I had read about free jumping and had watched the videos on-line of the stallion inspections where the horses were free jumped but had never tried it myself prior to this year. I had always boarded my horses at facilities that had very large rings where it was next to impossible to build a chute and get enough people to make the horse think that going through the chute would be a good idea.
We have a small ring- about the size of a large dressage arena that works really well for free jumping or free lunging if necessary. Many people use free jumping to judge the talent of a horse but my favorite reason to use free jumping is to avoid having to deal with all the awkward first baby jumps:) The horses learn how to place their feet and use their bodies without having to worry about a rider. I have a very talented horse right now that belongs to me but he can’t seem to figure out how to use his head and neck over the jumps making us both uncomfortable. I set up the chute for him last night and thought that Dixie could really benefit from a session or two since he is also still very worried about the jumps and not sure how to handle himself.
I put boots on him which made him do the funny walk 🙂 We brought him out and walked him up and down the chute several times over the pile of poles. He was pretty good with this. Then we let him loose to trot around the ring and warm up he was pretty excited and not sure why we were turning him loose. He cantered around doing flying changes and eventually settled back to a trot. Working the chute can be challenging if the horses don’t want to go. We set it up so the horse comes through the corner off the left and there is a chute that channels them down the jump (pile of poles in dixie’s case). Once they enter the chute my husband is at the head of the chute and I am standing outside but in the middle. Dixie took a great dislike to the poles when asked to trot by himself and turned around and wanted to book it out of there. We gently encouraged him down and his came up to the poles and then backed up…okay not getting it. So I trot him back and forth over the poles in hand. No problem with this. Try again and he does trot over this time and does a big leap and canters to the bottom of the ring. Good boy! He comes around again and wants to turn around but Kurt was there to stay behind him enough that he figured straight was the better way. We let him walk and just relax and then made a baby x-rail. He went over but not very good form. Ideally, I would have liked to add poles 9ft in front but he was still uncomfortable with just the baby jump so I didn’t want to scare him. We will slowly work him up to doing a bit more. They never really show any form in the beginning because they are too worried about people with whips, the chute, the jump and being let loose.
I love watching how a horse approaches the exercises. Each horse is different. My horse, The Boppus, starts out leaving really long and then by the end he is jumping in good form. Junior, my hot little connemara/tb, wants to gallop around like a idiot and I have to made it complicated enough that he slows down and thinks about what he is doing. My older horse will jump anything you put up in the ring and you don’t even need to use a chute…good to know years of training has paid off.
Earlier this year I had broken my wrist and we had Yellow Tavern ( a CANTER horse) who we wanted to sell. I couldn’t ride so Allie asked me to get some video/pics of him going through a chute and just see what his form was like. It was my first time really setting up a chute and I had my wrist in a sling so it was going to be interesting. My husband loves to work with the horses in the ring and watch them jump so I printed out the directions and let him set the chute up. I have never seen a horse catch on so fast as Tavern did. I had ridden him a few times before I got hurt and I knew he could jump. I had jumped him x-country and brought him home and jumped him over everything in my ring and couldn’t get the smile off my face. Watching him figure out the jump chute was amazing.
He came out of the corner sized up the jump and had it figured out in two seconds. We never had to encourage him simply direct him to the chute. It was hard not to do too much because there seemed to be no limit to the scope he showed. I had even thrown a fly sheet over a big oxer and he cantered down to it like he could have cared less. Then I tested out his mind by using a tarp and then tried him over barrels. All the same reaction..cool where is the next jump. My husband took a picture of him free jumping the first day and when we viewed it at home we couldn’t believe the jump he had- the panels are 6ft.
I think Dixie will catch on fast as long as we take the time to build his confidence. That seems to be the key with him (well really all horses) but if he gets scared by something he is reluctant to try it again which is what is happening with the jumps undersaddle. He might hit a pole or jump oddly and he scares himself. He’s not being bad he is just confused. Some horses catch on right away but he isn’t one of them:) I am sure he will figure it out soon enough.
This weekend we plan on creating a mini cross country course in one of our pastures that has the pond. The pond has a few shallow parts so we use that for water training and are also a few natural ditches. I will move the coop, the black pipe and several other jumps out there to make it feel like an actual course. My friend Alison and I had fun using the pond for water training last year which made me think of making the a little course in there. You will have to dodge the geese but that will just add to the excitement!