Righting the Rush—How to Fix the Jump-Rusher
For many riders, jumping is their favorite part of riding. The thrill of being in mid-air with the horse and feeling fully connected is a big deal. There are some riders who want to feel that great trust and bond with their horse, but fear of failure or injury, commonly when their horse gets excited for the jump and rushes it, leaves the rider a step behind and not in sync with their horse. By having the right mindset and working hard, riders have a chance to break the horse’s habit of rushing the jump.
To get to the solution to any problem, finding the root of it is key. Reconditioning is going to be the rider’s best bet at fixing the issue. Kip Rosenthal, owner and operating manager of Benchmark Farm in Bedford, NY, and Mark Leone, owner and trainer of Ri-Arm Farm in Oakland, NJ, and President of the North American Riders Group, share their advice on how to prevent your horse from rushing a jump.
Both Rosenthal and Leone agree that bloodlines have much to do with the horse’s nature. “Blood is a part of the equine sport,” says Leone. “We need some athleticism and motion and things of that nature.” Because hot-blooded horses are more popular in America, most of us are going to have experience with them. Leone brings up the idea of exhausting the horse, “You can try to exhaust the horse, but at some point the horse can’t lag, and that ultimately leads to shortcomings.” This is when downwards transitions come in handy; it helps even the hot horse slow down and listen. Hot-blooded horses tend to be faster and have more energy, so it is good to keep this in mind when working with a horse that rushes.
It is important to keep in mind, according to the experts, that if the horse is having issues with the jump, to take it a step back and bring it back to poles and transitions. “It (ground poles) is a simulation of jumping,” says Leone. Getting to know the horse’s history is also a great aid, according to Leone, along with getting a read on the horse’s temperament. “Then I would start trotting rails, cantering rails, and transitioning from one to the other and feeling what that’s like with the horse. Some horses react to just a rail. That acquaints you with what you’re dealing with.” By transitioning and working with ground poles, the rider has more confidence and the horse can feel that, along with working on the horse listening and responding to the rider’s commands, which Rosenthal states is vital to working past rushing.
Both Leone and Rosenthal agree that when you’re ready to start working on the jump itself, to only let the horse go over as a sort of reward, and to not expect for the horse to rush. If the rider predicts it, the horse will feel it too. “I’d tell the rider if he feels as though the horse is getting tense or anxious, I’d either bring the horse back to a trot, circle, or smoothly stop the horse,” says Rosenthal. “The horse seems already tense so the jump becomes the reward and the downward transition, circle, or stop becomes the correction.” Leone suggests similar work, but to also mix things up and not get stuck in a pattern. “Simple changes are beautiful. Canter a fence, trot one, jump a fence, soft halt, jump a fence, circle right, jump a fence, circle left, then go down the line,” says Leone, in an example of keeping the horse on his toes and to not expect the jump. If the rider isn’t ready for jumps, doing a similar exercise to what Leone suggests is completely doable with ground poles.
Rosenthal highly suggests staying in your comfort zone while riding alone. As stated above, working on the flat is still vital to performing well on the jumping course. Safety is, after all, number one when it comes to any kind of training, especially with our beloved horses. It’s why rushing jumps can become ultimately dangerous, whether the horse is being trained for the Olympics or as a school horse; both rider and horse safety are put in jeopardy when both parties are not responsive to each other. Rushing can lead to missing strides and jumping long, therefore not getting proper height to clear the fence. Be sure that with whatever exercise you choose, you listen carefully and see how the horse reacts to your commands.
Each rider, trainer, and professional has their own unique way of riding, which is why working with and without a trainer is so vital to becoming a strong rider. Once you learn your own unique style of listening to your horse, you find what does and does not work for you and what kind of mount best suits you. Be sure to evaluate, with an open mind, if you and the project horse are a good match, otherwise training becomes much more difficult.
Both our experts say if you are having trouble moving forward, such as getting a horse safely over a jump, take a step back, work with ground poles, work on transitions, take a few lessons to get an outsider’s perspective, and only take the next step when it is safe for both rider and horse to do so.