Jumping Confidence — my horse is fine, but I’m not!

I’ve had my horse for just over a year now. Things are going well really but I am lacking so much confidence when it comes to jumping him. I know he is very capable as he used to compete and my OH jumps him in the school, but my nerves seem to get the better of me and I seem to freeze somewhat. This makes it difficult for him and it starts a bit of a battle going where as he wants to get on with it and tugs/lunges at the fence. I used to jump anything on any horse when I was younger and feel that my lack of confidence is getting in the way of the amount of fun I can have with him   x

I have recently gotten very nervous about jumping, so much to the point that I now try to avoid lessons which are meant to be jumping lessons. I can jump fine but as soon as the jump goes above knee height I’m a complete wreck. Once I have jumped whatever it is a few times I’m ok, but trying to do it for the first time just make me feel sick. Any ideas on how to combat this?

I have put these two questions together to answer as although they could well stem from different issues, there are some principles that can be used to develop a strategy for both situations.

Please note this post is about horses that DO jump and humans who have confidence issues – if you want my thoughts on a HORSE that struggles to jump, that involves some slightly different strategies (involving trotting poles, cross poles and so on).

In fact, as many of you will know, there are as many “solutions” as there are problems – and we could just answer each question with a situation-specific answer that might work for that problem, but of course might not be useful for anyone else unless they were facing that exact issue.

What I like to do is see what underlying elements there are, and see if we can develop strategies that will work for MANY situations – that is why if you read the whole blog you will start to see certain themes repeating themselves – and in fact, at some point, it would be great to have a post on what you as readers are seeing as the common, foundation, ingredients of the confidence we are all looking for – will put that on the “ideas” list for now.

One thing I often see when visiting a student, is that there are issues that have “come with the horse” – so we have no idea where they came from, why they started – or even, really, any idea of anything  other  than the behaviour we now see in front of us.

Just the other day, I was asked to help with a pony who jumps – then doesn’t jump, then jumps 1ft6 but nothing higher, then jumps happily one day – then another day won’t even go over a 6 inch jump when going in one direction. This pony has a long previous history at a riding school – and unravelling that would be close to impossible – so what we had to work with was the behaviour we had in front of us in that session on that day.

While knowing history might inform us on some occasions (for example, knowing of my horse Coblet’s experience with running through fencing and dragging it behind him for some distance can help me understand his extreme panic with dragging ropes and remind me to take my time in helping him through this) in many it really makes no difference: we need a way to help the horse who turns up, regardless of history.

So – if a horse(or human)  presents with concerns about jumping – I could spend a lot of time talking about why, and when and how and so on – but actually there is a more straightforward way to approach this.  Some people find this difficult as it means taking a few steps BACK in order to be able to move forwards – but it works, and that’s the main thing!

So,  the principles used are to build things step by step, never do anything over a 5, and use approach and retreat AND “consolidation”.

Start on the ground.
Literally – both you AND the horse:  put a ground pole out, and online, invite your horse to walk over it.  Oh it’s a good idea to do this with your horse tacked up as then he and you get used to that.
To be specific, you stand directly by the pole, a few feet back from it – and send your horse in a half circle to go over the pole and past you then ask him to turn and face you.  (if you have read my spooky horse post you will recognise this as the squeeze game).
If he walks AROUND it – then you already have an idea of his true thoughts about poles and jumping.  For some of you, this will be so easy you only have to do it a few times each way – but make sure you DO it a few times each way – once can be an accident, five times each way proves something.  And watch your horse while he is doing it – see how he CHANGES as you do it one way vs the other, or on the fourth time vs the first time – see how much he relaxes as you keep doing it……
My “game rule” for this are that my horse can go around the pole – but then he has to turn around and come right back – and there is no rest until he goes over the pole in both directions.  The FIRST time he goes over the pole in any direction he has struggled with before – stop and reward him with a scratch or treat or rest.

The next time ask him to do another one or two before stopping – and do this until he has the habit of going over the pole.

