Introducing Young Horses to Free Jumping at the USEA Young Horse Symposium

Demo horse Prophet (Tatendrang x Pennant's Valentine), owned and bred by Anissa Cottongim, and his handler Andrew Palmer. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld. Demo horse Prophet (Tatendrang x Pennant's Valentine), owned and bred by Anissa Cottongim, and his handler Andrew Palmer. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

The first day of the USEA’s Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse Symposium kicked off at the lovely Longwood Farm in Reddick, Florida, today. The morning sessions were in a classroom format that examined conformation as it pertains to eventing horses, as well as pedigree evaluations. The USEA posted a very good recap of the morning session.

I arrived at Longwood just in time to see a gorgeous coming 4-year-old Dutch stallion called Geluk HVF (Jazz x Contango) owned and bred by Bethany Hutchins-Kristen and Marian Hutchins of Haven Valley Farm, showing off his stunning gaits in a large pen with a jump chute built on one side of the indoor.

Speakers Robin Walker and Samantha Allan stood inside the enclosure discussing and judging the horses as they freely moved and jumped for a few minutes each.

Free jumping is being introduced to the FEH Championships for 3-year-olds this year, so the purpose of the demonstration was to give the spectators an idea of how the canter and jump will be judged and how best to prepare a young horse for free jumping in competition. A positive experience is key.

“The last thing you want is for it to become a drama,” Robin said. “And I wouldn’t do it at all if the horse was physically immature.”

Each horse first walked with its handler around the ring and through the jump chute without any fences. Once it was comfortable, ground poles were added. Then the horse was let loose to trot and canter freely. The ground poles were made into jumps gradually and the distances adjusted as necessary based on the horse’s stride.

Geluk has a long, extravagant gait. To start, the jump chute was constructed as such: ground pole, 9 feet, cross rail, 18 feet, vertical, 21 feet, vertical. This proved to be a short stride for him to manage comfortably, so the distances were adjusted to accommodate him: ground pole, 10 feet, cross rail, 21 feet, vertical 24 feet, vertical.

Some of the demo horses had jump chute experience, but Robin’s own homebred was trying it for the first time. The horses were encouraged but never chased, and the fences were never raised beyond their ability and comfort zone nor higher than the heights that will be presented to them in FEH competition (maximum 3’7″ high, 4 feet wide on the final oxer).

We’ll have much more to come over the next two days in sunny Florida, so stay tuned!

FEH/YEH Links: [Symposium Schedule] [USEA Young Horses Series]

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