Are some horses just “naturals” at jumping courses?

Ok, on social media, I came across a video of a 4y/o TB doing the most fabulous 2ft hunter round. No lead change, but just seemed to stay in rhythm and meet all the jumps perfectly, knees up, ears forward, like a much more mature and confident horse. I dug a bit deeper (ie, shamelessly cyber stalked the trainer), and come to find out, the horse just turned 4, is only 7 months off the track, had only been with the trainer a week at the time, was at its first show, and the video was from the first time the horse ever put an 8-jump course together. I would never have guessed any of that. And to top it off, the horse was being ridden by an advanced lesson student. Are some horses just naturally gifted? I know a similarly proportioned, similar moving 4y/o TB who’s been in re-training a full year and still struggles with crossrails!

Yes, some horses are naturally talented, well put together, have the right attitude and are ridden/ trained by people who develop that natural talent (or at least don’t get in the way and let the horse shine). Just like some people seem to be athletically or musically gifted, and others are not.

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Absolutely! Horses are people, too. I tend to believe that all of them are good at something as long as we listen to them & help them find their groove. Some will have particularly exceptional aptitude. Unfortunately for them, it often depends on their crossing paths with the right human at the right time. Example: The little jumper pony we’re going to lease was apparently a rescue from a bad situation. Looks like she’s had a foal or 2 or 3, has a big (cosmetic) scar on one hock, and was unbacked. She was lucky enough to get a foster placement with a pro & their preteen child. And they discovered that while she may barely squeak into large pony measurements, she self-identifies as a 17.2hh Dutch WB GP jumper.

She looks like your standard issue, unassuming, bay backyard pony. Most people wouldn’t have even picked up on her unusual talent for jumping because they themselves lack the education to look for it. And if she’d ended up fostered by your average children’s hunter trainer, she likely would’ve been deemed a problem horse – too hot, too athletic, too sensitive.

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Definitely. But I’ll say that I’m of the camp that even an average OTTB should be able to jump confidently around a small course within 3-6 months of retraining. An OTTB in training for a year and still struggling with crossrails needs a new program. These are smart horses who like to work.

It’s all about not interfering with them and giving them the chance to figure things out and gain confidence on their own. My last OTTB project came off the track in December and was jumping around 2’3”-2’6” by end of March with a lead change. She ultimately sold to an advanced intermediate lady with a trainer but the lady knew just enough to not try to pull or kick to a bad distance and my work with the mare had given her enough confidence to figure things out on her own. If the lady didn’t make a decision, my mare was none the wiser and just marched right along.

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Yes I have one! Also an OTTB who has the best natural canter I’ve ever felt. Super balanced, doesn’t lean and keeps his rhythm with no help from me. He makes me look like a better rider than I am.

I set the pace and steer. He’s very adjustable so moving him up or shortening his stride takes minimal effort and happens with one or two strides. It all feels very smooth. He’s still relatively green to jumping but we were in a clinic over weekend and he was doing auto changes on last day.

I very much subscribe to the equitation science principle of your horse should be in self carriage all the time. My horses learn to keep their rhythm and line on their own and as a result, I do very little. I believe this makes horses happy because I’m not constantly giving aids trying to keep horse straight or balanced.

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Absolutely. I think that the most talented “natural” jumper I’ve had in the last 50+ years has been “Roany”. The Roany Pony was purchased at a PMU weanling sale… I used to go to these sales annually, looking for 1/2 TB weanlings. Roany was out of a belgian mare, and sired by an unregistered TB stallion sired by Cohoes Native (back to Raise a Native). I noticed her in the pen, she stood out. She’s a bay roan, but that’s not why she stood out for me. Her build, her hip, and she was as wild as a billy goat. Freaked out. Scared. I went to sit in the sales pavilion, and eventually, it was her turn to come into the sales ring. The pounding and kicking as she came through the buffalo chutes was epic, and the door opened, and she charged into the sales ring. I was the successful bidder at $320. I went back to the holding pens to take another look at my new purchase, and the wrangler there said, “You bought that roan filly? Good luck with her, she’s a crazy bitch!” She’s a bit claustrophobic, did not appreciate the handling at the sale.
It took a long time to get her tame and halter broke. If I touched her by mistake, she’d bolt. And she’s half belgian. I used to lead her with a lunge line as a weaner, just in case she felt she had to bolt so that I would still have hold of her and not be loose in the barn area by the time she stopped. She couldn’t help it, it’s just how she was. But she improved with time, and we became friends. I would lead her from the barn (large stall with attached paddock where she lived at that stage) to our indoor round pen, to lead her around in there. Then I would turn her loose in there, and ask her to move for me, and whoa for me, and get recaptured. Sometimes I’d free jump other horses in there a bit, nothing big, just a little X or so. So that was set one day, and she took to it like a little champ. Would just pat the ground and snap those knees, a ton of natural talent and power. I was very pleased with this gift.

