Why is my horse now scared of jumps?

I previously posted about my new horse when I was evaluating him and everything seemed to check out at the time. While it was apparent he sometimes needed extra reinforcement with steering, there were no red flags jumping poles or out on XC. Here’s a compilation video of my trial rides: https://youtu.be/COSIYfMaIxo

We started jump lessons at my barn a couple months after I bought him. We had a couple lessons where he ducked out a few times (especially if blocks were used–apparently he considers those to be mini fire breathing dragons.) I chalked it up to just needing some acclimation and we managed to work through it and were successfully jumping at the end.

However, in the past few lessons, he seems to have gotten progressively more hesitant to go over obstacles even to the point of balking at a few poles on the ground. If anything changes visually like a x-rail changing to a vertical, he will stop even if it’s something he could easily walk over.

When that happens, our trainer has been breaking things down and building back up and having me repeat until he’s “bored.” He does seem to get better on repetition but this weekend there were a few times where he would all of a sudden get spooked again. We spent an entire lesson literally getting him comfortable walking and trotting over a pile of poles.

I can’t figure out why he seemed perfectly fine when I first tried him and now acts like he’s never seen a jump in his life. The only difference I can think of is that during the trial we were jumping outside whereas we’ve been having our lessons indoors. But the lighting is usually pretty bright for our jump lessons.

I’m going to have his eyes checked by the vet just to rule that out though my trainer thinks it’s likely more of a confidence issue. He also has a tendency to run at and after jumps, which apparently a previous owner trained him to do so we’re working on that as well.

We don’t have issues doing flatwork. He’s moving evenly and when he does finally go over the jumps he’s using his body well so I don’t think it’s anything like a vitamin deficiency.

I’m planning to try doing some trust building activities on the ground with him. My trainer also put him on a cavesson last week to get him over a x-rail (video of me attempting to get him over same x-rail before I got off: https://youtu.be/DG7vKp6o6Q4), so we may do more of that type of groundwork as well. But it seems like even if he finally gets comfortable after repetition in one session, he will balk again on a different day.

I’ve asked one of the more experienced students in our group to ride him in this week’s jump class to see how he might go with someone who has more finely tuned aids than me.

We haven’t been able to ride outdoors since this started happening so I haven’t been able to test that theory. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of environment or even if it did end up being a vision issue at least we’d have something specific to focus on resolving. In the meantime, his lack of confidence is starting to fuel my lack of confidence which he can probably sense and I’m afraid of him starting to make a habit of stopping or running out.

My horse is like this. He was fairly new to jumping when I bought him and had only been jumped by one rider, who was a semi-pro. His eyes have been checked multiple times, no known pain issues. He is the most ground-shy horse I know. Even on the ground, he is suspicious of poles.

Here’s what has worked for me:

Target training. He previously REFUSED to get close to scary things even when I was leading him on the ground. I taught him “touch” and started asking him to touch scary things. Now he touches them on his own, unprompted. It made him much more confident.

Building a bond. You’ve had him for about 4 months right? I think that’s around the same time our issues started. It took me about a year to REALLY have him trust me and for me to trust him. He still will throw in a stop but it is usually for a good reason, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a true dirty stop from him. He is honest but sensitive.

Riding 100% more confident than you think the horse needs the first time over the fence - ANY fence. Not riding meaner, just instilling confidence. My horse likes some pressure in the reins and a more-than-supporting leg until we’ve jumped everything once.

Looking up!! Oh my god, this one was so important. I have to keep my eyes up, heels down, and stay with or slightly behind him. If I change my body position and lean forward when he’s not 100% confident, it makes such a difference.

Not allowing runouts, and only jumping small, walkable fences and poles until such time as the horse is consistently going over them. My horse would do the slow refusal if I didn’t ride right, but he was not allowed to turn away from the fence or go around. We didn’t make it stressful, I just kept politely but firmly asking him to go forward over the jump. We got there every time and now we almost never have that conversation. It took time and effort but it worked.

