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Dr. Hans-Dieter Nebe on Free Jumping

Many important decisions about a young Warmblood stallion's future are made during his first few years of training. One of the most important occurs at his 30-day-test, during the free-jumping phase. Here, owners, trainers, officials and mare owners have the chance to see what talent the stallion shows, innately, over a fence. Jumping ability is one of the most heritable of traits, so a high score for the free jump can have a strong effect on the young stallion's future bookings, when standing at stud.

Have you ever wondered how the judges score free jumping, and how a young stallion is evaluated for his potential as a jumper at his 30-day testing? Dr. Hans-Dieter Nebe, official representative of the PRPS (the RPSI's parent organization in Germany), served as one of the German guest judges for the spring 2008 30-day test at Silver Creek Farm, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Dr. Nebe describes the 30-day-test as an early look at a young stallion's capabilities. Free jumping makes up about thirty percent of the overall score -- 10% from the training director who oversees the stallions daily during the test, and 20% from the official judges of the final test. The other 70% of the stallion's score comes from scores for Interior Values (character, temperament, willingness to perform and athletic ability), Trot, Canter, Walk, and Rideability.

How is Free Jumping Evaluated?

The young stallions receive two scores for their free jump: one for Capacity, and one for Manner.

"Capacity, essentially, is the ability to jump high," Dr. Nebe says. "Can he get off the ground with power, and does he have the possibility to clear the higher jumps or is he maxed-out at a low level."

Capacity and Manner are both scored on a scale of 0-10. O means the stallion doesn't jump at all. 10 is perfection.

The second score, Manner (or Technique), can be judged by the stallion's behavior in front of the jump, over the jump, and after the jump.

In front of the jump, the stallion is judged by how calmly he approaches, how he looks to the jump, how he establishes good rhythm over the first two steps, and whether he looks to the last fence with good focus, or is distracted by all that is around him.

Over the jump, the stallion is judged on three things. Firstly, his back and neck, or bascule. The stallion's neck should become longer and stretch down over the top of the jump, not rise up. His back should round rather than become hollow or stiff.

The second aspect of the stallion's score over the top of the fence is his front legs. How fast does he come off the ground, how high does he raise the part from shoulder to forearm/knee? The forearm should always come up. "This part is very important," Dr. Nebe explains. "Without bringing up the forearm there is no jump."

"As the jump gets bigger, the forearm comes up more, and then they show what they can do. We need a certain height for the good jumping horses to show themselves. We (judges) don't look much at the first, second or third attempts - only for the rhythm, and such. The stallions are learning, getting to know the flowers and such. But the last two jumps are the most important for scoring. If it takes ten times, we will wait, as long as the stallion shows he is capable of this work."

Finally, the third aspect of the stallion's score over the jump is his back legs. The judges are looking for the stallion to open the hind legs.

"When a stallion is nervous the hind legs can come up under the body instead, and the back tightens. This is not ideal," Dr. Nebe explains. "Kicking out is also not ideal, as it shows that the horse is not one hundred percent relaxed."

The final aspect of the stallion's Manner score occurs upon landing, after the jump. Dr. Nebe explains that the stallion should gallop away in a calm, good rhythm. He should also come up with the front very soon upon landing.

"This is important," Dr. Nebe says, "If there is a combination, the stallion has only one stride's chance to come up, to find balance again.

"The jump can't be so bad if he gallops in good rhythm afterwards. If he jumps high but lands on all four legs, then trots, NEVER make the jump higher. It's better to lower the fence, give the horse his confidence again, and then go on."

Finally, How do judges decide upon a score?

This is subjective, but based upon years of experience evaluating free-jumping. The judges keep in mind that many of the young stallions presented for the 30-day-test, especially here in America, have limited experience free jumping. "If a stallion takes down a fence, or touches it, this is not a good thing, but it doesn't necessarily mean he will have a low score. What is more important is the NEXT jump. If he shows reaction, goes forward, and is careful, this is promising."