Teaching a Horse to Jump

March 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Ask Shawna, Jumping

QUESTION:
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.

ANSWER:
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.

Another quote from Han Senn

As soon as the horse feels the rider’s distraction, he will promptly join in.
–Hans Senn–

On Target Training, Shawna Karrasch

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