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How to Build a Horse’s Confidence Without Over Jumping Them

Submitted by member: Trish

I have a Thoroughbred showing 1.3 meters and doing well.  We ride 6 days a week and vary the exercises: small fences to work on the communication weakness, gymnastics to strengthen his independence, lots of dressage, and a few fences at competition height to build his confidence.  I am wondering how often I should be jumping him over the larger fences.  At the moment, he is being placed over a higher fence (typically 3 inches above what he is showing) twice a week and only for a couple of rounds if he rides them well.  If he rides them poorly, we go back to gymnastics or basics to help.  He is currently riding consistently well over the fences and listens without difficultly.  My question is, as long as he continues to ride the fences well, should I incorporate an additional day or two days of jumping one or two higher fences to help build his confidence or is that too much physical stress on the horse?

Answer by Julie Winkel

You are doing exactly the right thing! Two days a week at the height or a little above is enough. The key word you used was: ‘confidence.’ Horses don’t gain more confidence by jumping huge jumps! They get confidence from succeeding at different questions and being rewarded for them. Different flatwork exercises, both lateral and longitudinal, will educate your horse and help him learn to handle his feet and body better. Flatwork over poles on the ground or flower boxes help make basic training more interesting!

Ways to make him physically stronger include trot work over elevated cavaletti and hill work. Backing a horse for 10-12 steps and repeating 3-4 times builds abdominal & topline strength. Very important to get out of the ring and trail ride, if at all possible. Letting a horse be a horse is a good way to keep him fresh mentally and interested in his job.

Over jumping takes away confidence and physically weakens a horse, can injure him, or make him sore. It takes a good horseman to manage an athlete as they bring them along. The old saying that “a horse only has so many jumps” is very true. So be mindful of quality schooling at home as well as in the warm-up arena. And carefully plan your show year so he has plenty of time to regroup between shows. If there is less than a week off, then I wouldn’t do more than one day of simple gymnastics in between, just to keep him organized and straight. Besides jumping height, change it up with lower, wider jumps, as well as solid or a bit scary obstacles. Don’t forget liverpools, and don’t do it all the same day!

The trick is to never let him know what he can’t do. Confidence is everything!

Good luck! It sounds like you are on the right path.

Video Recommendations:

Flatwork Over Fences with Bernie Traurig

Flatwork Over Fences
Bernie Traurig
Take a ride with Bernie as he schools “Archie Bunker” and talks you through how he incorporates his flat techniques over small fences. This is an excerpt from the Advanced section of Fundamentals of Flatwork, chapter 14.
Running Time:  6 minutes and 45 seconds

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eye exercises to find a distance to a jump on your horse

Exercises to Develop a Better Eye: Part 1-A
Bernie Traurig
Bernie demonstrates exercises you can incorporate into your flatwork everyday that will work your eye without overworking your horse!
Running Time:  19 minutes and 1 seconds

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Julie Winkel

Julie Winkel has been a licensed Hunter, Equitation, Hunter Breeding and Jumper judge since 1984. She has officiated at prestigious events such as Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International, Capital Challenge, The Hampton Classic and Upperville Horse Shows. She has designed the courses and judged the ASPCA Maclay Finals, The USEF Medal Finals and The New England Equitation Finals.

For more information, visit her website:

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. hi! I have a mare that is quite successful in the heights we are doing right now. I have confidence that she and I are prepared to go up the grades, she has also quit a lot of trust in me which is beneficial. We do up to 90cm at home and 80cm at shows. What exercises can I do to make the higher jumps easier for us?

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