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Benefit of early jumping training.

Is there any benefit in training potential show jumpers from an early age? Does early training improve their show jumping ability later in life? Perhaps early training would allow the foal to develop better coordination of limb, head and neck movements - which could help in jumping technique.

Dr Susana Santamarķa and others, working in the Department of Equine Sciences, at Utrecht University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, have been looking at the effect of early training on the jumping ability of Dutch Warmblood horses. The study followed a group of horses over five years.

Foals in a control group were managed in the traditional fashion. They were loose housed in a barn in winter and at pasture in summer until they were three years old.

Horses in the experimental group started training at six months of age. They were exercised on a horse walker three times a week and did free jumping twice a week. This continued until they were three years of age.

When they were about three years old, horses in both groups received a short period of training, to get them accustomed to the saddle and bit, before being turned out to pasture for about six months. Then they went to the Dutch Equine Training Centre in Deurne where their intensive training began.

The researchers used a kinematic motion analysis system to assess the horses` jumping technique. Reflective markers were placed at various points on the along the spine and on the limbs. Video recordings were made of each horse free jumping a 0.6m fence. The movement of the reflective markers was analysed by computer.

The horses were assessed at six months old, before they started training. They were assessed again when they were four years old, as they started their jumping training, and at five years old. A final test also assessed their performance in a puissance competition.

Dr Santamarķa found that early training had a major effect on jumping technique at four years of age. The early-trained group had a more effective jumping technique than the traditionally managed horses. They did not jump higher than was necessary to clear the fence. Their centre of gravity passed closer to the top of the fence than in untrained horses. They flexed their forelimbs more and landed closer to the fence.

The horses that received the early training were also less likely to refuse or knock down fences at four years old.

In countries like the Netherlands, France and Germany, potential breeding stock is selected at events that include free jumping. Dr Santamarķa points out that horses that have received early jumping training may benefit at this stage. This may make it difficult to differentiate between horses that are jumping well because of their genetic potential, and horses that have less inherent ability but have received a lot of training.

By the time the horses had completed their training at five years of age the influence of the early training program had disappeared. The kinematic analysis revealed no difference between the two groups. Neither was there a difference in performance in the puissance competition.

Dr Santamarķa concludes that from the point of view of improving jumping performance, early jumping training is unnecessary because its effects are only temporary.

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For more details see:

Effect of early training on the jumping technique of horses. Susana Santamarķa, Maarten F. Bobbert, Willem Back, Ab Barneveld, P. Rene van Weeren.American Journal of Veterinary Research. (2005) 66, 418 - 424.

 

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