As time passed, he developed into a very reliable and fun jumper! I was very careful to make sure there were no pain or saddle fit issues. For him, it all stemmed from a lack of confidence and a touch of gelding inattentiveness :rofl:


This horse is not comfortable in the mouth. I can’t say if the problem is in his mouth, or the bit, and/or the rider’s hands. But something is wrong there. It was present in the original video too. He’s not comfortable.
You should be able to point out which jump you want as you come out of the turn, get his eye on it, and LEAVE HIM ALONE to go to it, and jump it. He should be looking for the jump, and lock onto it. He sees just fine, he just doesn’t want go to it to jump it.
Check his mouth, and find a bit he likes and is comfortable in. Ride him on the flat, with a soft and giving hand, and him comfortable and seeking contact, not trying to avoid contact. Then walk to the jumps. These jumps are small enough that you do not need to trot in. Just walk. Start by walking over poles on the ground, leaving his face alone. Leg only.


In a very general sense, any time a horse’s performance devolves or decreases from their prior level of experience, and it is not age or mileage related, it is time to involve the vet for some diagnostics.

Your horse has a tendency to not push off with that white hind - it’s in the sale video and it’s also in the second video of the rider/horse in the indoor.

It is anyone’s guess what is really at play here, but some things I noticed in no particular order:
Watch how he sets himself up for the jump. Watch the articulation of both hinds, you will notice he is striding shorter on one, likely to offload the other. It’s most obvious right before jumps and when he comes down from a canter. Evident in both videos.
He is tense and does not settle in a good rhythm.
The mouth is directly related to tension - the more active the mouth, the more tense the horse. Generally tension can be greenness or lack of confidence, but more often it is unhappiness or discomfort.
Watch how he inverts right before the fence and after. His fussiness in the mouth seems directly proportional to what is being asked.
His tail is flat and stiff. This can sometimes be a symptom of back pain or SI soreness.
He is not tracking up. His white hind strides slightly shorter at times, but so does his other hind. This makes believe he might be uncomfortable over his back.

I think his first duck out was well sat. I don’t know specifics on why your trainer did what they did, but if I had that issue over and over again I’d drop the x-rail to a pole, walk over it until they’re confident, and go again. Keeping it up as a cross rail is a disservice to the horse if you think this is a true confidence issue versus being “naughty”.

I did not see “naughty” in the video. That being said, you[g] train a horse every time you ride it. After his first duck out, you should have been given a bat. I am a firm believer that you should never give a horse a reason to believe they have an out other than the fence (for the small stuff, anyway). When you approach you should have the bat in your left hand and you should raise it ever so slightly - when you feel his head invert - the first sign he was about to duck out - either raise the bat so it is in his peripherals or give him a reminder with a tap on his shoulder. His shoulders are not being controlled and, you see what happens afterwards.

He is very cute and reminds me a lot of one of my best horses. But to my eye he looks like an internalizer and a worrier. I would make certain that everything physical is ruled out - saddle fit, SI, back, and even looking at his hocks if he flexes.

It does sound like he is telling you he does not feel comfortable doing it anymore. I hope you can get some answers. If it were me I would start with a vet visit and flexions and go from there.

P.S, if Lyme is present in your area, it wouldn’t be the first time I heard of a horse losing progress/backsliding because of Lyme. Might be worth pulling a titer while the vet is out.


You’ve gotten some very good advice already. I have very little to add…he seems quite hollow w his head up. He doesn’t appear to come forward in a steady rhythm to me, and that can make it very difficult to make a nice effort over a jump. I don’t know if that, in his case, is pain or a horse that lacks the very basic levels of training. In the trial video, I thought he was very generous as he continued to jump while upside down. I wonder if you need someone else to help you with him for a while.


When a horse suddenly goes poorly with a new rider always look at saddle fit first. Because new rider = new saddle.


