Just as my last post used the Hunter world’s bible, this time I’ll take a look at what is a great resource for training show jumpers. Written by Elmar Pollmann-Schweckhorst, this book covers everything it takes to train top-notch jumpers.
Elmar stresses that jumpers should be considered not only based upon their build, but their mind. In some cases, soundness of mind triumphs conformation. There are lots of well-built, gorgeous horses that for differing reasons cannot make it to upper-level jumper competitions. Some are excessively spooky, others are nervous, and some are stubborn and don’t want to work with the rider. On the other hand, I know of quite a few top level jumpers with less-than-perfect conformation.
As in pretty much all situations, each horse is completely different, and thus there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what exactly an individual horse can do. However, when searching for any horse to train as a jumper, it is smart to factor in conformation.
Elmar links a horse’s general build to its way of going. For example, large, heavy horses are often slow off the ground and not as quick to respond as their lighter counterparts. A medium built horse is best for jumpers, as very refined horses cannot always handle the scope of top level jumps.
Contrary to the thought that conformationally correct horses should have short, strong backs, Elmar suggests that the best jumpers have longer backs, which tend to be indicators of scope. They also may be “higher behind” because of the tremendous muscle needed to propel horse and rider over towering jumps. In both cases, the qualities can go too far and become a hindrance, which is why picking out a conformationally correct jumper can be a challenge.
Of course, common conformational faults such as cow or sickle hocks and knee-related faults are causes of concern. Jumpers with a good amount of bone can and do remain sound even with such faults, but it could be a stretch to compete a horse at upper levels if these faults are severe enough.
It goes without saying that jumpers should have clean, stout hocks, as these, along with the hindquarters, are the horse’s engine. It is not uncommon for jumpers to experience wear and tear in their hocks and because of this they often need injections for maintenance.
Jumpers, like racehorses, often possess some inner quality that many horsemen call heart. The animals that have heart tend to perform beyond their capabilites and beyond their maximum exertion. Like a racehorse putting in one last lung-bursting surge before the wire, a jumper may strain his muscles to power himself over the last oxer on course, making sure he keeps his front end clear of the back rail.
Similarly, Elmar identifies a few key traits that go beyond simple bone structure and muscle mass. Since he describes them best, I’ve included excerpts of these qualities in his own words.
Willingness to perform is an important prerequisite for a prospective jumper. But, horses with strong personalities occasionally show little readiness to submit to the will of a rider, especially one who is less strong. As strong characters are often found among top horses, the rider needs to pay special attention in order to avoid fighting with the horse-in particular, he needs to give clear aids, and avoid overtraining.
The ideal jumper is sensitive, but nevertheless robust and of equable temperament…In the daily routine, high-spirited horses may need more time and may cause more problems, but when competing, they often excel because of their fighting spirit and endurance.
Overall, jumpers should enjoy their job. A person may be skilled at a certain trade, but if they don’t absolutely love what they are doing, they simply cannot perform to the best of their abilites. Put that same person in a field in which they love and are comfortable but may not be as skilled, and they will undoubtedly try their best and perhaps become superb at their job. Such is with horses; you can’t expect a horse to perform beyond his capabilities in a job he is not comfortable with.
When you find that perfect match of sound conformation, strong spirit, and willingness to perform, the very pinaccle of the sport is attainable.