Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional trainer. Anything I say is based off of my own personal opinion and experience. You should contact a professional for help with your horse’s training program.
This is something most equestrians are already knowledgeable about, but I’ve become increasingly aware of the amount of equestrians who aren’t. It could be for a variety of reasons- lack of a trainer/mentor, not in a lesson program, or misguidance. Many I’ve found just truly don’t know -and that’s ok! I have been there myself. I used to think flatwork was the most boring thing ever and would spend every moment jumping if I could. In the past year, I have learned so much more about horse care and training, so I decided I would like to share my opinion and personal experience on the matter with you all.
Too Much, Too Soon
I grew up at a barn that taught the basics to jumping small courses. I had Z there for a year when I first bought him. I truly believe that Z took so long to progress because of the lack of flatwork and foundational training he received up front from me. I pushed him into jumping (small, but still jumping) almost immediately and he was NOT ready for it. He crashed through them, refused them, and jumped them erratically to the point where he could’ve gotten hurt. I wasted a lot of time trying to force him over jumps when he couldn’t trot in a straight line, couldn’t canter more than a lap, and had zero sense of frame/self carriage. It was a big mistake on my part, but I know now for the better! Things didn’t start to improve until I back tracked and worked on his solid foundation.
In my opinion, before you start seriously trying to jump a horse and focus on courses, you need to have accomplished:
- Stamina at the trot and canter
- Moving off of the leg forwards and laterally
- Good upward and downward transitions
- Beginning to self carry
Stop Jumping Everyday
Once you have accomplished the basics and are jumping with your horse, it is very easy to get caught up in all the excitement. All I wanted to do was jump when Z first started getting the hang of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a trainer or mentor that let me know it wasn’t healthy to jump my horse 5 times a week at decent heights. As I put all of my time and effort into jumping, I noticed our establishment on the flat started to fail. Not long after that, it started affecting the jumping. He couldn’t sit back and push well off his hind end to take off and landed extremely heavy in the front. Refusals and rails were becoming more consistent.
At the point when I switched barns and trainers, I learned much about horse care and training that I did not know before. The most important reason to lay off the jumping is to protect your horse! Their legs only can support so many jumps in their lifetimes. Do you really want to waste them on silly attempts? Even with proper leg protection, jumping is hard on the joints and tendons. You can easily shorten a horse’s career and increase the risk of serious injury by over jumping.
Flatwork Can Be Fun!
Mix it up! Quit trotting and cantering laps around the whole arena. Of course that’s going to get boring! Do circles, serpentines, figure eights, upward and downward transitions, ground poles! One of my favorite/least favorite exercises is the “circle of death” in which four ground poles are placed equally apart in a circle. The goal is to keep your horse cantering bent on the circle and get the same distance in between each pole. It’s a lot harder than it sounds!
Even the most well trained jumpers need refreshers and conditioning on the flat. I once heard a trainer say that a jump course is just flatting with jumps in between. If you perform poorly on the flat, you will perform poorly over fences.
Since Z is half leased, he jumps over 2′ once a week at my lesson, and under 2′ twice a week with our half leaser. I focus on flatting on all my other hack days. Occasionally I will do a few cross rails or cavaletti in my hacks, but only with someone there to watch me. This is just our personal schedule and everyone’s is going to be different depending on the horse. If you have read this far, thank you for hearing me out on my opinion of the importance of flatwork.
Hannah + Z
Photo Credits to Kaitlyn Muzio @kaitlynmuziophotography