Can you Teach a Horse to Jump with Better Form?

You can use positive reinforcement to change a horse’s jumping style. People tend to leave it up to luck but we can help a horse to improve his technique. Positive reinforcement has proven to be a phenomenal tool for helping horses to overcome water and stopping issues. It can help a horse to become bolder, braver, more relaxed or more energetic depending on what we focus on. . With the positive reinforcement we can motivate them to WANT to jump and the use of a bridge signal allows us to draw attention specific body parts or actions.

Can You Teach Your Horse Olympic Level Piaffe or Passage using the Clicker?

Okay, my animals are doing well right now. So after a long and challenging spring, I FINALLY have time to post some more Ask Shawna questions and answers(recorded last winter)…yay! This is from Jacob who asks about teaching an Olympic level piaffe or passage using only positive reinforcement training (no negative reinforcement). There are a number of factors that have to be considered but I know it can be done for any performance oriented behavior… or even jumping style. For more info or help with applying positive reinforcement to your training program go to www.connectiontraining.com. What are your thoughts? Or experiences?

Stormy won’t jump Liverpools…oh, wait…he does now!!

I just wanted to share this sequence of pictures.  Too often there isn’t anyone taking pictures of the amazing things that happen with the positive reinforcement training. Bernard of Deamphoto.biz happened to be at this clinic/demo.  He did a great job getting some fun pictures so I wanted to share them.  He is a great photographer as well as a great guy!  Also, he invented some clever things, like the salad spinner for one!  I hope that you enjoy the pictures.
As many of you know jumping issues are one of my favorite things to address with horses. Given my history and where I got started with horses, that probably isn’t too surprising. As for Stormy…I start this process going from point A to point B (person to person), at liberty. As they get the A to Bs worked out from a good distance, I introduce jump standards with a pole on the ground. I begin to turn it into a jump. The criteria slowly increases. The positive reinforcement keeps them engaged and enjoying the process even though it becomes more difficult. They become invested in the training process so they will make choices to face their fears (for Stormy it was the liverpool). He had a free choice the entire time…no whips, chutes, body positioning, no coercing at all. This makes the behavior solid since it is truly a choice…not the lesser of two evils, so to speak. When they go through this process, the change in confidence is amazing and it carries over to more than the jumping issue. If you have any questions about the free jumping and overcoming any jumping issues please  don’t hestitiate to ask or comment.

Overcoming an Event Horse’s Fear of Jumping Ditches

Here is another Ask Shawna video answer. This is one of my favorite issues to deal with…jumping! The use of clicker training to help horses overcome jumping fears is amazingly effective. It helps the horse (and rider) to develop or restore boldness and confidence.

Teaching a Horse to Jump

March 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Jumping

Hi Shawna, Just a quick question don’t want to take up to much of your time. Do you have any info/videos pertaining specifically to training young horse with clicker to jump. Have put my fellow on the lunge over a cavaletti the other day and used the clicker over the jump to show him that is what i was after. Just not sure the path to take from here?? It sure stops them from thinking go crazy after the jump but also don’t want him thinking we come to a stop after every jump so let him to 2 rounds sometimes and clicked if he was steady and jumped it with out fuss??????? Any reading resource on this would be great??????? Thanks and have a nice weekend.

Jumping is one of my favorite things to teach horses. I am working on a DVD for teaching free jumping and addressing jumping issues. Positive reinforcement training with jumping just hasn’t been done too much. It is amazingly effective for horses of all levels. It builds such confidence in the horse. Like you mentioned, it helps them to settle and not get overly nervous or excited. Getting them started right helps to prevent issues from coming up later. So I am very excited about helping horses (and rider’s) learn how to jump.

