Should you jump young horses? How young can they be to jump? Here is my home bred High Kingdom jumping a 1.30m oxer as a 3 yo. It is a glorious sight:
However there are a three elements which this photograph do not show: Firstly and most importantly the careful progression of exercises leading up to this which ensured sufficient
strength of mind and body, secondly his huge natural talent which meant that he was still very much in his comfort zone, and thirdly the placing fence which is out of shot, two canter strides away, and ensured he was going to meet this fence on the perfect take off point.
He was also on the lunge, rather than being loose jumped, so that I could control his approach speed and length of stride to exactly match the distance from the placing fence to the bigger fence, and he was in my specially designed young horse arena which is 25m X 20m in an oval shape but
with one long side being straight…and of course the surface was secure enough to jump off. (So many young horses are ruined by jumping off a surface that is too loose, with the surface moving
so much on take off that the horse get a fright.) The poles are also lightweight and in shallow cups with safety cups on the back pole.
This picture, combined with trust in my judgement, was an integral part of finding the right home for High Kingdom because he was subsequently bought sight unseen by Zara Phillips. Now five years later he is still jumping with the same super talented ease:
I don’t jump two year olds and only jump three year olds to assess their ability and am very careful to stay within their comfort zone. I never jump big fences except in the above circumstances and of course I always want a happy, confident horse. However a major part of this happiness and confidence comes from their first two to three years that my young horses
spend as part of a small herd in a 25 acre area with hills and water and uneven ground to negotiate on a daily basis. The value of this is huge to both their physical and mental well being.
I will probably go to my grave still persuading horse riders to keep their horses more naturally in small groups throughout their lives and providing a more natural existence in their formative years on varied terrain. Horses kept in isolation in single stable cells and in relative inactivity are horses that have drawn a very short straw and will suffer as a result. Changing these managements practises will allow us all to leap to new heights. Onwards! William