If a pony jumps badly, the reason lies somewhere in his past. It may be that he was poorly trained in the beginning or has since been ridden by an unsympathetic rider. Whatever has happened and it may be impossible to find out the exact cause it is up to the trainer to correct the faults one by one. In this way, confidence can be restored, and good habits and obedience established.
Obedience and sympathy
A pony can only jump well if he goes correctly on the flat. He doesn’t need to be highly trained but there are two basics that often need sorting out.
First, obedience to the leg. This doesn’t mean simply going forward to a leg aid but also accepting the feel of the legs. A pony which shoots forward as soon as he feels the rider’s leg against his side can be a real nuisance and very difficult to place correctly at a jump. The same applies to the pony which insists on going sideways at the sight of a jump in spite of the rider’s efforts to straighten him out with the leg aids.
Second, the pony should have a good mouth. If he is frightened of the bit, a touch on the reins sends his head up and hollows his back. On the other hand, a pony with ‘no mouth’ pulls and leans on the rider’s hands. Make sure the pony is happy with his bit and obedient to it, and be prepared to change it.
The pony’s mouth should improve as he learns to accept the leg. The rider must try to work with a light, consistent contact on the mouth and avoid pulling back when the pony pulls. Most ponies do not settle unless there is a contact as, until then, they worry about where the contact is and when there is going to be a sudden pull on the mouth.
With these two ‘basics’ sorted out, the pony should be working actively forward, straight and attentive to his rider.
He approaches his jumps with confidence, but no rushing!
What can go wrong?
Sadly, most ponies jump less than perfectly. Refusing or running out are the most common problems. Every time this happens, ask yourself why and what can be done to correct the problem. It is worth making a mental list of all possible excuses before deciding that the pony is just plain naughty. Even if he is, he probably had a very good reason when he started the habit!
Running out is due to lack of straightness in the approach, usually combined with rushing. Sometimes this happens because the pony is frightened of the jump and would rather take an easy way round.
If the fear is not deep-rooted, tackling very low fences and concentrating on a direct, calm approach, sorts out the problem. But a very frightened pony either refuses or takes a huge leap even when he is kept straight.
Fear and bravery
Fear has many causes. It could be that the pony has been pulled in the mouth or has rapped his legs on a pole or perhaps even fallen in the past. It may be that he is over-faced and doesn’t know how to jump. If this is the case, it is better to put the jump right down, even to ground level, and to build up slowly. Going too high too soon can be off-putting, resulting in the pony not wanting to try at all.
Some ponies are brave and clever and jump even if asked to take off at the wrong place. Others need to have their striding exactly right. These ponies are usually less agile or powerful and need sympathetic riding to get the best from their limited abilities. Ponies usually know their own limitations and have no desire to hurt themselves. If they know they are ‘wrong’, they refuse.
Boredom and nerves
Boredom and over-jumping can cause refusals. If a pony has been jumping Well and, for no apparent reason, gives up, then he may just need a few weeks or even months free of jumping to restore his enthusiasm.
Over-jumping, especially on hard ground, can lead to foot and leg problems so that the pony starts refusing. Such a pony often takes off very close to his fences, using minimum effort so that he can land more softly on the ground. He refuses only the bigger, wider jumps at first and gets progressively worse if forced to continue.
Refusing may come about with a nervous pony if he is put to a type of fence he has never seen before. Careful training at home, using some imagination in fence-building, gradually overcomes this problem, as does intelligent and confident riding.
A rider who expects a refusal or feels over-faced can cause a stop. Doubt is easily put across to a pony so he cannot be blamed for not wanting to jump! This particular fault can be spotted if the pony seems to ‘fade’ on the approach rather than stop suddenly.
Confidence and care
Although it is important for a pony to be confident over poles, he must also show them respect. Over-confidence can be followed by carelessness and knocking poles down. This is a difficult fault to cure leading to some trainers using rather nasty methods to make the pony pick up his feet properly.
If a pony has been hurt in this way, he may decide that enough is enough and won’t jump at all. He may look angry not frightened with ears back and tail swishing. Sometimes jumping across country rather than in the ring gets him going again.
Knock-downs are more often caused by a bad approach and/or poor style over the fence. Jumping with a hollow back or a restricted head and neck means the pony has to jump higher to clear the fence. The answer is to re-learn technique: improve his flatwork, get his confidence over low fences and use gridwork.