoming one with the horse so as not to interfere with his natural ability while navigating the course. The rider must learn to recognize straightness, balance and rhythm, and then make necessary adjustments without interfering with the horse. Riding hunters is an art form that is more difficult than it appears.

Brigadoon Stables
Photo courtesy Lainie Wimberly

On the other hand, when training jumpers I work the rider through gymnastics to help her develop a higher degree of balance while not interfering with the horse. Gymnastics are like strength training for horse and rider. They help the rider find the proper distance and length of stride while working on their form over the jump.

We also work on a higher degree of control of stride with gymnastics and small jump patterns. The jumper rider needs to be able to adjust his horse’s stride readily and easily. The horse must be ‘in front of the rider’s leg’, meaning ready to react in a moment’s notice. A jumper rider must be able to recognize his horse being in front of the leg and very balanced while adjusting to the jump, thereby not interfering with the horse’s natural ability.

Whether you are a trainer or a rider, you should understand the differences between training for each discipline to ensure your greatest chance of success.

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Lainie Wimberly is a renowned hunter/jumper trainer in the Northeast and owner of Brigadoon Show Stables in North Salem, New York.

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