Though she was always reactive and attentive, she was also very obedient, and intelligent. Show her something once, and you never had to show her again. She knew it, and would do it the next time, as previously instructed. This horse was smarter than most people I meet. She also could read a person with deadly accuracy, form an opinion, and act on it. But she loved to jump, and was very good at it.

She was easy to break to ride, I rode her as a 2 yr old lightly, no problems. W/T/C, both leads as required. And as a 3 yr old, she was jumping little courses, no problem. Point and shoot to the jumps. Come around the turn, look down the line, and she would go down the line I was looking at. Just put the reins on her neck, sit there, and let her do it, don’t interfere. I took her to her first schooling horse show that year, as a 3 yr old. She won her 2’6" hunter class, and there actually was a good entry in this class, there was competition. I was floored. She clocked that course like a pro. I did NOTHING but steer, and sit still, and let her do her thing. I came out of the ring that day, looked at the barn owner who was standing next to the out gate with her mouth hanging open, and said, “She’s THREE years old”. Roany never was one to get a flying change, it just didn’t happen. But she would know in advance which lead she would need for upcoming turns as we went down the lines, and would land on the one she would need. Every time. Each time she jumped, either at home or at a show. She didn’t make mistakes. Ever.

She never spooked at anything, or acted “green” in any way. But she didn’t “do” warm up rings. At all. She could not be ridden in the company of other horses, especially if horses were going to be passing “head to head”. She would spin and bolt, if asked to do that. So we didn’t do warm up rings. We would trot around in a parking lot or some private place, sometimes not even get a warm up fence. It didn’t matter, she didn’t need a warm up fence anyway. Just a bit of trotting around, then ready to go into the ring to do her course. A born professional. With very firmly held opinions and attitudes.

Inbetween classes at a show, she would search out some errant small child left unattended, and would “befriend” the child, put her head in the child’s arms, and instruct the child to stroke her ears, and fall asleep in said child’s arms. The younger and more tender the child, the better. She had seen no small children of any sort in my care, but always looked for them at horse shows. I let her.

That mothering instinct was what I had in mind for her. As she matured, she got draftier, heavier in her build. I never showed her a lot, her future was as a broodmare. My TB stallion Persian Star was her partner in this plan. She had a patchy broodmare career, but was an outstanding mother. She would develop a milk bag like a cow, and I did steal some colostrum from her to keep for the foals of some TB mares with crappy milk- you could milk her like a cow. I’ll try to post a pic of her most successful son, Razzberry, who did inherit a lot from his dam, as well as a bit more refinement from his sire, but who is equally “ODD” from his dam’s side of things. Roany also adopted at TB foal for me once, as a dry mare. The TB mare died with a 3 month foal at foot, and Roany and this mare had been best friends. Roany took the foal as her own, and raised her with all the mothering she needed, though no milk of course. Roany steps up when she is needed. And that foal needed that here in this remote farm where we live. A cougar went into our neighbour’s barn to take an orphan calf that same week our mare died, and I knew I could not protect this orphan foal 24/7 myself. But in Roany’s care, she thrived and survived. Nothing funnier than this big chunky old belgian X mare being followed closely by a little chestnut TB foal.

Roany is still here. She’s 27??? this year, I think. She still runs our little herd of retirees, she just looks at them, and everyone falls into line. She’s pretty much returned to the feral state, but if someone comes to visit with a small child, she will come and get that child, and herd it away from it’s human mother, take it for her own. She loves children. She takes care of them. She’s qualified. Oh, here’s a picture of Roany at a horse show, show name “Sugar Frosted”.

If these pictures show for you… I’ll put Razzberry up here too.!
I’ve got lots of pics of Razzberry. FNJ_2240|690x461

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Yes. And a horse that easily finds it’s 12 or 13 foot lick and keeps their own balance and rhythm is an absolute joy. Yes, it can be developed, but some horses just have it straight away.

I had one, a TB, but not an OTTB, who could do pretty much just what you described from the first time I rode a related distance.

Not common, but definitely happens, and a total joy when it does.

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Totally off topic, but your balance & alignment in that pic are darn close to perfection, @NancyM!

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Most definitely - I rode one that was real smart as well. Also a 4 or 5 year old when I started riding her and she had someone on her after the track - another student - but that individual did not do a whole lot of course work with her.

