Once we can ride our horses safely on hacks and they trust us, we can introduce the first solid obstacle.

To succeed over the first natural jump the rider must pick a safe place with an inviting obstacle such as a small tree trunk or wood pile. It must not be too small, otherwise the horse may try to stop abruptly and jump from a standstill. The inexperienced horse may waver on the approach, so the fence should ideally be enclosed on one or both sides. This could be by a hedge, or fence, or one could use a pole or jump wing if one is available. The obstacle should be a maximum of 50-60 cm in height and preferably about 4 m wide across its face. A wide face has the effect of making the jump look lower, gives less opportunity for a run-out and, if a problem arises over the distance between the lead horse and the youngster, it allows for the possibility of both horses jumping side by side. Before approaching the jump, the rider should make sure the ground is safe (no holes and not too deep or muddy) on both the take-off and landing sides.

As always, before attempting this first cross-country obstacle the horse must have been loosened up – at least 10 minutes in walk, about 15 minutes in rising trot and also some canter, making frequent transitions in a light seat. It is helpful if some of this work is carried out around the obstacle, so that the horse becomes familiar with it. After that the horse should be given a long rein and allowed to blow and relax.

When first jumping the obstacle, the inexperienced horse should follow a lead horse in an energetic rising trot with two to three lengths between them. The young horse should be allowed to stretch his neck forwards slightly and look at the jump and he should not be ridden excessively deep or too strongly towards it. The rider should maintain a light contact with the horse’s mouth to keep him straight and at an even tempo to prevent him unwittingly interfering with the other horse.

When he has jumped the obstacle without problems three or four times behind the lead horse, the youngster should try on his own out of trot. If he remains well under control and does not try to run off, he should then be ridden forwards in a quiet canter. If the horse becomes too strong he should approach the jump from a large circle or turn and only be straightened three or four horse’s lengths before the jump so that he sees it relatively late.

It is best to make the first jumps over solid obstacles from either a flat approach or slightly uphill. When progressing to downhill approaches the rider should be mindful that some horses jump straight but can buck or leap around afterwards. The rider must sit to remain secure in the saddle and try to keep the horse’s head up so that he cannot put it between his legs. Riding forwards is the best correction for this.

Some horses back off after each jump and resist the rider’s aids; this disturbs the fluency of the canter between the obstacles when progressing to more than one at a time and makes it impossible to concentrate on riding forwards. Horses who do this may benefit from more experience behind a lead horse.

Once the inexperienced horse has jumped the obstacle a few times from canter he should be given a rest in walk and allowed to relax. It is important to reward the horse after every good attempt, which gives him encouragement and builds trust.

After a successful introduction, we would then jump just two or three other obstacles in the same way. It is important not to do too much on the first day. If this is achieved without problems, that is, without stopping or running out, a good end to the session would be to repeat the sequence of jumps three or four times out of canter. It is important to maintain a steady rhythm between the jumps. Finally, the horse should be allowed to stretch and relax in walk on a long rein.

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