Starting a Gaited Horse over Jumps

The trick to jumping is to never scare them

By Jennifer Klitzke

Fearless, carefree and adventurous. I’ve always aspired to be an event rider, yet fear has held me back. Reflecting on the last few years with Makana, my Tennessee walking horse mare, I’m beginning to see how our experiences have prepared us for reaching this aspiration. We’ve trailered to numerous shows and clinics, ridden through several state parks, a gaited trail trial, and now to face the jumping part.

Starting my naturally gaited Walking horse over fences wasn’t something I wanted to tackle on my own. So we trailered to hunter/jumper barn North Run Farm in Delano, MN for professional coaching from long time instructor Len Danielson. He began our lesson by having us walk over ground rails, jump standards, and get acquainted with flower boxes before jumping over them.

One advantage to having a hard trotting horse is that you can introduce a horse to fences at a trot. Since my Walking horses lacked a trot, I had to bite the bullet and do all of our jumping from the canter at the get-go, yet I was very pleased with how calm and level-headed Makana handled her new experience. She seemed to enjoy herself as much as I did.

Here’s a few pointers Coach Danielson offered when introducing a gaited horse to jumps:

  1. Len said, “The trick to jumping is to never scare them.” Start with walking over a ground rail, then add a second, and a third. Get the horse relaxed, take breaks, and repeat the exercise at the canter.
  2. Keep jump sizes to ground rails and 12″-heights to build the horse’s confidence.
  3. Remember to grab mane and keep calves  on the sides of the horse to encourage forwardness.
  4. Gradually work up to a ground pole placed 16 to 17-feet before a 12″-fence to encourage one canter stride before the jump.
  5. School these exercises once a week and the other riding days just have the horse hop over something during the riding session.

Thanks to Coach Danielson, we are on our way to making my eventing dreams come true. Who knew that I would begin this journey on a horse that doesn’t trot!

North Run Farm offers numerous schooling shows year round, both jumping and dressage that are open to gaited horses.

Video: Starting a Gaited Horse over Jumps

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