I don’t know if you have the ability to teach him free jumping at liberty but it is a great tool. Not everyone has an open arena to work a loose horse or a second person available to help. You can teach them to jump with one person but there are a lot of other components to the one person behavior. This results in more attention to maintaining the other elements of the behavior and less on the actual jumping. The free jumping allows them to completely make the choice to jump, and it also helps to teach them about finding a distance. This latter skill comes in handy and helps to avoid some jumping issues down the road. If you can and want to teach this part let me know and I will tell you more about how to proceed. Also, I have some videos and blog posts on jumping that may give you some more info. They are not all perfect but the mistakes they make a part of the learning process. Here is the link if you want to take a look and haven’t seen them already: http://shawnakarrasch.com/blog/category/jumping/ (These are under the jumping category on this Blog)

It sounds like you are doing great. I recommend adding to the duration. If I click I anticipate them stopping. When under saddle I teach them to continue but that is a different scenario. We can discuss that another time. :0) So like it sounds like you are doing, I would ask him to jump then remain supportive with your signal that asked him to jump in the first place. When he accepted and jumped the next jump well, I would click and reinforce that. In the beginning this click is coming, mostly, for his continuation. As he grasps this concept and is jumping two jumps confidently and consistently then it is time to add another. continue on this path until you have built it up to where you want. Here is a caveat, I recommend still occasionally clicking and reinforcing the early jumps. If all of the clicks come at the latter jumps he will tend to put less effort into the early jumps since it seems the last jump is the only one that will get reinforced. It keeps it things from being too predictable.

When he is doing this well it is time to add more height. Go back to simple one jump at first. Then progress through the training exercise. When you change an element you want to recognize that this one little change maybe a huge change for your horse. You will then progress through the exercise. Remember to keep things short and positive by doing small, short session rather than long sessions. I have found things move faster and the horses stays interested.

Next thing I would consider is introducing the weight of a rider. You want him to keep the same mind set as the earlier exercises. We don’t want the rider to be giving any signals at this point as this may be distracting. We want to allow him to get accustomed to the new weight and balance. Still focusing on the ground person reminds him to practice his familiar exercise. Again, progress through the steps. Next add the rider’s cues (softly) while still on a lunge line. The ground person should still be doing the clicking but have the rider do the reinforcing from the saddle. We are slowly shifting the focus to the rider so we can fade the ground person out. Next the rider does the clicking and reinforcing. Then remove the lunge line. These small steps, that may not seem like a big deal to us, help ensure a smooth transition for your horse. This kind of process helps to set them up for success. It also sounds like a long drawn out process but it usually goes pretty quickly. I just like to be sure that I cover them all.

Alright, let me know how it goes and if you have more questions. It is an exciting time for you and your horse and I am glad to be a part of your journey!

REPLY: (to my response)
Wow Shawna Thanks for such a HUGE reply.lol You are obviously very keen on jumping and clicker. I was having seeds of ideas of how it could get the horse so much more confident about jumping. I want to really be able to let him know that was how you do it as you can’t really do that in the air over a jump! I do have an area that is big enough and, at present, my neighbour could help me a bit (she may be moving ??) She is also a clicker person ( you answered her question about her horse in the washbay. Leone) It would just be getting it set up right and if I have enough gear to do so?? I will look at the links to see if that helps me with the set up! This fellow is bred to jump but that does not mean he will love to jump. I think by doing as you have outlined above and clicker jump training him it will avoid the all to often situation that the horse gets scared and doesn’t enjoy the situation. Then only a strong jump ridder can get them around the course. I want the both of us to love a little jump course with a relaxed mind. Thanks and will be looking forward to you proposed jump DVD!!

RESPONSE: (from me to Sharon’s reply)
Beezie Madden, who is a two time olympic gold medalist, is who worked with when I started applying clicker training to horses back in 1994. She and her husband had a famous jumper named Judgement. He had a huge water jumping issue and clicker/target training helped him to overcome his fear. So it really works for every level. A little addendum…Remember to click on the behavior what you want to see more often. For jumping it is when they commit to leaving the ground. They remember what earned them the click. Since the it is uncomfortable for them to come to screeching halt so they figure out to come to a normal stop on the other side of the jump after they hear the click.

