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While the Westphalian is a very versatile horse that can be used in dressage, driving, pleasure riding and eventing, but the breed is probably best known for its ability as a show jumper. A horse of the Westphalian breed has won many gold, silver and bronze medals in the last several Olympics and World Cup events in the show jumping class, largely due to their superb athletic ability, competitive nature and ideal conformation for jumping.
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Training the Westphalian for jumping is similar to training any of the warmblood competitive breeds. One of the major considerations is to determine when the colt or filly is physically and mentally mature enough to start training. The Westphalian is typically a very calm and even tempered horse even as a colt or filly, so training at the age of two is not uncommon. Training starts usually with basic dressage and riding training since the horse must be completely under control and broken to ride before attempting to start jumping training. Training a horse to jump that is not reliably trained as a riding horse is very unsafe for both the horse and rider.
Once the horse is well trained in either basic dressage or under the saddle, jumps are introduced. Typically the first jumps may be little more than step over bars where the horse learns to step or a very slight jump, teaching collection and preparation of the horse to complete the jump. This involves the horse following the rider's cues and learning to respond while on the course. On some farms and training centers even young foals are led through very small, very low jump courses so they are very familiar with the concept from an early age.
After the horse has confidence in their ability, footing and ability to complete the lower jumps slightly higher jumps and different types of jumps such as water jumps, wall or solid jumps and other types of obstacles are added. The goal of introducing the jumps slowly is to allow the horse to develop his or her natural confidence and to never have them refuse a jump or become frightened on the course. A refusal is particularly dangerous for the horse and rider as the horse runs to the jump and then immediately stops, often sending the rider over the horse's head and possibly severely damaging the horse's legs if they slide or twist. A Westphalian that has gone through gradual training and has confidence in itself as well as the rider is not likely to ever refuse a jump under normal course conditions.
Surprisingly a Westphalian is a great horse for children and novice jumpers just getting into show jumping. Their slightly slower, more deliberate pace combined with their excellent temperament and jumping ability are ideal for new and experienced riders alike. Some of the faster Westphalians also make ideal eventing horses where they can combine the jumping ability with the flat work on the course. Eventing does take additional training but the breed is more than up to the challenge.
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