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Wed, 2015-05-13 09:27

Introducing a Young Event Horse to Jumping with Courtney Cooper

Valley of Knowledge and Courtney Cooper at the Young Event Horse East Coast Championships in 2014. USEA/Leslie Threlkeld photo.

The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA. 

An Advanced-level competitor and successful trainer, Courtney has plenty of experience with young horses, with five of her homebreds in her current competition string. Courtney's business is based out of C Square Farm in Nottingham, Pa., and she took some time to weigh in on the process of introducing young horses to jumping. 

As a rider, it is an exciting time when your up-and-comer is ready to be started over fences. Courtney explains, “The biggest thing when working with young horses is keeping their confidence. Make sure they have the basics on the flat—when you close your leg that means to go forward and that they stay straight underneath you.”

Taking it slow with your introduction to anything new with youngsters is always key. Make sure that you’re clear with your aids and what you want them to do. “I like to start my young horses over poles on the ground and simple gymnastics to get them used to where the feet need to go. I also like to take them on hacks with an older horse and have them follow over a log or two. I always do less and keep it fun! I like to create an environment that you leave thinking you could keep going instead of thinking you shouldn’t have done that much,” Courtney describes.

Once your horse is confident with ground poles and small cross-rails and verticals, Courtney likes to introduce small grids.

“I like to have a 9-foot placing pole to a cross-rail and another 9-foot placing pole to a cross-rail to another placing pole 9 feet away. I will eventually adjust that second cross-rail to a small vertical and an oxer accordingly.” Courtney continues, “This exercise is very straightforward and helps your horse with their footwork. You’ll see after a few times through the grid your horse will begin to understand the concept and will become more and more confident.”

With young horses, it’s not always going to be easy, especially when it comes to jumping. When young horses don’t understand or get confused, they may run out or get quick and start rushing their fences.

Courtney has some ideas to troubleshoot those issues. “I will put guide poles on the side of the jumps to encourage straightness or have them follow a more experienced horse through the grid a few times. If your horse begins to rush or lands on a faster or longer stride, throw in a circle before the jump and then again after the last jump in the grid. Mix it up! Do a lot of downward transitions and circles to keep their attention.”

Overall, Courtney appreciates the Future and Young Event Horse divisions and what the program does for the sport.

Courtney explains, “The program is definitely in a period of growth, and I believe the addition of canter and free jumping [in the 3-year-old Future Event Horse Championships]is great to really assess the horses' ability. Moving forward, I think it is imperative to look at the graduates of the young event horse class that have done well and continue to perform. We need to take note of those attributes in order to be a competitive country overseas.”

To learn more about Courtney and her program, please visit her website at



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