The honeymoon is over :woman_shrugging:
He looks a lot more on the forehand. He is braced through his neck and his shoulders look stuck so i would be doing some dressage…but not just get his head down/wide hands/sea saw dressage that makes him close the poll and drop on the forehand…some hardcore classical stuff that rebalances, moves the shoulders, and puts the weight behind on the hind end again.

His hind legs are really trailing and out behind in the second video and now he has lost his confidence to jump. The biomechanics of how he is going is very different in each video. Take a lesson with the seller, or a different trainer, or teach him how to do a turn on the haunches and that might help.

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In the video he is, for whatever reason, worried about trotting the crossrail. He’s fine until you come around the corner and line him up to it, but not once he’s going to it. I think your trainer standing there with the long stick (driving whip?) isn’t helping.

I have a horse like this (though he’ll stop/spin well before the fence). We took him all the way back to the beginning, walking over poles (and around scary blue blox) in hand, on the longe line, and finally astride. Just walking, encouraging any forward movement towards or over the obstacle, but taking all the time it required for him to be able to do it without drama.

The indoor may not be helping - there are a lot of things going on that are distracting, and sounds propagate differerntly inside - he may be bothered by something you’re not even registering (the dog, perhaps?) and not even notice really notice the fence until you’re at it.

Just take it slowly, and reduce your expectations in this first “getting to know you” year. He’s cute, and it’s likely just a matter of you learning how to listen to him, and he to you.


I don’t even want to know what your trainer is doing there with that big stick. I’m giving you a gigantic side eye right now.

I’ll pretend to ignore it, but if that stick is for what I think it’s for (either thing I think it’s for, actually), it’s BIGtime new trainer time.

Again, with the caveat that you’re SURE it’s not physical…

If this were my horse, I’d walk him around and around the jump. They see better from the side, so each side would get a turn - give him all the time he needs and ignore any lookiness while he’s doing this. Do this until he’s walking calmly past in each direction.

Then, I’d walk the jump - grab mane so you don’t catch him, let him stand in front of it for as long as he needs to go over. Straight line halt (calmly, don’t reef him), turn around, and walk it again… and again, and again, and again. If he want to pick up a trot a couple strides out, that’s fine as long as he isn’t running at it frantically.

Once this is smooth, then I’d move to no straight line halt, but breaking him down to a walk, then come back to the jump as the center of a figure 8. Then the same thing at a trot. Jump in both directions.

Then this whole thing again with a different jump. Note this might take several days to get smooth. Praise the victories, don’t get greedy.

For you, sit BACK. You’re hunched up there on his shoulders just asking to get spun off. Hands TOGETHER, use your legs to keep him straight. If you need to baby-funnel him to the jump a few times, fine, but you shouldn’t have your hands so far apart even on approach. It looks like you’re riding a 3 year old with your hands like that. :slight_smile:

I agree and disagree that this horse needs more dressage training. I think people set too high of a bar before they start jumping - for me, if it can remotely steer and sorta stop, I’m going to start going over low crossrails here and there. Easy stuff that’s almost impossible to mess up, that they can walk if needed. The horse needs to know the goal is to go from one side to the other, easy peasy. The proper dressage training takes years and years, and I won’t really need it until the jumps get bigger, so baby stuff for baby horses is totally appropriate.

I’m a big supporter of lunging over fences so they learn to problem solve on their own, but it has to be done right. No chasing the horse over the fence, and no over facing the horse.

This horse needs confidence, and confidence comes from success. Low jumps, low key, lots of praise.


Also, you’re spending a lot of time away from the jump after he shies at it. Get right back up there, calmly, coolly. He’s learning that if he shies away from the “scary thing” he gets to stand in a more comfortable zone. Put him facing the jump, as close as you can without theatrics, and let him stew on it a little.


That “long stick” looks like an inhand bamboo rod that a lot of dressage people will have on hand. She may just be carrying it around so no one steps on it and breaks it as they are a pita to find anymore, especially such a long one. Ask me how I know.


I hope that’s a joke…? Because I can go to home depot and buy 10 of them tonight. Additionally, there’s about a million places at a barn to store that, that aren’t immediately adjacent to a terrified horse.

