Riding Tips

3 Simple Steps to Help Your Horse Jump Higher

jump heights horse
Written by Shelby Dennis

Build on Solid Technique to Jump Bigger

Moving up jump heights can be both exciting and scary, for you AND your horse. In order to build the technique that will bring you success as the jumps get bigger, you need to set yourself and your horse up for success by working on the foundation first.

The path to jumping big fences is one that is first laid down by jumping lots of little fences and becoming a strong rider on the flat.

Building both your and your horse’s fitness will allow you to move up the heights more smoothly and more quickly, making it more enjoyable for the both of you.

A good foundation will allow you to easily build and hone your craft as a jumper, whereas a shoddy foundation will run you into problems in the future that you will need to go back later and address.

So, keep this in mind when you are dreaming of bigger heights, a lot of what gets you there is jumping the little stuff and perfecting your riding and your horse’s rideability on the flat as well.

Fine Tune Your Technique

Create an Even Tempo

Developing a good rhythm and tempo during jump courses is something that is largely accomplished on the flat.

Going through the dressage training pyramid and ensuring your horse is adjustable and with a consistent rhythm during your flat rides is something that will translate into jumping success.

Of course, even horses who are well schooled on the flat can start to rush fences and become more excitable.

Part of developing a consistent rhythm is also practicing over small fences or even ground poles and learning how to adjust your horse’s stride to allow them to approach jumps more efficiently—in less strides— or more slowly and adding more strides on command.

A successful jumper needs to be adjustable, a horse who has no rhythm and an out of control tempo is going to be difficult to safely and effectively pilot around a jump course.

Flat work may be less exciting to some, but it is truly the foundation that builds muscular fitness, as well as mental fitness, to allow horses to jump safely, effectively, and in control.

Try practicing over ground poles in your flat rides and make sure you can adjust your horse’s tempo towards and after the ground pole. From there, you can slowly build this up to practicing over small fences on your jumping day.

If you notice your horse getting fast and out of control, go back to the basics and focus on the weaknesses on the flat and over ground poles, or small jumps, to address why your horse is rushing.

Helping your horse learn how to relax and focus, even during exciting jump courses, will be very valuable in making for a seamless move up the levels of show jumping. A stressed horse is a less focused horse, as a result it is imperative that relaxation is prioritized even in jumping.

Approaching Jumps

When approaching jumps, you want a horse who can move towards a fence with straightness and a consistent rhythm. If they are wiggling and weaving up to the fence in a curvy, squiggly line, they will struggle to have a good take off and be careful over the fence.

Straightness is something that is largely focused on when on the flat, but it also can be impacted due to lack of confidence on the part of the horse.

If the horse is fearful of the fence, they’re less likely to approach it straight-on due to their desire to run out, or fear of the fence. Building confidence for your horse needs to be done over small jumps within their comfort zone, and then gradually beginning to edge them out of their comfort zone.

If their lack of straightness is due to physical weakness, this can be addressed by a great variety of flat work exercises focused on improving your dressage work.

Even if you’re not looking to compete in dressage, it is necessary to adopt dressage principles in your regular riding in order to build a strong foundation as a rider, and to teach your horse the skills they need to effectively carry a rider on the flat and over fences.

For horses struggling with confidence, it is important not to punish them for refusals.

Punishing for a fear response is not how you instill confidence. Be patient and kind to your horse and take your time to slowly build their confidence. Rushing to get to higher fences can cause both your and your horse’s confidence to tumble.

Being aware of your body and how your aids are either supporting or impeding your horse also is important. Taking off too early, or too late, can throw you off balance and cause you to throw your horse off balance as a result. Developing a strong seat, leg, and good hands will help you to support your horse on the approach to the best of your ability.

Building Confidence

Building confidence is all about being patient enough to build a strong foundation whilst still pushing yourself hard enough that you are slowly edging yourself out of your comfort zone.

The key is to SLOWLY do this to allow both you and your horse the utmost success. Doing too much too soon can destroy both your and your horse’s confidence.

Gymnastic grids are a great way to get more confident jumping larger fences as they are set to exact distances, so you can allow your horse to mostly figure out the distances while you focus on where your body is between and over the jumps.

This takes away some difficulty as you do not need to support and rate your horse to the same extent as you do between jumps with several strides between them and with grids.