I set up a “2 stride” and she seemed to take a long stride the first time through but then did 3 nice strides in afterward. My horse (who was about the same age) kept taking that long stride…then trainer came in and asked why I set up some weird 2.5 stride line…oops…note - these were crossrails because I always set up crossrails because I’m crap at striding…they go up once we know I set them correctly

That same horse also figured out patterns well. I was practicing a roll back type jump (this time set to 2’9" or so). Completely screwed up the first time, did it beautifully the second time. I cannot confirm but I’m pretty sure it’s because she figured out where I wanted to go.

Likewise, my horse has always been keen to jumps - didn’t blink at the first crossrail I took her over and didn’t need a lead or anything - as long as I stay out the way and balanced (had a saddlethat was actively trying to eject me at one point), she will jump clean; whereas another horse I knew knocked over every jump they put him to until we took him out cross country one day and he finally figured out how to pick up his feet.

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You look lovely here - effective and classic. And I really love your horses, Razzberry is the ideal 3/4 TB, 1/4 draft, if I am reading correctly. I really love the Native lines.

I struggle with ‘breaking’ enough in my upper body over fences that aren’t (to me), huge like 1.10m+ - long arms makes for a nice auto release without the ‘fold’ I desire to really be effectively balanced. I blame the years of dressage (kidding!).

Sorry for the hijack!

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I have had three that just “fix” any mistakes the rider makes, does lead changes over the fence with just the rider shifting weight in that direction and in general make it all look easy. I can not begin to say how many people they taught to jump and they also did Western and played around with timed events.

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I have a visual disability due to small random birth defect that limits my depth perception. I have had 2 surgeries in my 30 years and about 65% of normal is the best I will get (my eyes don’t converge on objects aka I do not have binocular vision).

I ride all my jumps off of feel (there is a reason why I rode dressage, jumpers, and plan to dabble in eventing) - stride count is all based on feel and adjustments. I can’t ‘see’ sh*t.

Oddly my heart mare was TB/Dutch with Storm Cat lines (quiirrrkyy, but very excellent partner for me, her quirks were what made me feel safe, forward as hell and would drag you to the jumps and had the scope for much higher than I jumped her, I only did 1.05m where she easily pops over 1.20m) could jump the course on her own, was athletic to be nearly self-adjusting, and hunted fences like a seeing eye dog for me.

She was naturally a very balanced animal, well put together at a short coupled 16h/16.1 with a thick neck and just really nicely aligned legs. My former trainer knew her from a youngish age and said that she was always very well balanced, smart, and hardworking, though always spicy. Her athletic ability was maybe an exchange for her ‘hotness’ or her occasional very mare-ish behavior - she liked to tell off geldings that got too close. Sigh, love her.

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I know we are talking about big horses here and he’s “little” but he is showing a bit of talent I never knew he had, lol. I think some are born with “it” and some need more help in developing the ability. Sorry to go off course a bit.

[quote=“Tha_Ridge, post:4, topic:759953”]
Definitely. But I’ll say that I’m of the camp that even an average OTTB should be able to jump confidently around a small course within 3-6 months of retraining. An OTTB in training for a year and still struggling with crossrails needs a new program. These are smart horses who like to work.

My trainer had a booming sales year last year and cleared out all but 3 of her sales horses. This is one of them, and she’s told me in the past they’re the last ones for a reason. I’ve never ridden her personally, but I do turn her out in the mornings and I have to say she’s just a simple horse, sweet but simple. She never made it to the track either.

On a separate note, I’m a little bummed to think maybe jumping just isn’t my horse’s vocation. Recently we’ve been doing mounted games/pony club type activities, and he seems to “get” it so much faster and enjoy it more. He likes solving things and can be so handy, I think he would’ve been great at polo. But jumping a hunter course or doing flat work, it’s like someone let all the air out of his tires. He never seems that excited about it and nothing clicks the same way it does when we’re doing competitive trail/mounted games type activities. Seeing this little green horse knock it out of the park on her first hunter course made me a bit sad for my old timer who maybe just isn’t cut out for the h/j life.

I love this story about Roany @NancyM. :heart: What a find!

My three OTTBs were all magic. They all had natural talent for jumping (well maybe not for dressage). They all sighted in on the jumps and found good distances for themselves. I didn’t get any of them right off the track myself, so I don’t know how quickly they learned. All three of them, you could lie all day to, and they could take the joke, finding a safe way to the other side of the fence. Granted I never scoped any of them out.