Looks to me like a rapping pole for jumping. Looks like trainer is using it as a visual blocker for the left of the jump, as well as an intimidation stick (look how trainer points it at the horses hindquarters). There is not a good legitimate reason to have that in-hand during a jump lesson when a horse is shying from an 18" cross rail.


You look scared and he looks uncomfortable.

Have you have checked front feet since you purchased (including X-rays?).

Poles. Go back to poles. Go back until you can go over on loose rein and YOU are relaxed. Not just once, but many poles on many different occasions.

Then set a microscopic pole on top of another between the standards. Do this at W/T/C on loose rein until you are bored.

Repeating myself:
You look scared and he looks uncomfortable.


I would bet money this horse has pain in the back, feet, gut, or mouth.

After this horse is fully evaluated by a bit and saddle fitter, I would suggest taking some time to work on the flat and gain some confidence there first.


Thanks for all the responses! I’ll try to address everyone’s notes and provide more context on the second video.

His teeth were just done a couple weeks ago. He had a lot of sharp points, and I had been noticing him getting fussy doing flatwork leading up to the dental. He was much better after and easy to get softly round and moving forward again.

In the trial video he was in his previous owner’s regular snaffle bit. In the indoor video, we’re using a curb bit. I’ve been able to get him to go fine in it when he’s not pointed at a jump–will round and seek contact, so I didn’t think it was a bit issue. I use a Neue Schule turtle top when we do flatwork.

Like I said we really don’t have any issues when we’re doing flatwork. We do flat lessons every week, more than jumping. I can get him nice and soft and on the contact. Sometimes he has a tendency to throw his head up or get a little low in the poll, so I have to just make sure to keep communicating with the reins when needed. We’ve been focusing on a lot of lateral work in recent lessons (turns on the forehand, leg yields, haunches in on circles, etc.) He’s still learning but is generally pretty good as long as I’m giving the correct aids.

Saddle’s been checked by the fitter and it’s the same saddle I use in flat lessons so I don’t think that’s the issue either.

He had massage and chiro shortly after I got him and everything felt great according to both therapists. He got another massage in early Dec and she noted some tension in left lower neck, shoulder and triceps, mild tension in back, and some soreness in hamstrings. Everything released nicely and muscles were pliable and soft. This was a few weeks after we started jumping so not too surprising.

His feet have been looking great since my farrier’s been working on him. The previous owner provided xrays taken in 2021 for the PPE and my vet and farrier didn’t have any concerns. Always possible something has changed but nothing else has indicated issues there.

Regarding the second video…This was taken at the end of the lesson. Prior to that we had gone over poles on the ground multiple times at walk, trot and canter. The standards to the right of the x-rail had a pile of poles with a tarp underneath (the other students had been working on going over a mock liverpool). Prior to jumping the x, we did big circles around the “liverpool” in both directions to get him used to seeing the tarp then progressively got closer and closer until he seemed bored. Then my trainer piled poles on top to hide the tarp and had us trot the x-rail. He shied away the first time but on repetition went over it fine in both directions. And when we were practicing we were doing it from pretty close distance–jump the x-rail, immediately turn, then jump again. Next, we did the x-rail to the pile of poles. Once we were fine with that, trainer started taking away poles one by one. As soon as the tarp was visible by maybe 5-inches, he darted to the side. So then we worked on walking up to it and finally got him to jump it once. Then we tried to go back to the x-rail and that’s what the video shows.

That’s all to say there was a lot of slow build up work that happened prior to this video.

@Amberley is correct about the bamboo rod. It’s never been used as a rapping rod for jumping. Usually our trainer uses it for lunging instead of a long whip. He was holding it as a visual to try to prevent a runout. I think a few times he did give a light tap on the hind end but not even as strong as me using my whip.

The horse knows how to jump. His previous owner did a BN HT (had 1 refusal, 1 SJ rail and some time) and a novice CT, and I think his first owners did low-level jumpers with him, so he’s been over stuff.

