Rushing over jumps is a common (and very frustrating!) problem. At best, a horse that rushes while jumping can be difficult to ride and is likely to have fences down in the ring. At worst, rushing can be a dangerous habit for both horse and rider.
Before you throw in the towel, remember: rushing is a habit that can be addressed. And we're here to help!
Understanding Why Horses Rush Fences
First things first, let's debunk a myth. Horses don't usually rush jumps because they're adrenaline junkies. More often than not, rushing is a sign of a lack of confidence, inexperience, or physical discomfort. Sometimes, it's even us riders unintentionally telling them to speed up!
So before blaming it all on your horse's love for speed, make sure there's no physical discomfort causing the rushing. Once you're confident your horse isn't dealing with any physical issues, get ready to tackle the problem head-on with these five proven tips.
The Importance of Patience
Training a horse that rushes fences requires a great deal of patience. It's important to remember that progress may be slow and that it's crucial to remain calm and patient throughout the training process. Getting frustrated or rushing the process can lead to setbacks and may even exacerbate the problem.
Tip 1: Incorporate Groundwork into Your Training Routine
Groundwork is an essential part of training for any horse, but it is especially important for horses that rush fences. Groundwork exercises help to establish trust, respect, and communication between you and your horse. They also provide an opportunity to work on obedience and responsiveness to commands in a controlled environment. Some effective groundwork exercises for horses that rush fences can be found in the Ride iQ app. We recommend starting with Lesson 900: Transitions with Voice Cues and Lesson 901: Trot and Canter Cavaletti, both with natural horsemanship coach Kathy Baar.
The Importance of Trust
Trust is a crucial component of any successful horse training program. By establishing a strong bond of trust with your horse, you can create a positive and productive training environment. Groundwork exercises are an excellent way to build this trust and establish a strong foundation for further training.
The Role of Desensitization
Desensitization is a key aspect of groundwork training. This involves gradually exposing your horse to various stimuli that may cause them to rush fences, such as loud noises or unfamiliar objects. By gradually introducing these stimuli in a controlled environment, you can help your horse become more comfortable and less reactive, reducing their tendency to rush fences.
Tip 2: Teach Your Horse to Accept the Leg
Often, hot horses interpret the application of the leg as a cue to speed up. So, what do we riders instinctively do? We take our legs off entirely. But, surprisingly, this can exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.
To start, during your warm-up, ensure your horse is comfortable with the leg. This acceptance doesn't mean they bolt forward at every touch, but instead respond calmly and correctly. Now, how do you teach them this? Enter lateral work - your new best friend.
Lateral exercises like leg yielding, shoulder-in, and turn on the forehand are excellent ways to remind your horse that leg pressure isn't a green light for them to run. Instead, it's a communication tool for guiding their movement.
But let's clear something up here: riding with more leg doesn’t mean kicking or even squeezing. Instead, it means a consistent, even contact on the horse’s side to keep them uphill and in a positive, forward rhythm - as opposed to a flat out gallop!
If you're looking for step-by-step guidance to help with this, check out Lesson 326 on the Ride iQ app: Lateral Suppleness with Turn About the Forehand with Ema Klugman. Ema is a 5* event rider and has trained horses from green to the top level of the sport. In lesson 326, Ema walks you through how to get your horse to accept the leg. This lesson is particularly good for enhancing lateral suppleness and relaxation, which are immensely beneficial for our speed-loving friends.
Tip 3: Think About Your Own Position
Sometimes, we riders might be the culprits without even realizing it! If you're aware that your horse tends to rush, odds are you ride more defensively. It's a natural reaction to tense up and rely on your hands. But as we all know, a tense rider creates a tense horse.
Tightening up, leaning forward, and overusing your hands can actually encourage your horse to rush even more. It sends them mixed signals.
Before you venture into jumping, take a step back. Make sure you've got the basics down pat. Can you walk, trot, and canter around the arena maintaining a forward rhythm without over-relying on your hands to keep your horse together? If not, it's time to brush up on these skills before moving onto jumps.
When you approach a fence, do a quick mental check-in. What are you doing with your body? Don't toss the reins at your horse, but also don't start pulling because you assume the rush is coming. Your goal is to trot and canter with a steady, forward rhythm.
If you're slowing way down because you know your horse is going to speed up, you need a new strategy. Consider starting with a pole on the ground and trotting and cantering over it while maintaining an even rhythm. Notice that your body positioning doesn't change over the pole. Can you replicate that when approaching a small fence? If you can, you'll help your horse understand the goal.