My first hunter, Lorenzo, was pretty scopey. I regularly jumped him 3’6" at home and he could get me out of trouble even burying him to the base of an oxer and jumping up his neck. (Yes, I did that.) He’d happily carry on to the next jump. I once jumped him over a 4’3" vertical, which didn’t seem that hard for him. He probably would’ve been a great 3’6" derby horse. He might’ve even had the scope for the larger international derbies, but we never tried him over bigger oxers. He would’ve been great. He wasn’t a great mover, so two rounds over fences with very little trot would’ve been right up his alley. He probably would’ve made a good jumper, too, but he was so stylish o/f we never went in that direction. He could’ve done the low a/o’s. He didn’t have auto changes on the flat, but never missed them on course unless I picked at him in the corners. Ride forward and you were great.

Lorenzo at Devon in the Locals: 3’6"

My first jump at Devon. I was terrified, but he wasn’t. I just sat up and put my leg on and he found every distance. The next day he was somewhat dismayed at the “Jeep” hot air balloon at the one end of the ring. The only time I’ve refused out of a class. I got a fourth the first day, and a professional rode him in the Stake (won it!) and the Fox Hunter class (fourth). Usually his knees were even. I think the pic was a nanosecond short of his knees being even.

Nigel was my A/A jumper and had the same can-do attitude as Lorenzo. He was just a little hotter, so the jumpers it was, although we crossed over into the equitation. He even filled a few equitation and junior hunter classes occasionally. He’d just drag me down to the jumps. I think we only even had one rail, probably my fault for jumping up his neck. I jumped 3’6" at home. My trainer’s daughter tried him for the jr jumpers, but he wasn’t quite up to the 4’+ although he had no rails and tried his heart out. His lead changes were the same as Lorenzo’s: not great on the flat, but almost always on course.

Nigel and me in Jacksonville in the Ariat
Nigel

Leo I came across when he was about 20 and started riding him when he was 22. He was still jumping 2’6". He was a great mover and we tracked down his former owner who had gotten him off the track and showed him all over Colorado and won a lot in the AAs and AOs. She said he never lost a hack. This horse was amazing. She said he learned so fast to do courses. He was a little old for perfect changes on the flat, but got them on course. He was also beautifully schooled on the flat: lateral work, etc. Heidi Young Schmutz got him off the track and trained him as an amateur and had him for a good 10 years if any one knows her.

Leo (Feliks) with Heidi jumping
Leo with Heidi jumping (2)

Now I have an appy/TB cross who can be a little cantankerous/ponyish sometimes. He is a good horse and a cute jumper, but just doesn’t have that “I gotcha back no matter what” attitude. He needs a little more reassurance that you are going to be there for him, whereas my TBs from square one were just like “don’t worry, I got this.” It’s a new ride for me, for sure. He’s a little more tense and worried about things than my TBs, who could be hot, but not tense about their job, if that makes sense.

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Yes. If a horse has a natural long canter stride of 13’+ and the right shoulder conformation; it certainly makes it easy to begin jumping. They just ‘lope’ along and over the speed bump jumps.

Tip: to check for a shoulder that allows the forelegs to easily raise up to vertical or more try this. Standing next to the horse, place your hand behind their forearm; lift up until you feel the body of the horse resistance. Look at where the leg stops. Is the forearm ( knee) slightly downward? Is the forearm (knee) level with the ground? Is the forearm (knee) slightly upwards?

*The first type of horse will always struggle with jumping. No matter how hard they try. Just not built for the job. The second type is ok for the job and the third is what you really want to see for a show hunter or jumper prospect aimed for 3’+.

That’s just the shoulder. Sometimes you can have a horse with a huge 14’ canter, good shoulder; that just doesn’t give a rats ass about jumps in their way. Preferring to just plow through rather than go over. So add that desire and careful to the equation.

Oh and the hind end. They say ( who ever they maybe) that you need to ‘buy the hind end’. I think free jumping shows this best in a prospect. Horses tend to either just clear the jumps or clear it by 3’ extra with the hind feet. Probably more important in jumpers especially upper level than hunters. Except maybe for international derby prospects. And you gotta be able to ride that…

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A great canter helps.

My last two horses have been purpose-bred for jumping and both just naturally lock on the jump in a good way. I didn’t start the current horse, but did the previous one. Even when he was so green that the turns were questionable, once he was pointed at a jump he naturally focused on it, stayed in a nice rhythm, and jumped out of stride. He was also super brave.

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I was thinking this too. If 90 % of the jump course happens between jumps, a horse with a naturally balanced canter of a steady stride length will be way ahead of the game, especially if he has always been ridden by someone confident enough to not mess this up.

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This!

You can fix a trot but IMO it’s hard to fix the canter. And a great canter makes finding the jumps pretty easy.

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