Getting to know your new horse, tips from Jennifer Bliss


Getting to know your new horse, tips from Jennifer Bliss

Jun. 06,2016
Jennifer Bliss/Harris Hill Farm

As with many things horse-related, the transition of getting to know a new horse is often more of an art than an exact science.  In my own business, the two most common scenarios are either young hunters that I am developing myself or amateur riders that are being paired with new mounts.

Jennifer Bliss accepting the WCHR Developing Pro National Championship at the 2014 Capital Challenge Horse Show. Photo Credit: Shawn McMillen Photography

Perhaps the defining factor in the timeline of developing a partnership is the experience level of both the horse and rider.  When there is a green horse or rider involved, I tend to slow the process way down.   My feeling is that you rarely get in trouble going too slow, but it can be hard to rebuild after a negative experience.  As a very general guideline, I like to take about a month getting to know a new horse or helping my client get comfortable with a new ride before walking in the show ring.  I implement a slow and steady program, focusing on basics and gradually ramping up the intensity and sophistication of the workload.  This includes lots of flatwork, then cavaletti work and eventually jumping at home.  If possible, I like to feel out a new horse in a horse show setting without a lot of pressure as a sort of “dress rehearsal.”  This might include shipping to a local show just for the day and doing a ticketed warm-up, or jumping a few small schooling classes.

I think it is important to remember that it is a change not only for the rider, but also for the horse.  There will undoubtedly be differences from past riders and past programs, and it takes some time for everyone to settle into a new rhythm.  Even for a pair combining both an experienced horse and rider, it takes time to develop a true partnership with a new horse.  It comes down to less tangible elements like chemistry and communication; personality and rideability.  Those things can only unfold with time and by answering different questions together, first at home and then at the shows.

Jennifer Bliss and Face The Music showing in the 3'3" Pre Greens- WEF 2016. Photo credit: Sport Fot

I have a very special young hunter in my string named Face The Music.  She is one that I have been working with for the last nine months, and I have very high hopes that she will have a big career ahead of her.  When I tried her, I flew in on a Tuesday between horse shows, jumped about 15 jumps and loved the feeling that she gave me.  She definitely needed to mature a bit, but the style, bravery, and scope that we all look for were undoubtedly there.  She joined up with us about three weeks later at a horse show that was much closer to where she was located, to save her the unnecessary travel.  I did show her straightaway that week, because I felt that she had enough mileage to be comfortable in that situation.  I also wanted to use the opportunity to feel her in the show ring.  However, we then took her home to Florida and I didn’t jump a fence for two months.  I knew that her jump was naturally beautiful; we just needed to get on the same page.  She is a bit of an opinionated mare and I needed to make her my best friend.  I did consistent flatwork and figured out how much pressure she liked me to use.  I cantered over ground poles and worked on her adjustability.  I took her on trail rides to see what her reaction was in different situations.  Of course, she is still a work in progress but the conservative, gradual, and thoughtful system we used to get to know one another set the tone for trust and confidence.  Together we finished the winter as circuit champion at WEF in the 3’3” Pre Greens.

Jennifer Bliss and Poker Face jumping to a 4th place finish in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at WEF 2016

One thing that I love about this sport and horses in general is that the process of strengthening a partnership never really ends.  We are constantly evolving as riders and horsemen, and always trying to train and manage our horses better.   Just a few months ago, towards the end of WEF, I came out of the ring on my long time partner Poker Face and said, “ It might have taken me five years, but I just figured something out about him.”  We’ve shown all over the country together and had a lot of success, but he has a few little quirks that we’ve always been mindful of.   I had watched a video of him the night before, and tried something new in the ring that day.   It was a tiny tweak in my riding, probably imperceptible to someone not paying close attention, but it seemed to really make him happy.  Just like that I had learned something new about a horse I thought I knew everything about.  Moments like that are really fun and rewarding.

Jennifer Bliss and Sugarman - Capital Challenge 2014. Photo Credit: Shawn McMillen Photography


About Jennifer Bliss & Harris Hill Farm

Jennifer grew up as an active competitor on the Northeast "A" horse show circuit and enjoyed great success as a junior rider, winning such major accolades as Pony Finals championships, Horse of the Year titles, and top 10 placings at the major indoor equitation finals.

Jennifer owns and operates Harris Hill Farm together with fiance and barn manager Deywi Rodriguez, and has established herself as a successful professional rider and trainer.  Some recent accomplishments include the 2014 WCHR Developing Pro National Championship, as well as top 10 finishes in the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals and the $50,000 International Hunter Derby at the Winter Equestrian Festival.

Harris Hill Farm is based out of Wellington, Florida, and specializes in developing, showing, and selling high quality young hunters, as well as training a small group of junior and amateur students.

For more information about Jennifer Bliss/Harris Hill Farm, please visit

Jennifer Bliss/Harris Hill Farm on ProEquest