The Horse Show with Rick Lamb

This was featured on The Horse Show with Rick Lamb (RFD-TV and Rural TV in Europe). It ws great fun and Rick was a natural with Mint and free jumping. He did great with the clicker training and he is not too bad at the interview either! Rick is curious and always learning so it made it a ton of fun. I received a lot of great feedback and requests to post it here on my blog. So if you haven’t had a chance to view it, well, now you can. Mint seemed to have fun…He always does. Enjoy!! As usual, I love comments or questions.

Ask Shawna: Horse Refusing to Jump at Shows

October 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Jumping, On Target Training

Video answer: I address a jumping issue. This mare who is great at home is not so good at the shows. When we are at shows things are different. Our horses are acutely aware of subtle changes in our behavior. They are probably more aware of it then we are! Sometimes it is our nerves or excitement that can worry our horses. But sometimes they can begin to recognize that they can get away with more at shows. After all, we don’t get to keep jumping the course and schooling in the ring until we get it right. Sometimes it can just be sensory overload for our horses. They have so many new things to watch and worry about that they have a hard time focusing on the job at hand. In any case we can get this straightened out with the use of positive reinforcement. By building a strong reinforcement history(with jumping) she will look forward to jumping.

I recommend starting at home since that is where she has success. Free jumping(no chute or whips) is always a great tool for building the horses confidence, if confidence is the issue. This is also great for teaching the young horse and to correct stopping. This helps the horses learn how to figure out their own distances. It is uncomfortable for them to take off from a bad distance. They learn to adjust and take care of themselves in this process. It allows them to really focus on jumping with out the distraction of the rider. You always want to click on the action you want to see more of so in this case it is when they commit to jumping the jump. In the beginning it may be for stepping over the rail! I am going to recommend some really fun footage which will show you this process. In this blog go to the catagory: Jumping. I suggest watching “Bugs Free Jumping a Line(at liberty)” and, this one is really fun…”Free Jumping From Mint’s Helmet Cam” That’s right, Mint is wearing a helmet cam and so am I, so you see it from my view and his!

Linda, back to your mare. I think you might do just as well to start clicking as she goes over jumps with her rider at home. I know this isn’t where the problem happens but she will start to put a MUCH higher value on jumping as she realizes it may earn her a reward. You can do this over itty bitty cross rails to start. The point is the committment to jumping, not the height of the jump. Reinforce well for each jump. She will put this together. The next step may include reinforcing her for responding to the rider’s adjustments before and after the jump, this will help her to listen to the rider but it still serves to reinforce the whole process. Don’t worry that you are clicking over the jump, she won’t slam on the brakes as soon as she lands. Just come to your usual stop. Next do lines and then courses. At this point I would mix it up, sometimes reinforce the first jump, sometimes the third jump, sometimes at the end of the course.

Now that she has a new perspective it is time to go to a show. Now, I suggest you go to a few schooling shows with the point of truly schooling. I would click and reinforce often in the warm up area. She has new elements to contend being away from home so I think it is best to start way back in the beginning of the training process. Reminding her that jumping here may also be reinforced. I think at this point she will probably be performing like she does at home. But don’t take her good attitde for granted, reinforce the heck out of it! When you go in the ring if she jumps the first jump I would click and feed. Go onto the next 2, 3 or 4 jumps, if things are going well click and reinforce again…etc. Do a few classes like this, change up which jumps you decide to click and reinforce. Sure this is not going to win you the class but it will help you to win plenty more later. I would do a few shows like this at different showgrounds, if possible. You could also trailer to someone else’s arena and school there as well. Like I said in the email…I know with 100% certainty that you can get her turned around. I have done this with cases that were much more extreme!

I could go on and on but I think I have covered what you need to know. If you have questions please feel free to ask. Please keep me posted on your progress!

Just Incredible!!

June 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Jumping

This is an old video but definitely a good one. It is a quick video of Nick Skelton jumping a puissance wall (7’6″). I cannot imagine riding up to this jump with the intention of jumping. I hope you enjoy the clip.

