If your pony acts like every showjumping filler’s a fire-breathing dragon and slams on his brakes when you try to jump them, it’s super-frustrating. But you can achieve more clear rounds by building his confidence and teaching him to fly over spooky fences, no matter what colour or shape they are!
If you spot a spooky filler on a course, stay positive and believe your pony will jump it. Then he’ll be less likely to refuse or run out.
Keep the rhythm
Don’t let your worries about a spooky fence change the way you ride, as this’ll just tell your pony it’s something he needs to be scared of! Instead, focus on staying in the same canter rhythm around the whole course, so he doesn’t think it’s any different to the other fences.
Your pony’s canter should be positive and bouncy, to give him enough power to push off from the ground and clear the fence. It might be tempting to go a little faster to encourage him over, but you risk losing control. Holding him back is another common thing to do, but that just takes away all the impulsion your pony needs to jump.
Make sure your pony’s not reluctant to jump because he’s in pain. Ask your vet to check him over, and book a visit from your saddle fitter, too.
Don’t look down
You’ll give yourself the best chance of clearing any fence, including spooky fillers, if you keep your shoulders back and look up and over it as you approach. Looking down at the fence will bring your weight forward, unbalancing your pony. This will make him less keen to jump because it’ll be harder for him to lift his forelegs and shoulders off the ground.
To help you keep your eyes up when you’re jumping, choose something in the distance to look at, such as a tree or the arena fence.
Getting to know you
When you’re schooling, always introduce new fillers gradually, to build your own, and your pony’s, confidence. Here’s how…
- Walk around or between the fillers a few times, to show your pony they’re not scary!
- Build an easy fence, such as a cross-pole, then place a filler on either side, next to the wings. Pop over the fence a few times.
- When your pony’s jumping the cross-pole confidently, move the fillers a little bit closer together. Jump the fence again, then raise it to a small upright.
- Gradually bring the fillers in closer to the middle of the fence, until they’re right underneath the pole.
Show and tell
If you spot a spooky fence on a course, make use of the few seconds you have before the bell rings to show it to your pony. You can walk right up to it, then turn away, but this could tell him that it’s OK to stop at the fence. It’s much better to circle around or ride alongside it, so he gets to take a look, but keeps moving.
You don’t even need to jump over fillers to get your pony used to them. Place some around the arena and school him around them.
Make jumps look different
The more fillers you jump, the easier it’ll be to teach your pony they’re nothing to worry about. If you don’t have many at the yard, try to hire different venues as often as possible, to get him used to all sorts of fences.
Or, look for safe things you can use to decorate fences and spook-proof him. For example, you could drape a piece of carpet over a pole, or use a row of cones or colourful jump blocks as fillers.
If you have a family member who’s good at DIY, see if you can persuade them to make some fillers for you.
Cope with refusals
If your pony stops at a filler, don’t panic. Calmly turn him away from the fence, get your canter rhythm back, then try again. To guide him in and encourage him over, open your hands a little wider and keep your leg on.
Carry your whip on the side your pony tends to run out the most, as this will encourage him forward.