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Tips To Get A Fresh Horse to Focus On The Jumps At A Horse Show

Submitted by member: Diana

I show in the hunter division on a 9 year old horse that is very uncomplicated and straight forward, maybe a bit dull to the leg. He has a great mouth and all in all is a great guy. He has done a few 1st year classes and I show him in the 3’3″ A/O hunters. The only thing he can do “wrong” is to not focus on the jump when he is a bit fresh (he is a quiet horse so he can be a bit deceiving that way). He looks at the horizon where warm ups occur. I can feel he isn’t looking at the jump, he is then harder to get forward and I find myself riding backwards when I feel him not paying attention. What do you recommend I do and how can I get his attention on the jump? I let go of the reins and “kick” but I don’t feel that gets his focus. What are your suggestions?

Answer by Julie Winkel

Often horses, especially warmbloods, try to hide their freshness by acting lazy. So you hit it right on the head! As you get to know your horse better, when you recognize that he is fresh, make time to do some real flatwork before you show. Not just walk, trot, canter, but lateral work (shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yielding) as well as longitudinal work (shortening, lengthening, transitions). Get his attention on you! Once you have channeled this energy into a positive avenue, continue to add flatwork before and after jumps in the warm-up ring.

Then, this is key, let your horse have a few moments to take in his surroundings as you enter the ring. Because horses are flight animals in nature, it is very important that they feel comfortable with what is going on outside of the ring in order to focus on what’s going on inside the ring. Even a scratch on the withers and a few words of encouragement from you goes a long way. Let him walk and take a look around, then ask him to pay attention and focus on the job at hand.

I have personally had great results with these types of horses. I made a routine of taking them to the ring 45 minutes before they showed, just to hang out and take in all the commotion. It works a lot better than longeing a horse for an hour to make them physically tired (not to mention how hard it is on their legs). The key is to get them mentally relaxed, not physically exhausted. That way you have a horse that gives you the best performance because they are physically keen and mentally focused at the same time!

Good Luck!

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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: www.mwstables.com

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