Of course doing this builds HIS confidence – but also YOURS – you learn to read your horse

Do this at walk, trot and canter – noticing how the height over the pole he puts himself varies – too high means he is worried, too low means he is not paying attention.

Then raise the pole by 3-6 inches – and repeat.

Do this until your horse is happily jumping the height you want to ride jumps at…this will prove to your unconscious that your HORSE is happy doing the jumps.

What if your horse stops at the pole?  Well this could mean he is concerned about the height – so just ask him to back up and send him again – now remember, you send, then leave it to him whether he is going over or not – no nagging!!!  It has to be HIS decision to go over – why? So that when you are riding you KNOW he will go OVER the jump and not around it – HE knows that going OVER the jump is the way to the treat..

There is a lot more I can write about this – if you get stuck, get in touch – this is a topic I coach on a lot!

Ok – the next step is:

From the top:

Now it’s time to get on your horse – and now we work on YOUR confidence.  Those of you who know me will know what is coming:  approach and retreat – and consolidation!

So you now repeat the SAME process, starting with the ground pole – while up on top of your horse.

Ride over the pole, then go the same distance from the jump that you were doing online – and turn and face the jump, stop and rub your horse and relax.  Then do it the other way.  The turning and facing gives you a “retreat” phase – so you are doing approach and retreat each time you go over the pole.

Remember, this is for YOU so take the care and attention you need.  Walk over the ground pole five times each way, then trot, then canter – but make sure you do the five times as this is your consolidation.  Just doing it once means you can hold your breath and get through it – doing it five times shows you where you REALLY are in your confidence scale, and allows your body to relax – just as your horse’s did when you repeated the crossing on the ground.

Then lift the pole by 3 inches…..and repeat the process.  Pay close attention to yourself and your unconfidence score – watch out for that “phew” moment!  And once you KNOW you are below a five,  THEN do the pole 5 more times…..

Now there are some things to remember when doing this:

–          Do this on a loose rein…… if you have to hold the reins tight, then you may need an intermediate step of sitting on your horse while someone ELSE does the online stuff – this is a stage I often do for people in our coaching sessions….

–          Reward your horse for going OVER the pole – with a treat, rub or rest – remember we want him to WANT to go over the jump and not around it…..

–          If he goes around it – just go with him, but no stop or rest, just turn and go right back over it – this will be good for your seat!

–          Once you are below a 5, CONSOLIDATE at LEAST five times each way!

In this way you can build your confidence from the ground up – and identify exactly where your threshold is.  By keeping control of your horse, and ensuring he WANTS to go over the jumps – and is RELAXED when doing so, you keep yourself safe…and take care of his confidence too.

Ok – I look forward to hearing feedback on how this works for you both – and from anyone else who gives it a go – let us know how you get on!

Yours, in confidence



6 thoughts on “Jumping Confidence — my horse is fine, but I’m not!

      • Hope it goes better than my liberty work. Started quiet, did mirroring, circle game etc. Partitioned the school with show jumps. Then Sicco jumped out into the bigger part of the arena. Then proceeded to gallop up and down flying over the jumps – they weren’t small. Just soared over them and I was having a heart attack that he’d jump clean out of the arena and hurt himself. He was 20 hands that afternoon and trashed the school! At least I know he can jump but we will be starting VERY small!

        • ROTFL — my new horse GRacie can jump beautifully — but after several years of a horsey partner who catleaped, and looked more like a deer than a horse — I think I will be doing the step by step process too!


  1. This is my main problem when I am training in my pasture. I get scared and because or that I am training my horse to refuse. not because of him…because of me 🙂

  2. This is VERY helpful! I had been jumping 3’6” all last year but this summer I could barely wrap my head around 2′! I know that my horse can jump it..but my confidence issue has made a refusing issue. I know that it is my fault that he is refusing, and we are slowly working through it. I will be sure to try these exercises for my and my horses’ sake! Thanks! 🙂

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