When young horses are introduced to jumping, it is important they are already established in their flatwork up to a certain point. They must be responsive to the riders aids, if not this could put the horse and rider at risk because the rider may not be able to stop the horse if something goes wrong. They also need to have a confident walk trot and canter, if this is not in place jumping should not be introduced because it will be difficult for the horse to jump. When the jumping is introduced, ground poles should be used to start with, at first a single ground pole should be used to show the horse what to do and get it used to the idea of going over the poles. To begin with the horse should be introduced to the pole at a walk, as it gets more confident trot can be introduced. At this early stage the horse shouldn’t be taken into the fence at a canter because it’s more difficult for the horse to stay balanced.
Once the horse is confident into one pole, several poles can be introduced, this will help the horse establish a rhythm in trot and through the poles, if the horse is struggling with straightness put two parallel poles at the beginning and the end of the poles to help guide the horse through the poles. When the horse is confident through the trot poles, it is time to introduce a small fence, firstly a cross pole with a placing pole should be used. This is the bes option because a small cross pole is an inviting fence for the horse to jump, it also helps the horse to stay straight on approach because the rider has an easy point to aim for the pacing pole is also effective because it maps out exactly where the horses legs need to go, this ensures the horse meets the fence on the correct stride and doesn’t take off too early or late which could result in the horse scaring itself. It is important to leave all the fences small so the horse can still jump the fence even if it loses rhythm or impulsion. This should all be done at a trot to start with, but as the horse gains confidence the placing pole can be changed to a canter pole and the horse can approach the fence in canter.
Once the horse is confidently jumping a single fence, additional fences can be added to form a grid. To start with, an extra fence can be added onto the previous exercise at a strides distance away, the type of fence can be varied – it could be another cross pole to begin with to get the horse used to the grid but then it can be changed into a small vertical to encourage the horse to lift its front end. A placing pole should be placed in between to two to help the horse keep the rhythm in the canter between the two fences. Then a third fence can be added two strides from the second, this one should eventually be made into a ascending oxer which will encourage the horse to jump properly and make a shape over the fence.
Simple gridwork such as the example just given is very helpful when training horses to jump because it gives the horse confidence when jumping through the grid because it is set out and controlled so the horse is less likely to get the approach wrong. It also improves the horses rhythm and impulsion in between the fences by having the fences close together. The next progression is more gymnastic grids such as a bounce which will improve the horses actual jump as opposed to the approach etc. Bounce fences are more difficult but very effective because it encourages the horse to be more athletic over the fences by snapping up its front end