Teaching the Jambette, a step in Equine Agility

April 14, 2011
Imagine a Horse
Allen begins work at the kick board
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Many of the poses we teach our horses in Trick Horse Training and Equine Agility are versions of moves they already do on their own; we just coach them to perform the moves on cue. As in human athletes, extreme poses and stretches can yield extreme results. If there is any doubt that horses stretch in extreme manners on their own, just watch a horse in a confined area practically stand on his head to reach under a fence for a few bites of green grass or young horses posturing for herd position and challenging each other with their front legs.

In classical training (French), the Leg Extension or Salute is referred to as the Jambette. For our use in Agility and Trick Training, the Jambette at the halt is molded over time into the Spanish Walk. The benefits from this move include increased strength and range of motion in the shoulder and full extension of the entire front leg. Spanish horses have a predisposition and can often be seen at play using leg extensions of their own accord.

Agility Training for the Body and the Mind
The training of a classical horse is an art and science. There are some really great books that can be a help in understanding training classical principles that are not diluted to meet the needs of a generalized marketplace. Henry Blake’s book, “Thinking with Horses” is a classic work that uses understandable and workable terms to explain many training principles. “Reading the Horse’s Mind” by Jackie Budd is another great book that explains how to utilize the horse’s inherent nature to enhance training.

We always set a horse up for success, using methods and props that help him understand and respond to our requests. It usually expedites learning to practice or school a move in the same place, same position and with exactly the same cues until it is confirmed with the horse. In other words, we habituate the horse or “routine” him in his schooling.

The Jambette can be taught on the ground but we prefer to teach it in association with a pedestal. A finished exhibition horse may know half a dozen moves that begin with a slightly different cue on his front legs and the pedestal helps him to differentiate our cues. Using a pedestal in association with teaching the Jambette also helps to insure that the horse will offer the move only on cue and not unexpectedly, especially in the initial stages of training.

The Jambette is a great training exercise to help a horse to better understand our cues and increase his ability to focus. As with all equine training, equestrian tact is of the utmost importance. Know your horse and how many repetitions it takes (or how few) to keep his mind engaged.

You may want to expedite the learning curve or desire in the horse by using food treats. We use food treats to teach the Jambette in the beginning and later we can change to a variable reward system utilizing praise and food rewards sparingly.

Note- Using food treats are a training tool and using them indiscriminately is not effective training.

Tips for Teaching the Jambette
We teach the Jambette in association with a pedestal as it decreases the chance that the horse will offer it unsolicited while he is on the ground.
We use a guider whip to communicate to the horse that we want him to move his leg. Most horses will easily move or even lift a front leg if tapped gently with a guider whip on the back of the forearm. Guiders have a soft ball at the end to help the handler communicate his cue but won’t sting the horse (available at Adjust your proximity to the horse when asking for each separate leg. Many trainers do not advocate the use of verbal cues as the use of such is an art in itself and it takes practice to use one’s voice as an instrument. In Trick Horse Training and Equine Agility however, it is often the handler’s verbal cue that helps the horse to deliver the correct response.

We use “One” as the verbal cue for the left and “Two” as the cue for the right leg. The reason we use these particular verbal cues is so that when the Jambette is later on shaped into the Spanish Walk, we can count cadence to encourage the horse to lift the legs in the correct sequence.

At first, acknowledge and praise even the slightest try or lift of the leg. It may take your horse a few days or a week to offer a salute in which he actually lifts the leg.
Be patient with your horse as he will assuredly offer the incorrect leg when you start with the “off” side. The delivery of clear cues will help him to understand the difference.

When he offers the incorrect leg, tell him “NO” in a clear way and ignore him for a few seconds and then continue with the request you had made. In the early stages of the Jambette, the horse may become fascinated with kicking out his leg; this is acceptable at first but the real benefits will come when the horse learns to hold the leg lift. This is where strength and range of motion begins in the shoulders and legs. The most sophisticated high school moves all begin with the basics.

Teach the Jambette
Equipment- A Pedestal and a dressage length whip. If the Spanish Walk is the goal, a kick board is a must-have tool. A kick board with cleats is easy to build and will certainly help a horse to develop an exceptionally long reach with his front leg.
Benefits- The exercise helps to strengthen and develop the range of motion in a horse’s shoulder, legs and back. A horse learns to focus intently on the handler and to be obedient.

Cues- Verbal Cue could be “Salute”, “Hello”, or whatever you like best. If you plan on teaching the Spanish Walk, consider cadence cues such as “One” for the left leg and “Two” for the right front leg. Proximity Cue is usually (to stand) in front of and to the side of the horse’s left shoulder for the left leg and to the right for the right leg. Physical Cue is a touch on the horse’s leg, usually behind the forearm, point of the shoulder, or at the back of the knee. The handler will have to discover the touch that each horse responds to best.

Steps- Have the horse step up on the pedestal with his front feet. Stand on the near or left side of the horse, with the lead in the left hand. With a dressage or guider whip in the right hand, tap the horse lightly just behind the knee until he offers even a slight movement of the leg. Keep the touch a light flick as a harder touch will not be any easier for the horse to understand and may actually hinder his understanding of what is being asked. Praise him and give him a few seconds to understand that he has offered the correct response. Reward each try with praise and a stroke on the neck. Give a few seconds of dwell time between each repetition. Be sure to teach the move on both sides of the horse (both legs).

Because this is usually a move that is fun for the horse, he will easily understand praise for offering the correct response and he will usually take correction well and without becoming discouraged if he offers the wrong leg. If the horse offers the correct move, but with the incorrect leg, correct him with a stern “No” and look away from him. Punishment for the wrong response is never an option. It may take several tries or offerings on his part before he offers the cued leg. As time goes on, a horse will very easily understand “One” and “Two” or “Right” and “Left”. This will be especially helpful later on in teaching him the Spanish Walk. As the horse becomes confirmed in the exercise, ask for bigger lifts and progressively longer hold periods.

When the Jambette is confirmed, it’s time to go to the kick board. This is the same concept as a barre in a dance studio — for balance. This is a piece of plywood hung securely on a wall and has horizontal wooden rungs made of landscape timbers or rounded 4 x 4s. It should be positioned so that the path of approach (horse and handler’s) is parallel to a wall to help keep the horse on track.

As the horse is lead toward the kick board, the handler will soon be able to distinguish the correct distance from the board or reach for the size and reach of the horse. With the horse in front of the board, cue him for the leg lift (whichever side you choose). Most horses require help at first from the handler to place the foot on the rung. With a little practice and praise or a food reward, most horses quickly learn to reach out and balance a foot on the rung. Horses seem to enjoy flexing the entire shoulder, base of the neck and leg muscles once they become confident in the pose.

For help with teaching the Jambette or any other move, please feel free to contact the authors at