If you are expecting to show jump competitively or to pursue combined training events, then you will need a horse who is comfortable with jumping solids. I have never seen a course beyond Green As Grass that did not have at least one solid, and most have five or six.
Solids are jumps with flower boxes, brick walls, roll tops, gates or other solid objects either underneath the rails or instead of them, and they can be frightening for horses.
What most trainers do not understand is that you can not expect a horse to overcome a fear overnight. Horses are "flight animals", which means that they run away from perceived threats. Horses who are afraid to jump solids will typically refuse or run-out on a jump to avoid whatever threat they believe lies beyond it.
Continually pointing your fearful horse toward solids without first trying to train your horse to jump solids will simply teach the horse that refusing and running out are acceptable behaviors. It falls under the same category of trying things over and over again the same way, expecting a different result. It just does not work.
First, you have to understand why horses are afraid to jump solids. Some horses are terrified to jump solids because they can not see the other side, and therefore do not know what awaits them. Rails allow a somewhat unstructured – yet relatively clear – view of the opposite side of the jump. Solids completely block that view, and the horse has no idea what might be lying in wait.
Although color might also have something to do with it, this is the major motivator behind your horse's fear.
That said, you must show your horse that there are not any monsters, bobcats or mountain lions on the other side of the fence if you want to train him to jump solids. The safest way to handle that demonstration is on the ground so you do not get hurt.
Tack your horse up and walk him or her out to the arena, as always. Take ten minutes at each solid jump and walk your horse in circles around them. Let your horse observe the solid jumps without the added pressure of you on his or her back.
Most likely, your horse will skirt sideways as you approach the solid jump – don't worry, that's normal. Just keep circling until the horse is able to stand quietly right right next to it.
Once your horse has determined that he or she can stand in close proximity to the jump without suffering mortal danger, it's time to take the next step: get your horse to touch it.
Horses investigate unfamiliar objects by nuzzling – and sometimes biting – the surface. In fact, if your horse tries to bite the roll top or flower box, consider the experiment a success. If your horse is a receiver to get any closer, sit on or near the solid jump and touch it yourself while talking sweetly to your horse. When he or she realizes that you are not afraid, the process will become much easier.
How you proceed from here is your call. My advice is to drag one of the solid jumps into your round pen and lunge your horse over the jump rather than trying to jump it while on his or her back. I say this for two reasons: First, your horse will be more comfortable experimenting without the extra weight; second, your horse is likely to take a giant leap over the jump the first few times, which may cause you to become unseated. Believe it or not, when a person falls from a horse, it is often just as traumatic for the animal. Reduce the stress by practicing from the ground.
This is a situation in which you are going to have to be patient. When lunging your horse over the solid jump, do not bring the standards or rails into the round pen. Get your horse comfortable with jumping the solid without any additional objects in the way. Once he or she is comfortable with that, it will be time to practice in the arena.
1. Spread it out. Do not be frustrated if it takes several days (or even several weeks) to accomplish your goal with jumping solids. You will likely have to start the process over with different kinds of solids, so be patient.
2. Follow another horse. You might have someone come out to the arena with you and jump the solid right in front of you. This allows your horse to see another horse accomplish the feat with no negative consequences. Just be sure not to follow too closely.
3. Do not permit refunds. If, when you get back into the arena, your horse continues to refuse the solid, go back to the round pen. Never teach your horse that continued refusals are acceptable. It's better to go back to square one and start over.
4. Get help. If you are a novice rider with little jumping experience, it might be better to have a professional take over for a while. Permanent damage can be done to a horse who is schooled the wrong way, so be honest when assessing your ability to get the job done.