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Question of the Week: From western pleasure to jumping

How do I train my ex-western pleasure horse to canter and jump?


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English horseQ: One of the horses I ride was professionally trained for western pleasure. Now I want to ride him English and do some low jumping, but whenever I try to canter he just lopes instead. This makes jumping very awkward. Plus, continually urging him into a canter is exhausting! Is it possible to retrain him to actually canter so I can progress to jumping?

A: It requires a great deal of time and training to school a western horse to lope. Before attempting to retrain your horse it’s important to acknowledge and respect that so you don’t become frustrated. Yet as lovely as it is, a western lope really isn’t a suitable gait for jumping. It lacks the impulsion (power) and length of stride necessary for jumping a course. Providing your horse is serviceably sound, meaning that soreness isn’t what’s keeping him from moving at a faster pace and on a longer stride, you should be able to get him to canter and jump. It’ll just take some time and practice.

To get your horse into a more forward-thinking mindset, ride him in the mildest bit possible. Although most western horses respond well to curb (leverage) bits, they’ve all spent time in a snaffle. Go back to one. Press him into a brisk posting trot on light rein contact, encouraging him to poke his nose in front of the vertical and “reach” for the bit. If he gets a little strung out and flat at first, that’s okay; don’t discourage his efforts. You can gently rebalance his weight onto his hindquarters by using half-halts and big, loopy circles. As he realizes that you aren’t going to bump, check or nip him in the mouth to put him back into a western frame he’ll become even more emboldened. Then you can try to canter.

When he strikes off into his usual lope, rise up into a half-seat (a modified two-point position). This will be much less exhausting than trying to urge him forward by sitting deeply in the saddle and pushing with your seat bones. The half-seat position also introduces your horse to a less restrictive approach to work and a more forward pace. Once again, to encourage a longer stride and faster pace, keep soft rein contact and envision pushing the bit in front of your horse. Then, think of sending your horse up to the bit by squeezing with your calves.

Finally, when you do introduce jumping fundamentals, take into consideration your horse’s previous training. In general, former western pleasure horses expect to receive constant information and cues from their riders. They’re not the typical “gallop and go” hunter or jumper. So always approach your jumping exercises at an energetic yet controlled pace. Keep soft contact on your horse’s mouth and when he lands after each jumping effort, press with your legs or cluck so that he canters away in a straight line. With patience and consistency he’ll stretch out his stride, learn to canter, and jump willingly.

-- Cindy Hale

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Question of the Week: From western pleasure to jumping

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Reader Comments

Madison    Co, CO

10/15/2014 3:51:02 PM

Thanks! This held a lot. My horse, Merlin, was a western pleasure horse and we are training him to jump and he's almost got it except for his long, slow lope that makes jimping look really awkward.

Horsegirl    Horsetown, IL

7/29/2012 7:20:07 PM

Seems like a nearly impossible task the way WP horses move.

Katie    Louisville, KY

11/8/2011 9:40:25 PM

A professionally trained western pleasure horse goes a lot slower than your average horse. The western pleasure is extremely well balanced for their discipline but it's different than your average jumper. So it seems their problem is just trying to get more giddy up, and letting the horse know that it is okay to go faster.

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

11/6/2011 11:32:41 PM

Now that I've read this properly, how is the lope different from the canter? I thought that the lope was a canter and that the jog is a trot.

It seems that we're not teaching the horse to go from one gait to another but just changing its centre of balance and impulsion.

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