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Quarter Horse can't do what I want

From: Lois

Dear Jessica! I am having such a dilemma (did I spell that right?) and I just don't know what to do. Please help me. I ride hunt-seat and I have a horse I really like a lot. I have owned him for six years and he would do anything for me. He likes to jump and so do I. The problem is that I don't think he can do what I want to do now. I have been taking hunt-seat lessons for most of the time I have owned him, and I have a good instructor who likes my horse, so that's not the problem. The thing is that Doc is a Quarter Horse and he is kind of on the chunky side, he isn't fat but he's just that kind of a Quarter Horse if you know what I mean! He is a good jumper until the jumps get to be over 3 feet and then he starts to quit on me or else he runs out. He is a very honest horse. I did all the things you usually suggest like checking his saddle and bit and teeth and I even had the vet check his feet in case he was getting navicular like a lot of Quarter Horses. But he is just fine and everything fits fine. My instructor thinks that he just doesn't like to jump higher than 3', and that we shouldn't make him do it if it is so hard for him that he doesn't enjoy it. I know he doesn't like it because he puts his ears back and gets mad. He is always really good about lower jumps even if I ask him to jump a whole lot of them at once. What I need to know is, is there some way that I can make him like to jump bigger jumps, or if I can't then what should I do? I think that my instructor thinks I should get another horse but she hasn't come out and said that yet. She likes to wait for me to figure stuff out on my own sometimes, then when I say it she says "Yeah that's what I was thinking." Anyway please tell me, is there something I can do to make Doc jump higher? I guess I could just jump little jumps with him but I really love jumping and the high jumps are so exciting. I want to see if I could do jumpers someday, but not with Doc obviously. Thank you Jessica, you're the greatest! Lois and Doc

Hi Lois! You've obviously got a wonderful instructor. Things that you learn because you discover them on your own are much more powerful than things you are told, or things that you read. An instructor who lets you figure things out by yourself, while keeping an eye on you to be sure that you aren't going to get into big trouble, is a great asset.

So far, you've done all the right things. You've looked at physical possibilities, you've considered the idea that Doc may simply not enjoy or like jumping higher fences, and you're looking for a solution that will let him be happy while you jump high.

It's very likely that your horse is NOT going to decide that he enjoys jumping higher, no matter what you do. If you want to try something that might help, buy or rent a copy of Nancy Spencer's "Basic Equine Stretching" video, and work through the passive stretching exercises with Doc when he's warmed up and relaxed. After a week or two of daily stretching sessions, try adding some higher jumps to your over-fences work, and see whether his attitude has changed.

Bulldog-type Quarter Horses - the old-style chunky ones - don't usually make very good jumpers. A long, lanky, racing-type Quarter Horse might find higher fences easy, but it's quite possible that Doc is giving you all he's got. It's also possible that even if he does respond well to stretching, he still won't be happy or comfortable over higher jumps. Be prepared to deal with that eventuality.

Your goals and your horse's comfort are coming into conflict. You're facing a very adult decision here, and you're going to have to approach it in an adult way. You have to ask yourself what you really, really want.

Start here: ask yourself these questions, and write down your answers - so that you can discuss them with your instructor.

1. What, exactly, are your athletic ambitions? What are your objectives for YOURSELF? You'd like to ride in jumping competitions - which ones? How far - and how high - do you want to go?

2. Is Doc the right horse for your ambitions and objectives? Can he do what the horse you ride will need to do - that is, jump high fences? Will he enjoy doing it? Can he stay sound doing it?

You've more or less answered both of these by choosing the subject line you used. ;-)

Here's the issue, Lois. You've got two conflicting wishes right now. You want to jump higher and be competitive. You want to ride your horse Doc. It sounds to me as though you're going to have to choose - or compromise.

How important are those goals - how much do they mean to you? A rider in your position really has only two choices: You can compromise your objectives, or you can find another horse that can help you meet those objectives. No horse should ever be forced beyond its abilities. You can't take chances with your horse's health and happiness by asking him for more than he has to give. I think that you and your instructor already know that you really want to go on and become a good jumper rider - and I think that you both already know that Doc is not going to be the horse you ride in the jumper classes.

So, how do you deal with the situation? There are many possibilities. If you're very rich, you can buy a jumper. If you're not quite so rich, you can buy a horse that has shown some good potential as a jumper, and bring him along with your instructor's help. If you can afford to keep two horses, you can continue to enjoy Doc by riding him in ways that he enjoys being ridden, and you can make the athletic efforts on your jumping horse.

However, I'm going to assume that you're like most people - you have school, you have chores, you're probably working hard just to have the time and money to maintain ONE horse, and there's probably no way you can manage to maintain TWO horses. So, what's the answer?

If you can afford a horse and a half, you could part-lease a horse that jumps higher fences more happily than Doc, and continue your jumping lessons over higher fences that way.

Or - if ONE horse is your maximum, as it is for most riders on a budget, you could part-lease a horse for jumping, and find someone to lease or part-lease Doc. He would be ideal for someone just beginning to learn to jump. A reliable, steady, willing horse that jumps small fences happily would be just the thing for a rider who was starting jumping lessons, especially if the rider were having lessons with YOUR instructor.

It's even possible that somewhere along the line, if some young rider were leasing Doc and he was happy with her, you might be willing to sell him. Willing, reliable, good-citizen horses like Doc are always in demand - by instructors, by parents with beginner-rider children, and by nervous adult beginners. Your instructor probably knows at least five people who would love to own Doc. She may even have a horse in mind for you - to part-lease, lease, or buy.

Good instructors don't always tell their students everything they're thinking, but they are usually planning ahead for what those students will be doing in three months or six months or a year from now. From what you've told me, I'd guess that you are going to have to go to your instructor and bring the subject up yourself. I'd bet that she's put the whole issue of changing horses squarely in the "figure it out for yourself" category, and is just waiting for you to broach the subject.

Good luck, and give my regards to your instructor.


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