Keep a steady contact, pull your shoulders back, and most importantly, remember to breathe! That's right, breathing can make a world of difference. It helps both you and your horse stay relaxed, focused, and in sync.
Tip 4: Establish Clear Voice Commands
One of the most important aspects of training a horse that rushes fences is establishing clear and consistent commands. Horses are highly responsive to verbal and physical cues, so it is crucial to use the same commands consistently. For example, if you want your horse to slow down before a fence, use a specific command such as "easy" or "whoa." Reinforce this command with a corresponding physical cue, such as a gentle pull on the reins. By consistently using the same commands and cues, your horse will learn to associate them with the desired behavior.
The Role of Consistency
Consistency is key when it comes to training horses. This applies not only to the commands you use but also to your training schedule. Regular, consistent training sessions will help your horse understand what is expected of them and will reinforce the behaviors you are trying to teach.
Understanding Horse Communication
Understanding how horses communicate is crucial for effective training. Horses use a combination of body language, vocalizations, and physical cues to communicate. By learning to understand these signals, you can better communicate with your horse and guide their behavior.
Lessons to Help
The Ride iQ app is an excellent resource for this. It features lessons by the fabulous Sinead Haplin Maynard, a 5* event rider and natural horsemanship expert.
Sinead uses her voice aids to help high-energy horses chill out. One of her lessons, titled "Whoa for Rushing Fences," is a perfect fit for horses that have a need for speed. It focuses on using vocal cues to encourage your horse to relax, soften, and slow down both before and after the jump.
If you're curious what Sinead's "Whoa for Rushing Fences" lesson includes, here's a preview:
Once your horse is warmed up, start in the canter and turn to approach a single fence on an 8-stride line (i.e. give yourself an 8-stride approach to the fence). Six strides from the fence, gently coax your horse to slow down to a walk by using the voice command "Whoa."
This exercise works best for horses that already recognize the "Whoa" command. If your horse isn't familiar with this cue yet, no worries! Sinead's beginner lesson, "Teaching a Hot Horse 'Whoa'," has got you covered.
Tip 5: Use Placing Poles
Ever heard of the magic of placing poles? They're one of the top tools in your arsenal when it comes to getting your horse to pay attention to their footwork and slow down, especially around fences.
Here's a neat trick to try: build a small crossrail and place a ground pole on each side, about 3.5 meters away from the base of the fence. Allow the horse to canter over over the first placing pole, over the crossrail and then over the landing pole. The poles will encourage the horse to stretch down and think about their feet, making this exercise particularly useful for horses that have a tendency to grab the bridle and rush off.
Plus, placing poles have another fantastic benefit – they can help riders rely less on their hands, which in turn helps your horse to relax.
Tip 6: Know When to Stop
Here's a golden nugget of wisdom for those training horses who rush fences: less is more. Once your horse starts responding well to you over the jumps, it's crucial not to overdo it. You see, a handful of successful jumps should tell you that it's a good time to stop, as many tend to get more frenzied as the session progresses!
Understanding when to wrap up for the day is a cornerstone of great horsemanship. As soon as you spot an improvement in your horse’s rushing, or they manage to complete the exercise you've set out without tensing up, that's your cue! Give them a pat and switch gears to something else.
Doing this ensures you're ending on a high note. Plus, you'll likely find that in your next session, you can push the envelope a bit further. So remember, when training your horse, knowing when to call it a day is just as important as the training itself!
Training a horse that rushes fences requires patience, consistency, and a solid foundation of groundwork. By establishing clear commands, using positive reinforcement, incorporating groundwork exercises, gradually introducing fences, and seeking professional help if needed, you can overcome this common problem. Remember to always prioritize safety and take the time to build a strong bond of trust and communication with your horse. With dedication and the right training techniques, you and your horse can enjoy a successful and fulfilling jumping experience.
Looking for more guidance? Try Ride iQ!
Our mobile app offers 60+ jumping lessons and other equestrian resources at your fingertips. Enjoy on-demand coaching anytime, anywhere, at an affordable price. With new audio lessons and podcasts added weekly, you'll have a wealth of knowledge right in your pocket. Try us for free for 14 days, available on both iPhone and Android. Say goodbye to rushing and hello to controlled, confident jumps with Ride iQ!