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My horse refuses fences when he knocks one down


Hi Franklin,

I have a very peculiar issue with my horse. First off, I purchased him 3 years ago as an off-track thoroughbred when he was 5 Ĺ yrs. ( he had a whole year off prior in a pasture to unwind from the track). He did get tangled in the starting gate and that is why he stopped racing. When I got him, he didnít know anything about area work, his gaits- or anything. He is very willing to learn and he always tries to do what I ask him- even though he might not understand whatís going on.

I took my time and really let him figure out where to put his feet and how to use his body. He does all his flat work. He had no problem walking over ground poles and bridges (in trail classes) going around cones and barrels (I am at a predominately western barn). He has done western equitation patterns, trail classes. I have shown him in our farms shows. Nothing phases him. I hack him out on trail and he goes through creeks. When I started jumping him I free jumped him at first to watch his form and to let him figure how to jump on his own.

When it came time to work him for jumping I did cavaletti poles and did Ďcoursesí of poles so he could learn distances and the turns. He went over cross rails and low verticals with no problemÖ He has really into jumping and got excited about it.

Now comes my issue.. Lately when he goes over a jump and happens to knock a pole or the whole fence down- he refuses every fence after and I canít even get him to walk over a ground pole afterwards. It doesnít matter if Iím on him or if Iím ground handling him. He just shuts down. Iíll give him a few weeks off from jump work to regroup, and then heíll be fine doing poles & fences. This incident happens every time he knocks a fence. This is the third time this has happened. I donít what to do and Iím getting frustrated. Heís the type of horse that gets upset if disciplined and his can get easily frustrated as well. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Kate

Hi Kate,

Interesting question. Lets see. First off, forget any punishment or reprimand. This is a fear issue. Somehow he hurt/scared himself enough when he hit a jump and knocked something down as to get afraid of hitting them again and again. By trying to get him to move towards or into this fear, you will not make much progress. The challenge is to get his to trust you enough and not be afraid of punishment from you and that knocking down a jump is not such a scary thing. Consider setting up the situation (controlled environment) where he will definately touch polls or knock something down. Example, teach him to go and put his foot on or touch or paw at a pole or even to push it and upright down somehow so he sees it fall, and give an immediate reward (could be food for this as it is more of a trick training process). Once you can point at a pole and he goes and touches it, walks over it/knocks it down and goes around it easily (also this is also a clicker training process) and gets a reward, you move on to if he touches a poll going over it, give a reward. You don't want to overdo this as you do not want him in the habit of intentionally hitting poles. But just initially to get him thinking hitting/touching/knocking down a pole/jump is not such a bad thing. Try to get this on both front and back feet so he hits a pole from either end and it does not bother him. Also, long line (single and double) over low jumps of various types a lot. More than you think should be neccessary. Most folks into jumping may think they do enough ground play. But the reality is the focus is on riding and jumping so much that there really is not enough on the ground. Forget diciplin for this and go for soild partnership and great leadership (developed trust). Diciplin, like punishment, often creates fear, resentment and frustration.

I know this is a very different approach than you would ever consider. But it is all about positive reinforcement. Setting it up in such a way so the horse can WIN and be rewarded for effort and courage. Not something many traditional English riders/jumpers embrace from my experience. Mostly diciplin and traditional BHS methods of 'make him do it' are what I see.

Please keep me posted.....and good luck.
Sincerely, Franklin

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