They are set straight, so it is about minor adjustments to help your horse maintain straightness and jump through the grid properly. Grids also make it more difficult for horses to rush due to being set for specific strides.

If your horse is a bad rusher, this is something you should start addressing over ground poles or small gymnastics, rather than as you’re building jumps higher to begin working on building the confidence needed to advance into larger rings.

Getting different types of jump fillers to practice over at home is also a great way to help build your horse’s confidence for shows. It can be as simple as going to the dollar store and buying a bunch of fake flowers or painting a piece of plywood with an interesting design.

It’s all about trying to simulate the show environment and the types of fences you and your horse may encounter elsewhere, so you can teach your horse at home, where they are most comfortable, and prepare them for the unknown off property.

Doing groundwork around potentially scary fences also is a great way to support your horse in building confidence and learning not to be spooky of scary looking obstacles. With you on the ground, they will feel safer and you can also use rewards to counter condition their fear and encourage them to become bold in approaching new things.

Again, it is important to go at their pace and not push them too far outside of their comfort zone or you could cause them to become even more fearful.

Be gentle with yourself too. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t compare your horse to others. You are both individuals on your own journey with strengths and weaknesses.

Your path to greatness looks different than other people’s, so do not compare. It doesn’t serve you and it also isn’t relevant in your growth as a rider.

Ensure that you work with instructors who help your confidence rather than hurting it. If you find yourself frequently leaving lessons feeling bad about yourself because of things your trainer has said, it may be time to talk to them about their teaching style and how it impacts you.

Or even finding a trainer who will be more able to assist you in building confidence rather than destroying it. You need a supportive environment to excel and sometimes you may need to look elsewhere to find that.

Top Exercises for Jumping Larger Fences

There is no shortage of different types of gymnastic grids you can use to build both yours and your horse’s fitness over fences.

Gymnastics are some of the best ways to experiment with larger fences, develop muscular and cardiovascular fitness for yourself and your horse, and build both of your confidence in an easy and straightforward way.

It is unnecessary to do extensive coursework on a frequent basis. Gymnastic exercises or even building singular fences or ground poles to work on your approach and landing is how you can break things down to perfect your abilities on course.

Before bumping up the jumps, ensure that you and your horse are both clearing your regular height easily and that neither of you are struggling with it.

If your horse frequently takes rails, gets very winded, or shows other signs of difficulty at the levels you’re currently working on, it is not time to bump up the jump heights.

You can gradually build grids to increase the difficulty of fences, starting with ground poles leading up to smaller fences and eventually building them to where you’re jumping several jumps in the grid.

Then increase the difficulty by changing the height, taking away or adding strides, or adding in different types of jumps, such as oxers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you know when your horse is ready to jump higher?

When your horse is physical fit and showing scope to easily jump above your current height as well as having the confidence to do so.

They aren’t showing extreme fear of fences, are eager and confident with the physical capacity to easily clear the heights you’ll be asking them to jump.

Q: How high should a horse jump?

This totally depends on the horse! It varies from horse to horse, so the answer to this is: whatever height is within their physical capabilities and confidence level.

Q: How do I stop my horse from jumping flat?

Use flat work to develop roundness between fences and to teach your horse correct carriage. For jumping exercises, gymnastic grids are an excellent way to get horses quicker with their legs and more careful, developing a rounder jump as a result.

Parting Thoughts

Moving up jump heights is just as much about building mental fitness as it is physical fitness, for both you and your horse. Having confidence along with the necessary physical strength to accomplish the feat of a higher fence is a necessity for continued success. Rushing to a specific end goal without these important factors is how you can destroy confidence for both yourself and your horse.

Take enjoyment in your journey as a rider. Gaining experience is all a part of the process and sometimes it may go slower than what we like or expect, but it is a part of the journey. Enjoy it and keep in mind that the better foundation you build, the sweeter your accomplishments in the future will be, and the more easily you’ll be able to achieve them.

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About the author

Shelby Dennis

Shelby Dennis is a well known YouTube equestrian vlogger and horse trainer. Shelby has over 17 years of experience with horses. From the Arabian circuit to hunter/jumper and exercising race horses, Shelby’s experience with different kinds of horses makes her a well-rounded horsewoman. Shelby attributes her history with horses to shaping the hardworking, patient and driven individual she is today.