Several of the serious accidents in the lower levels of eventing and with less experienced riders come about when horses rush their cross country fences, says Australia’s leading horse behaviourist, Andrew McLean, but according to Andrew. Simultaneously, it may take patience and time to resolve the problem – you can solve it.

“I think in the lower levels, many horses accelerate in their last couple of strides, and this is deadly, in particular, because the rush is actually achieved by lengthening the stride, quickening the tempo and flattening the back. When a horse lengthens in that last couple of strides, it not only blurs the take-off point but also diminishes the possibility of the horse getting underneath itself and jumping higher. When the horse lengthens the stride of his, he can only really jump long – and which increases the possibility of catching the top of the fence, and this is disastrous especially for upright fences or perhaps any fence or square oxers that is not a galloping on the style offence (such as roll tops and other, rounded top fences).”

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“On top of it, the inconsistency of the rhythm approaching the fence where the take-off is actually random scares the horse, and therefore adds more motivation to rush; more fuel to the fire of rushing.”

“I think it’s crucial to impress upon the riders and coaches to be sure that the horses do have sufficient brakes and that shortening aids actually do work. And that means a lot of transitions like trot/halt/trot that are accomplished in 4 or perhaps fewer steps. Any more than 4 steps of the forelegs is way too much time for a downward transition from trot to halt. When a rider can achieve this time frame from light rein aids associated with position effects, his half halts will work as well, as the rider’s position aids will have a much stronger effect.”

“I think where a large number of riders get muddled actually they think when a horse rushes to the fence, it’s since he loves jumping. The truth is quite well the exact opposite – if, when horses are actually learning to jump, they hit the fence with the legs of theirs, which they usually do, the reaction of theirs could be to either pick up their legs higher next time – or perhaps rush -, or perhaps both, and if the rider rides poorly and catches the horse in the mouth, that is another cause of pain. The horse responds by going’ ouch’ and going faster.”

“The next step in this method is the fact that the horse sees the jump as a trigger for the event of rushing, and right now, you have got a horse that as soon as it sees a jump, it rushes. That’s pretty common; I see it in the work of mine throughout the world, wherever I teach.”

Solving the problem…

“I go back to a cross rail – the rushing horse definitely is going to accelerate towards a cross rail – and I use it at a trot. I mark a line in the sand, 6 metres on the landing site of the cross rail – that’s a reasonable distance for the horse to have the ability to halt. But since he’s rushing, he’s going to launch himself over the cross rail, and it is going to take many more metres actually to halt. The horse that rushes has learned that the landing site is totally in the horse’s control – whereas we want to control the speed as soon as the horse’s legs have touched the ground. The moment those feet are actually on the ground, he must be yours. You ought to be in a position to say slow, and turn, or perhaps stop or perhaps whatever.”

“What I do is actually repeat and repeat and repeat and slowly get the horse to stop earlier and earlier – my goal is actually for his forelegs to stop on the 6-metre line. In the beginning, he’ll most likely stop in 10 metres. After a few repetitions, he will stop at 9, now 8, now 7, and when you can get him to stop at 6, he changes quite a lot at that point. He begins to anticipate that the reins do have some control, and he starts to have the ability to be slowed, he starts to be much more with the rider and calmer, and he jumps a lot more correctly. He begins to jump up through his wither, rather than jumping hollow, and that is what horses do when they rush – and that ruins so many areas of their jumping….”

“If I do it in canter, just a regular working canter, I’d expect him to have the ability to stop smoothly in 8 metres.”

“Once I have done that because the horse is actually a context-specific learner, it only works over that particular fence, with the characteristics of that particular obstacle. Now I do it also from the other side of that obstacle, and then I do the physical exercise with all of the other jumps in the training arena, reduced to simple cross rails. It makes the retraining process quite a long one. However, the tendency to run is actually connected to the flight response, with a high learning coefficient, so it’s deeply embedded. Nevertheless, you can retrain it; it simply takes time.”

“What is essential is actually that in case you change any variable, always think to change one variable at the same time. In case you change 2 at the same time, the outcome isn’t as good. The variables are actually the gait, or perhaps the form of the obstacle, or it’s colour (dark/light). In case you change 2 variables simultaneously, the horse is a lot more likely to rush. The retraining process is actually about breaking things down to simple variables, then slowly building them up and starting to mix them up.”

“For a lot of riders, their warmup is just trotting endless circles with no transitions, whereas the most important part, particularly for the eventing horse, is actually transitions. When you can do trot/halt transitions in 3 or perhaps 4 steps of the forelegs, that means your half-halt will work. When his halts are actually good, then his half halts will work. You can come around a corner, and sit up a small, put your shoulders back, and raise hands a little, and that is a sign to the horse to shorten, raise the forehand of his and sit on the hind end of his. At the same time, the horse with poor downward transitions tends to flatten and rush. Transitions within a maximum of 4 foreleg steps to halt are actually essential. Ultimately you will need to have the ability to do it in 2 steps, and that’s when you think the horse sit, and you know his brakes are actually good. Then when you do your half-halt, it’ll work. Your horse will jump much better and be far safer.”

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