Scary Poles and Fillers

Horses are naturally scared of … well almost everything … its a defensive mechanism designed to help them survive in the wild. Domesticated horses need to overcome this natural fear so that they can approach and then jump brightly coloured show jumps. Some horses will accept coloured poles and jumps with hardly a second glance. But what do you do when you have got a horse that stops several meters before a jump … and then switches off to your aids and just stands looking at the jump?

If you are struggling with this problem there is no point in continuing to do exactly the same thing day after day … this will only reinforce the bad behaviour with your horse. You need to think of a different approach to solve the problem … to prevent stopping from becoming “normal” behaviour.

Get a lead from another horse

If you are schooling with other horses then it is quick and easy to ask for a lead. Otherwise, arrange for a reliable jumper to school with you next time. Horses will often follow another horse so this quick solution will often solve the problem.

If this quick solution does not work there are several suggestions below:

Lead your horse from the ground over the jump

If there is somebody available on the ground then ask them to lead your horse over the fence. Alternatively, dismount and lead your horse over the fence. It may seem defeatist to dismount but at this stage it is more important to get your horse over the fence by whatever method that works.

Reward your horse with treats in the arena

Horse like being praised … but they like food even more. Rewarding with food will reinforce the good behaviour of approaching and going over the scary poles and fillers.

One note of caution here is that your horse must see the treat as a reward for going over the pole. If your horse will not go near the pole it may be appropriate to reward your horse when he goes near the pole. However, do not do this more than once otherwise you are simply rewarding stopping close to the fence. Your aim is to reward your horse for going over the fence.

Make small fillers

Fillers are designed to be jumped from trot or canter and are not normally suitable for leading a horse in walk because they are a too high. What you need is something only a few inches high but it needs to be colourful. A simple cheap option is to cut the colourful front and back panels out of breakfast cereal packets and tape them together.

Schooling with show jumps in the arena

If you are based at a Show Jumping yard there may well be show jumps permanently up in an arena. If this is the case then school your youngster in this arena even if you are not jumping or even before you start to school your youngster over jumps. Schooling in an arena with show jumps and doing circles around or in front of them will help your horse to become familiar with show jumps and learn that they are not scary.

If you do not have access to an arena with show jumps or your yard requires you to clear show jumps away every time that you use them then you will need to get some jumps out whenever you want to school your horse. You do not need to setup a show jump course every time … simply drag out a few fillers and a few poles and scatter them about the arena. You dont need to get the wings out as well.

Hacks – spooking

If your horse sees something spooky out on a hack then make your horse go over to it so that he can sniff at it. Once horses have had a sniff of a scary object they often lose all interest in it. The aim is to train your horse to respect your aids, trust the rider and move towards the scary object. Personally, I found this invaluable for eventers because on the cross country course your horse may be nervous of the obstacle but must respect your legs and go towards the scary obstacle.

Circle back the way the horse ran away

If your horse spooks out on a hack or away from a scary filler then turn your horse back the way he has come. So if your horse runs away to the left then steer your horse back to the right. This ensures that you are telling the horse that it was wrong to run away to the left.

If you allow your horse to continue to the left and circle round to the left and approach the filler again you haven’t made it clear to the horse that it was wrong to run away to the left. Obviously the fence must be small to allow your horse to get over it because steering back on yourself will not give you the ideal approach to the jump !

Horse must go forward all the time

Your horse must be moving all the time. It is very important that your horse learns to respect your leg aids and responds by moving forwards. Forwards obviously ideally means towards the jump but if your horse is scared of the pole or filler then move in any direction – left or right – but keep your horse moving.