Early Jump Training Unnecessary

Training young horses for jumping at six months of age is ineffective and unnecessary, according to a Dutch study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research. The effect of specific jump training on young horses' jumping technique was only short-term, and the research supports the common approach of waiting until age three before giving them specific jump training.

Lead author Susana Santamaría, DVM, PhD, and her colleagues at Utrecht University in the Netherlands (while she was a PhD student there) established techniques for evaluating how foals jumped at six months to help predict their future jumping abilities in an earlier study. (For more information, see www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?id=5253.) The researchers examined kinematic (comparison and relation of motions) and kinetic (pertaining to motion) data collected by monitoring markers on the horses' legs and backs with infrared cameras during free jumps at six months of age. The 40 Dutch Warmbloods from the former study were used again in the current study.

Half of the horses underwent a conventional upbringing while the other half underwent 30 months of training (including jumping). At age four, all 40 were free jumped and evaluated again. Santamaría reported that the early training had a major effect on the horses' jumping techniques at that time. "In countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, or France where horses of three or four years of age participate in events that include assessment of free jumping technique to select future breeding stock, judges should be especially aware of this," she said, because it might not always be easy to judge "whether a horse is performing well because of superior genetic potential or because of mediocre genetic potential and a lot of training."

After this evaluation at age four, all horses underwent a year of traditional training including jumping. Santamaria said that at age five when they free jumped again, "no significant differences remained in any of the variables determining jumping technique between the experimental and control groups when performing submaximal free jumps. It appears that the control horses had quickly learned to clear fences at a submaximal height just like the experimental horses."

The horses participated in a simulated puissance (progressive height jumping) competition as well, where the jumps were raised up to 1.5 meters (five feet). "There were no differences in the distribution of best and worst jumpers between groups, indicating that early training did not affect maximal jumping performance," she reported.

"It can be concluded that early training for jumping has a short-term, but not a permanent, effect on jumping technique...carefully controlled exercise at foal age may help in improving strength and resistance of the muscoskeletal tissues," said Santamaría. "Training for specific athletic performance at that age is futile."--Katherine Walcott and Stephanie L. Church

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