Watching top level showjumping is awe-inspiring, and if you’ve ever had the chance to walk the course at a 1.60m show, you’ll know just how big those jumps are.
To think that horses can get over them is incredible! But do horses actually enjoy showjumping as their “job?” Does the height even matter, or do they feel the same whether it’s 60cm or 1.40m?
While we’ll never truly be able to tell what horses think and feel, here is some evidence for both sides of the argument!
Horses in The Wild
If you watch horses in the wild, they very rarely jump. Most horses would rather take the easier way out and just go around the obstacle rather than over it. The only real exception to this is when there is no alternative way to cross and they need to get over an obstacle for some reason (perhaps a foal is separated from its mother or similar) in which case they will jump as necessary.
Despite this, showjumping is the most popular of all equestrian disciplines by quite some margin. If horses don’t choose to do jump in their natural state though, could they really like jumping? Truthfully, a lot of people would say no.
On the other hand though, many would argue that much like steeplechasing, it would be very hard to make a horse jump if they really didn’t want to – and there is definitely some element of truth in that as well.
The enthusiasm definitely varies from horse to horse, but anyone who has jumped a fair share of horses will tell you that there are some who seem to truly love jumping.
If you watch a big steeplechase like the Grand National, you’ll often see horses continue to jump multiple fences after their jockey falls, even though there are numerous ways for the horse to simply run out easily once their jockey has come unstuck.
The same things have happened in showjumping when a rider falls off and the horse continues to jump the fences. Surely this is a sign that they don’t dislike jumping too strongly?
What Research Tells Us?Some researchers recently set out to try and solve this problem. 18 leisure horses and 16 show jumping horses were monitored when presented with two different potential routes to reach some food; one shorter but over a jump and one longer with no jump. Only 10% of horses actually jumped the obstacle, whereas the majority (60%) trotted or walked over it.
As the obstacle got higher, less horses jumped it. Interestingly though, the sport horses were more likely to jump. Perhaps this means that their breeding or training his predisposed them to jumping, or that horses in general can learn to see jumping as something more natural with training.
Do Horses Even Like Being Ridden?
The jury is still out on this, and we probably will never know if horses ever like any aspect of being ridden, let alone jumping. Although we’re not sure that horses would ever opt to be ridden and jumped rather than be grazing in the field (and who can blame them? We’d rather be relaxing in the garden than going to the gym or the office too!) it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t find enjoyment in certain aspects of their work.
Another thing to consider is that horses can learn to enjoy all kinds of activities due to the rider reaction. If your horse is rewarded with a scratch and praise when he jumps, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that he might start to associate jumping with positive things and therefore start to enjoy it. If you were to kick or smack him when you were jumping though, it could have the opposite effect.
We think that as long as your horse isn’t being overfaced, injured or forced into doing something he is clearly unhappy about, that it’s ok to jump even if your horse might not choose to do it “for fun” in the wild. After all, our horses are far from wild nowadays! Hopefully, the ones who are jumping at least find it more enjoyable than boring old flatwork or hacking.