For the purpose of freejumping assessment a lane of three jumps will be set up in a safe environment. The first two jumps are in place to encourage the horse to find the rhythm and mainly the last jump (usually a solid build oxer) tests the jumping ability (scope and technique). During freejumping, the horse should show good natural jumping ability, and a good overall style at the jumps. The horse should move freely forward and should approach the jumps with a positive attitude, in a balanced manner without the need for repeated support from the whip handler or rushing over the jumps.
The wished for technique over the jumps should be “round” with an arched back and a low nose. The forelegs should be angled towards the nose in order to inhibit faults from hanging legs. Hind legs are scored low if the horse pulls them up under its body or lets them hang. The horse should open itself over a fence. There are no fixed heights for the evaluation of the jumping ability. Most significant in the evaluation is the overall behaviour before, during and after the jumps as well as the attitude and style of the horse handling the given test.
When it comes to freejumping, practice holds great value to build your horse’s confidence and is a crucial step towards private or ACE assessment of jumping ability and freejumping success.
Before you get started.
Before you start freejumping your horse, there are a couple of things to keep in mind to ensure a safe and successful training session.
Traction is essential for a confident jumping horse. Make sure to set up the freejumping chute in a safe area with safe fencing and proper footing – the footing should not be too deep or too shallow – either can cause injuries. Increase the complexity of the tasks very slowly, making sure the horse is confident and going through the chute smoothly before changing the exercise. In the beginning ask one or two other people to assist you to familiarize your inexperienced horse to the new exercise.
Set up your jumps, first starting with poles.
Start by building your safe jumping lane along the long side of your arena wall. Set your first jump (by putting one pole on the ground at the intended position) close to the corner to prevent the horse from speeding up. Set the second jump one stride apart and place a pole on the ground marking the position of the jump. When you start to freejump your horse, use only two jumps (one stride apart), increase height and number of jumps (three jumps, each jump one stride apart) as you progress in your training. Leave room after the last fence for the horse to comfortably finish the last jump without getting afraid and breaking up in the landing phase. If you have found the right positions and distances (depending on your horse’s stride) between the jumps, you can now arrange the standards next to the poles to later build your jumps.
Build a safe freejumping chute
To build a safe jumping lane for the horse to stay in line while freejumping it is recommended to build a visible chute with approximately three additional standards and caution tape and to make sure that the fencing, if freejumping in an outside arena, is high enough to prevent the horse from jumping out. Set up the standards parallel to your long arena wall close to your jumps. Position two standards if possible to form a widened entrance guiding the horse into the lane. Use caution tape (which easily breaks if the horse gets caught up in it) to connect the standards by looping it around the tops. Sometimes two lines of tape will be needed for a bolder visual barrier. If you have wing standards use them as an additional border at and in between your jumps.
Laying the groundwork
Once you have set up the chute and with the poles on the ground begin by walking your horse through the chute. Once the horse is stepping over the poles correctly and remains calm, let the horse loose and start him trotting through the chute (ideally with one or two experienced people helping you in the beginning). Make sure your horse travels comfortably through the chute without stopping or turning. Guide the horse through the chute and prevent stopping, turning or escaping in a calm but firm manner, teaching the horse to travel around the outside of the arena in a steady rhythm, not rushing but not being too lazy. Make sure to adjust the distances between the poles/ jumps according to the stride of your horse as your horse canters through the chute. Once your horse travels confident through the chute you can start building some fences.
After starting with poles for your horse to warm up and find it’s rhythm continue by building a cross rail (lets your horse find the centre of the jump) on the second and if available third fence. Remember that the distance between poles will be different when they become jumps. Send your horse through the chute, ideally trotting over the first jump (poles on ground), then cantering one stride each in between the cross rails. If your horse has built its confidence, carefully raise the height of the jumps. Leave the first jump a cross rail and only raise the other jumps in your sequence. Typically, when free jumping, you’ll always send the horse through the freejumping lane in the same direction for an entire session one reason being the jumps being set up for one direction. Do not forget to adjust the distances between the jumps according to the stride of the horse and the height of the jumps.
At this point freejumping should not teach the horse to adjust his strides but should encourage balanced and rhythmic jumping. It is difficult to set a fixed distanced between the jumps as the stride depends upon your horse and his age. A two year old would have a stride between 5.5 – 6 metres while a three year old should have a 6.5 metre distance between two small fences but even these numbers can vary from horse to horse.
Build and keep a routine for the first few freejumping sessions. Do not change much, only increase the height of the jumps or try a small oxer at the last fence.
It is very important to keep an eye on the horse at all times. Make sure that the horse will not stop, turn or escape. Use a long whip as guidance but never for punishment or loud cracking. Give the horse time to let the exercise sink in.
After only a few freejumping practices at an identical set up most horses will quickly show more confidence and balance at this exercise. Now you can start to assess its natural ability and technique over the jumps and can start adding new elements to the exercise for example to slow down rushing horses or wake up inattentive horses.
If your horse ever stops or tries to turn around in the freejumping line, it is very important that he does not run back out of the chute. He needs to learn that he has to try and go through the chute no matter what. Sometimes you will need to lower the second jump, so he can just step over it and exit the chute properly and safely. Never let him stop, turn and run back out of the chute. Build the exercise slowly, and really make sure your horse is confident and keen before proceeding with more difficult tasks.
If you have a horse that rushes his fences, lead him in by hand instead of letting him run loose in the arena.
Using landing poles between the jumps can help a horse shorten or lengthen his stride accordingly.
It is important to adjust the chute to your horse’s stride while building his confidence in jumping and only then set the fences at show ring or more technical distances.
Always finish on a positive note – for your horse and yourself.
For safe freejumping you will need
approx. 7 – 9 standards (4 to 6 for the fences and around 3 for the chute)
Poles to build solid and safe jumps
Caution tape for the chute
Helping hands in the beginning of freejumping practice