Bugs Free Jumping a Line (at Liberty)

This is Bugs first line free jumping at liberty). It is taught through positive reinforcement. Bugs is a green horse who is just learning to jump-both with and without a rider. Jan who is working with me is new to the process as well.

Our First Horse Show


March 21, 2011

So, Bugs and I have been doing great with jumping together. Bugs has shown an extraordinary mix of willingness and relaxation when it comes to jumping. It has been so long since I had ridden that I am a green rider once again. This means I am not necessarily an asset to Bugs when we are jumping. We are learning together. Granted, I have taught him to free jump at liberty and this seems to have bolstered his confidence. He has learned how to jump without the distraction of a rider.


A couple of the ladies from the barn decided they wanted to go to the county show. It seemed like a good idea for Bugs to go too. Of course, we have not done something like this yet so I don’t know what to expect. Marcy and I agreed we had no idea how he would be once we were at the show but we might as well find out. We would play it by ear and work from his comfort zone and plan our activities accordingly. I was so excited. It was his first show and I hadn’t shown in 17 years!!


The plan was mostly for Bugs to get some exposure to new things and places. We were going in the lowest classes (if he seemed settled enough). We were leaving on Friday and coming home on Sunday. Nothing ventured nothing gained… right?


Everything was packed up and ready to go. Everything except Bugs. I had planned for everything but the trailer loading! I am going to elaborate on the trailer loading in my next post. For now I am going to focus on the show. So much to see in just one weekend!

We got to the show and his eyes were huge. I have not seen the whites of his eyes too often. I could see ’em now! His suspicious streak was bubbling up a little bit. He was not sure what all of this was about. He settled a bit after we started walking to his stall. He resisted going into his stall at first . Everything seemed to be a trap to him at this point. The grooms got him ready for a lunge. It seemed like a good way to get him settled and take the edge off. I am not a big proponent of excessive lunging but at his point it seemed like it could help to set him up for success.


During the lunging process he was looking around and not very fluid or focused to start but ended up doing pretty well. Then we got him ready to be ridden. He seemed to find comfort as we settled into familiar exercises that we practice at home. As he would bend around my leg and soften throughout, I would click and reinforce his cooperation. He just became more focused on me and seemed to ignore the distractions around him. He was great! I felt an internal sigh of relief. You never know what is going to happen when you change your horses environment.


When we planned on coming to the show I knew to be ready for anything. Everything seems so different when you are looking at it from your green horse’s eyes (or ears). I had clicker and target on hand in case I needed to get him focused on something constructive, to channel his energy. I had previously worked with Bugs to desensitize unusual stimuli. This goes a long way towards teaching horses to handle situations like this well and to minimize spookiness. Our work was paying off as he was making great decisions!


The next day we were ready to show. He was lunged a little in the morning. We started with flat classes. Next we had our jumping classes. Just the lowest classes (yes, against ponies!) He was terrific. He rode just like he was at home. I think he was starting to enjoy all that there was to absorb. He is a curious and nosy horse. Once he decided it was safe he seemed to move on to thinking it was kinda fun in the curious way, not the celebratory way. He was just taking in the sights.


Bugs got better as he went. The show helps me to gage our progress. Not only where we are on our skill level under saddle but also where Bugs is psychologically. He was relaxed, focused, willing and confident. I have to admit I felt like a proud parent. The blue ribbons didn’t hurt either!

Free Jumping from Mint’s Helmet Cam

I have started filming, well actually Mint started filming from his helmet cam. It is a fresh perspective on training. I enjoy seeing where he is looking and his view of things. This is only the beginning of many more clips from Mint (and eventually Bugs). The audio is a little quiet since I am not always right beside him.

I have posted the video from my helmet cam first so you can see my perspective and hear the audio portion. The second clip is from Mint. I hope that you enjoy this and I would love your feedback!

On Target Training, Shawna Karrasch

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