This exercise from eventing coach Jim Wofford's book Gymnastics:
Systematic Training for Jumping Horses will help you increase
your horse's gymnastic ability, balance and flexibility using
Editor's Note: This technique is one of 23 gymnastics designed
to improve your horse's jumping skills that Wofford describes
in his illustrated book, Gymnastics: Systematic Training for
After you have warmed your horse up at the walk, trot and
canter, then trot into the exercise marked A in the sketch
at right. Cavalletti set at this distance (4 ft., 6 in. apart)
will produce a working trot for most horses.
These exercises are all designed for horses with some jumping
experience. If your horse is extremely green he probably should
not be attempting this exercise yet. However, if he is slightly
inexperienced or is an experienced jumper but has not done
much work over cavalletti you can pull the first and the third
poles in towards the center line of the arena. This will produce
a 9 ft. (2.7 m) distance between two poles. Horses find this
exercise easier and will soon become stable and regular at
the trot, which is always your goal. You can then put the
four poles together and work in both directions over four
of them on the ground. After you have established your horse's
balance and rhythm here you can proceed to the curved poles
At the posting trot, proceed on a circle in either direction
through B. Keep your horse's direction adjusted so that the
length of his step on the curve feels the same as it did over
Once you and your horse have become adept at this you can
then start to enter, for example, closer to the 3 ft (90 cm)
end of the poles where the distance is shorter and then let
the horse angle away from the center of the circle. This will
cause your horse to go from a working trot to a medium trot
or possibly, if your angle becomes too great, even take a
couple of steps of extended trot. If your horse takes two
steps between the poles or breaks into a canter, you have
probably asked too much flexibility from him. Aim closer to
the 3 ft (90 cm) end of the curve, and enter B again at the
Alternatively, you can enter from the outside of B, where
the rails are farther apart. This will cause your horse to
take quite a large step at first. Angle in towards the 3 ft
(90 cm) distance between the last two poles. This will bring
your horse back to a working trot or even a slightly collected
trot. Having worked in both directions over B, including being
able to angle both ways, you can then proceed to C.
The poles positioned at C, set at 5 ft. (1.5 m) apart, will
produce the sensation of extended trot, and you may find that
your horse cannot reach enough in his fourth step to get out
over the last pole without "chipping in" an additional step.
Simply remove the last pole and continue. You will find that,
after a couple of days' work over cavalletti, your horse gets
the message and you can replace the fourth pole. You should
work in both directions over the 5 ft (1.5 m) poles at C until
your horse can maintain his regularity and length of step.
After a short break proceed to D.
These four rails on the ground, set at 4 ft. (1.2 m) apart,
will produce a collected trot. Although these exercises can
be ridden either posting or sitting, you should definitely
use rising trot until your horse becomes adjusted to them.
Again, work both ways through D until your horse is relaxed
and steady in his balance and rhythm. He should be able to
deal with the rails without any interruption in the flow of
his movement, changing only the length of his step to adapt
to the various distances that you have put in his path.
After another break you can now link these four elements
together in order to produce various transitions that will
be of great benefit in teaching your horse to be flexible.
For example, enter A on the right hand in a working trot,
where the rails are 4 ft., 6 in. (1.35 m) apart. As you leave
A, turn right in such a fashion that you produce an arc through
B which causes your horse to change the length of his step
from working to collected trot. In other words, you would
enter exercise B from the outside in. This will put your horse
in a slightly collected frame. Proceed directly then to C,
which will produce an extended trot. After the extended trot
at C, turn right and enter the shorter cavalletti at D.
If your horse has difficulty with this you can do A, B and
C as I have described and then in posting trot circle (or
repeat a circle until your horse has settled down to working
trot), turn and enter D, thus producing a collected trot.
If you have successfully done this, walk, reward your horse
and let him relax and consider his effort while you plan your
next series of repetitions through these exercises. When you
resume the posting trot, work in both directions and vary
the relationship between the exercises to improve and confirm
your horse's flexibility.
Take a moment to remind yourself of your horse's bad habits.
If your horse tends to rush at the trot, he will not need
too many applications of C. He should come from outside in
rather than from inside out at B, as this will cause him to
continually re-balance and collect his step rather than rushing
forward. If, on the other hand, your horse is choppy-strided
or lazy, a bit more emphasis on C and a few more repetitions
at B, going from inside out, will teach him to lengthen his
The total amount of exercise over these rails in any one
period should not exceed 45 minutes, including the periods
of rest between exercises. These exercises will fit comfortably
in a 75 ft. x 150 ft. (22.8 m x 45.7 m) arena.
Be sure to check out Jim Wofford's new column "Cross Country
with Jim Wofford" in the May 2006 issue of Practical Horseman
as he tackles the question: "What makes a great event horse?"
Wofford has represented the U.S. in eventing at three Olympics
and two World Championships
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