With everyone’s comments, though, I’ll ask the vet to do a full exam assuming she doesn’t see any issues with his eyes just to make sure that’s all ruled out.

I know I need to be steadier with my hands and hold on more with my seat and legs when we have those ugly jumps so I’m not yanking back. I will be curious to see how he goes this weekend with the other student. She’s a really good rider and will likely be more accurate with her aids.

Here’s a video from our 3rd jump lesson, where I felt like we were doing better than in more recent weeks: https://youtu.be/S03HsTgHG1I (same bridle and saddle)

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Thank you for sharing this. It gives me hope! A lot of what you said resonates, especially trying to ride much more confidently than I think he needs. I feel like I start out feeling pretty confident but get easily frazzled when he starts stopping. And yes, definitely trying to look up! We do tend to do better when I remember (or my trainer reminds me) to do that–I just need to keep reminding myself!

One of my barn friends said the same as you and @paw about it still being an early partnership and we need time to build up trust. He is generally a very good horse with a calm and easy demeanor which is one of the big reasons I bought him.

I have hand walked him up to the blocks and jumps to try to acclimate him. When I ride him I usually will also walk him up and around the objects to let him get a look and sniff. After watching some Warwick Schiller videos this weekend I was also going to try his CAT-H method of moving the horse away from the object as soon as he’s showing fear. Of course, when I tried that on the ground, he ended up just walking right up to the jumps and blocks, gave it a quick sniff then looked away like it was no big deal. :woman_facepalming:t2:

I think the answer to your issues might be in here. That is a fair amount of discomfort to notice in one session. The soreness in hamstrings would make me think SI or hind hoof soreness are involved. Every winter I pull my horse’s hind shoes (necessity, he is in herd turnout). The next chiro session after his hind shoes are pulled, my chiro always notices a new soreness in hamstring and back. Is your guy shod behind?

I think it’d be simplest to get the vet out to do a basic soundness exam and flexions. At minimum your vet should notice the uneven steps behind, and the flexions will point you in the right direction. If he is reactive over several, it might be worth pulling that lyme titer. I have a gelding who has chronic lyme and when his titers are high he will flex positive on almost everything despite no clinical findings on film/x-ray. I learned to pull titers first before pursuing expensive diagnostics.

I like that Dec 3 video much better. He is more forward, but he is still not pushing off with his white hind. He swaps a few times right before the fence, you can see him chip in steps so he loads the other hind instead.

I figured your trainer was using the rod to discourage the run out.

Next time you jump, why not put poles on an angle leading up to the jump? I do this for my greenies who lack confidence.

I’m glad you are working with a trainer. I am not going to criticize your riding. That is what instructors are for, and riding is a journey. No one is born being perfect at it, and we all spend our lives chasing perfection and rarely get there. The best you can do is start with a goal each riding session, and learn to train your mind away from the negatives. Do not focus on what is going badly. Focus on the positives. I saw a difference in your riding after the first refusal where you became a bit more passive. You need to want that fence, more than him. Remember that when you come back down the centerline to jump it. You WANT that fence, and he is going to jump it. And carry a bat - he needs one until this is all sorted out.

He is not a baby. He has done BN and Novice. He is perfectly capable of trotting those cross rails. He could do it with his eyes closed. That crossrail he refused, it took more effort to refuse it than it would have to step over it - that’s all it is, literally, it is so small he could step over it. Remember that and remember you want that fence.

I do think there is something physical at play here, so if it were me in your shoes I would take a step back from jumping undersaddle and work on figuring out what that is. You don’t need to baby him, but you do need to figure out what is going on.


I strongly suggest using a crest release. He’s frequently getting grabbed in the mouth.


I see this, as well. The gymnastic helps a steady forward and reliable take off position. Perhaps removing the second fence until all is more reliable and the hand is independent from the body would help.


With respect, it appears you did not buy a made up horse or a horse with a nice mouth. Most horse problems are rider problems.