Starting a horse over fences, or teaching a horse how to jump, is an advanced equestrian technique that requires extensive experience and sophisticated horsemanship skills. Teaching a horse to free jump and jump on a lunge line should precede jumping under-saddle (with a rider). Before you tackle this challenge, make sure your horse is sound, healthy and mentally prepared to jump. If he is nervous or frightened, bad habits are sure to form, which could hinder his jumping abilities in the future. This process takes time and cannot be rushed. Master the basics before proceeding to more advanced levels of jumping.
Send your horse through a jumping chute. This is also known as free jumping. Free jumping familiarises your horse with the concept of jumping and enables you to evaluate his ability. Set up a series of jumps in an enclosed ring so that you can easily guide him through the jumps without letting him turn around or evade the obstacles. This sometimes requires creating a chute with raised poles or barriers of some sort. There is no need to do this frequently.
Work over ground poles on a lunge line. Arrange three or four heavy poles on the ground, about two human walking strides apart. Working on a lungeing circle, walk the horse through the poles several times until she is confident. Then, increase the pace and trot the horse over the same poles. If the poles are properly spaced, one trot stride should fit in between each pole.
Introduce the jump. A cavaletti is a pole attached to two X-shaped pieces of wood on each end. It can be raised and lowered to accommodate different heights and is an excellent tool for introducing a jump. On the back side of your poles, place a cavaletti at medium height. Trot the horse through the poles, encouraging forward movement. The horse should pop over the cavaletti without making too much of a fuss. When the process is smooth and effortless, stop and praise your horse.
Canter the jump. Space the poles four human walking strides apart. Working on the same lungeing circle, allow the horse to pick up some pace, but not too much. She needs to stay controlled but motivated. You can also raise the cavaletti to its highest setting to encourage the horse to put in a little more effort.
Remove the ground poles. The ground poles are there to tell the horse where to put her feet in order to prepare her for the jump. Removing the ground poles, one at a time, will teach the horse to approach the jump on her own, balance herself and navigate the obstacle of her own accord. Keep working in a circle on the lunge line while the horse learns to canter the jump smoothly and confidently.
Introduce another jump. Once the horse is comfortable and balanced on a single fence, you can add another cavaletti on the opposite side of the circle. This will teach the horse to handle two fences in a row, which is a precursor to jumping combinations (more than one fence in a row in a determined number of strides). Once the horse is cantering confidently over these two fences, you are well on your way to a jumping career.
Seek the advice of a competent trainer if you are not completely confident in your training skills. Pay attention to the horse's cues to determine your pace of training. End the training session with praise so that the positive behaviour is reinforced.
Work in an enclosed arena for your safety and the safety of your horse. For the horse's protection, consider putting jumping boots or polo wraps on his legs while training over fences.