Do horses jump naturally or have to be taught?
All horses have the natural ability to jump, barring any physical disabilities, such as lameness or blindness.
Jumping ability was necessary for survival before horses were domesticated—speed, agility, and being able to clear an obstacle could mean life or death for a horse fleeing a predator.
Thanks to Sarah Harris for our featured photo!
How Horses Jump
A horse’s movement over a jump is biomechanically equivalent to a highly suspended or elevated canter stride1.
Phases of a jump include:
- Approach (i.e. stride before the jump)
This photo series illustrates the phases of a horse jumping over a fence.
Free jumping is the practice of jumping a horse without a rider, and it’s a great way to see the arc made over a jump.
Typically, a chute is designed to “funnel” the horse towards the jump(s). Free jumping is often used to evaluate a young horses’ natural jumping abilities and help horses build confidence over fences without the interference of a rider2.
Here’s a fun video of several horses free jumping:
Play to Your Horse’s Strengths
Though all horses technically can jump, that doesn’t mean they’re all equally talented at it.
Similar to people, different horses excel at different activities.
Not every person was born to be a ballerina or a football player; similarly, a cow-bred Quarter Horse likely won’t excel in an upper-level jumper class.
There’s a popular Chronicle of the Horse image (turned into a meme) comparing a reining horse to a hunter horse:
The reason for these physical differences? A reiner benefits from a low center of gravity, quick bursts of speed, and nimbleness to complete the spins and sliding stops that they are known for.
A hunter, on the other hand, is bred to jump and maintain a consistent, ground-covering pace. Hunter courses are set for a 12’ stride, and horses that don’t complete a line of fences with the correct number of strides are heavily penalized.
The smaller horse has to work a lot harder to make it down a line maintaining a 12’ stride. That smaller horse might look really pretty doing a 5-stride line in six strides, but would be heavily penalized in a hunter class for adding that extra stride.
A reining horse could jump, and might even have really nice form over fences, but he’ll have a hard time competing against a tall, lanky hunter with a natural 12’ stride.
New to the sport? Learn about the correct jumping position for horse riders.
Qualities of a Good Jumping Horse
While all horses can jump, it takes a special combination of athleticism and mental ability to successfully and safely navigate a course of fences.
A jumper needs the physical ability to get over a fence or an obstacle — that’s the most basic requirement. If a horse is lame, blind, or has another limitation, jumping may be a non-starter.
Next, a good jumping horse needs to easily extend his canter stride up and over an obstacle. “Scope,” a common term in the jumping world, means the ability to jump well without much added speed.
Form over fences is an important component of hunter classes, where horses are evaluated on pace, style of jumping, quality of movement, and manners.
In a jumper classes, all that matters is finishing the course within the allotted time and having a clear round (i.e. no faults).
This article by the USDA Cooperative Extension, has helpful definitions and pictures explaining different types of jumping classes and fences3.
A talented jumping horse also requires courage, a willing attitude, and the tendency to be careful over fences.
According to Olympic show jumper Frank Chapot in a Practical Horseman article, “there is a good balance between being a chicken and being brave, which all good trainers have to solve.”4
Heading to your first jumping show? Here’s a checklist of 100 things to pack.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does jumping hurt horses?
Like any activity, jumping has the potential to hurt a horse.
(That said, horses manage to injure themselves in “perfectly safe” stalls all the time…)
To ensure jumping is safe for your horse (and you!), always work with a qualified trainer. Only jump at the level at which you and your horse are comfortable.
Keep your horse healthy with routine veterinary care, watch for any signs of discomfort or illness, and be sure your tack fits properly.
Q: Can Quarter Horses jump?
You bet! Quarter Horses are perfectly capable of jumping, and many AQHA enthusiasts compete in hunter and jumper classes.
But you won’t find a Quarter Horse in the upper-level Grand Prix jumpoffs either. (We’ve looked!)
To compete at higher levels, the stamina, scope, and speed of Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds simply help them pull ahead.
Check out one of the AQHA jumping classes:
Chief Rookie Aside: I jump my quarter horse frequently, and he really enjoys it!
Q: Why do horses refuse jumps?
Refusals can happen for a variety of reasons. The most common include:
- The horse doesn’t want to jump and decides not to do so.
- The horse spooks at some element of the jump.
- The horses approaches at the wrong distance and bails out to avoid hitting the fence.
- The horse simply isn’t sure what to do. (We like to call these “confusals.”)
- The horse is asked to jump a fence that’s higher, scarier, or more complicated than he’s ready for at that time.
- The horse senses its rider is nervous about the jump and loses his confidence, too.
If you’re struggling with refusals, consult a trusted coach to help diagnose why your horse doesn’t want to jump. Be sure to rule out physical issues first.
Q: Do horses like to be ridden?
We wrote an entire article about this question.
Q: What horses are good for jumping?
Everyone’s favorite answer… it depends!
Typically, Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds are among the most popular jumping breeds.
They have the height, stamina, strength, and speed to excel in jumping arenas.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- 10 Best Stirrups for Jumping Clear (And Staying Safe)
- What is the correct jumping position for horse riders?
- Compositi Stirrups Review: I’ve Never Jumped Better
- 100+ Things to Pack for a Jumping Horse Show (Checklist)
- How Often to Replace Horseback Riding Helmets
- 12 Pointers for Jumping Crossrails with Confidence
- How exactly do you “fold” when jumping a horse?